The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations

The thesis of the challenging and
potentially important “Clash of Civilizations” is that the growing threat of
violence arising from renewed conflicts between cultures and countries that
base their traditions on religious faith and dogma. Samuel P Huntington, a
political scientist at Harvard University and foreign policy adviser to
President Clinton, argues that policymakers should be mindful of current
developments, especially when they interfere in other nations’ affairs.

The clash of civilizations
is a controversial theory in international
relations. It was originally formulated in an article by Samuel
P. Huntington entitled “The Clash of Civilizations?” published in
the academic
journal Foreign
Affairs in 1993. Huntington later
expanded his 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations and the
Remaking of World Order”. Huntington’s central thesis
is that main conflicts have always been marked by clashes between fundamentally
different civilisations rather than between similar nations. He states that
major conflicts occur on the boundaries between these civilizations. His
theories may be applied
not only to international conflicts (for example World War II as a conflict
between Eastern and Western European civilisation and between West and Japan)
but also to domestic ones where countries lie on the “fault lines” between
civilisations (example is Yugoslavia as conflicts between Eastern European and
Islamic civilisations). Huntington also identifies the extent and grounds of
conflict. He studies the politics of post-colonialism and national identity and
reviews many other possible sources of conflict awaiting the civilisations
currently competing for resources and status within the world structure.

This work brings to fore issues that have been
pushed to the side for long. Huntington’s view is somehow sad, for we see from
his work that the clash is certainly unavoidable. Nonetheless, its effect and
speed can be reduced or deferred. The question Huntington puts is whether mankind
actually reached the end of civilisation?

Analysing “The Clash of
Civilizations” we cannot omit essential question: “Will
conflicts between civilizations dominate world politics?” Huntington’s answer
is affirmative; clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world
peace nowadays. An international order based on civilizations is the best
safeguard against war. National states remain the principal actors on the international arena, but the
most important category is the major civilizations — Western, Latin America,
African, Islamic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. Huntington asserts
that civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries, no definite beginnings and ending.
According to his view, they are mortal, nevertheless, long-lived. They develop
and adapt. Also all civilizations have particular weak points. The hotspots are
on the fault lines between civilizations — the Middle East, Chechnya, the
Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Kashmir, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. The West, —
Huntington says, — is the most powerful civilization but its relative power is
declining at the same time as Confucian and Islamic societies are rising to
balance the west. Huntington warns us that dangerous clashes are likely to proceed
from Western arrogance and Islamic intolerance. According “The Clash of
Civilizations” the essential problem for the West is not Islamic
fundamentalism. Islam is a different civilization with obvious conviction of superiority
of their culture. Huntington presents in his book the evidence, the argument
and offers a strategy for the West to protect its culture while learning to
coexist in a multipolar and multi-civilization world.   

Huntington explains that the expansion of the Western civilization has ended and the riot against
the west has already begun. The West confronts nowadays numerous problems: of
slow economic growth, stagnating populations, unemployment, huge government
deficits, low savings rates, social degeneration, drugs and crime. Thus, economic
power is shifting to Asia. Moreover, military power and political weight are
supposed to go after. Asia and Islam have been the active civilizations of the
last quarter century. China is probable to have the world’s largest economy early in the 21st century. In
addition, Asia is expected to have seven of the ten largest economies by 2020.

Huntington began his meditations by surveying diverse thinking
about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. According
to Huntington, future conflicts will base on culture. He claims that the
concept of different civilizations, as
the highest ranking of cultural identity, would increasingly become useful in considering
the potential for 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”.

It is important to
say that using various studies of history and making certain decision,
Huntington divided the civilizations in following way: Christendom, centred
on North America,
including Hindu civilization, located
mainly in Sub-Saharan
Africa; the Buddhist
areas of Northern India, Nepal, Japan is considered as an independent
civilization (Huntington 1993, 26).

Huntington states that the Western creed that
the West’s values and political systems were universal was very naive and that
insistence towards democratization of the rest of the world and acceptance of
universal norms would only further antagonize other civilizations. Huntington
also identified the Sinic civilization to be the most powerful continuous
threat to the West World.
He represents Islamic civilization
as a probable ally to China, for these both civilizations have revisionist
goals and also are involved in conflicts with other civilizations. Huntingon
also marked the Orthodox, Hindu, and
Japanese civilizations as “swing” civilizations that are probable to go in
different ways in their development.

Samuel P. Huntington’s article “The Clash of
Civilizations” (1993) published in the Foreign Affairs journal suggested the
idea that the world is returning to a civilization-dominated world where future
conflicts would come from clashes between “civilizations”. Nevertheless, this
theory has been largely criticised for overgeneralization, disregarding local
conflicts and for improperly predicting what has happened in the decade after
its publication. Events of September the 11th also became the ground
for the claim Huntington is simply not supported by the evidence. Although, it was published when a post Cold War world was searching
for a new perspective to view international relations and it has however proved

Huntington’s theory draws a future where the “great
divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be
cultural” (Huntington 1993, 22). Huntington also
argues the idea that the end of ideological conflict between
liberal democracy and communism will lead to the conflict that is supposed to
take place along the borders between civilizations. On the other hand, he
predicts confrontation between countries from different civilizations for
control over international institutions and economic and military power (Huntington
1993, 29). The author also explains how the West World represents its policies
as constructive and beneficial for the rest of the world and that the idea of a
universal culture is a creation of Western minds. In evidence thereof, he says
about such Western values as human rights, claiming that they very often are
the least important values to other civilizations (James Graham, 2004).

The clash of civilizations thesis as every
theory has its flaws. James Graham considers that Huntington’s thesis somehow
distorted the reality, although they are original and persuasive. He also
points the advantage that this theory made people look at non-Western cultures
more seriously and with greater interest. Huntington also is criticized
for being too vague and indistinct addressing many specific
issues (James Graham, 2004). Many specialists say that Huntington’s anecdotal
style is simply not suitable enough to account for the rationalizations and
arguments he represents in such a serious work (Fox 2002, 423). A comprehensive analysis accomplished by Jonathon Fox for the period 1989-2002
concluded that the precise contrary of what Huntington predicted occurred in
fact (Fox 2002, 425). In addition, James Graham says that civilization
conflicts were less widespread than noncivilization conflicts and the end of
the Cold War had no noteworthy impact on the relation between them (James
Graham, 2004). Most confusing of all was the observation
that where civilization conflict did occur it was more likely to take place
between groups that were culturally similar, that is in the frame of the same
civilization and not between them. These conclusions openly contradict
Huntington’s thoughts.

Many say that Huntington’s thesis ignores
culture’s tendency to be fast changing and multi-dimensional (Herzfeld 1997,
116). Most of the Western countries are becoming multi or
bi-cultural now. From this statement, we may conclude that they are somehow a
part of multiple civilizations, a situation he outlines is characterized by
religion as the crucial factor. “A secular Arab immigrant living in an Arab
community in England is just one example where this designation is
inappropriate. Really, situated in a highly religious country with a considerable
number of Christian fundamentalists he states confidently that the world is
becoming un-secularised. His data to support this claim
is circumstantial” (James Graham, 2004).

The theory of
“Clash of Civilizations” has been used to boost the fear
in the West World of an Islamic movement alleged as increasingly influential
and anti-Western. It is mostly due to this vision that has provided the foundation for attempting to limit
and manage the growth of the Islam and Confucian civilizations and its
expansion, of which the war on terror is alleged to be the most extreme
example. As we see, such policies were supported and promoted by Huntingdon. A
rational argument we may conclude that “The Clash of Civilizations” generated a
self-fulfilling forecast. Moreover, we should perceive that to make real
someone is draws as a theory is rather dangerous if not disastrous.

In the light of latest global developments, it
is impossible to dismiss Huntington’s theory as nothing more than an effort to
upstage another theory that emerged after the collapse of the communist state. A
question that is worth
asking here is whether Huntington’s theory would have ever emerged if Fukuyama
had not put up his hand with his theory first. In other words, whether
Huntington’s thesis is
self-consistent separately from the existence of Fukuyama’s ideas. Both the
"end of history" and the "clash of civilisations" theories
were welcomed as contributions to the domain of political philosophy. We may
say that the major argument used to authenticate Huntington’s theory is that he
was the first to foresee that civilisations will ultimately come to clash. Huntington replaced conflict between classes (as we see in Marxist
theory) by conflict between civilisations, eventually even between religions. He
also argued the fact for
the inevitable clash of civilisations from the stance of Western civilisation.

Speaking about the
Arab-Muslim aspect within the “clash of civilisations” theory has the ground mostly
because of the sharp rise of terrorism and because the perpetrators of
terrorist actions often appeal to Islam to justify actions blameworthy in the
eyes of the international community. Unsettled conflict in the Middle East gives
despair over the powerlessness of the international community to settle the
conflict. We have no choice but to recognise that there is a burning necessity for
a determined disapproval and condemnation of terrorism.

Consequently, we are
bound to say one more time that Huntington’s article in Foreign
Affairs created more responses than any other work ever published within that
journal. It is important to say that there have been many criticisms of his
theory from wildly diverse paradigms. Some specialists have argued that his
identified civilizations are very split with little unity. For example, Vietnam
still keeps a massive army, mostly to guard against China. The Islamic
world is rigorously fractured in terms of ethnic lines with Indonesians, every of them
having very unlike world views.

It has been emphasized that values, in fact, are
more freely and easely transmitted and altered than Huntington presents. For
example, nations such as democracies, and the
West World itself was predominant
with despotism and fundamentalism for most of its history. Supporters, though,
have pointed out that worries and tensions have often arised between democratic
states and that new emerging democracies in civilizations could successfuly
remain hostile to states belonging to civilizations which are supposed to be
hostile. Furthermore, they outline that the states belonging to different
civilizations attach different amount of importance to the nature of the national
governments of states with which they trade and support in international issues
(e.g. as with India, Russia, and Japan). Few politologists see Huntington’s theory
as creating a self-fulfilling
prediction and reasserting differences between civilizations.
However, Huntington’s argument may often be caricaturized, creating false
assumptions about its content (Wikipedia, n.d.).

It is relevant to say that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Huntington appeared
prescient and well-known attacks by Western states upon Iraq accelerated the perception that
Huntington’s “Clash” was well underway.

Some still state that the 1995 and 2004
enlargements of the European Union
brought the EU’s eastern border up to the boundary between Huntington’s Western
and Orthodox civilizations. Many of Europe’s historically and traditionally Protestant
and Roman Catholic countries
were now EU members, while a number of Europe’s historically Orthodox
countries were outside the EU. However, the strong EU candidacies of Bulgaria
and Romania, as well as the dominating
ascendancy of pro-Western powers in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential elections,
and the NATO
membership of Romania and Bulgaria (since 2004) represent a challenge to some
of Huntington’s analysis (Wikipedia, n.d).

The September 11, which is a unique and most
remarkable event after the Cold War, has created many expectations about the
shifting nature of post-Cold War international system and global politics.
Ironically, it has demonstrated how the world’s only
superpower is not protected from the threats and vulnerability of current
international system. On the other hand, the September 11 has seriously endangered patterns of US foreign policy and particularly its policy towards the
Middle East region. It is not surprisingly that Samuel P. Huntington’s clash of
civilizations theory has regularly taken place in post-September 11 debates.

It is relevant to say that Huntington’s clash of civilizations
thesis primarily attempts to offer a new concept of world politics. We know now
that Huntington principally focuses on cultural-religious-civilizational
factors. He calls to understand the post-Cold War global politics. He also argues that his “civilizational
conflict hypothesis” is superior to any of alternative models, which have been
developed after the Cold War.

Huntington has been criticized for his
presentation of “new paradigm”. He argues that the prevailing Cold War model of
state-centric realist model can no longer be useful to analyse the post-Cold
War era. He claims that civilizational dissimilarities will be key source of
regional and global conflicts (Huntington 1993, 22). On the other hand critics
suggests that Huntington’s “civilizational conflict theory” is deterministic
since there are manifold causes of conflict, in which civilizational factors do
not play considerable role. Others say that in particular “clash of interests”
rather than “clash of civilizations” will continue to be real cause of
conflict. For example, Shireen T. Hunter opposes Huntington and say that
relations between the West and the Islamic World are hardly arise from
civilizational discrepancy but from structural-political and also from economic
inequalities between the two worlds.(Shireen, 19). In addition, there are
critics that Huntington overestimates cultural differences between
civilizations and at the same time underestimates the power of the West in the
hostile relations with the Muslim World. Many criticise Huntington for paying
too much attention to the West’s technological and military superiority. Overall,
Huntington has received several criticisms because of his “new paradigm”.

Another kind of criticisms is about
Huntington’s “monolithic” conception of civilizations and disregarding of
intra-civilizational differences and home conflict. Some say that the idea of
West has undergone a considerable transformation in turn of the 21st century,
and the actual clash will happen not between the West and the rest, as
Huntington predicted, but it will arise between pro-Western conservatives and
post-Western liberal multiculturalists in the US-West World. On the other hand,
the critics assert that Huntington take no notice of internal developments and
complexities of Muslim World. Critics say that there is no single Islamic
culture as Huntington meant, moreover, there are different types of political
Islam (Edward W. Said 2001, 20). Furthermore, there are numerous conflicts
within civilizations. Overall, second sort of criticisms focuses on diversity
and dynamics of each civilization and intra-civilizational differences.

Huntington has met so many criticisms because
of the alleged inconsistencies, methodological flaws, and overgeneralizations
in his thesis. For example, Robert Marks points that Huntington chiefly uses
secondary sources in his book and his research of Islam, China and Japan is
rather weak (Reviewed by Marks). He proposes that Huntington’s speculation is
methodologically flawed because of his frequent overgeneralizations in the examination
of civilizations. Many have also criticized the data, which Huntington uses to
support his thesis. For example for many of Huntington’s critics, the Gulf War
was a case for “clash of state interests’ and not a case for “clash of
civilizations”. Therefore, we may say that in this respect, the critics have
focused on vast generalizations and inconsistencies.

Huntington is also very often is blamed for orientalist
backdrop. According to Huntington, Islam turns to be a problem and even a
threat to the West. He always privileges the West World and ignores the other —
Islam. It is possible to say that such clash thesis distorts and de-humanizes
the Muslims. 

One more
category of criticisms is about Huntington’s policy recommendations on the
basis of his understanding of post-Cold War global politics. Huntington looks
for new enemies, which replace the rival of the Cold War, the Soviet Union. There
are arguments that Huntington’s theory is an ideological and strategic theory
that aims at influencing the US foreign and defence policy (Edward W. Said
2001, 20). Huntington’s scenario of World War III that stems from clash of
civilizations interestingly fits best into military and representatives of arms
industry. In this respect, it is possible to claim that the “clash of
civilizations” is considered as determined thesis aiming at guiding the US
foreign and security policy. What is more, some scholars criticize even Huntington’s advice to pursue
Atlantics policy, by means of strengthening relations with Europe to counteract
Islamic-Confucian civilization.

There are some studies challenging
the “clash of civilization thesis. It is interesting to review few of them — Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart’s studies. In their study they
have compared political and social values of the Muslim and Western societies.
What is interesting, they have found that Muslims have no less democratic
ideals than the West and the West is not so distinctive from Islam in terms of
faith in democracy (Pippa Norris 2002, 12). In this regard, this study has significantly undermined
Huntington’s theory that Islam and the West have poles apart political values
based upon leading religious cultures. These authors demonstrate the availability
of similar political attitudes in the Muslim World as well as in the West World.
What is more, many have criticized Huntington for his pessimistic vision of
future and unawareness of the fact that collaboration and dialogue among
civilizations are possible and even useful.

As a little conclusion, I would like to
present some criticism that need no explanation
and clearly outline Huntington’s flaws. The basic
problem with Huntington’s theory, however, is the conviction that all cultures
aspire to imperial power.  Huntington
is not only inaccurate but his thesis has the potential to be extremely
dangerous if taken as a prescription for making policy. Huntington’s thesis
maximizes the significance of cultural factors and minimizes the importance of
nationalism. The problem is that most Islamic countries do not see themselves
to be in conflict with the United States. Huntington paints an
aggressive picture of the non-Western civilizations, Islam in particular, while
ignoring the misdeeds of the Western civilization whose dominance is being

Further, within the
paper it would be of use to mention some civilization clashes according to
Huntington. As an example we may take the Cold War and 9/11 attack
on USA. These two patterns are very similar and different at the same time.
Both wars can be easily named as clash of civilizations, for involved two
different civilizations and in its course endangered
the whole planet.

The Cold War was a “Clash” of two
different systems, for it is early to make a stress on cultural differences. On
the first stage, there were political misunderstandings that have led to
confrontation in all spheres of life including cultural
diversity. The Cold War was putting on edge the whole world, for it saw the largest conventional and the first nuclear arms race in

Another significant event in our recent history
is a 9/11 attack on the United States of America. It would be relevant to say
that Huntington predictions have been truthful. For, we could not escape that
great clash he forsaw between West and Muslim (or Islamic) world. Al-Qaeda (that is blamed to be responsible for
9/11 attack) considers its terrorist campaign against the United States to be
part of a war between the ummah—Arabic for the “Muslim community”—and the
Christian and Jewish West. Many experts therefore say the September 11 attacks
cannot be reduced to a “clash of civilizations”. 

As a little conclusion, it is significant to
state that it is impossible to say for sure whether Huntington was right in his
observations. Definitely, he could have mistaken in some aspects, but we should
not forget that some of his thoughts have real basis to be believed in.

It is evident that world politics is
entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the
dominating source of international conflicts will be cultural. Civilizations
that are the highest cultural groupings of people are distinguished from each
other by religion, history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep
and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central
Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are supposed to be the clash lines of
the future. In this emerging era of cultural conflict, the United States must build
alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With
alien civilizations the West must be accommodating if possible, but
confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilizations
will have to learn to live in mutual tolerance and respect with each other.

If Huntington is right
that clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace in
the future, if he is right about our arrogance and conceit in believing that
Western civilization is in the end of history; and if our leaders see no need
to plan for the inevitable rise of other civilizations, I fear that the world
map is due for another big change.















  1. Fox, Jonathon. Ethnic minorities and the clash of
    civilizations: A quantitative analysis of Huntington’s thesis.
    Journal of Political Science. 32(3). 415-435.
  2. Herzfeld, Michael. 1997. Anthropology and the politics of
    Social Analysis. 4(3). 107-138.
  3. Huntington. Samuel, 1993. The clash
    of civilizations.
    Foreign Affairs, 72(3):22-49.
  4. Graham, James. May, 2004.
     Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations.
  5. Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of
    Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
    (New York: Simon &
    Schuster, 1996), p. 43.
  6. Clash of civilizations. Online resourses from Wikipedia, the
    free encyclopedia.
  7. Shireen T. Hunter, "The Future of
    Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence?",
    Fouad Ajami, M.E Ahrari, "The Clash of Civilizations: An Old Story or
    New Truth?", Yuksel Sezgin, "Does Islam Pose A Threat to the
    West?" Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 2,
    (June-August 2000)
  8. Edward W. Said, "The Clash of Ignorance",
    The Nation, October 22 2001 and Mahmood Monshipouri, "The West’s
    Modern Encounter With Islam: From Discourse to Reality".
  9. Robert Marks, "The Clash of
    Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (Book Review).
  10. Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart,
    "Islam and the West; Testing the Clash of Civilizations Thesis",
    John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Faculty Research
    Working Papers Series (RWP02-015), April 2002, p.14

Part V of the book —
The Future of Civilizations — is the really interesting part. Huntington points
out that civilizations can reform and renew themselves. The central issue for the
West is whether it can meet the external challenge while stopping and reversing
the process of internal decay. He paints a scenario for a major war of
civilizations and points out that the great beneficiaries will be those who
abstain and closes by saying: "If this scenario seems a wildly implausible
fantasy to the reader, that is all to the good. Let us hope that no other
scenarios of global civilizational war have greater plausibility."

. —This text refers
to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title

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