A Response to Huntington´s "Clash of Civilizations": Civilizations vs Nation State

Essay, 2005

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Introduction: Huntington´s Clash of Civilizations

1) The Thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations”

2) Huntington´s “Civilizations” and the Reason for a Clash

3) Civilizations and Conflict

4) Conclusion

Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations

Samuel P. Huntington was born in 1927 and is at the moment director of the John-Olin Institute for strategic studies at the University of Harvard. He was the author of an article, first published in the Foreign Affairs magazine, which has, according to Russel, Oneal and Cox ( 2000, p.584) “turned into one of the most influential recent books on international relations”. This article was called “the Clash of Civilizations?” and afterwards was extended (in 1996) to his book, called “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order”. This book was meant to be seen as a response to his highly polarising and provocative article mentioned above. In it, he tries to give answers to the questions which arose from his article and tries to clarify his standpoints and claims to underpin his thesis. Samuel P. Huntington has given new currency to the notion of a clash of civilizations. His 1993 article on the topic in Foreign Affairs and his book following this article has gained a global audience.

Huntington argues that the bipolar division of the world based on ideology is no longer relevant. The world was entering a new period of intense conflict among civilizations. He states: “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 them 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.” (Huntington, 1993, p.22) In trying to understand the causes of actual events like the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America many authors have turned to Samuel P. Huntington’s provocative and controversial thesis of a ‘clash of civilizations’. In the following part of my essay I am going to comment on his main issues, presenting the main thesis and his general claims of his book and article, dealing with a possible “clash of civilizations”.

1) The Thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations”

One of Huntington’s central claims is the appearance of a “new world” after the age of the Cold War period. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought up new dangers to the international systems, which have to be faced in the common years and, perhaps, centuries. As it was said, the conflicts in this “new world” without bipolarity are no longer primarily of an economic or ideological nature. I agree with Huntington’s claim of the appearance of a new world, which in my eyes is characterized by multiplicity, with many rising civilizations and ethnic groups on the one hand, and many emerging, new conflict lines between cultures.

“In the new world”, Huntington argued, “[…] the most pervasive, important and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between people belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilizations […] And the most dangerous cultural conflicts are those along the fault lines between civilizations […] For forty-five years the Iron Curtain was the central dividing line in Europe. That line has moved several hundred miles east. It is now the line separating peoples of Western Christianity, on the one hand, from Muslim and Orthodox peoples on the other.” (1996, p.28) Therefore I think that it can be followed that according to Huntington, so called “traditional” conflicts concerning for example disparities between rich and poor countries are no longer that dominant and relevant. This shift of importance and relevance for conflict reasons (if there are any) can be seen also in the appearance of violent ethno-religious conflicts exemplified by Bosnia, the Caucuses, the Middle East, and Kashmir. “It seemed to explain the failure of political reform to take root in many Islamic states, despite the worldwide resurgence of electoral democracies around the globe.” (Norris & Ingelhardt 2002, p.3) The most important and, according to Huntington, new distinctions between peoples living in the international system are no longer political, ideological or economic. They are, of course, cultural. And Huntington’s suggested clash of civilizations will therefore bee the greatest future threat to world peace.

Although the nation state as such stays to be the most powerful actor in the international system the main conflicts will appear between nations and groups of civilizations, as we have seen from the 9/11 terror attacks. Commentators often saw 9/11 as a full-scale assault on the global hegemony of America, in particular, and a reaction by Islamic fundamentalists against Western culture, in general. With this example it should be made clear that the West has dominated the last decades of history but now it lacks of influence. But the international politics start to move out of its “Western phase” and its centrepiece is becoming the interactive interaction between the West and the non-West, lead by the Islamic culture. Furthermore this has the consequence that our common division of the world into a 1st, 2nd and 3rd world is no longer important and relevant. With clashes of civilizations the world system begins to change and to reshape itself, adjusting its international system to outcomes of future conflicts. Different cultural aspects will shape and divide the world in the next decades, characterized by shared and common values of civilization groups. And although I have stated that the world is at the moment in my point of view characterized by multipolar issues Huntington suggests that the new world order is marked by a bipolar axis concerning “the West against the Rest” (Huntington 1996, p. 388). In my eyes this presents a too narrowed view because I believe that the world maybe will split up into three main parts; the West, the Islamic part and the Chinese part. I personally can suggest a split within the West, between the USA and the European Union for example. Especially, the claim of rising ethnic conflict in the post-Cold War era has come under repeated and sustained attack. “Many scholars have challenged the existence of a single Islamic culture stretching all the way from Jakarta to Lagos, let alone one that held values deeply incompatible with democracy.” (Russel, Oneal & Cox 2000, p.6) What has been less widely examined, however, is systematic empirical evidence of whether the publics in Western and Islamic societies share similar or deeply divergent values, and, in particular, whether any important differences between these cultures rest on democratic values (as Huntington claims) or on social values. Therefore it comes out that the Huntington thesis is quite controversial and in a way provocative. The core clash between West and Islamic worlds concerns therefore democracy and its values but Norris and Ingelhardt stated, that Huntington is wrong in assuming that (2002, p.2). According to them it is on the one hand true that both societies differ in concerning the role of religious leadership in society but that on the other hand Huntington fails to identify the most basic cultural fault line between West and Islam. This main fault line is, concerning Norris and Ingelhardt, the issue of gender equality and sexual liberalization. Personally, I think that this differences and fault lines are coming from disparities in religious and cultural issues dividing the world, since both fault lines mentioned by Norris & Ingelhardt are closely linked to Huntington’s overall clash definition between culture and religion. Therefore I will agree to Huntington’s argumentation. The evidence confirms the first claim in Huntington’s thesis: culture does matter, and matter a lot: religious legacies leave a distinct and lasting imprint on contemporary values.


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A Response to Huntington´s "Clash of Civilizations": Civilizations vs Nation State
University of Münster
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Book rewiew, analysing certain aspects of Huntington´s "clash of civilizations" Essay for the masters course "International Relation Theory" at the UT´s of Münster and Twente
Response, Huntington´s, Clash, Civilizations, Nation, State
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Patrick Lubjuhn (Author), 2005, A Response to Huntington´s "Clash of Civilizations": Civilizations vs Nation State, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/56913


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