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Clash of Civilizations


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Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations is a controversial theory in international relations popularized by Samuel P. Huntington. The basis of Huntington's thesis is that people's cultural/religious identity will be the primary agent of conflict in the post-Cold War world.

Huntington's thesis was originally formulated in an article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" published in the academic journal Foreign Affairs in 1993. The term itself was first used by Bernard Lewis in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly entitled "The Roots of Muslim Rage." Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations

Huntington began his thinking by surveying the diverse theories about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. Some theorists and writers argued that liberal democracy and Western values had become the only remaining ideological alternative for nations in the post-Cold War world. Specifically, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the 'end of history' in a Hegelian sense.

Huntington believes that while the age of ideology has ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argues that the primary axis of conflict in the 21st century will be along cultural and religious lines. As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest ranking of cultural identity, will increasingly become useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.

In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:

"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."

Due to an enormous response and the solidification of his views, Huntington later expanded the thesis in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Huntington's Civilizations

Using various studies of history, Huntington divides the civilizations in his thesis as such:

-The Western Christendom, centered on Europe and North America but also including Australia and New Zealand. Whether Latin America and the former member states of the Soviet Union are included, or are instead their own separate civilizations, will be an important future consideration for those regions, according to Huntington.

-The Orthodox world of Orthodox and/or Slavic Eastern Europe and Russia.

-Latin America

-The Muslim world of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia

-The Hindu civilization, located chiefly in India, Nepal, and culturally adhered to by the global diaspora

-The Sinic civilization of China, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, which includes the Chinese diaspora, especially in relation to South East Asia.

-Sub-Saharan Africa

-The Buddhist areas of Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Buryatia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Tibet.

-Japan, considered an independent civilization

Huntington's Theories for Civilizational Clash

Huntington argues that the trends of global conflict are increasingly appearing at these civilizational divisions. Wars such as those following the break up of Yugoslavia, in Chechnya, and between India and Pakistan were cited as evidence of intercivilizational conflict.

Huntington also argues that the Western belief that the West's values and political systems are universal is naive and that continued insistence towards democratization and universal norms will only further antagonize other civilizations. Huntington sees the West as reluctant to accept this because it built the international system, wrote its laws, and gave it substance in the form of the United Nations.

Huntington identifies the Sinic civilization, with its rapid economic growth and distinct cultural values, to be the most powerful long-term threat to the West. He sees Islamic civilization as a potential ally to China, both having more revisionist goals and sharing common conflicts with other civilizations. Huntington also believes that the demographic and economic growth of other civilizations will result in a much more multipolar civilizational system. The demographic decline of the West, combined with its inability to unify and even a decadent society, risked significant dangers.

Huntingon labels the Orthodox, Hindu, and Japanese civilizations as "swing" civilizations, with the potential to move in different directions vis-a-vis the West, perhaps mostly tied to the progress in their relations with the Sinic and Islamic groupings. Huntington argues that an "Islamic-Confucian connection" is emerging in which China will cooperate more closely with Iran, Pakistan, and other states to augment its international position.

Modernization, Westernization, and "Torn Countries"

Clash of Civilizations critics often target traditional culture and internal reformers who do not wish to Westernize whilst modernizing. They sometimes claim that to modernize is to necessarily become Westernized to a very large extent. Those who consider the Clash of Civilizations thesis accurate often offer in refutation of its argument the example of Japan, claiming that is not a Western state at its core. They argue that it adopted much Western technology (inventing some technology of its own in recent times), parliamentary democracy, and free enterprise but has remained culturally very distinct from the West. China is cited by some as a rising non-Western economy.

Perhaps the ultimate example of non-Western modernization is Russia, the core state of the Orthodox civilization. The variant of this argument that uses Russia as an example relies on the acceptance of a unique non-Western civilization headed by an Orthodox state such as Russia or perhaps an Eastern European country. Huntington argues that Russia is primarily a non-Western state although he seems to agree that it shares a considerable amount of cultural ancestry with the modern West. Russia was one of the great powers during World War I. It also happened to be a non-Western power. According to Huntington, the West is distinguished from Orthodox Christian countries by the experience of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Enlightenment, overseas colonialism rather than contiguous expansion and colonialism, and an infusion of Classical culture through Rome rather than the Byzantine Empire. The differences among the modern Slavic states can still be seen today. This issue is also linked to the "universalizing factor" exhibited in some civilizations.

Huntington refers to countries that are seeking to affiliate with another civilization as "torn countries." Turkey, whose political leadership has systematically tried to Westernize the country since the 1920s, is his chief example. Turkey's history, culture, and traditions are derived from Islamic civilization, but Turkey's Western-oriented elite imposed western institutions and dress, embraced the Latin alphabet, joined NATO, and is seeking to join the European Union.

According to Huntington, a torn country must meet three requirements in order to redefine its civilizational identity. Its political and economic elite must support the move. Second, the public must be willing to accept the redefinition. Third, the elites of the civilization that the torn country is trying to join must accept the country.

Criticisms of Huntington's Thesis

Huntington's piece in Foreign Affairs created more responses than almost any other essay ever published in that journal. There have been many criticisms of his thesis from wildly different paradigms. Some have argued that his identified civilizations are very fractured with little unity. Vietnam still keeps a massive army, mostly to guard against China. The Muslim world is severely fractured along ethnic lines with Kurds, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Pakistanis, and Indonesians all having very different world views.

It has been pointed out that values are more easily transmitted and altered than Huntington proposes. Nations such as India and Japan have become successful democracies, and the West itself was rife with despotism and fundamentalism for most of its history. Supporters, however, have noted that tensions have often emerged between democratic states and that emerging (or future) democracies in civilizations could very well remain hostile to states belonging to civilizations which are viewed as hostile. Furthermore, they point out that the countries of different civilizations place greatly different amount of emphasis on the nature of the internal governments of countries with which they trade and support in international issues (as with India, Russia, and Japan).

Some also see Huntington's thesis as creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and reasserting differences between civilizations. However, Huntington's argument may often be caricaturized, creating false assumptions about its content. Many people who claim to speak with authority on Huntington have not actually read his work.

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