source Address:


Book Author: Samuel P. Huntington

The Clash of Civilization and Remaking of World Order (1996)


World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be-the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.


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 linesbetween civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.



The Clash of Civilizations? (Samuel P. Huntington, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993)


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 civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world.


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; modernization is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies.

Part II: The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

Part III: A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization.

Part IV: The West's universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate "kin-country rallying," the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core states to halt these wars.

Part V:  The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics.


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.


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




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