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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2022

Introduction

The view of geopolitics and conflicts evolves with time, as people uncover more information about historical events. However, people often come to conclusions based on data that they were able to collect, which implies that a single viewpoint cannot encompass all the world’s nuances. This statement can be applied to the book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, written by Samuel P. Huntington, an American academic and political adviser. In his book, which was published as an extension of his earlier essay, “The Clash of Civilizations,” the scholar introduces a central thesis that all future conflicts in the world will be guided not by countries’ economic or political reasons but by their cultural differences.1 While Huntington attempts to divide the world into several civilizations and argue that all of them are going to fight to increase their global influence, his focus on opposing “Islamic” and “Sinic” cultures as those encroaching on the place of the “Western” civilization reveals a biased and aggressive outlook.

Summary

Huntington separates his book into five major parts, in which he considers the past, present, and future of global geopolitics. First, the author discusses the idea of civilization and how it is connected to people’s cultural identity. Moreover, he traces the history of major civilizations, which he later separates on the map, including the center of his research – the Western civilization. Notably, he addresses why the United States is a part of the Western civilization along with European countries, stating that “while nineteenth-century America defined itself as different from and opposed to Europe, twentieth-century America has defined itself as a part of and, indeed, the leader of a broader entity, the West, that includes Europe.”2 The belief that the United States, much of Europe, as well as Australia, and New Zealand all belong to one civilization is a core concept of the book.

In the same chapter, Huntington presents his interpretation of how civilizations were formed and how their place in global politics has changed with such major events as the two World Wars, the Cold War, and its end. The basic description of the civilizations left after 1990 includes the following groups: Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Japanese.3 In the following chapters, Huntington explains how some of these civilizations rose to prominence, arguing that Western civilization is fading. Furthermore, he ponders which of them will clash in the future and what the United States must do as a leader of its civilization to strengthen the West. In particular, Huntington concludes that America has to “wield skillfully its economic resources as carrots and sticks in dealing with other societies … and to promote and exploit differences among non-Western nations.”4 Finally, the author suggests that most future conflicts will happen between civilizations rather than inside them due to the vast differences in beliefs and cultural norms.

Analysis

There are several strong ideas in the book that are interesting for the audience to interpret. However, there are also many criticisms on how Huntington perceived geopolitics after the Cold War. Although the idea of the Western civilization was not new when Huntington was writing his book, he explored this ideology in detail and presented another view of geopolitics that allowed scholars to pay attention not only to such divides as borders or such factors as class and nationality but also culture. In particular, Huntington makes direct links between civilization and religion, showing that many countries that have gained independence after World War II based at least a part of their national identity on a particular religious affiliation.5

Nevertheless, the classification that Huntington uses raises some questions as to his understanding of cultural nuance. First of all, the scholar identifies Western civilization as guided by Christianity. Here, such countries as Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the majority of Western and Central Europe are included. At the same time, Latin America and Mexico are separated into their own civilization. Based on Huntington’s view of religion as the basis of culture, this distinction implies that Latic American countries and Mexico do not share the values of Christianity that penetrate the identity of the West.6 This statement has to be criticized as Christianity is vastly popular in these countries.

Moreover, it is unclear how the colonial past of this region can be denied. There exists a direct historical link between such states as Spain and Portugal, from where most of the South American continent has gained a great number of cultural signs. Notably, the scholar argues that Latic America “incorporates indigenous cultures, which did not exist in Europe, [and] were effectively wiped out in North America.”7 The last statement is questionable as indigenous cultures exist in North America; while they are a minority of the population, they preserve some territories where they have their own legal system. Moreover, this idea implies that such countries as Australia or New Zealand cannot be a part of the West as they also value the place of indigenous peoples in the country’s identity. To the author’s credit, the book acknowledges the imperialist history of Western civilization and its impact on other countries. However, the fact that Huntington urges the US to continue undermining other cultures to promote Western ideas raises doubt about his interpretation of Western civilization’s past.

There are many similar nuances in the book that could be explored in more detail, such as the rigid separation of Orthodox civilization and the West – two groups with distinct types of Christianity – and a lack of recognition of differences between Catholic and Protestant cultures following the schism. However, the undeniable focus of the book is the author’s idea that the West is declining, while other civilizations, namely Sinic and Islamic ones, are gaining influence.

Another point of criticism lies in the author’s failure to account for intra-civilization conflicts. The author suggests that, after the Cold War, a variety of power appeared in the global arena, and he predicts that they will be clashing between civilizations and not within them. Historical records demonstrate that this idea is erroneous as there are many instances where conflicts happened within civilizations that the author has established. As Black notes, “in every half-century of Islamic history, more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims than by non-Muslims.”8 Thus, clear divides within a civilization exist, guided by other ideologies rather than the desire to oppose other cultural entities. Moreover, Huntington presents culture as an immutable entity that cannot gain positive or negative traits under new influences. As a result, Muslim people are seen as a group with views diametrically opposing Western civilization, although there are thousands of Muslims currently living in Western countries.

Personal Response

My opinion is close to that of Said, who explores the potential damage of the book’s rhetoric. Said and Black point out that the influence of Huntington’s ideology could have affected the events that followed the terrorist act, which happened on September 9, 2001.910 The subsequent conflict in Iraq and the death of many people who were not in any way responsible for the terrorist attack show how the ideas of “the West” and “Islam” were largely simplified by the author and his followers. Huntington states that “the argument is made that Islam has from the start been a religion of the sword and that it glorifies military virtues.”11 He also describes Muhammad as a military commander, arguing that “no one would say this about Christ or Buddha.”12 These descriptions reveal a bias against certain religions and implicit support of others.

My main criticism is Huntington’s fear of multiculturalism and change. His rhetoric lacks the nuance that would encourage people to seek unity and integration of cultures rather than strict separation and inability to evolve. While he does not explicitly put other civilizations below the West, his ideology inspires suspicion and hatred, which “stirs up conflict” rather than encouraging peace.13 As a result, the scholar’s work speaks about the decline of Western civilization as a potential outcome of people from different cultures integrating into one society, revealing fearmongering views on non-Western traditions.

Conclusion

The book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Huntington presents an idea that all conflicts past the 1990s will occur based on different cultural beliefs. The author presents several civilizations united by history and religion and argues that their internal consistency will limit internal clashes while increasing the external tensions. However, the author’s approach lacks subtlety in recognizing historical divides between neighboring states, the history of colonization and indigenous peoples, and similarities and differences of various religious affiliations. Moreover, Huntington perpetrates a rhetoric that deidentifies people of the non-Western world, presenting their culture as the opposite of the West, revealing a negative view of the world that does not subscribe to Western ideals.

Bibliography

Black, Jeremy. Geopolitics and the Quest for Dominance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Said, Edward. “The Clash of Ignorance.” The Nation, 2001.

Footnotes

  1. Edward Said, “The Clash of Ignorance,” The Nation, 2001, 11.
  2. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 32.
  3. Huntington, 7.
  4. Huntington, 233.
  5. Huntington, 3.
  6. Huntington, 31.
  7. Huntington, 31.
  8. Jeremy Black, Geopolitics and the Quest for Dominance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), 219.
  9. Said, 12.
  10. Black, 218.
  11. Huntington, 306.
  12. Huntington, 306.
  13. Pr. 10:12 NIV.
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