The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
By Samuel P. Huntington, February 1998, 368 p.
This is the worst book in political theory that I have ever read. Here are 10 reasons why:
1) The thesis espoused in this book (as well as in Huntington’s 1992 Foreign Affairs article “The Clash of Civilizations?” that still has a question mark to it) is a very narrow, one-dimensional view of conflict in the contemporary world. In effect, it attempts to relate conflicts straight and simply to cultural differences between peoples. It then relates peoples to predominant cultures and groups all cultures into 8 major civilizations (Western, Islamic, Sinic, Japanese, Orthodox, Hindu, Latin American and African). It disregards or downplays all other evidence to the contrary (regarding culture, conflict and anything else that might contradict the simple paradigm of “The Clash”).
2) Early in the book it is even admitted that this is not a scientific study but rather “a new paradigm” in which to view global politics in a new era – but this coward self-defence does not in any way mitigate the fact that it presents a wrong-headed argument that, if taken as true, will have devastating consequences on world politics and the fate of future generations.
3) Refuting the argument of the book is rather simple as each and every major building block of the so-called “new paradigm” is simply wrong: 1. There are no clear-cut 8 civilizations 2. around which nations (not homogeneous cultures themselves!) will 3. “rally” (what does that mean, anyway? Is there no more interest-based foreign politics, just friendly or antagonist feelings? Of whom?) against 4. members (who defines that?) of 5. other civilizations (see 1.).
4) The historical and contemporary evidence of conflict does not in any way support the argument of “The Clash”. Sam Huntington personally admitted that much in a discussion round at Harvard, but made a vague reference to “predictions of future conflicts to come”.
5) A strong case is made of the fact that modernization is not equal to westernisation. Just because people in other cultures drink Coca-Cola and wear Nike shoes does not mean that they also inhale the Western system of values with it. Ah, yes. But this much was known by anthropologists long before and has been debated at length. It is, however, not an argument that differences and frictions between cultures (or even civilizations) will necessarily grow and there is much evidence to the contrary (think of elite formation or the growing importance of “epistemic communities”).
6) The argument does not in any way explain why conflicts occur in the first place. In particular, there is no discussion of the importance of democratic vs. authoritarian regimes, justice vs. equality, struggles over the control of resources, ethno-political mobilization, ethnic entrepreneurs and so on. In short: The major ingredients of violent conflict are ignored for the sake of a one-dimensional, wrong-headed argument.
7) The major culprit in the book, and the alleged source of future conflicts are the “Islamist resurgence” and the “Asian affirmation”, which are said to be driven by demographic and economic growth, respectively. This is enough to define the corresponding civilizations as “challenger civilizations” of the declining “Western civilitzation”. The major feature of the Muslim civilization is its common religion and “la revanche de dieu”, that is to say the increasing role of religion and fundamentalism that will bring nations in conflict with each other. Beside the fact that this development is far from inevitable, the core of the book thereby assumes a different argument: It is no longer a Clash of Civilizations, but a “Clash of Religions”.
8) Clashes of “civilizations” could only occur if the world is ordered according to Huntington’s thesis of the “structure of civilizations”: Countries group around the “core states” of their own civilizations against other countries that group around the core states of their own civilizations. The core state of “The West” is then, according to S.H., the United States of America. Russia, India, China, Japan would be the other “core states”, while Latin America, Africa and Islam do not have core states (yet). And here is part 1 of the hidden agenda of S.H: If the West is to counter the “challenge” of the rising civilizations, it must “rally” around the U.S.A. Europe as an alternative model of “western civilization” would be disaster for S.H. ! No thank’s! (with regards to my friends in the U.S).
9) The book is weakest where it is most concrete: Clashes of civilizations are said to be most likely along the “fault lines” of civilizations (the “bloody borders” of Islam, that is to say). The primary example of this is, yes, Bosnia! Bosnia is at a Huntingtonian “fault line” and embodies the quintessential civilizational war. Wow! He couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. If you had asked the Bosnians, whether or not they belong to different cultures, let alone civilizations, they would not even understand what you mean. The peculiar mixture of Bosnian cultures and religions is unique but certainly the people do not feel they belong to three different civilizations. The war is the result of ethno-political mobilization by “ethnic entrepreneurs”, who exploited historical fears and current profit opportunities by starting and sustaining a bloody war. That combatants then look for support wherever they can get it (be it Mujahedins or Opus Dei) is following the dynamics of escalation, not civilizational “rallying”. The henchman of Bosnia, the likes of Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic must be delighted by S.H. revisionism!
10) Finally, the book is not only wrong, but dangerously so. As one commentator put it: “This is what is so stunning about “The Clash of Civilizations”: It is not just about the future, but may actually help to shape it” – Wang Gungwu, The National Interest). The conclusions drawn from this misguided paradigm come at the end of this torturing 300-something page “book of misinterpretation”. Given the new lines of conflict in global politics, “The West” must guard against two things: 1. Multi-culturalism within, unless it would become a “torn country” like a Hispanic dominated southern US (this is part 2 of S.H. hidden agenda) and 2. Multi-civilizationism without: That means that all “multi-civilizational integration” (economic and political) is unnatural and unsustainable. Let go, then, of these artifical bastards (NAFTA, APEC, good Russia-US relations, US-China, Bosnia (as a multi-ethnic state), Chechnya, Turkey in NATO and the EU,…). Concentrate, instead, on the moral, cultural, economic and military renewal of “The West”. In doing so, we should also abandon the “universality” of Western culture, which is in Huntington’s words both false, immoral and dangerous: Abstain from intervention in intra-civilizational wars, otherwise they could become global (future inter-civilizational wars “bubble up from below”, you know). And arrange yourself with the minimal inter-civilizational common denominator of values and norms. What a weird conclusion in the era of globalization!
Done on 29.1.2001
(c) Michael Jandl