World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals
have not hesitated to proliferate visions of
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of
conflict in this new world will not be primarily
So wrote Samuel Huntington nearly ten years ago now, in one of the most debated, commented upon, and controversial foreign policy essays this side of Francis Fukuyama's End of History. In the simplistic terms in which such things tend to be discussed, Fukuyama was understood to be saying that mankind's ages long global conflict was over because everyone would seek to become liberal democratic capitalists as opposed to Huntington, who was understood to be saying that certain societies (or civilizations) would never evolve into such modern Western states. For the duration of the 90s, with the Western economy humming and peace mostly reigning, Fukuyama appeared to have the better of the argument. Then came September 11th, and suddenly Huntington was hailed as a prophet, Fukuyama dismissed to the ash heap of history. Suddenly, you couldn't find Huntington's book anywhere (I had to special order it). But it is well worth tracking down and, upon reading it, I believe that, though Fukuyama gets the better of the overall argument, Huntington offers an important corrective.
Huntington states his basic contention pretty concisely :
The central theme of this book is that culture and
cultural identities, which at the broadest level are
He breaks the world up into seven separate competing civilizations : Western; Sinic (roughly the Chinese); Japanese; Hindu; Islamic; Orthodox; Latin American; and offers the possibility that African civilization may be an eighth; and then goes on to elaborate his theory :
The five parts of this book elaborate corollaries to this main proposition.
Part I: For the first time in history
global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational;
Part II: The balance of power among civilizations
is shifting: the West is declining in relative
Part III: A civilization-based world
order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities
Part IV: The West's universalist pretensions
increasingly bring it into conflict with other
Part V: The survival of the West
depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and
It seems to me that parts three, four and five are correct and are actually compatible with Fukuyama, but that parts one and two are quite wrong.
As a threshold issue, I would argue that modernization and Westernization are identical. By modernization we mean adoption of the kind of liberal secular democracy, free market economy, and protestant (small "p") religious structures that characterize the West in general, but the United States in particular. We do not mean the attempt to have one of these without the others, or two without the third. The best example of a "modern" state which did not Westernize sufficiently is Japan. In fact, one doubts that were hew writing today Huntington would even include them in his list, for they are in such decline that it's hard to see where they can clash with anyone in any significant manner. Japan made a horrendous mistake when it tried to retain a command economy and to rely on huge corporate structures. The inherent inflexibility of this centrally planned and oligarchic system has debilitated their economy. Added to this is the demographic crisis they face--declining birthrates, more abortions than live births, low immigration--and the resulting problems which include reduced economic growth and an eventual collapse of the social welfare net as there are fewer and fewer workers left to pay for the retirement of the aged. Japan is a civilization in decline, perhaps irreversible decline. The only imaginable way for them to reverse their slide is to become more Western.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that there is a very real conflict between the West and at least the Red Chinese and the Islamic world. But even this is deceptive. Islam is a special case which we'll address later, but China is merely the last remaining Communist power and even it is now really only a fascist regime (in that it combines capitalism with authoritarian government, rather than relying on the totalitarianism of a Communist system). There does not appear to be any reason that China will not evolve into a relatively Western style state over the next several decades. Many, like Huntington, seem to be nearly hypnotized by the sheer size of China and by the human, natural and resulting financial resources it has at its disposal. But if you look at China with a cold eye, it has just as uncreative an economy as Japan did twenty years ago, and we all know what has happened to Japan. A China which is permanently sentenced to cheaply assemble machines and clothing that we design is not any kind of threat to our economic hegemony. They will have to loosen further or remain a Western sweatshop.
A similar caution should attend worries over China's military potential. Sure they have a huge army, but they are equipped by an essentially backwards armaments industry. Does anyone realistically think that they could withstand an assault by American weaponry ? The USSR pretty conclusively demonstrated that no matter how much money such an inefficient, unproductive, and uncreative society invests in its military, it can not compete with the West.
Finally, as regards China, it seems improbable that a single state of over a billion people can remain stable and be administered efficiently. There have to be tremendous internal pressures pent up within China's borders (consider merely the examples of the Uighurs, Tibet and Hong Kong) and any of the loosening of central control which modernization will require will inevitably allow these pressures to be released, with likely divisive results.
As to several of the other "civilizations" that Huntington depicts as being in conflict, the choice of the Orthodox world and Latin America do not withstand much scrutiny. These regions have had a difficult time transitioning from Communism and Colonialism, respectively, to the modern Western model, but there is little evidence that they have permanently forsaken it or will do so for any significant period of time in the near future. In fact, nations like Chile and the Czech Republic, which have embraced Westernization most completely, have actually made significant progress. Moreover, as we whittle away some of these "civilizations" and it becomes clearer that the main clash is between Islam and the West, we must expect that the Orthodox and Latin America, both overwhelmingly Christian, will be driven even further towards the West and Westernization. Inclusion of Eastern European states in NATO and the expansion of NAFTA are but two obvious signs of this process. We must not be too alarmed if a nation or two in these regions backslides into a brief flirtation with fascism or communism, a modicum of pressure from the West should suffice to push them back toward democratic capitalism fairly quickly.
The inclusion of Hindu civilization is also problematic. There has been a definite rise in Hindu nationalism in India, but, despite some growing pains, India is still a democracy and generally still seeks to emulate the West both economically and politically. Moreover, the nationalists do not appear to hold any special brief against the West; instead they are largely anti-Muslim. Considering the large Muslim minority within the country and the continuing tensions between India and Pakistan, this is hardly surprising. In the future though, there is good reason to believe that India's sense of being at war with both Islam and potentially with China, will serve to make Hinduism an ally of the West. rather than a competitor. More importantly, there is no way that any system other than capitalism can feed the one billion citizens of India any more than communism could feed the Chinese.
Before finally getting to Islam, we might note that while most of the major historical religions are considered by Huntington to be distinct civilizations, one of the longest lived and most militarily powerful religions is not : Judaism. Considering the prowess of the Israeli armed forces and the fact that they have nuclear weapons, it is not unlikely that in purely geostrategic terms Israel is one of the two or three most powerful nations in the world. And the state of Israel is quite explicitly the Jewish homeland. So why do they not get their own civilization? Because they are Western. And it is because they are Western that they have succeeded against such formidable odds. Thus, the absence of Judaism speaks volumes.
Which brings us, at last, to Islam. Unique among the racial, religious, and cultural civilizations that Huntington delineates and which we have added to, it is Islam alone which demands that church, economy, and state be governed by one eternal, unchanging, and inseparable entity, and/or philosophy, based on the word of God as revealed to Mohammed. Without examining the actual content of the religion, we can state that trying to run a modern society on inflexible doctrines that are fourteen hundred years old and were intended for a primitive people is destined to be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Considering just one central tenet of the religion, the extreme egalitarianism that it demands, it is evident that the modern politico-economic system that most closely approximates Islam is Communism, and the century long experiment with Communism proved to be a complete disaster. There is no reason to believe that Islam will succeed where a like system failed, nor is there any reason to believe that there is something unique about the Islamic form of theocracy that will enable it to succeed where all other forms have failed.
Samuel P. Huntington is almost certainly correct that the next several years will see a clash between Western Civilization and Islamic Civilization, but the result of this encounter is foreordained, if not the particulars of how we'll arrive at the conclusion. There are really only two alternatives : either Islam will reform itself and become more like the West on its own--including, most importantly, separating church and state and accepting greater economic inequalities as the price to be paid for greater growth in general--or Islam will be devastated in war and will be rebuilt, even if against its will, along Western lines, as happened in Japan after WWII. It just is not possible to envision a scenario in which Islam succeeds in defeating the West. If, God forbid, the West ever really had its back to the wall it would undoubtedly unleash a thermonuclear, biological and/or chemical holocaust in the Middle East (and probably Indonesia) which would essentially annihilate Islam. As Victor Davis Hanson has written in his terrific book Carnage and Culture, the single factor that has been most significant in the repeated victory of the West in global conflicts has been the ruthlessness and finality with which it prosecutes war. The West has been more willing than other civilizations to utterly destroy enemies. There is no reason to believe that it would not do so again.
Despite these weaknesses in his thesis in its broadest form, Huntington's book is invaluable in its narrower form. First, by warning that the clash of civilizations that genuinely differ from one another will continue to be a central feature of world politics, he provides a much needed warning that the West must deal with Islam and Communist China as rivals, not merely as alternative types of societies. As regards China, we can somewhat assume that the forces of capitalism that have been unleashed will eventually subvert the authoritarian political system. History has proven again and again that you can not provide your citizens a little bit of freedom without them eventually demanding more. China today much resembles Gorbachev's USSR, a society on the verge of crumbling which needs only strong and consistent pressure from the United States to fall apart completely. The most effective ways of applying this pressure have the great benefit of also being good policy for the U.S. We should invite Taiwan, Russia, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, and the moderate nations of Southeast Asia to join NAFTA. To the greatest extent possible we should also seek to make such an organization a strategic and military alliance, with its might directed specifically against China and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia. The U.S. should also step up its Missile Defense program and should simultaneously pursue the development of offensive space-based weapons. The goal of the latter should be to develop the capacity to eliminate any nation's nuclear arsenal and its communications satellites in a first strike. At that point we would be in a position to impose nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament on the rest of the world.
Second, as regards Islam, while Turkey and Iran offer fascinating case studies in the eventual possibility of Islam and democracy co-existing, both have struggled so mightily and are such unique situations, both having been run by pro-Western dictators for an extended period of time, that it seems only realistic to assume that Islam and the West may eventually engage in a widespread conflict. It would obviously be preferable to have Islam reform itself, but one searches in vain for leaders, religious or secular, with the stature, ideology and steadfastness of purpose to lead such a fundamental restructuring of the entire Islamic Civilization. In the absence of such a leader, leaders, or a coherent reformist movement, and in the absence of any evidence of willingness on the part of the current leaders of Islamic nations to countenance such reform, conflict becomes increasingly likely. It is therefore necessary for the West to plan and prepare for this eventuality, even as we seek ways to avoid it.
Unfortunately, we have come to the point, not infrequent in such clashes, where the course of future events by and large depends on the doomed civilization. In the 1930s and 40s, German and Japanese fascists wrote their own death warrants by declaring war on the United States. There followed a total war, with the demand for unconditional surrender, that left those two nations virtually unrecognizable in its aftermath. The Soviet Union well realized that it would meet the same fate if ever it forced a final showdown, so it festered along for several more decades before reforming itself out of existence. It is now up to Islam which course it pursues. They can confront us now and get it over with quickly or die a lingering death, but, make no mistake, these are the alternatives. Those in the Islamic world who view globalization an?d American hegemony as a lethal threat to Islam are correct. The only debate now is over how the death is administered, by us, because they force us to, or by them, because they realize its in their own best interest.
Finally, Mr. Huntington asserts that :
The principal responsibility of Western leaders is
not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the
While I would contend that we can do both, he is absolutely correct that the great danger to Western values arises from within. This is the danger inherent in multiculturalism. It's all fine and dandy to study and learn from the great variety of civilizations that Man has created, but we must never make the mistake of treating them as all equally valid. We must make a simple but essential judgment that Western Civilization is superior to the alternatives. Having made this judgment, the two most important steps to be taken are to inculcate these values in our schools and demand that immigrants accept them. To allow successive generations of young people to grow up with little knowledge of Western Civilization, and even less appreciation of its greatness, is to court our own extinction.
We have seen though, particularly in the weeks since the 9-11 bombings, just how difficult it is for people to take even the first step of accepting the core judgment. The storm of protest that descended upon Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi when he stated that Western Civilization is superior was indicative of a kind of soul-sickness and self-loathing in the West that is a far greater threat to our way of life and the eventual extension of freedom and prosperity to every corner of the globe than Islam is or Communism ever was.
It is nearly unthinkable to consider that some good may come from the events of September 11th, but in the long run this may well be the case. If those events force upon us the realization that civilizations do clash, that their different values produce much different ways of life, and that our way of life is preferable to others, then perhaps we can give a very special meaning to the victims' deaths. If we can once again become forceful defenders of and advocates for Western Civilization, then they will have died in the cause of freedom.
Sixty years ago, the great conservative critic, Albert Jay Nock, said that he considered himself : "...the unworthy inheritor of a great tradition." So are we all, but let us strive to be worthy. Let us, who have been so fortunate as to benefit from Western Civilization, rededicate ourselves to defending and extending it. We must, and we will, win the Clash of Civilizations that Samuel P. Huntington has so helpfully reminded us is still going on. But having won, we must remain vigilant in our defense of our cultural inheritance.
-OBITUARIES & LINKS: Samuel P. Huntington (BrothersJuddBlog)
-EXCERPT : from The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order By Samuel P. Huntington Chapter One: The New Era in World Politics
-ESSAY : The Clash of Civilizations? (Samuel P. Huntington, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993)
-ESSAY : The Lonely Superpower (Samuel P. Huntington, Foreign Affairs, March/April 1999)
-ESSAY : Reconsidering Immigration : Is Mexico a Special Case? (Samuel P. Huntington, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2000)
-LECTURE : Global Perspectives on War and Peace or Transiting a Uni-Multipolar World (Samuel P. Huntington, American Enterprise Institute, May 11, 1998)
-ARCHIVES : Huntington, Samuel P. (MSA News)
-PROFILE : Looking the World in the Eye : Samuel Huntington is a mild-mannered man whose sharp opinions-about the collision of Islam and the West, about the role of the military in a liberal society, about what separates countries that work from countries that don't-have proved to be as prescient as they have been controversial. Huntington has been ridiculed and vilified, but in the decades ahead his view of the world will be the way it really looks (Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly | December 2001)
-GERGEN DIALOGUE : MANY WORLD ORDERS : David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Samuel Huntington, professor of international relations at Harvard University, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. (Online Newshour, January 9, 1997, PBS)
-INTERVIEW : The Islamic-Confucian Connection with Samuel P. Huntington (New Perspectives Quarterly)
-ESSAY: The “Clash of Civilizations” Thesis Is Still Ignorant Nonsense: Mentally arranging the world into homogeneous “civilizations” makes us oblivious to the world’s complexity as well as to our shared humanity with those considered mysterious Others. (Nathan J. Robinson, March 2022, Current Affairs)
-ESSAY: The meaning of Huntington: Samuel Huntington died a pariah among America's intellectual elite. It's because he was normal (Eric Kaufmann, February 2009, Prospect)
-ESSAY : Expecting the Worst (JUDITH SHULEVITZ, December 16, 2001, NY Times)
-ESSAY : The Clash : Two professors, two academic theories, one big difference. depending on which is right, September 11 may mark a brief battle against terrorism, or an endless struggle between Islam and the West (Joel Achenbach, December 16, 2001, Washington Post)
-ARTICLE : Harvard scholar's '96 book becomes the word on war (Patrick Healy, 11/6/2001, Boston Globe)
-ESSAY : It IS a "clash of civilizations" (Marc Erikson, 11/28/01, AsiaWeek)
-ESSAY : The Clash of Ignorance (EDWARD W. SAID, October 22, 2001, The Nation)
-ESSAY : The Clash of the Samuel Huntingtons (Jacob Heilbrunn, The American Prospect, July 1 - August 1 1998)
-ESSAY : THE MOST DANGEROUS RELIGION (Hint: It's not Islam) : Is international cultural conflict replacing political Cold War conflict? : Even before fanatical Muslims dynamited ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan?s Bamiyan Valley, scholar Samuel P. Huntington suggested that the answer might be yes. (Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan, Arts Journal)
-ESSAY : Highbrow Tribalism : Is Harvard geopolitical theorist Sam Huntington the next George
Kennan, or just the thinking man's Pat Buchanan? (Robert Wright, Nov. 1, 1996, Slate)
-ESSAY : The World According To Mr. Huntington (Mika Hannula, SIKSI The Nordic Art Review, Spring1997)
-ESSAY : US Political Thought : Notes on Samuel P. Huntington, Chapter III: "The United States" in The Crisis of Democracy, by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watnuki (J. Boland)
-ESSAY : PREJUDICE AS SOCIAL SCIENCE THEORY SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON'S VISION OF THE FUTURE (BINNAZ TOPRAK, Journal of International Affairs, May 1996)
-ESSAY : Clash of Civilizations or Excuse for War?: One Student's Perspective (Adam Sharp, Presented to Professor Cecelia M. Lynch, Northwestern University, March 15, 1999)
-LECTURE : AMB. HUNT SPEECH AT PANEL ON `CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS' (01/10/97)
-ESSAY : TERRORISM AND THE GLOBAL CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS (Louis Rene
Beres, October 2001, The Maccabean)
-ARCHIVES : "samuel P. Huntington" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Michael Ignatieff, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. By Samuel P. Huntington (A. J. Bacevich, First Things)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Michael Elliott, Washington Post)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Christopher Power, Business Week)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Richard Pipes, Commentary)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Lane Jennings, The Futurist)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Richard Rosecrance, American Political Science Review)
-REVIEW : of The Clash of Civilizations (Father C. John McCloskey III, STD, Catholicity)
-Responses to Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" : Fouad Ajami
-REVIEW : of Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State (Kurt Kuhlmann, Warhorse)
-REVIEW : of THE THIRD WAVE : Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century By Samuel P. Huntington (ScottLondon.com)
-REVIEW : of Culture Matters, edited by Samuel P. Huntington (Michael Novak, Weekly Standard)
-ESSAY: The politics of oxymoron (Roger Sandall, Summer 2003, New Criterion)
Book-related and General Links:
LATIN AMERICA :
Chris Chapman's comments represent the typical views of someone who subscribes to an antiamerican ideology, he assumes that the majority of american's are ignorant and that the world rest of the world is more "enlightened." Give me a break Mr. Chapman, give me a break.
- Martin Sherman
- Apr-23-2006, 19:53
You know, my gowerment (in Latvia(Baltic states)) follows the US in question about Middle-east as well. The reason of this action is that we are afraid from Russia (we got indipendence 2-nd time only in 1991,and know Putin's forign action is not friendly and even safety to Lavia).The gowernment thinks, that only NATO and the most powerful country in it-US can garanty our safety, but my opinion is that Bush wouldnt help our country, because1)he has a good friendschip with leader of Russia 2)Russia steal has a power 3)Russia has a good friedschip with China and if the third world war would be, China and Middle-East would have a coalation with Russia against US and Europe:)))Bush is not interested in that ednding of situation.. I'm agree with our gowernment, but i cant understand this American imperialism..Wacke up!!!!! My English is not so good thats why i cant you tell everything what i'm thinkink yet.There are many aspects of US action on my mind. If you want to make a disscission with me about history or Iraq crisis-my e-mail email@example.com
- Edgars from Latvia
- Nov-08-2004, 16:00
While I largely concur with Chris Chapman's remarks, I realise that not all in the US would agree with Orin's review, nor would all Australians feel in disagreement as messr Chapman does (in fact quite to the contrary it would seem). Nonetheless, I believe the broad generalizations tended to by both Huntington and Fukuyama in their somewhat opposing theses incorporate ontological views of humankind similarly over-simplified in nature to Orin's assertions in his review. A culturally reductionist view of human behaviour, whilst not completely lacking in substance, may just be missing a point of difference in our technologically enabling and connecting world with the many culturally assigned conflicts of antiquity. Technology, while not "the answer", is not just advancing weapons design, but connecting and faciltitating people empowerment without necessarily westernizing their cultural forms. I believe the future is a little less well known than in any of the views posited here.
- Craig Woolley
- May-23-2003, 00:09
You wrote your comment with a computer, right? Not an abacus or the cocanut telegraph?
- Feb-08-2003, 20:22
Your review of Huntington's essay is perceptive but neither he nor you have yet realized that indigenous cultures are civilizations. I recommend Jack Weatherford's account Savages and Civilizations to help your insight. And your assertion of the superiority of western culture is manifestly ridiculous. A culture that turns out foolishness like Y2K and SUV's is infantile and dangerous.
- Steven Heimel
- Feb-08-2003, 19:55
You represent everything that is wrong with the United States of America. Comments such as "we must make a simple but essential judgment that Western Civilization is superior to the alternatives" go a long way toward explaining exactly why your country was attacked on September 11th 2001. Your people are arrogant, largely ignorant of world affairs, and dangerously apathetic toward the suffering of other people. The sad thing is, my government (the govt. of Australia) seems to be blindly following your neo-imperialistic oil hungry quest into the middle-east. I would encourage you to actually leave your cosy little middle-American town and experience one of these 'inferior civilisations' which you described. Spend a year in the middle east. Live with a local family in south east asia. Get some real world knowledge and crawl out of your shoebox. And don't forget to have a nice day. :)
- Chris Chapman, Australia
- Oct-08-2002, 05:13
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