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The Clash of Civilizations

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Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations suggests that world politics is entering a new phase. It is his hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in the New World will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. Huntington believes that the great divisions amongst humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be in the cultural form. Nation states will still remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.

Huntington states: “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future”. Huntington suggests that the old groupings of the Cold War are no longer relevant (First, Second and Third Worlds). He proposes a new grouping of countries, not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.

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Huntington defines civilizations as a “cultural entity”. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, and religious groups, all with distinct cultures at different levels of cultural diversity. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is identified both by “common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people”. However of all the objective elements which define civilizations, the most important he states is religion. The major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s greatest religions, and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other, as happened in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Subcontinent. The Clash of Rights categorizes the major contemporary civilizations as follows: Sinic, a distinct Chinese civilization; Japanese, a distinct civilization which was the offspring of Chinese civilization; Hindu, the core of Indian civilization; Islamic, many distinct cultures existing within including Arab, Turkic, Persian, and Malay; Orthodox, centered in Russia and separate from Western Christendom; Western, associated with Christianity, Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment; Latin America, a separate civilization closely affiliated with the West but divided as to where it belongs in the West; and possibly African; as the North and East coast are associated with Islam but the remainder have developed a sense of distinct identity. See figure 1.1 included within.

Huntington also states civilization’s identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. In the New World the most prevalent, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilizations. An example of this behaviour can be seen in various recent occurrences. In the Yugoslav conflicts, Russia provided diplomatic support to the Serbs, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Libya provided funds and arms to the Bosnians, not for reasons of ideology or power politics or economic interest but because of cultural kinship. In sum, the key issues on the international agenda involve differences among civilizations. Power is shifting from the long predominant West to non-Western civilizations. Global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational and as the West attempts to assert its values and to protect its interests, non-Western societies confront a choice. Huntington states:

“Some attempt to emulate the West and join with the West; while other Confucian and Islamic societies attempt to expand their own economic and military power to resist and to balance against the West. The central axis of post-Cold War world politics is thus the interaction of Western power and culture with the power and culture of non-Western civilizations”.

At the end of the Cold War several “maps” were introduced as to how nation-states of the world would exist. The first is of One World. This paradigm was based on the assumption that the end of the Cold War meant the end of significant conflict in global politics and the emergence of one harmonious world. The one harmonious world paradigm is clearly far from reality to be a useful guide to the post-Cold War world. The second is of Two Worlds. The “us and them”, but more commonly the rich (modern developed), and the poor (traditional, underdeveloped or developing) countries. However the world is too complex to be envisioned as simply divided economically between North and South or culturally between east and West; perhaps the West and the Rest. The third paradigm is 184 States, More or Less. It derives from the Realist concept of international relations and suggests that states are the only important actors in world affairs and the relation among states is one of anarchy, and hence to insure their survival and security, states invariably attempt to maximize their power. This paradigm is more accurate, however it assumes that all states perceive their interests in the same way and act in the same way. States define their interests in terms of power but also in terms of values, culture, and institutions presently influence how states define their interests. And finally the last paradigm is Sheer Chaos. It stresses: the breakdown of governmental authority, the breakup of states, the intensification of tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict, the emergence of international criminal mafias, refugees multiplying into the tens of millions, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the spread of terrorism, the prevalence of massacres and ethnic cleansing. The world may be chaos but it is not totally without order. An image of universal and uniform anarchy provides few clues for understanding the world.

Next, the book looks at V.S. Naipaul’s theory of a “universal civilization” which can be defined as the general cultural coming together of humanity and the increasing acceptance of common values, beliefs, orientations, practices, and institutions by peoples around the world. Naipaul’s theory lies behind three general principles: first, most peoples in most societies have a similar “moral sense”; second, civilized societies have cities and literacy in common which distinguish them from primitive societies and barbarians; and third, people generally share beliefs in individualism, market economies, and political democracy, also know as the “Davos Culture effect”. However, Huntington and Ronald Dore put forth a case of their own suggesting that there are two things, which are not constant throughout the world, but are imperative in global communication and cooperation. These aspects are language and religion as both are central elements of any culture or civilization. The world’s language is known to be English but Huntington argues this assertion and states:

The overall pattern of language use in the world did not change dramatically. Significant declines occurred in the proportion of people speaking English, French, German, Russian, and Japanese, that a smaller decline occurred in the proportion of people speaking Mandarin, and that increases occurred in the proportion of people speaking Hindi, Malay-Indonesian, Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages.

He believes that as the power of the West gradually declines relative to that of other civilizations, the use of English and other Western languages in other societies and for communications between societies will slowly erode. Language is realigned and reconstructed to accord with the identities and contours of civilizations. A universal religion is also very unlikely to emerge. A religious resurgence has occurred and it has involved the intensification of religious consciousness and the rise of fundamentalist movements. The data of table 3.3 on page 65 demonstrates increases in the proportions of the world’s population adhering to the two major religions, Islam and Christianity. In the long run, however, Islam wins out as Christianity spreads primarily by conversion whereas Islam spreads by conversion and reproduction. In the modern world religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilizes people. The most fundamental divisions of humanity are in terms of ethnicity, religion, and civilizations, which remain and spawn new conflicts.

The book proceeds to discuss why civilizations will clash and in which manner. Huntington discusses six reasons for these conflicts and explains each accordingly. First, the book explains, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. History, language, culture, tradition, and most important religion differentiate civilizations from each other. These differences are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. They do not necessarily mean conflict, however over the centuries; differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and most violent conflicts. Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between the peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalties within civilizations. An example of this is seen with North African immigrants in France who generate hostility as opposed to Catholic Poles who are seen as “good” immigrants. Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist”. The revival of religion, “La Revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations. Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations. Huntington presumes a West at the peak of its power confronting non-Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways. Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. The key question used to be “Which side are you on?” Today it is “Who are you?” A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. However it is much more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim. Finally, he proposes, economic regionalism is increasing. The proportions to total that were intraregional rose between 1980 and 1989 from fifty one percent to fifty nine percent in Europe, thirty three percent to thirty seven percent in East Asia, and thirty two percent to thirty six percent in North America. The importance of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the future. However, Japan faces difficulties in creating an economic entity in East Asia because Japan is a society and a civilization, which is unique to itself. However strong the trade and investment links Japan may develop with other east Asian countries, its cultural differences with those countries inhabit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional economic integration like that of Europe and North America. If cultural commonality is a prerequisite for economic integration, the principle East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to centered on China. As Murray Weidenbaum had observed: “Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, commerce and finance”.

As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are seen as “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion. Differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment. The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.

Huntington also discusses the effects of modernization and Westernization. First, he looks at trade and the likelihood of conflict amongst countries trading with each other. He rejects the assumption that it reduces the probability of war between nations, and asserts that evidence actually proves the contrary. He understands the significant expansion of international trade during the 1960s and 1970s, but stresses that this correlation is meaningless as the world witnessed record highs in international trade in 1913 only to be followed by a global slaughter in unprecedented numbers few years later in World War I. Economic interdependence fosters peace only “when states expect that high trade levels will continue into the foreseeable future.” If states do not expect high levels of interdependence to continue, war is likely to result. Following Huntington identifies Western civilization and concludes that it does not represent modern civilization since the West was the West long before it was actually modern. Western culture is classified with seven characteristics: a classical legacy, Catholicism and Protestantism, European languages, separation of spiritual and temporary authority, rule of law, social pluralism, representative bodies, and individualism. Individually, almost none of these factors were unique to the West, however the combination of them was unique. Huntington also tries to establish the response nations will have to the West and to modernization. He claims the expansion of the West has promoted both the modernization and the Westernization of non-Western societies. The political and intellectual leaders of these societies have responded to the Western impact in one or more of three ways: rejecting both modernization and Westernization, embracing both, or embracing modernization and rejecting Westernization. In the twentieth century improvements in transportation and communication and global interdependence increased tremendously the costs of exclusion. Except for small, isolated, rural, communities willing to exist at a subsistence level, the total rejection of modernization as well as Westernization is hardly possible in a world becoming overwhelmingly modern and highly interconnected. Kemalism, which is the embrace of both concepts, is based on the assumptions that modernization is desirable and necessary, that the indigenous culture is incompatible with modernization and must be abandoned or abolished. Society must fully westernize in order to successfully modernization and both reinforce each other and have to go together. Finally, the Reformist approach attempts to combine modernization with the preservation of the central values, practices, and institutions of the society’s indigenous culture. This choice has understandably been the most popular one among non-Western elites.

As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has emerged. As the diagram 1.2 illustrates, the Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict. The Clash of Rights reviews that this century-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. In fact it could become more violent. The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf. Those relations, Huntington states, are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increase migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. M.J. Akbar, a Muslim author states “The next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world”. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity, he concludes, are likely to enhance the probability of violence along this fault line. Examples of this violence are evident in current world affairs such as: the on-going civil war in the Sudan between Arabs and blacks, the fighting in Chad between Libyan-supported insurgents and the government, the tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the Horn of Africa, and the political conflicts, recurring riots and communal violence between Muslim and Christians in Nigeria. On the northern border of Islam, conflict has increasingly erupted between Orthodox and Muslim peoples; including the carnage of Bosnia and Sarajevo, and the violence between Serbs and Albanians. The historic clash between Muslims and Hindus manifests itself now not only in the rivalry between Pakistan and India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between increasingly militant Hindu groups and India’s substantial Muslim minority. Furthermore, with the Cold War over, the underlying differences between China and the United States have reasserted themselves in areas such as human rights, trade, and weapons proliferation. The differences are unlikely to be moderated. And finally, violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. In every respect, Huntington believes, the Islamic bloc from the bulge of Africa to central Asia has bloody borders.

Two pictures exist of the power of the West in relation to other civilizations. The first is of overwhelming, triumphant, almost total Western dominance. The disintegration of the Soviet Union removed the only serious challenger to the West and as a result the world is and will be shaped by the goals, priorities, and interests of the principal Western nations, with perhaps an occasional assist from Japan. The second picture of the West is very different. It is of a civilization in decline, its share of world political, economic, and military power going down relative to that of other civilizations. Further, this view proposes that the West is now confronted with slow economic growth, stagnating populations, unemployment, huge government deficits, a declining work ethic, low savings rates, social disintegration, drugs, and crime. In the Clash of Rights, Huntington defends the second theory as the one, which best describes reality. He believes the West’s power is declining and will continue to do so as the most significant increases in power are occurring and will occur in Asian civilizations, particularly in China. However this decline, he describes, is not so simple. It will occur within three major characteristics. First it is a slow process; second this decline is highly irregular with pauses, reversals, and some renewals; and thirdly the West’s power to influence the World is based on numerous factors such as economic, military, institutional, demographic, political, technological, and social powers; all which are declining. In sum, Huntington concludes the West’s power is a decline in three core elements. Territory and population are first. Westerners constitute a steadily decreasing minority of the world’s population. Furthermore, the balance between the West and other populations is also changing. Non-Western peoples are becoming healthier, more urban, more literate, and better educated. Next is economic product, which is been declining since the Second World War for Westerners. This relative decline is; of course, in large part a function of the rapid rise of East Asia. And lastly, military capability which as Huntington demonstrates on table 4.6, page 88; that the West’s military manpower, spending, forces, and capabilities are at a significant decline whereas it is in a large rise in non-Western nations. Huntington states:

We are witnessing the end of the progressive era dominated by Western ideologies and are moving into an era in which multiple and diverse civilizations will interact, compete, coexist, and accommodate each other. This is the revival of religion occurring in so many parts of the world and most notably in the cultural resurgence in Asian and Islamic countries generated in large part by their economic and demographic dynamism.

The Clash of Civilizations asserts that the West is in a unique situation. Countries that for the reason of culture and power do not wish, or cannot, join the West instantly compete with the West by developing their own economic, military, and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent for of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power. Asian assertiveness is rooted in economic growth; Muslim assertiveness stems in considerable measure from social mobilization and population growth. The economic development in China and other Asian societies provides their governments with both the incentives and the resources to become more demanding in their dealing with other countries. Population growth in Muslim countries provides recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency, and migration. Economic growth strengthens Asian governments; demographic growth threatens Muslim governments and non-Muslim societies. In general, states belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other member of their own civilization. S. Greenway has termed the “kin-country” syndrome, is replacing political ideology and traditional balance of power considerations as the principal basis for cooperation and coalitions. This was witnessed during the Gulf war, as Safar Al-Hawali describes “The West against Islam”. A world of clashing civilizations, states Huntington, is however, inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others. With respects to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs. Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Islamic government groups, on the other hand, castigated the West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians as over two dozen Islamic countries were reported to be fighting in Bosnia. Huntington acknowledges that conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups within the same civilizations. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civilizations. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia continued, the positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly were long civilizational lines. The next World War, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations, Huntington concludes.

Spurred by modernization, global politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines. Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together. Peoples and countries with different cultures are coming apart. Alignments defined by ideology and superpower relations are giving way to alignments defined by culture and civilization. Political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones: ethnic, religious, and civilizational. Cultural communities are replacing Cold War blocs, and the fault lines between civilizations are becoming the central lines of conflict in global politics. This, Huntington asserts, is the cultural reconfiguration of global politics. Further, he believes these cultural differences do not facilitate cooperation and cohesion but on the contrary, they promote cleavages and conflicts for a number of reasons. First, everyone has multiple identities, which may compete with or reinforce each other. Second, the alienation of cultural identity creates the need for more meaningful identities as the power of non-Western societies stimulate the revitalization of indigenous identities and culture. Third, identity at any level-personal, tribal, racial, or civilization can only be defined in relation to an “other” as opposed to the “like us”. Fourth, the sources of conflict between states and groups from different civilizations are, in large measure, those, which have always generated conflict between groups. Fifth and finally is the prevalence of conflict. It is human to hate. Just as most nations are aligned with a particular civilization or grouping there are others which have difficulties aligning and finding commonalties amongst civilizations. These nations Huntington categorizes as “torn countries”. The reason for this syndrome is that these nations usually have one or more places viewed by their members as the principal source or sources of their civilization. These sources are often located within the Core State or states of the civilization, that is, its most powerful and culturally central state or states. Islam, Latin America and Africa all lack core states. This lack of a core state endangers the potential for these cultures to take a leadership role in global politics. Globally the most important torn country is Russia. The question of whether Russia is a part of the West or the leader of a distinct Slavic-Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one in Russian history. In order to redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about this move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. A similar example of these criteria has been Mexico. Another syndrome discussed by Huntington is of a “lone country”. These countries lack cultural commonality with other societies. Ethiopia, Haiti, and more importantly Japan, are lone countries. Finally, the last syndrome mentioned is “cleft countries”. This occurs when large groups belong to different civilizations causing the populace to become deeply divided. Examples of current cleft countries are Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. Some possible cleft countries, Huntington presumes, are India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Philippines, Indonesia, and maybe even Canada.

Basically, having achieved political independence, non-Western societies wish to free themselves from Western economic, military, and cultural domination. East Asian societies are well on their way to equaling the West economically. A general anti-Western coalition, however, seems unlikely in the immediate future. Islamic and Sinic civilizations differ fundamentally in terms of religion, culture, social structure, traditions, politics, and basic assumptions at the root of their way of life. Inherently each probably has less in common with the other than it has in common with Western civilization. Yet in politics a common enemy creates a common interest. Islamic, and Sinic societies which see the West as their antagonist thus have reason to cooperate with each other against the West. Huntington states: “Trust and friendship will be rare”. The overriding lesson of the history of civilizations, however, is that many things are probable but nothing is inevitable. Civilizations can and have reformed and renewed themselves. The central issue for the West is whether, quite apart from any external challenges, it is capable of stopping and reversing the internal processes of decay. Can the West renew itself or will sustained internal rot simply accelerate its end and/or subordination to other economically and demographically more dynamic civilizations? I feel that in the short term it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization, particularly between its European and North American components; to incorporate into the Wes

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The Clash of Civilizations. (2018, Aug 08). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-clash-of-civilizations-essay/

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