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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996)

by Samuel P. Huntington

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In the summer of 1993 Foreign Affairs published an article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" by Samuel Huntington. No article, according to the editors of that distinguished journal, has generated more discussion since George Kennan's "X" article on containment in the 1940s. Now, Mr. Huntington expands on his article, explores further the issues he raised then, and develops many new penetrating and controversial analyses. In the article, he posed the question whether conflicts between civilizations would dominate the future of world politics. In the book, he gives his answer, showing not only how clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace but also how an international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war.… (more)
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  BJMacauley | Mar 31, 2024 |
When Civilizations Clash

This book is as ambitious as its full title--The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order--is long. Published in 1997, its author, Samuel Huntington, lays out what he sees as the new alignment of the world in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the sudden disappearance of the communist block as the arch-foe of the NATO countries and their allies and client states.

The year was probably just enough time after the 50 years of tension to see the inklings of the new alignments coming. That the basic shape of the world today, its political blocks, its new tensions, largely conforms to Huntington's vision, owes a lot to this fact. At the same time, Huntington deserves props for the accuracy of his main prediction as well as a few subordinate ones.

I read this book as part of a dive into the (non-fictional) conservative literature corpus and I would put it near the top of what I've read so far in terms of understanding where many (most?) on the US right are coming from.

Culture matters

The foundation of the new international political order rests on the notion that absent any larger concerns groups, up to and including nations, will tend to gather culturally. To be clear, this is an utterly uncontroversial thing to say. No social scientist would disagree with it. There are of course always exceptions, both individuals and countries--it's called a tendency for a reason.

So, while on the one hand, this is obvious to the point of banality, on the other, we often don't accept it. It's probably also fair to say that in the specific context of the immediate post-Cold War world, more than a few people had a lot trouble accepting it and its implications.

Now, just because we acknowledge this outgrowth of our innate tribalism doesn't mean we shouldn't work to bridge these cultural divides. Human cultural differences and tendency to prefer the familiar isn't going anywhere soon, so we should always be aware that this work is difficult and frustrating and no matter how many bridges get built, more will always be needed.

This goes to the heart of a core conservative belief: that there are limitations on what we can achieve socially and we ought to be careful about how and how fast we try to create social change. In the more extreme forms of this we ought not to try at all; further down the scale, you find nationalist notions and, well, you don't need me to finish this extrapolation for you, do you? But regardless of where one sits on this social policy conservatism scale, you get certain corollaries, like suspicion (or stronger dislikes) of authority and big government.

The New Current World Order

Much of the middle part of the book is taken up by laying out the culture-based civilizations to come (as seen from 1997) and looking at the world today, Huntington was downright prescient: Western (Western Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, etc.), Asian (China and most of the far east, but NOT Japan), Islamic (countries that are majority Muslim of course), Latin (the Americas south of the US), and African (sub-Saharan Africa, basically).

One notable division of these civilizations is the presence of a core country, for example the US within Western, China within Asian. Conversely, there's no obvious core country in the Islamic civilization, at least not in the same way that China dominates and can put pressure on other Asian countries. Likewise, Latin America is in a strange situation: the obvious contender is Brazil, but its status is hampered by its linguistic isolation.

Swing States

Wondering about Japan? Well, it and a couple other countries--India and Russia--are single-country civilizations. And they have particular roles to play too. If you follow US elections, think swing states, basically.

After this, Huntington discusses the fault lines and conflicts that he sees arising. Again, there's nothing here that will surprise any observer from 2017, though some missed opportunities might be noted. He stresses the importance of the single-country civilizations for tipping balances of power, and astute 21st century readers will surely have noticed failure of the West and Russia to bridge their differences as a counter to Islam and/or China. (Blame goes on both sides in this, if you ask me, but such a discussion is outside the scope of this review.)

Riding Two Horses

Another thing he addresses are so-called conflicted countries (possibly not the word he used, I'm writing this two books after having read Clash and I'm too lazy to check). These are countries straddling two civilizations.

The best example is Turkey, teetering between the West and Islam. But another is Mexico, semi-Western and part of the NAFTA agreement, but still very Latin too. Huntington does not have much good to say about countries in this position in a world where things are aligned primarily along culture. And looking at the how things are going in Turkey today, it's hard to say he's wrong. In his estimation, the differences between Islamic and Western civilizations are too much to allow Turkey to make the jump (to say nothing of how the EU has been, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about it joining). Mexico, he conjectures, might manage it: Latin America was settled by Europeans too after all, so Mexico (and Latin America in general) should be an easier fit with the West.

Doom and Gloom

The end of the book is largely occupied with more conservative notions about culture and civilization. In particular, dire predictions about the fate of Western civilization and culture should it fail to remain cohesive and fail to keep at least one or two of Russian, India, and Japan as friends against Asia and to a lesser extent, Islam.

He also worries that if too many Latins settle in the US, it could become a conflicted country too.

Finally, there's a full-on doomsday scenario involving North Korea, which, while the details are way off, certainly seems relevant in general today.

Bottom Line

So, overall, I think it's a book worth reading regardless of your politics. Certainly, the basic ideas seem to accurately reflect the world today and as such constitute a useful model for understanding it. Like all models, it has its limitations though. And of course, there's no predicting monkey wrenches: Donald Trump, for example, probably has Huntington rolling over in his grave (and indeed, anyone who accepts Huntington's argument that the West needs to hang together and cultivate swing civilizations like Japan if it wants to preserve its Westernness ought to be alarmed by Trump). Putin too might be considered one, though the West certainly did it's share to agitate Russia over the last 20 years.

At least as important as its value as a way to view the world is the insight I see it giving on conservatism in the United States today. Many of the ideas in it are plain in what conservatives are concerned about and the policies they support. You may think the whole premise is BS but still gain an understanding of conservatives.

Finally, I should add that its well-written and its clear Huntington (a political scientist by education and trade) is well-informed.
( )
  qaphsiel | Feb 20, 2023 |
This would be an amazingly observant book today except this was written 20 years ago making it so prescient it's absolutely terrifying. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
Më 1993 revista me emër "Foreign Affairs" botoi një artikull me titullin: "Përplasja e qytetërimeve" të profesorit të Harvardit Samuel Huntington. Sipas redaktorëve të revistës artikulli ngjalli një diskutim më të madh se gjithçka tjetër e botuar që nga koha e Luftës së Dytë Botërore.

Në atë artikull Huntingtoni shtronte pyetjen nëse në të ardhmen mbi politikën botërore do të mbizotëronin konfliktet midis qytetërimeve. Në këtë libër, ai e jep përgjigjen duke treguar jo vetëm sesi përplasjet ndërmjet qytetërimeve përbëjnë kërcënimin më të madh për paqen në botë, por edhe sesi garancia më e mirë për paqen në botë është një rend ndërkombëtar i mbështetur mbi qytetërimet.

Që nga 11 shtatori kjo tezë ka dalë edhe më e mprehtë dhe me fuqi parashikuese. Përplasja e qytetërimeve dhe ribërja e rendit botëror tashmë pranohet si një studim klasik për marrëdhëniet ndërkombëtare në një botë që po bëhet gjithnjë e më e pasigurtë.
  BibliotekaFeniks | Jul 24, 2020 |
Realized that I was a dove instead of a hawk and singlehandedly prompted me to change my college major. ( )
2 vote nfulks32 | Jul 17, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel P. Huntingtonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bos, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Côrtes, M. H. C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dišlers, GuntisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fidel, Jean-LucTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fliessbach, HolgerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minucci, S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nagy, LadislavTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pietiläinen, KimmoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tonnesen, AndreasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In the summer of 1993 Foreign Affairs published an article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" by Samuel Huntington. No article, according to the editors of that distinguished journal, has generated more discussion since George Kennan's "X" article on containment in the 1940s. Now, Mr. Huntington expands on his article, explores further the issues he raised then, and develops many new penetrating and controversial analyses. In the article, he posed the question whether conflicts between civilizations would dominate the future of world politics. In the book, he gives his answer, showing not only how clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace but also how an international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war.

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