Huntington, Samuel. “The Clash of Civilizations?.” Foreign Affairs 72 (1993): 22-50.

In this controversial piece Huntington offers one central thesis:  “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 principle 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” (22).

Starting with the Treaty of Westphalia in the West, Huntington sketches how wars among monarchs turned into wars between peoples and finally wars between ideologies (mot notably the post-WWI conflict between communism and capitalism/liberal democracy).  Abandoning distinctions between countries based on economics (first, second, third world, etc.), Huntington instead claims that divisions should be made based on civilizations or “cultural entities.”  According to H., civilizations are “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species” (24).  Huntington names the contemporary civilizations thusly: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African.  Here are the justifications H. gives for why there will be “clashes” among these groups:

  1. Differences among civilizations are basic and include different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, spouses, and rights and responsibilities.
  2. The world is becoming a smaller place because of the process of globalization.
  3. The processes of economic modernization and social change are separating people from longstanding local identities; this, in turn, weakens individual reliance of the nation-state as a source of identity.
  4. The hegemony of the West putatively causing a rise in “civilization-consciousness” by non-Western civilizations.
  5. Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable; therefore, consensus and compromise toward conflict resolution is much more difficult than in political or economic arenas.  In other words, civilizational culture goes all the way to the ground.
  6. Economic regionalism will eventually take on civilizational characteristics causing conflict at sites of economic interpolation.

Huntington advances his thesis by demonstrating how the “fault lines” between civilizations are now the sites for power struggle and military conflict.  Additionally, countries who find “kin” in neighbors rally for support in conflict creating blocs of shared-civilization states fighting against one-another.  Offering “the West and the Rest” thesis that describes future conflict as the result of non-Western powers pushing back against Western hegemony, H. notes that non-Western civilizations have three options:  1) isolationaism (Burma, N. Korea); 2) Band-wagoning with the West and accepting their values and institutions; and 3) Balancing modernization and non-Westernization or, in other words, to develop economically and militarily but not to accept Western values/culture.  Huntington also identifies a connection between the Confucian and Islamic civilizations that revolves around military power and weapons trading that seeks to undermine the nuclear non-proliferation policies of already armed Western nuclear powers.  For H., this is the new international arms race.  In closing, H. notes that he doesn’t support any of these developments, but sees them as inevitable and necessarily confrontable in order to create a world where we “will have to learn to coexist with the others” (49).

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