Review of the Book

The Clash of Civilization And the Remaking of World Order
by Samuel P. Huntington

Nibaldo Aguilera, Ph.D.

[Reprinted from the Henry George News, January-April, 2005]

Will the world fragment into antagonistic civilizations? Harvard University Professor Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilization And the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, has presented a hypothesis that world politics is entering a new phase during which culture will be the fundamental source of division and conflict. His central thesis is that in the Post- Cold War Era differences among people are not ideological, not political, and not economic. They are cultural. For some scholars he does a number of things extremely well, certainly well enough to justify adding the societal lens to the toolkit of those trying to understand world politics. For others, these are further absurdities of a badly written page of third-rate Euro-centrism. Those positions reveal the flavor as well as the content of his argument. This review examines a number of the factors currently in discussion and focuses on the interpretations available on Huntington's paradigm for understanding international relations in the current era.

By civilization, Huntington means something beyond culture. The religion, language, and customs of the civilization that individuals identify with most closely have more influence on their actions than do their preferences in food or popular entertainment or even their political ideals. Huntington specifically describes seven major civilizations of the world today. [1] But which civilizations are we talking about? Those defined by religious space, by language, by nation, by homogeneous economic region, or by political system? Huntington interpreted civilizations essentially in terms of religion.

Civilizations are not substantive and permanent entities, nor are they necessarily closed and conflicting ones. Mutual influences are the most frequent phenomena historically, particularly in our time of migrations and fluid communications. Rather than conflicts along the fault lines of his seven or eight civilizations, the really bloody wars of our time oppose Tutsi and Hutu, Pashtun and Tadjik, Shi'a and Sunni, Turk and Kurd, Bosnian and Croatian, Iranian and Iraqi. They are constantly torn between globalization and fragmentation, between forces of modernization and divisive forces of local traditions.

There is not much question as to why Huntington ignores Africans, who whether Christian, Muslim, or Animist, still have specificities of their own, and even Latin Americans, for since they are Christian are they not as Western as the Western? It would not be difficult to point out that Huntington's oversight here reflects banal racial prejudice. The Indian component in Latin American culture is more important in some countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Peru than in North America. But the African influence is more important in the United States than in all but a few Latin American countries like Brazil and Cuba. Both North and South America are Western European with an admixture of other elements. Thus, the idea that cultural differences are real is the basis of a common prejudice of all people at all times. Cultures and religions are continuously changing, and the change can be explained by history. But history shows that concepts are explained in ideological systems according to circumstances. For example, Western culturalists in the past explained China's backwardness, and today its accelerated development, by the .same. Confucianism.

The problem with Huntington's thesis is that it is wildly overstated and in the real world, potentially dangerous, and, as Wang Gungwu states in his essay A Machiavelli for Our Times, because it is coming from a leading political scientist in the most distinguished university in the world's most powerful nation. [2] Declaring civilizational divides would invite counter-groupings and risk triggering precisely the types of antagonisms that Huntington anticipates. This is a sort of self-prophecy which other powers like China and Japan will look at like a declaration of a new Cold War.

Huntington believes that the end of the Cold War divide has made clear that a new paradigm is required. He is careful to insist that what he has presented is a model and not a prophecy, a new paradigm that may best explain what happens, and predict what is likely to happen, when and where civilization borders collide or intersect, and no more than that.

I argue that differences between the regions of the world are found outside the field of culture or religion, and we must start from the analysis of economic interests. In permitting the monopolization of natural resources nations ignore the fundamental law of justice creating the great unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth and power. After the tragic event of 9/11 what is so stunning about the Clash of Civilization is not just about the future, but may actually help to shape it.


  1. The West, meaning that part of Europe where Catholic and Protestant Christianity have traditionally flourished, along with the U.S. and Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Orthodoxy, including Russia, modern Greece, and other countries with a tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Sinic, including China, Singapore, as well nearby societies with strong racial and cultural links to China. Japan, unique today. Muslim, religion-focused, widespread, and growing fast, yet without a leading nation at its core. Hindu, Latin America, with close ties to the West but many independent traits as well. And African, possibly.
  2. See Wang Gungwu, The National Interest, Winter 1996/97, (esp. p. 72).