Critical review of Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?"

Foreign Affairs article 1993

Essay, 2012

9 Pages, Grade: A

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In an article entitled ‘Clash of Civilizations?’, published in Foreign Affairs, American political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington outlined his thesis about the post Cold War world order. According to him, conflicts have evolved from feuds among nation states to ideological hostilities which would develop further into cultural clashes. He put forward the theory that nation states and other groups which share cultural affinities would unite and cooperate and fight as one, against other cultural blocks. He introduced the main forces of his new world order as being eight major civilizations (Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and eventually African) of which the Muslim, the Western and the Confucian would be dominant. Huntington predicted a decline of the western civilization should its members not unite to defend their power status. He identified religion, especially Islam as one of the most important sources for future clashes likely to further weaken the West. He prophesied a more unstable and anarchic world. Huntington’s ideas differed from Francis Fukuyama’s outlined in a 1989 essay “The End of History”, in which he predicted a conversion of states into liberal capitalist democracies, which would not wage war against each other, according to the democratic peace theory. A more stable and harmonious world order would have been its outcome.

Huntington’s article and the related book (The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order, 1996) were widely debated and criticized by many scholars. This might be explained by the controversial thematic and some methodological flaws, mentioned further in this essay, which allowed for interpretation and differing opinions. His thesis makes very little reference to other scholars and offers almost no quantitative empirical data to strengthen the arguments put forward. His mainly qualitative arguments seem to rest on his particular world view (Realist) and are therefore more easily refuted by scholars with other perceptions of the world. However appealing Huntington’s civilizations’ clash theory may have been, it could not be substantiated by most other social scientists.

Methods and evidence

Huntington argued a Western world perspective: “People on each side allege racism on the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not racial but cultural” (Huntington, 93, p.34). At times, he oversimplified reality in a Manichaean way. In his view, only Western players and values represented the good side. He made a total of eight footnotes and referred several times to other scholars to support his forty-nine page thesis. Most of his citations mentioned predominantly Western scholars. This would seem somewhat limited in terms of quality and quantity for a thesis which portrayed a new world order based on culture. A number of statements such as, among many,: “Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.” (Huntington, 93, p. 25), “…, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization”. (Huntington, 93, p. 27) or “…, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrant have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.” (Huntington, 93, p. 32), lack empirical evidence. The proffered definitions of key terms like Civilizations, Western, Islam and Identity remained rather vague. Many scholars have emphasized the diversity of Islam and Christianity facets which made impossible any generalized statements concerning those entities. Sometimes, Huntington associated terms which had different classifications. “Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions.” (Huntington, 93, p. 24). To compare geographical regions (West, Europe, North America) with religions (Islam) and ethnicities (Arab, Turkic, Malay) does not seem coherent. One could also wonder why he didn’t mention the Persian traits or why Japan was considered a culture in its own right. Huntington tended to present the West as a unified homogenous block and occasionally appeared to use the term “West” as meaning “the USA”. The backbones of his argumentation rested on History and its interpretation. He gives the impression of brushing aside many intra civilization wars like, among others, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the Serbo-Croatian war (1991-1995). According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), most conflicts in 2000 were driven by a struggle for power and territory. Identity, ethnicity and religion were the tools used by leaders to motivate and define groups but not the real reasons behind the conflicts. When evoking ongoing or cultural clashes, Huntington referred to the Arab- Israeli conflict (Huntington, 1993, p. 35). For Harvey et al., the Islamists have often branded it as ideological or religious, whereas its crux was a struggle for land (Harvey et al., 2005, p. 85). Several of Huntington’s arguments reflect, it seems, his personal and political views, based on questionable beliefs. The methodological flaws might explain the abundance of controversial literature that has emerged.

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Critical review of Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?"
Foreign Affairs article 1993
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critical, samuel, huntington, clash, civilizations, foreign, affairs
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Marcel Reymond (Author), 2012, Critical review of Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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