When looking at the state of international relations in the post September 11th era, it is important to revisit influential arguments made by renowned political scientist in the past and see if they still apply today. Two theories, Frances Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” have caused much debate in terms of their validity in this new era. While both theories emerged in the post-Cold War era, many try and fit them into the post 9-11 era. This paper will look at the two theories and explain through analysis how they fail to apply to the current international system. In “The End of History” Fukuyama’s main argument essentially states that the end of the Cold War marks the end of history for “mankind’s ideological evolution” and that western liberal democracy is the “final form of human government.”1 There are two reasons why Fukuyama’s argument doesn’t work in the post 9-11 era. The first is the important in the rise of non-democratic capitalist sates and the second is the impact of radical Islam in the last six years.
Fukuyama’s thesis was written after the Cold War and is expressively pro-democracy. He believes that liberal democracies are the highest achievable form of government that cannot be superseded by a better form of government. However, the rise of capitalist non-democratic states, such as China and Russia in the post 9-11 era, are example of this not being the case. In his article “The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers,” Azar Gat poses the possibility that as these countries become just as economically advanced as other democracies, they will remain non-democratic authoritarian capitalist regimes. Gat says, “There is nothing in the historical records to suggest that a transition to democracy by today’s authoritarian capitalist powers in inevitable, whereas there is a great deal to suggest that such powers have far greater economic and military potential than their communist predecessors did.”2 As China experiences rapid economic growth, its size and population opens the possibility of becoming an authoritarian superpower. What this means for Fukuyama’s thesis is an opposing idea of the possibility that liberal democracies will not be the end of the road for all nations The second reason Fukuyama’s argument is not valid is because he incorrectly predicted the impact of radical Islam would have on world affairs. In his article he
says, “In the contemporary world, only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism.
But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance.”3 This is a very understated assumption of the lasting impacts of fundamentalist Islam. When Fukuyama wrote this is in 1992, he seemed very confidence that fundamental Islam would not be a threat to the world yet not many would argue against the “universal significance” of September 11th. While Fukuyama may be justified is assuming liberal democracies is the only form of government that allows freedom to prevail, it does not mean that liberal democracies will be the “end of history.” Even after September 11th, Fukuyama has claimed that Islam is not that great of a threat, yet according to military spending, the number of troops deployed and human casualties, the threat of fundamental Islam to the international world order cannot be ignored. In recent history, as in the last 50 years, we have seen fundamentalism take over in states such as Iran and Afghanistan. This is significant because both these countries were modernizing before they became Islamic regimes. Iran had a pro-western regime ruled by Reza Shah where modern education was introduced. Before the reigns of the Mujahedeen and the Taliban, women in Afghanistan had access to education and were respected doctors, lawyers and professionals.4 These countries reverting back to fundamental Islam shows the contradiction in Fukuyama’s argument.
The Clash of Civilizations thesis essentially states that the world is divided between fundamentally different and clashing societies. In his article, Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington argues that the future sources of conflict and the greatest divisions among humankind will be cultural and “the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” Huntington believes that this clash will dictate global politics of the future.5 The “Clash of Civilizations” is a flawed theory because the world cannot be split evenly into civilizations. According to Huntington, civilizations are characterized according to language, history and religion and “how people identify themselves.”6 Huntington has identified eight different civilizations; African, Hindu, Islamic, Latin American, Japanese, Orthodox, Sinic, and Western. In his book Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Amartya Sen believes that conflicts arise when people are given a singular affinity, such as Muslim or Hindu, instead of multiple affinities, such as man, father, brother, lawyer, or libertarian.7 It is dangerous to define an entire group of people with a single affinity as one civilization. One of the problems is that Huntington’s view assumes all Muslims belong to the same civilization, implying that Muslims in South Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East all share the exact same political cultures.
Muslims throughout the world speak a range of languages including Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, English, and Turkish and the great division between the Sunni and Shi’a proves that there is immense diversity within the Muslim world. Because the aftermath of September 11th had such a profound effect on international relations, it is easy to assume that an equally profound number of people were at the root of the conflict. Yet the ideologies of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden are not universal amongst everyone who practices Islam and it is unfair to associate a small group of fundamentalists with an entire civilization of people who practice Islam. Another reason the clash of civilizations is not valid post 9-11 is because it assumes Islam and Modernity are incompatible. It is not the practice of the religion itself that is incompatible nor is it the civilizations that propel this.
For example, in pre-modern Islamic tradition women would never have been considered able to vote, however, according to Harvard historian Roy Mottahedeh, in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iran the majority of Islamist who advocate “the reintroduction of some measure of Islamic law- would never raise a whisper against votes for women” because they consider them “an important part of their constituents.”8 In addition it is unfair to assume that modernization and westernization are synonymous and that the western version of modernity should be applied to the rest of the world. Another aspect of Huntington’s theory is the emergence of a “kin-country syndrome” in which “groups or states belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization.”9 However, as seen in its foreign policy, the United States is clearly willing to sacrifice defending its Western ideals in order appease countries or political groups with blatantly opposing anti-western values.
This includes the US support of Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war and the close relations the US shares with Saudi Arabia. In addition, the United States’ blind support for Israel, a country that is clearly non-secular, makes the US appear contradictory and hypocritical to its belief that democracy and religion cannot coexist. I believe the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis is in many ways an excuse to justify the United States intervention in the Middle East. By forcefully implying there is a difference between the civilizations of Islam and that of the West, the United States creates justifications for fighting wars in the region. These fault lines can be manifested and manipulated to pursue a government’s individual agenda while risking everything that is working towards a more peaceful coexistence. In Fukuyama’s argument, the claim that democracy is the final form of government for all of mankind is also used in many ways to justify Western intervention in the Middle East. While I strongly believe these theories cannot be applied to the post 9-11 era, they are still very valuable and their content can help formulate newer and more pertinent theories for the 21st century.