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01/01/2009

Samuel Huntington...The Clash of Civilizations

The great Harvard University political scientist, Samuel Huntington, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 81. Huntington was best known for his theory that the post-Cold War world would be divided among seven or eight cultural “civilizations.” 

In light of his passing, I thought I would go back to a piece first done in 2002 for this site, and then repeated back in May 2004, a year plus into the Iraq War.

---

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, many analysts of the political scene turned to a piece written for the summer 1993 edition of Foreign Affairs by Samuel P. Huntington, a professor at Harvard. Titled “The Clash of Civilizations?” it has become the catchphrase for many in commenting on the current war against terrorism. Much of what Huntington wrote is now coming to pass.

-----

The Clash of Civilizations: The Next Pattern of Conflict

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington writes about the evolution of conflict in the world, and how beginning with the French Revolution the “principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes.” He quotes R.R. Palmer from 1793: “The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun.”

After World War I, conflicts of nations gave way to conflicts of ideologies; first, communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, then, communism and democracy.

All of the prior battles, whether between princes, nation states or ideologies were within a Western context, “Western civil wars.” [William Lind]

Today we group countries in terms of culture and civilization (like Arabs, Chinese and Westerners). But the key is how we define the latter.

“A civilization is...the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.”

Huntington adds that a civilization can include several nation states, as in the West or Arab civilizations, or only one, as in Japan. The fault lines, however, are caused by the following:

First, “Differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic.” [For example: history and language.]

Second, “The world is becoming a smaller place.” [North Africans migrating to France generate hostility among many Frenchmen.]

Third, “The processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities.”

Fourth, “The growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West.” [“A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests (sic) that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.”]

Fifth, “Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones.” [Russians can become rich or democrats, but Russians can’t become Estonians.]

Sixth, “Economic regionalism is increasing.” [Economic trade blocs, a la NAFTA and the E.U.]

In summarizing the “fault lines,” Huntington writes, “As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion.”

“The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjunct groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and
religious values.”

While Huntington’s essay delves into all kinds of relationships, including that between Russia and the U.S., I’m going to focus on his theories regarding the West’s relationship with Islam. He cites Indian Muslim author M.J. Akbar, who says that the West’s “next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis came to a similar conclusion in a 1992 article for Atlantic Monthly.

“We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations - the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”

Huntington notes that you could draw a fault line down from Russia through current-day Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and into the Balkans to get an idea where clashes have taken place between Western and Islamic civilizations over the past 1,300 years. [In the Balkans, for example, the line is drawn between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.]

The professor also has some extensive thoughts regarding Turkey, what he describes as a “torn country” (he gives the same label to Mexico and, most importantly, Russia). These are cases where the leaders want to make their countries members of the West, but the history and culture of these nations is non-Western. In the case of Turkey, since the days after World War I and Ataturk the leaders have defined it “as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community (still a ways off). At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such.” Huntington quotes former Turkish President Ozal on the problems with the West. “We are Muslim and they are Christian and they don’t say that.”

The clash of civilizations in general can be boiled down to the premise that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, human rights, rule of law, often have little resonance in Islamic or Confucian culture.”

And when one looks at the post-9/11 world, you can see how prescient Huntington was back in 1993.

“The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and
other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal.”

While the West promotes non-proliferation, the non-Western nations, “assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf War: ‘Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.’”

Speaking of the current conflict in terms of a ‘clash of civilizations’ isn’t politically correct and, one can argue, that we are dealing more with extremist elements rather than a whole people. But it has always been the goal of the bin Ladens of the world to turn the battle into one between civilizations and with rational Islamic leaders showing no signs of carrying the day, a true clash is what we have. 

--- 

Note: Again, I wrote the conclusion above in May 2004 and I can’t say I’d really change anything today. 

Hot Spots will return Jan. 8.
 
Brian Trumbore
 


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Hot Spots

01/01/2009

Samuel Huntington...The Clash of Civilizations

The great Harvard University political scientist, Samuel Huntington, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 81. Huntington was best known for his theory that the post-Cold War world would be divided among seven or eight cultural “civilizations.” 

In light of his passing, I thought I would go back to a piece first done in 2002 for this site, and then repeated back in May 2004, a year plus into the Iraq War.

---

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, many analysts of the political scene turned to a piece written for the summer 1993 edition of Foreign Affairs by Samuel P. Huntington, a professor at Harvard. Titled “The Clash of Civilizations?” it has become the catchphrase for many in commenting on the current war against terrorism. Much of what Huntington wrote is now coming to pass.

-----

The Clash of Civilizations: The Next Pattern of Conflict

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington writes about the evolution of conflict in the world, and how beginning with the French Revolution the “principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes.” He quotes R.R. Palmer from 1793: “The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun.”

After World War I, conflicts of nations gave way to conflicts of ideologies; first, communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, then, communism and democracy.

All of the prior battles, whether between princes, nation states or ideologies were within a Western context, “Western civil wars.” [William Lind]

Today we group countries in terms of culture and civilization (like Arabs, Chinese and Westerners). But the key is how we define the latter.

“A civilization is...the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.”

Huntington adds that a civilization can include several nation states, as in the West or Arab civilizations, or only one, as in Japan. The fault lines, however, are caused by the following:

First, “Differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic.” [For example: history and language.]

Second, “The world is becoming a smaller place.” [North Africans migrating to France generate hostility among many Frenchmen.]

Third, “The processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities.”

Fourth, “The growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West.” [“A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests (sic) that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.”]

Fifth, “Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones.” [Russians can become rich or democrats, but Russians can’t become Estonians.]

Sixth, “Economic regionalism is increasing.” [Economic trade blocs, a la NAFTA and the E.U.]

In summarizing the “fault lines,” Huntington writes, “As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion.”

“The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjunct groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and
religious values.”

While Huntington’s essay delves into all kinds of relationships, including that between Russia and the U.S., I’m going to focus on his theories regarding the West’s relationship with Islam. He cites Indian Muslim author M.J. Akbar, who says that the West’s “next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis came to a similar conclusion in a 1992 article for Atlantic Monthly.

“We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations - the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”

Huntington notes that you could draw a fault line down from Russia through current-day Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and into the Balkans to get an idea where clashes have taken place between Western and Islamic civilizations over the past 1,300 years. [In the Balkans, for example, the line is drawn between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.]

The professor also has some extensive thoughts regarding Turkey, what he describes as a “torn country” (he gives the same label to Mexico and, most importantly, Russia). These are cases where the leaders want to make their countries members of the West, but the history and culture of these nations is non-Western. In the case of Turkey, since the days after World War I and Ataturk the leaders have defined it “as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community (still a ways off). At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such.” Huntington quotes former Turkish President Ozal on the problems with the West. “We are Muslim and they are Christian and they don’t say that.”

The clash of civilizations in general can be boiled down to the premise that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, human rights, rule of law, often have little resonance in Islamic or Confucian culture.”

And when one looks at the post-9/11 world, you can see how prescient Huntington was back in 1993.

“The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and
other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal.”

While the West promotes non-proliferation, the non-Western nations, “assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf War: ‘Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.’”

Speaking of the current conflict in terms of a ‘clash of civilizations’ isn’t politically correct and, one can argue, that we are dealing more with extremist elements rather than a whole people. But it has always been the goal of the bin Ladens of the world to turn the battle into one between civilizations and with rational Islamic leaders showing no signs of carrying the day, a true clash is what we have. 

--- 

Note: Again, I wrote the conclusion above in May 2004 and I can’t say I’d really change anything today. 

Hot Spots will return Jan. 8.
 
Brian Trumbore