on March 7, 2007
By Amazon's count, mine is the 228th review of this book. That itself tells you something about the huge impact of Samuel Huntington's work and of its value in provoking thought and debate worldwide. The only reason I add my voice to earlier reviews is that: 1) any sane consumer at Amazon.com is only going to examine the last 20 reviews, not the last 200, so I might as well be among the latest who are actually read; and 2) I believe deeply in the value of this book, so I'd like to encourage you to consider it.
The fact that the book's 228 ratings average only 3.5 Amazon stars reflects not on the brilliance of the book--which is beyond question--but on the ideological unpopularity in some quarters of its basic theses.
And those theses are that: 1) with the end of the Cold War, political ideologies have given way to differing cultural and religious values (i.e. civilizations) as the gravitational fields of attraction which group like-minded national sympathies and create de facto world alliances; 2) the key blocs thus created will be Euro-Atlantic civilization, a Russian-centered Slavic bloc, the Islamic World, a Chinese-centered East Asian grouping, Japanese civilization, and Indian civilization; 3) the West's power will inevitably decline relative to the rest of the world, in particular an ascendant China, which poses the greatest threat of global conflict if it cannot be peacefully integrated into current power structures; 4) Islamic revivalism coupled with Arab demographic explosion will make that part of the world the greatest source of secondary global conflicts for the next generation or two, with the attendant dangers of terrorism potentially (and perhaps catastrophically) leveraged by nuclear proliferation; and 5) if the US wishes to thrive or at least survive in a world based on civilizations, it must reject multi-culturalism and reaffirm its roots and unity in European civilization.
When Huntington over a decade ago wrote the "Foreign Affairs Magazine" article upon which the book is based, these scenarios were debated...and perhaps debatable. Are they still? Ten years later, as the daily headlines attest, I think his projections have stood the test of time--eerily so in many cases--which suggests to me that his understanding of the underlying tectonic plates of world politics in the 21st century is largely correct...or at least carries a lot of merit.
The book is vintage Huntington. As an undergraduate I first encountered him in the late 1960s when his book "Political Order in Changing Societies" had catapulted him to the first rank of American political scientists and was standard issue in college political science courses. His Harvard career since has fulfilled that early promise, and the "Clash of Civilizations" is in the same first rank of seminal texts: broad-gauged in addressing the "big questions," and brilliantly argued with a wealth of empirical evidence. And it is relentlessly realistic...which is to say ultimately rather realpolitik (or "conservative" if you like) in its somewhat downbeat view of what ultimately drives human groupings or "states" (which Huntington pretty clearly views as tribal in their deepest instincts). That makes him unpopular with some observers (particularly on the left) who take a more optimistic view of human nature and thus of our future, and who dislike his warnings against multi-culturalism in the U.S.
For my own part, as a calloused (and, yes, rather cynical) retired U.S. diplomat, I find this book among the most realistic and plausible guesstimates we are likely to get to the politics of the coming century.
If you wish to complement and broaden that view with an environment/systems-based prediction of the global future, then read the equally well written and wide-ranging book "The Upside of Down" by Thomas Homer-Dixon. Together, the two books provide a good and fairly comprehensive prophetic view of the century to come. That roadmap is not a happy one, especially if, like me, you are an American. So take a stiff drink after reading!
on February 8, 2007
Reading this 1996 publication after 9/11/2001, the onset of the War on Terror and the US experiment in "regime change" and "nation building," one cannot but be amazed at the accuracy of its prognostication and the degree to which its advice was not heeded. The basic thesis of the book is that it is impossible to impose Western political, religious and cultural values on non-Western countries. A most astonishing proof of this thesis is the first Gulf War of 1990, waged by the United States against Iraq. To Western eyes it was an entirely just war, backed up by a coalition of Arab states, which succeeded in stopping Saddam Hussein from invading a weaker sovereign state, Kuwait. But, as Huntington shows, it was roundly condemned by public opinion in the Middle East as an imperialist intervention in domestic affairs, a threatening show of military force and a war of the West against all Arabs and all Muslims. The good war, even altruistic war, backfired. Undertaken to protect the life and property of an Arab state, it provoked fear and hatred in the Arab world and empowered the defeated aggressor, whose prestige gained in neighboring states.
On the basis of such examples, Huntington draws the painful conclusion that we (as Westerners) cannot universalize rights and principles that we hold dear and apply them to other peoples, governments and states that do not observe them. To do so, he warns, is false, immoral and dangerous. He asserts toward the close of his book: "Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world." He advances an "abstention rule": that core states of one civilization abstain from intervening in the conflicts of other civilizations. He proposes that a constant seeking for common values, practices and institutions among different peoples, states and civilizations is the key to peace and world order in the realignment of nations taking place after the end of the Cold War.
THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS was a bestselling book that was widely discussed and debated throughout America--in the popular media, in the halls of academe and in the chambers of government. Henry Kissinger endorsed it. Zbigniew Brzezinski called it revolutionary. Presumably every reader of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, where Huntington's initial statement was published, studied the book. This means all the world analysts in the Department of State, the Department of Defense and the Cabinet. It is hard to imagine another publication that had a greater chance of influencing US foreign policy. And yet, as the US prepared to go to war for a second time against Iraq, then went to war and got stuck, every single argument, proof and piece of advice packed into its nearly 400 pages was forgotten or ignored. All that was left was a catch-phrase, "clash of civilizations," which was denied and almost always misused.
Contrary to one of the reviews on this page, there is nothing simplistic about this book. The concepts of "civilization," "core state" and "fault-line war" are put forward with precise definitions, reasoned exposition and pertinent historical examples buttressed by statistical data and a full scholarly apparatus. Balkan politics are discussed in exacting detail, Chinese and Central Asian politics as well. Islamic militancy is examined with unflinching objectivity. Distinctions are drawn between domestic multiculturalism and foreign universalism which are hairsplitting, but crucial. The writing abounds in classifications and qualifications; often tedious, but often capped with a memorable maxim: "The great beneficiaries of the war of civilizations are those civilizations who abstained from it."
For me, the discussions of post-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe are most instructive: "People could no longer identify as Communists, Soviet citizens or Yugoslavs, and desperately needed to find new identities. They found them in the old standbys of ethnicity and religion. The repressive but peaceful order of states committed to the proposition that there is no god was replaced by the violence of people committed to different gods." The presentation of civilizational alignments in the Afghan war of 1979-1989, the Tadzhikistan war of 1992 and the Chechen wars beginning in 1994 provides the background for ongoing conflicts today. The analysis of Sino-Russian politics and prospects brings us right up to the moment.
The failure of this book to prevent the very thing it warned against is very troubling and raises questions about the real impact of public discourse today. No doubt it is too much to ask power-mongers to re-read it, but for us mere mortals it is essential. We may not be able to change the world, but we at least want to understand it.
on April 7, 2001
I remember noticing the essay on which this book was based, in an international newspaper several years ago. Though I knew nothing of the author at the time, I don't think it took me more than a paragraph or two to realize, first, "This is a major argument," second, "It has some validity," and third, "This is going to make a lot of people mad." The book is, of course, far more nuanced and detailed than the article. I do not agree with every point Professor Huntington makes, but it certainly carries through on the promise of those first few paragraphs. This book is one strong and rather iconoclastic model by which to understand international relations in the coming years. Even if you disagree with it, or find it offensive, this is definitely a book worth reading, or if you're a teaching, assigning your students to read and attack or defend.
I do not think some attacks below (not all really arguments) on Huntington's approach to Islam were quite fair. I didn't see anything "pathological" or "paranoid" about his arguments, and he explicitly stated, time and time again, that Islam was not at all "monolithic." Actually, I think he is sometimes overly cautious and understated on the subject, in effect making all kinds of excuses for the militant character of Islam, and holding out the hope that it will mellow. Anyone who knows how Islam is perceived by non-Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, India, or China, or is aware of the military career of Mohammed, can only be amazed how prevalent p.c. attempts to deny the obvious seem to be. (A phenomena we have seen with other absolutist idealogies.) Instead of trying to browbeat anyone who tells the truth about Islamic militarism and lack of freedom, why don't Muslim intellectuals change the realities? (If they can.)
It is true, Huntington did not clearly define what he meant by "civilization." It seems odd to designate countries that have been taught atheism for eighty years, "Orthodox," for example. But I think the basic categories are sound, however we quibble about semantics. I see the relationship between China and the West as more ambivalent, though, in other words more potentially positive, than Huntington. (I wrote a book, True Son of Heaven, which describes common links between Chinese and Christian thought.) While Huntington discusses other variables, one of the main assumptions of this book is that powers clash. He generally seems to avoid dogmatism on the nature or intensity of the clash. So I agree that some tension in the relationships he describes is fairly inevitable, though I by no means ascribe to Real Politic or any deterministic or cynical view of human relations.
Agree or disagree, Huntington's is a thesis that deserves careful consideration. It contains some hard truths, but as the Preacher said, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy."
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man / firstname.lastname@example.org
on September 18, 2005
And the bad news: They are getting the Guns, too.
Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" is a scholarly, rigorously researched, masterwork of political science and sociology for which the overused epithet "Tour de Force" was originally invented.
"Clash" is something of a wicked counter-volley of polemical grapeshot raked at broadsides to Francis Fukuyama's still-influential "End of History" thesis. Fukuyama, writing as the ramparts of the Soviet Union collapsed, contended that "history"---defined as the chronicle of deadly clashes between Power and Creed---had ended. The Winners: Western Liberal Democracy & Western Liberal Economics.
Not so fast, warns Huntington.
Just as the diplomacy of the 19th century was stoked by multi-polar Great Power politics---with each of the Great Powers, no single one capable of individual dominion---played their enemies off against one another; just as the mid to late 20th century served as the silent, icy cold battlefield for a global chess game between the USSR and the USA;---so too will the first quarter of the 21st century see the rise of confict, consensus, and cooperation built on the bedrock of civilizational ties.
The spoils of war haven't changed, according to Huntington: they are still riches, and resources, and citizens, and territory. But the players, and their motivations, have changed: the motivating question of the age is no longer "which side are you on", as it was in the age in which Adam Smith duelled Karl Marx, but rather "who are you?".
Huntington sees the future of geopolitical coflict---and combat---boiling up from what he calls "Fault Line Wars", bubbling up from the world's low-intensity warzones, defined as the places where one culture meets another: a close encounter of the deadliest kind, with the potential to draw in first regional, and then civilizational, allies.
It's worth noting who Huntington sees as the major flag-bearers of global civilizations. They are: The West (defined principally as the United States and Western and Central Europe), founded on the primacy of man, rule of Law, checks and balances to state power, and free market economics; Orthodoxy (The former Soviet Union and its Russian and Greek Orthodox satellites and fellow travelers), founded on obedience to State power.
Then there is Islam, a rising, powerful movement sweeping Asia and Africa in its religious fervor, currently without a core state but nonetheless dangerous in its volatility and chaos; Sinic, comprised chiefly of China but spreading out among China's Confucian fellow travelers and dependencies; Japanese, consisting of Japan itself; and Hindu, consisting of India and its satellites.
In Huntington's analysis---for good or ill---South America and Africa get short shrift, the former being an appendage of the West, the latter sliced up between Islamic domination and demographic apocalypse (though the future status of South Africa---which, with a little luck and leadership moxie, could constitute the core state of an African civilization---could make all the difference).
Now: it is unfair to boil down Huntington's thesis; far better for you to encounter it, to wrestle with it, on is own terms. Huntington's writing style is certainly a challenge, but grappling with it---it is not so much dull as mechanically precise---serves as its own reward. It is to Huntington's credit to say that while not every passage excites, or stirs the blood---every single word serves a purpose.
The purpose, as it turns out, is a warning beacon to our anesthetized elites, who still labor under the delusion that American values and virtues and creeds are universal, and that a rival civilization merely needs to take enough "Democracy Poppers" down the hatch (with a glass of water, perhaps) to become a happy, unwitting toady to Western values, whatever those are these days.
That is a dangerous attitude: our blood enemies now indulge in the trappings of Western civilization, wear bluejeans, listen to gangsta rap, and communicate with each other via cellphone, even while plotting the vilest atrocities they intend to carry out in the guts of western cities.
Huntington makes a solid, compelling case, and it is depressing to look on "The Clash" as prophecy, though certainly it owes more to prophecy than to jeremiad. It was written well before 9/11, yet the Devils of which it warns now jeer at us in our daily headlines. It warns that the single most dangerous thing the West can do is to intervene militarily in the affairs of another civilization, and yet even now we attempt to graft the alien construct of representative democracy in the very guts of what was ancient Babylon, with bloody results.And there is little here to cheer the Western blood.
Our universalist delusions are just as deadly to our security as our PC multicultural self-hatred, warns Huntington: in the last 20 years, it can no longer be claimed that English is the 'lingua franca' of the world: more people on Earth speak Chinese than English. Nor is demographics on our side: the birthrates in Islamic, Hindic, and Sinese civilizations are exploding, coupled by an economic fervency on the part of Asian countries: by contrast, the West is merely replacing itself, if that. And with the cards on the table, it appears that if Europe has a future, it is an Islamic one.
Huntington moves from the diagnostic to the prescriptive: if the West is to survive, it must circle up around that which makes it distinct, and form up its alliances with its civilizational partners, while reaching out to those civilizations not immediately hostile to it---Japan, India, and the Orthodox East.
Seen in the context of the gloomy, confused, tumultuous days before 9/11, "The Clash of Civilizations" is Prophecy. Seen as coda to the carnage and chaos of the years after the towers fell, it is a warning---and a battle plan.
on January 4, 2002
"The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order" is Professor Samuel Huntington's seminal study of modern civilization development and the emerging framework of post-Cold-War politics. Huntington argues that the world is no longer defining itself according to forces such as capitalism and imperialism or ideologies such as Democracy and Communism but instead according to the various cultural components that constitute unique civilizations. According to Huntington people are increasingly identifying themselves and their allies by civilization-based traits that include language, religion, and social customs, and as they do so they are coming into conflict with other newly defined civilizations.
Huntington divides the world according to unique civilizations that include The West, Sinic, Japanese, Orthodox, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Latin, and African. To his credit, Huntington acknowledges that these groupings are based on broad qualifications, that are highly theoretical and that in some cases simply might be wrong. In fact rather that formulating a grand theory and rigidly defending it, Huntington enjoys exploring the weaknesses of his argument and considering alternative points of view. For example, Huntington concedes that his formulation of African civilization may be incorrect and he admits that civilizations are constantly changing entities depending on cultural developments, external influences, or trans-civilization alliances.
Huntington's framework is probably useful for understanding broad regional developments such as the decline of the West and the increasing influences and self-determination of Asian and Moslem civilizations. It is important to consider that these developments occur over a broad period of time that often exceeds our historical memory. For example, Huntington charts the decline of Western power from roughly 1920 until the present according to broad categories such as population and territorial reduction. Thus while the West is arguably the most powerful civilization today, in a broader sense it is also in a state of decline.
Perhaps the most problematic part of Huntington's argument is the flimsy distinction he makes among some civilizations. For example, while one can perceive clear differences between Western, Orthodox, Latin, Hindu, and Moslem civilizations, the distinction between Sinic, Buddhist, and Japanese civilizations is not so clear. Sinic civilization, according to Huntington, is Confucian and largely influenced by Chinese culture. Buddhist civilization encompasses people who not only practice Buddhism as a religion but who also accept it as a major part of the state apparatus. While appearing to be part of Sinic civilization, Japan contains its own distinctive civilization because it set the trend for abandoning Asian values in favor of Western ones and then reversed itself. The difference between Buddhist and Sinic civilizations appears to be more political than cultural (and therefore civilization-based). Buddhism is practiced in most of Sinic civilization and Confucianism is a way of life in practically all of the cultures that encompass Buddhist civilization. If Japan is distinctive because of its alternation between Asian and Western values then what about the Philippines, which is largely Catholic and has few ties to Chinese culture?
If anything regional cultural differences probably play a more powerful role in Asia than common civilization traits. Vietnam prides itself on centuries of successful resistance to Chinese domination. Korea struggles to show how its culture is distinctive from China and Japan. Confucianism is certainly a powerful cultural force in this region, but it is a transparent one and except perhaps in Korea or Singapore it is hardly an overt ideology. While stronger Moslem nations such as Iran and Turkey increasingly go to the aid of weaker ones such as Bosnia and Chechnya no Confucian nation is likely to go to the aid of another one on religious grounds.
Huntington's book is a powerful and very useful one if it is read properly. One should probably read this book in the same way that one might examine the views of Marx and Freud. Huntington provides an important perspective that is correct in many ways and inaccurate in many others as he would probably be the first to admit.
on January 16, 2004
Huntington's 1993 article in 'Foreign Affairs' generated so much interest, it was expanded into this book. His answer to the question 'Will conflicts between civilizations dominate world politics?' is affirmative; clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace; an international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war. Since the end of the Cold War people define themselves by blood, belief, faith and family - ancestry, language, religion, history, values, institutions, tribes, ethnic groups and customs - rather than by nation, ideologies and economics. Nation states remain the principal actors but the most important groupings are the major civilizations - Western, Latin America, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. Civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries, no precise beginnings and endings; they are mortal but long-lived; they evolve and adapt. The hotspots are on the fault lines between civilizations - Chechnya, the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Kashmir, the Middle East, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Bosnia was a war of civilizations with Russia providing diplomatic support to the Serbs while Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Libya provided funds and arms to the Bosnians. The philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs and overall outlooks on life differ significantly among civilizations, reinforced by the revitalization of religion. The West is the most powerful civilization but its relative power is declining while Confucian and Islamic societies are rising to balance the west. Dangerous clashes are likely to arise from Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness. Bill Clinton argued that the West does not have a problem with Islam but only with violent extremists, but 1400 years of history demonstrate otherwise. The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. Islam is a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and obsessed with the inferiority of their power. Huntington presents the evidence, the argument and provides a strategy for the West to preserve its culture while learning to coexist in a multipolar, multi-civilizational world.
The expansion of the Western civilization has ended and the revolt against the west has begun. Western power has declined and the map of 1990 has little resemblance to the map of 1920. Toynbee warned that the parochialism and impertinence of the West is manifested in egocentric illusions; Braudel urged a broader perspective to understand the great cultural conflicts and the multiplicity of its civilizations. However, "the illusions and prejudices of which these scholars warned, live on and in the late 20th century have blossomed forth in the widespread and parochial conceit that the European civilization of the West is now the universal civilization of the world." As the West confronts problems of slow economic growth, stagnating populations, unemployment, huge government deficits, a declining work ethic, low savings rates, social disintegration, drugs and crime, economic power is shifting to Asia. Military power and political influence will follow. There has been a religious resurgence, often fundamentalist, to meet the psychological, emotional and social needs of people caught in the traumas of modernization. Asia and Islam have been the dynamic civilizations of the last quarter century. China is projected to have the world's largest economy early in the 21st century while Asia is likely to have seven of the ten largest economies by 2020. Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. Islamic assertiveness under the banner 'Islam is the solution' accepts modernization but rejects Western culture. Social mobilization and population growth and particularly the expansion of the fifteen to twenty-four-year-old age cohort, provides recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency, and migration. At 18% of world population in 1980, the Muslim population is likely to be 30% in 2025. The Protestant Reformation was one of the outstanding youth movements in history; the youth of Islam have already made their mark in the Islamic resurgence. Larger populations need more resources, push outward, occupy territory and exert pressure on neighbors.
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."
If Huntington is right that clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace in the future; if he, Toynbee and Braudel are right about our arrogance and conceit in believing that Western civilization is 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.
on February 27, 2003
Huntington presents some interesting and compelling data to back up his arguments for a "clash of civilizations" and whether you agree with his conclusions or not, this book should not be ignored by anybody who wants to understand global geopolitics from the Euro-North American viewpoint.
Huntington's Big Picture: Western-style capitalistic democracy is not necessarily the natural "end-state" for all humanity and many other "civilizations" continue to thrive (or in some cases, persevere) under radically different social models. Moreover, these civilizations frequently feel deeply offended and physically threatened by the notion that they will one day all be Western-style democracies. In other words, they reject the notion put forth bluntly by a US Marine Corps Colonel in Stanley Kubrik's "Full Metal Jacket" that "Inside every , there is an American trying to break out".
Huntington goes on to point out that, in today's highly networked world of global trade, civilizations are forced into ever more intimate contact. Huntington believes that the net effect of this could well be to generate more, not less, conflict, as civilizational differences are even more loathsome at close range than from a distance.
While these theories are interesting and merit close reading, I think Huntington's conclusions are a bit of a stretch. I was not convinced that Huntington has made a sufficient case that when people of different cultures are forced together, they always end up fighting: there is too much evidence that the opposite often happens (look at multi-cultural success stories emerging in parts of the US, Hong Kong and Australia to name a few). Although Huntington insinuates that "domestic melting pots" and the meeting of two culturally distinct "civilizations" in an international context are not the same kind of situation, rendering my previous examples null and void, I still think the jury is out on Huntington's theories.
Overall, an interesting read. If you think a lot about global politics then this is one book you should not skip.
on November 25, 2001
Published in 1996, Huntington's book is stunningly prescient given the events of 9-11. He begins by mapping and describing his paradigm of the world's eight current major civilizations: Sinic, Islamic, Hindu, Western, Latin American, African, Orthodox, and Japanese. Much of the book is dedicated to an exposition of the relative rise and fall in fortunes of each. His well-argued thesis is that Western Civilization, led by its core state--the U.S., has been and continues to be in a period of relative decline versus other civilizations. These civilizations, namely Sinic (Chinese) and Islamic, perceive themselves superior and dominating over the long run. The demographic and economic forces propelling these civilizations are lucidly discussed and backed with statistical evidence which is compelling if not disturbing. His analysis of the threatening potential of Sinic and Islamic civilizations to the West is sobering without being xenophobic. His discussion of the role of the West and U.S. in the Soviet-Afghanistan war and the Bosnian-Serb-Croatian conflict provides valuable insight into the causes for the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. Make no mistake, this is a challenging albeit accessible work that requires some intellectual digestion. However, if you're looking a meaningful read about today's world---and the root causes of terrorism and wars that go beyond the usual trite and politically correct explanations of 'poverty and ignorance'---then read this book. It will be much more meaningful than the current flood of books on Afghanistan which either focus on either travel anecdotes or second-hand information (much of it probably wrong) on Osama bin Laden.
Also recommended: 'Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia' by Ahmed Rashid
on March 21, 2004
Huntington articulates how the economic and demographic decline of Western Civilization relative to several of the world's other major civilizations, especially the Sinic (Chinese) and Islamic, is remaking the so-called world order. Cold War alliances were a passing phenomenon in which inter-civilization alliances temporarily formed to repel a common ideological foe, and U.S. attempts to maintain those alliances against other American foes, e.g., Islamic fundamentalism, are doomed to failure. Western countries, including the U.S., need to accept and deal with the relative independence of formerly subservient nations.
The truly amazing thing about Huntington's thesis and examples is that he published it eight years ago, based on data and events through 1995. He almost perfectly profiles (if PC types will forgive me the term) the backgrounds of the 9-11 terrorists and their cohorts. And he describes how East Asian states will turn away from the U.S. and toward China as the Chinese recover their three thousand year old traditional hegemony over the region. He also predicts that Russia, the core state of Orthodox civilization, will, after flirting with Westernization, return to attempting to establish its own traditional hegemony over Orthodox allies and neighboring states.
Huntington points out that it was European population explosion, as well as technological superiority, that propelled Western Civilization to colonize other continents (North America and Australia) and dominate virtually all other civilizations. Now the tide has turned as relative population growth drives non-Western immigrants to Europe, North America and Australia. The spread of Western, especially U.S. commercialism, should not be equated, as many American elites naively assume, with acceptance of liberal Western political and social norms. Huntington points out that just the opposite is occurring. As non-Western civilizations prosper from adoption of Western technology they create wealth and independence that allows them to celebrate and assert THEIR traditional values.
A particularly interesting point Huntington makes is how U.S. and Western obsession with containing other civilizations' nuclear weapons is failing. Countries seeking such weapons do so not with the intent of necessarily using them on neighbors but having them to prevent military domination by the U.S. Huntington reminds us that during the Cold War the U.S-lead West insisted it needed to maintain tactical nuclear weapons to offset the perceived conventional force superiority of the USSR-lead Warsaw Pact nations. Now that the U.S. has demonstrated dominant conventional military power that nobody else can hope to match, everyone thinks they need nuclear weapons or nuclear-armed allies to protect their independence. Huntington points out that South Koreans seems a lot less concerned with North Korean nuclear arms than Americans or Japanese are.
Finally, this book makes one think that the so-called War on Terrorism is somewhat misguided. The tactic is terror but the real conflict is inter-civilizational rivalry. An interesting schematic on page 245 illustrates Huntington predictions of emerging civilizational alignments. For example, the West will align more closely with Latin American and African civilizations and to some extent with the Orthodox (Russia). He postulates that Islam will be in greater conflict with virtually ALL other civilizations with which it has regular contact EXCEPT Sinic (China plus the other East Asian countries excluding Japan). And it's happening. The UN structure created by the U.S. and Western Europe at the end of WWII IS a forum for containing and frustrating U.S. and Western interests. And let's face the truth. A senior Canadian politician's recent characterization of his country's embrace of homosexual marriage and legalization of marijuana as "wellsprings of national pride" provides ample evidence that Western civilization IS in decline. Start studying Mandarin...
The book is illustrated with some useful generalized maps and numerous statistical charts to support Huntington's thesis. HIGHLY recommended to anyone trying to figure out what's happening in the world and why "winning the war on terrorism" (whatever that means) will not solve all problems.
on September 19, 2005
This is a stimulating book that offers an important and controversial view of the global dynamics of human societies. It author is Samuel P. Huntington is a widely respected political scientist and internationalist.
Huntington suggests that the world can be best described in terms of unique "civilizations" that is human societies having bundles of shared cultural characteristics the most obvious of which are a unique written language and a dominant religion. For example the Islamic civilization is distinguished by its Arabic Alphabet and by its adherence to Islam. He postulates that where these civilizations meet there are fault lines that are regions where tensions and stresses occur due to the differences between civilizations. Such fault lines can be found in South East Asia, for example, where Islamic, Hindu, and Sinic Civilizations converge in an often uneasy mixture. His theory of history is cyclical rather than progressive and it opposes Hegel's concept of dialectical progression. Huntington holds the theory that civilizations rise and fall in regular cycles which can be anticipated.
His most interesting insight is that globalization, including economic integration, in the long run does not alter the basic characteristics of civilizations. Huntington maintains that a civilization can adopt the external trappings of Western Civilization such as democratic government and a free market economy, yet still retain its unique cultural features which in the end will provide the greatest influence on its behavior. This means that over time, civilizations will not only endure intact, but will clash.
Not all students of global trends would agree with Huntington, but I am sure all would take him seriously. Indeed, I would suggest this book be read in tandem with the "The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama which postulates human societies as locked into a dialectical progression ending in western style free market economies and democratic governments. Interestingly, Huntington mentions Fukuyama in passing, but clearly does not believe that the theory of history advanced by Fukuyama is really relevant over the long haul. Still I think it is quite interesting to read about the contrasting theories of two learned and thoughtful writers each of whom has unique insights on how the world works.