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,
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.  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.  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.
- 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.
- See Wang Gungwu, The National
Interest, Winter 1996/97, (esp. p. 72).