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South Sudan is on the verge of another civil war

South Sudanese rebel soldiers at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, April 7, 2016.

(This post has been updated.)

A day after South Sudan marked its fifth year of independence, the world’s youngest country is on the verge of sliding back into civil war. At least  272 people have been killed as rival government factions clashed over the weekend in Juba, dimming hopes that the latest peace deal will hold.

Fighting and gunfire could be heard in the capital again today (July 11), a day after the United Nations Security Council called on both groups to “ urgently end the fighting ” that has rocked the city for days.

On Sunday, fighting had broken out in the suburbs of Gudele and Jebel, near army barracks, the airport, as well as United Nations compounds that house thousands of displaced citizens. One Chinese peacekeeper has been killed and several others injured. Local journalists reported seeing at least 100 bodies  laying on the ground near the presidential palace and near UN bases . Civilians are hiding in churches throughout the city.

The country is “back to war,” a spokesman for vice president Riek Machar, head of one of the rival factions,  told the BBC . A government spokesman disagreed with Machar’s characterization saying, “The situation is normal and it is under full control .”

The UN has said that hundreds of civilians are fleeing fighting in Juba and that it is “ gravely concerned ” about reports that troops are blocking civilians from seeking protection at UN properties. Kenya’s national carrier has  halted direct flights to Juba. The US embassy in Juba is evacuating all nonessential staff, saying that the country had experienced a “ sudden and serious deterioration .” Japanese aid workers are also being evacuated from the country.

South Sudan's first vice president Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir, right, shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Apr. 29.

Since South Sudan’s civil war in late 2013, the country has been engulfed in fighting, caught between forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and Machar, Kiir’s former vice president. Last year, Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal to form a new coalition government led by Kir, with Machar as vice president. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said the recent fighting “has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process.”

It has seemed like the new government would  fail before it had a chance to begin  and the latest clashes are more proof that neither leader has full control over their supporters. Fighting broke out on Friday between Kiir’s and Machar’s bodyguards while the two leaders were meeting at the state house to discuss how to defuse tensions. An estimated 150 soldiers and civilians  were killed, according to a spokesman for Machar.

A return to fighting risks worsening an already existing humanitarian crisis. More than 2 million people have been displaced. War has impoverished the country of 11 million, which had to cancel independence day events because it couldn’t afford to hold them .

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The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and Realism in International Political Thought

Image by thierry ehrmann

This is an excerpt from The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ 25 Years On: A Multidisciplinary Appraisal. Download your free copy here

The thought of Samuel Huntington, and in particular his ideas in the 1993 article and 1996 book Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (2002), have contributed to the conceptual vocabulary through which the changing international context has been examined after the end of the Cold War and the rise of Islamist terrorism. Huntington’s central thesis that conflicts in the post-ideological era are fueled by differences in identity, religion or, more generally, culture (Huntington 1993, 22), has had a huge impact on the study of international politics. Some praised Huntington for his ability to forecast future trends in international affairs. After 9/11, some intellectuals even looked up to him as a prophet of the wars of the new century. In the US and in Western Europe, the notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between the West and Islam offered arguments to many intellectuals and activists, across the political spectrum, who saw in Muslim immigration and the geopolitical situations of Muslim countries a danger for a declining and confused West (among many others see Fallaci 2002). At the same time, Huntington has been loathed as the inspirer of a logic of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that had some resonance in the policies of George W. Bush after 9/11. He has been accused of being ignorant of his own and other cultures, and to propose a static and caricature-ish description of civilizations, and in particular of Islam (Said 2001, Adib-Moghaddam 2010).

This chapter takes a different approach and starts from a different methodological presupposition inspired by the British philosopher and historian of political thought Michael Oakeshott. While trying to present to readers the political and moral thought of Thomas Hobbes, Oakeshott claimed that in order to understand a text in political philosophy one should place it in the context of the history of that discipline (1991, 223–228). In so doing, it would be possible to highlight those elements that escape from the contingencies and the darkness of the time in which philosophers were writing. Of course, in the case of a thinker so embedded in his time such as Huntington, it may appear as a bold claim to affirm the presence of theoretical elements of his thought detached from its time and place. At first glance, it seems that Huntington was more interested in offering advice to the American political elite, than to contribute to the theoretical understanding of international affairs. The questions that a book such as The Clash of Civilizations asks are indeed of a practical sort. However, as I hope to demonstrate in this short essay, it is possible to find in Huntington’s theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’ some elements that are independent from the contingencies of his, and our, time and that can be linked to the history of the philosophical reflection on international affairs. These, I contend, are the elements that still appeal to readers from both the academic world and the general public.

Starting from this methodological presupposition, the aim of this chapter is to present and understand some of the main aspects of Huntington’s argument as presented in the book and article on the ‘clash of civilizations’ (Huntington 1993, Huntington 2002). I claim that his thought can be seen in continuity with the realist tradition in International Relations and as one of the most prominent and strong critical critiques of utopianism in international political thought.

The Realist Tradition in International Political Thought

In order to show Huntington’s contribution to realism, it is first necessary to offer a brief overview of that tradition. Realism is indeed one of the most recognizable voices in international political thought and is still holding center stage in the study of contemporary international affairs (see the contributions in Orsi, Avgustin, Nurnus 2018). Historians of international political thought agree in identifying two sorts of realisms: classical and structural. The former starts with Thucydides and continues with thinkers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, E.H. Carr and Morgenthau (Boucher 1998, 47–170); the latter is instead influenced by the ‘scientific approach’ and aims to reach a quantitative and certain study of politics and is based on the notion of the balance of power (Mearsheimer 2013). My contention in this chapter is that while Huntington criticized some of the central tenets of structural realism, his theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’ can be seen in continuity with classical realism. To this end it is worth highlighting some of the main ideas that define the identity of classical realism in the philosophical reflection on international affairs.

Notwithstanding their many differences, classical realist thinkers shared a tragic vision of life (Lebow 2003; Rösch and Lebow 2017) according to which human beings have to take difficult decisions in a condition of uncertainty and with incomplete knowledge of reality. According to this view, all humans are embedded in changing contexts with no certain guide. This conception is linked to a profound critique of all forms of universalism, according to which it is possible, by the use of reason, to reach universal moral truths. The tragedy of the human condition also lies in its inescapability. Neither human reason nor universal moral law can come to the rescue of human beings.

At the same time, human nature is conceived of as self-interested. Human nature shapes the character of any human activity and, most of all, of politics. However, this condition is even worse in international politics. It is indeed in the international realm that the real nature of politics appears in all its force. For example, this fundamental idea is at the center of the political theory of one of the most important realist thinkers of the twentieth century: Hans Morgenthau. Writing at a time when International Relations as a discipline was not established as yet, Morgenthau’s declared purpose was far from that of any scholar of our time: to find the eternal truths of politics (Morgenthau 1955). To this end, he applied to the study of politics the ideas of his teacher, the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt. In Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political , politics is conceived in terms of power. That this is the character of politics is well represented in the description of the state of nature by Hobbes. In the Leviathan , the state saves human beings from the constant threat of violent death: for Schmitt’s Hobbes, the authority of the state derives from its ability to protect the citizens, who, in return, give their obedience. For Schmitt, there is no distinction between politics and war and indeed politics is the continuation of war by other means (Foucault 2003). The relations among states are characterized not by actual war, but by a constant state of belligerence in which the world is divided along the lines of friend/foe (Schmitt 2008, 37).

Conflict is a constant feature of human history, and of international history in particular. As Martin Wight famously put it, in international politics, no progress is possible and if some people from the distant past returned to present and looked at international affairs, they ‘would be struck by resemblances to what they remembered’ (Wight 1966, 26). As a consequence, as shown by Machiavelli (1988) but also by other realist thinkers, the only morality in politics is that identified with expediency and prudence and with the interest of the political community. Good politicians are those who protect their state and increase its power. In the absence of universal moral laws, the political woman/man should use her/his prudence to face difficult situations and ‘to make a friend of every hostile occasion’ (Oakeshott 1991, 60).

In addition to a tragic conception of human life, and the supremacy of power over ethics, realism in modern international political thought is also shaped by what Nicholas Rengger has recently defined as an ‘anti-pelagian imagination’ (2017). One of the characters defining this tendency is the aversion against the hope for universal moral truths (such as that about the existence of universal rights) to be a guide for political action. Moreover, anti-pelagianism fights against the belief that human history displays progress. Of course anti-pelagianism is not exclusively a character of realist international thought and many liberal theorists, starting with Judith Shklar, share distrust in utopian thinking (Rengger 2017, Chapter six). However, it is fair to say that the polemical targets of many classical realist thinkers were the utopian projects of their own times. If we look again, as an example, at Hans Morgenthau, we see that he criticized international liberalism in world politics. Its fault is not to acknowledge the centrality of power in politics and the ubiquity of evil in the world (1948).

To recapitulate, classical realist thinkers ground their argument on a tragic conception of human nature, and on the idea that international politics is essentially characterized by anarchy and war. Their positions often present a critique of utopianism and of the idea that international politics may be constrained by law or ethical principles, and is animated by a progress towards the best. In the following, I will illustrate the ways in which Huntington’s theory of ‘clash of civilizations’ is related to these ideas.

Huntington’s Critique against Structural Realism  

As is well known, the main objective of Huntington’s article and book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ was to offer a new paradigm to interpret world politics after the end of the Cold War. The historical events following the unexpected dissolution of the Soviet Union were redesigning world history and putting to the test established theories of international relations. Also inspired by Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Huntington believed that the events such as the war in the Balkans and Chechnya showed the inadequate explanatory power of previous framework for interpreting and understanding world politics (Huntington 2002, 29–30). What was needed was a new paradigm and Huntington offered a new way of seeing international affairs grounded on the claim that ‘the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural’ (1993, 22).

A first aspect to clarify is that this does not equate to saying that before the end of the USSR and during the Cold War culture and ideas were irrelevant or did not enter the equation explaining international conflicts. It rather means that the origin and reasons of war would not be the underlining competition between superpowers – a competition that during the Cold War was not just material, but also ideological – but rather the conflict between incommensurable ways of seeing the world and ways of life, those shaped by civilizations. In a sense, Huntington claims, civilizations have always been there: ‘human history is the history of civilizations’ (Huntington 2002, 40). This character of history was, however, hidden under the more apparent and manifest conflict between the two superpowers and their allies. My contention in this chapter is that this vision of world politics can be better understood when seen in the context of the realist and anti-pelagian tradition in international political thought. However, if we look at both Huntington’s article and book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ we can see that one of their main concerns was to show the inadequate explanatory force of realism, and especially Mearsheimer’s theory (Huntington 2002, 37).

According to Huntington, in realist theory ‘states are the primary, indeed, the only important actors in world affairs, the relations among states is one of anarchy, and hence, to ensure their survival and security, states invariably attempt to maximize their power’ (2002, 33). According to Huntington, this approach is able to explain the importance of states, it does not take into account the fact that states define their interests not just in terms of power: ‘values, cultures, and institutions pervasively influence how states define their interests’ (2002, 34). In the civilizational paradigm, states are still important, and power politics is still shaping their actions. However, these should be conceived within certain frames of reference: civilizations. These are ‘a collection of cultural characteristics and phenomena’, the ‘broadest cultural entity’, ‘the highest cultural grouping of people’. There are some common objective elements that define civilizations ‘such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and the subjective self-identification of people’ (2002, 43). In the post-Cold War era, civilizations, and in particular their religious aspects, are the source of identity and meaning for a growing numbers of individuals and groups. Therefore, they shape the decisions of states and the study of international affairs should take this into account.

As many critics have noted, Huntington’s definition of civilization is so vague and generic that it is useless in the actual analysis of world politics. However, the theoretical importance of Huntington’s theory in this regard lies in his criticism of the realist paradigm and its focus on material interest and power as the driving forces of international politics. In contrast to that, Huntington sees a ‘cultural reconfiguration of global politics’ (2002, 126), in which a country’s enemies and friends are defined by cultural identity. In a sense, power and interest still guide international agents, but these are defined by cultural framework. There is a priority of culture over interest and power.

The fact that agents define their interests through the vocabulary and ideas offered by their civilization is not the only aspect of structural realism that is criticized by Huntington. The ‘clash of civilizations’ paradigm explains the rise of non-state actors such as regional organizations. These, as well as alliances between states, are more and more shaped by civilizations. In the post-Cold War era, states suffer ‘losses in sovereignty, functions, and power’ (Huntington 2002, 35) in favor of these larger entities. For example, in the case of the European Union, states, which committed to an ‘ever closer union’, despite the many problems and setbacks, have progressively given up their economic, military and juridical powers to the institution of the Union. In the ‘clash of civilizations’ paradigm, the essence of the European Union is cultural homogeneity (Huntington 2002, 28), which is ultimately grounded in Christianity. The fact that ‘people rally to those with similar ancestry, religion, language, values, and institutions and distance themselves from those with different ones’ (Huntington 2002, 126) also explained the entrance of new states into the European Union after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The civilizational paradigm is not recognized in the founding documents of the European Union and, in particular, in the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (European Union 2004) ratified in 2004. Writers of that legal text chose not to cite European religious identity and rather mention other principles such as the rule of law. However, much of the discussion in the years of the drafting process of the Constitution for Europe revolved around the place of Christianity in the European identity (see Eriksen, Fossum and Menendez 2004),  and this is how the civilizational perspective was present in that political debate.

In sum, Huntington criticized the structural realist paradigm by affirming the priority of culture over interest and power as the core of international politics, and by arguing that, in the new era, states were losing their centrality in favor of alliances and organizations based on shared civilizational values.

The Realist and Anti-Pelagian Character of Huntington’s Thought

Even though the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis is critical of some central tenets of structural realism, in this section, I argue that it shares some fundamental ideas with the classical realist tradition, which I have presented earlier in this chapter.

One of the objectives of Huntington’s article and book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ is to advance arguments against other paradigms interpreting the post-Cold War world. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, among others, thought that the idea that the end of the Cold War was the beginning of an era without conflict. In this view, the world would have been united under one sole way of life and system of values: those inspired by liberal-democracy and by Western ideas. This conception is one of the many universalist political theories inspired by the idea of progress. Fukuyama was, as is well known, inspired by Hegel’s philosophy and by Kojeve’s Hegelian notion of ‘universal homogeneous state’, and considered the source of conflict to be ideological, or spiritual. Given the failure of all systems of ideas alternative to liberalism, history had reached its end (Fukuyama 2006). Another version of this view is represented by cosmopolitan theories of international politics according to which boundaries and particularist allegiances are morally irrelevant. From the increasing economic cooperation among states, communities and individuals follows the existence of a universal society in which burdens and benefits should be distributed and in which there are indeed universal human rights that are valid, beyond, and in spite of, all government bodies and legal recognitions of them (Pogge 2007, 2).

The paradigm advanced by Huntington is opposed to this optimist vision of world politics and advances objection to the view that conflict can be overcome. In general, the very idea of a world in which there is a plurality of civilizations is opposed to the notion that there is one and only one human civilization. There are indeed some elements common to all humans: ‘certain basic values’ and ‘institutions’ (2002, 6). However, Huntington argues, history can rather be explained in the light of the divisions among humanity, such as ‘tribes, nations, and broader cultural entities normally called civilizations’ (Huntington 2002, 56). Not only is a universal civilization based on Western values impossible, but the instauration of a global democracy is also doomed to failure (Huntington 2002, 193). Liberal universalist projects are, after all, imperialist and overlook cultural differences in the world. There is an irreducible cultural pluralism in the world, an irresolvable disagreement on fundamental values. There is no lingua franca among civilizations, and democracy and human rights are meaningful to the West but not to the rest. Huntington underlined the elements that separate human beings, and the importance of an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ logic in our quest for an identity. As he writes: ‘people define their identity by what they are not’ (Huntington 2002, 67).

What is important is that these differences are also the source of conflict and the reason world unity remains impossible. Instead of seeing history as a history of progress, with a bright future in which culture merges and peace advances, Huntington sees world politics as determined by the omnipresence of conflict. As in other realist writers, at the ground of this understanding there is a negative vision of human nature. As Huntington writes,

It is human to hate. For self-definition and motivation people need enemies: competitors in business, rivals in achievement, opponents in politics. They naturally distrust and see as threats those who are different and have the capability to harm them. The resolution of one conflict and the disappearance of one enemy generate personal, social, and political forces that give rise to new ones. The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ tendency is … in the political arena almost universal. In the contemporary world the ‘them’ is more and more likely to be people from a different civilization (Huntington 2002, 130).

As many other European and American intellectuals before him, this negative view of humanity is paired with a certain reading of world history, in which the cultural force of the West is declining. The world of the clash of civilization is a world seen from a declining and ageing civilization that has lost control and appeal. This decline is in territory and population, economic product, military capability, but also cultural dominance (Huntington 2002, 83–96). As is well known and as many advocates of Huntington’s ideas have suggested after 9/11 and after the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and America, the decline of the West is not leading the world to greater peace. Even though Huntington does not believe that a coalition of states against the West is possible (Huntington 2002, 185), civilizational relationships are antagonistic and conflict has to be considered the leitmotiv of international politics.

Huntington developed his paradigm of the ‘clash of civilizations’ in an age of turmoil and to answer the practical need of a new theory for the understanding of the world. The fall of the Soviet Union was the end of a (short) century of ideological and material wars between two systems of power. Likewise, the events that followed 9/11 also required a new vocabulary and a new way of interpreting the world. From the analysis conducted in this chapter it has emerged that Huntington found this vocabulary in the classical realist tradition. Even though Huntington was deeply critical of some of the assumptions of structural realism on the sources of conflict and on the role of states in international politics, he shared with the realists some important ideas. He grounds his views on an anti-utopian attitude, which dismisses all visions of world peace, inter-civilizational dialogue, cosmopolitan society, and universal civilization. Conflict, and the division of the world between friends and foes, is considered the essence of world politics, and even human nature.

Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin. 2010. A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations . London: Hurst & Company.

Boucher, David. 1998. Political Theories of International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eriksen, Erik Oddva, and John Erik Fossum, Agustín Menéndez. 2004. Developing a Constitution for Europe. London: Routledge.

European Union. 2004. Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe , 16 December, Official Journal of the European Union, C310, 16 December, available at: https://europa.eu/european…/treaty_establishing_a_constitution_for_europe_en.pdf   Accessed 25 November 2017.

Fallaci, Oriana. 2002. The Rage and the Pride. Milano: Rizzoli.

Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended. Lectures at the Collège de France. New York: Picador.

Fukuyama, Francis. 2006. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.

Lebow, Richard Ned. 2003. The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?.” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (Summer): 22–49.

Huntington, Samuel P. 2002. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. London: The Free Press.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. 1988. The Prince. Edited by Quentin Skinner and Russell Price. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mearsheimer, John. 2013.  “Structural Realism.” In International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 3 rd Edition, edited by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, 77–93. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Morgenthau, Hans J. 1948. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 7th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Morgenthau, Hans J, 1955. “Reflections on the State of Political Science.” The Review of Politics 17(4): 431–60.

Oakeshott, Michael. 1991. Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Orsi, Davide, Janja R. Avgustin and Max Nurnus, eds. 2018. Realism in Practice: An Appraisal. Bristol: E-International Relations.

Pogge, Thomas. 2007. Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right. Who Owes What to the Very Poor? . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rengger, Nicholas. 2017. The Anti-Pelagian Imagination in Political Theory and International Relations. London: Routledge.

Rösch, Felix, and Richard Ned Lebow. 2017. “A Contemporary Perspective on Realism.” In International Relations Theory, edited by Stephen McGlinchey, Rosie Walters and Christian Scheinpflug, 138–44. Bristol: E-International Relations.

Said, Edward. 2001. “The Clash of Ignorance.” The Nation, 4 October. https://www.thenation.com/article/clash-ignorance/ Accessed 25 November 2017.

Schmitt, Carl. 2008. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Wight, Martin. 1966. “Why There is No International Theory.” In Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Relations, edited by Herbert Butterfield, Martin Wight, Hedley Bull, 17–34. London: Allen & Unwin.

Further Reading on E-International Relations

  • Advance Preview: The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ 25 Years On
  • Civilizations, Political Systems and Power Politics: A Critique of Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’
  • The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ in International Law
  • The Clash of Civilizations Thesis: A Critical Appraisal
  • Revisiting the Clash of Civilizations Thesis After 9/11
  • Clashing Civilizations: A Toynbeean Response to Huntington

Davide Orsi (Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations from Cardiff University, 2015) is Editor-at-Large and Deputy Articles Editor at E-IR. His first book Michael Oakeshott’s Political Philosophy of International Relations: Civil Association and International Society (Palgrave, 2016) explores the historical and normative dimension of international society by relating Oakeshott’s philosophy of civil association to English School theories of international relations. He has published work in journals including the Jo urnal of International Political Theory, Filosofia Politica, Intersezioni, Collingwood and British Idealism Studies, the European Legacy, and the British Journal for the History of Philosophy. He is co-editor of Realism in Practice: An Appraisal and editor of The Clash of Civilizations. Twenty-Five Years On , both published by E-International Relations in 2018.

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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

By samuel p. huntington, summary written by hollie hendrikson, conflict research consortium.

Citation:  Huntington, Samuel P.  The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order . New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order  is an expansion of the 1993  Foreign Affairs  article written by Samuel Huntington that hypothesized a new post-Cold War world order. Prior to the end of the Cold War, societies were divided by ideological differences, such as the struggle between democracy and communism. Huntington's main thesis argues, "The most important distinctions among peoples are [no longer] ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural" (21). New patterns of conflict will occur along the boundaries of different cultures and patterns of cohesion will be found within the cultural boundaries.

Part One:  A World of Civilizations

To begin his argument, Huntington refutes past paradigms that have been ineffective in explaining or predicting the reality of the global political order. "We need a map," Huntington says, "that both portrays reality and simplifies reality in a way that best serves our purposes" (31). Huntington develops a new "Civilization paradigm" to create a new understanding of the post-Cold War order, and to fill the gaps of the already existing paradigms. To begin with, Huntington divides the world into eight "major" civilizations:

  • Sinic:  the common culture of China and Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Includes Vietnam and Korea.
  • Japanese:  Japanese culture as distinctively different from the rest of Asia.
  • Hindu:  identified as the core Indian civilization.
  • Islamic:  Originating on the Arabian Peninsula, spread across North Africa, Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia. Arab, Turkic, Persian and Malay are among the many distinct subdivisions within Islam.
  • Orthodox:  centered in Russia. Separate from Western Christendom.
  • Western:  centered in Europe and North America.
  • Latin American:  Central and South American countries with a past of a corporatist, authoritarian culture. Majority of countries are of a Catholic majority.
  • Africa:  while the continent lacks a sense of a pan-African identity, Huntington claims that Africans are also increasingly developing a sense of African Identity.

Following the explanations of the separate civilizations in the new paradigm, Huntington describes the relations among civilizations. Before 1500 A.D., civilizations were separated geographically and the spread of ideas and technology took centuries. Huntington argues that research and technology are the catalyst for civilization creation and development. By 1500 A.D., evolution in ocean navigation by Western cultures led to rapid expansion and eventual domination of ideas, values, and religion.

Twentieth century relations among civilizations have moved beyond the unidirectional influence of the west on the rest. Instead, "multidirectional interactions among all civilization" has been maintained (53). In other words, cultural influence is interdependent; western civilizations influence and are influenced by smaller, less powerful civilizations around the world.

Huntington then refutes the idea of a Western cultural hegemony and the concept of an established universal civilization. He states that "global communications are dominated by the West" and is "a major source of the resentment and hostility of non-Western peoples against the West" (59). The notion of a single, universal culture is not helpful creating an explanation or a description of global political order. However, Huntington also argues that as modernization increases cross-cultural communication, the similarities among cultures also increase. The key to this chapter is Huntington's severance of modernization from Westernization. While the world is becoming more modern, it is simultaneously becoming less Western, an idea he expands upon in part two of the book.

Part Two:  The Shifting Balance of Civilizations

Huntington starts this section by arguing that Western power and influence is fading. There are contrasting views on the West's hold on power. One side argues that the West sill has a monopoly on technological research and development, military strength, and economic consumption. The other side argues that the relative power and influence of Western countries is declining. Huntington adopts the latter view and describes three characteristics of the Western decline:

  • The current Western decline is a very slow process and is not an immediate threat to World powers today.
  • Decline of power does not occur in a straight line; it may reverse, speed up, or pause.
  • The power of a state is controlled and influenced by the behavior and decisions of those holding power.

Also in this section, Huntington asserts the increased role and importance of religion in world politics. Religion is the societal factor that has filled the vacuum created by a loss of political ideology. Major religions around the world "experienced new surges in commitment, relevance and practice by erstwhile casual believers" (96). Huntington goes on to say that replacing politics with religion was also the result of increased communication among societies and cultures. People "need new sources of identity, new forms of stable community, and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose" (97). Religion is able to meet these needs.

Chapter five,  Economics, Demography and the Challenger Civilizations , discusses the relative rise in power and influence of non-Western countries. Huntington specifically focuses on Japan, the Four Tigers (Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore), and China as countries, which asserted cultural relevance through economic successes. "Asian societies are decreasingly responsive to United States demands and interests and [are] increasingly able to resist pressure from the U.S. or other Western countries" (104). The ability of Asian countries to successfully modernize and develop economically without adopting western values supports Huntington's assertion that the world is becoming more modernized, but less Westernized.

Muslim societies, unlike Asian societies, have asserted cultural identity through the reaffirmation and resurgence of religion. Huntington argues that the resurgence of Islam "embodies the acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, and the recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world" (110). Religion is the primary factor that distinguishes Muslim politics and society from other countries. Huntington also argues that the failure of state economies, the large young population, and the authoritarian style of governance have all contributed to the resurgence of Islam in society.

Part III:  The Emerging Order of Civilizations

During the Cold War, the bipolar world order enabled countries to identify themselves as either aligned or non-aligned. In the post-Cold War world order, countries are no longer able to easily categorize themselves and have entered into an identity crisis. To cope with this crisis, countries started "rallying to those [cultures] with similar ancestry, religion, language, values, and institutions and distance themselves from those with different ones" (126). Regional organizations have formed that reflect political and economic alliances. These include Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU) and the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Huntington also describes the idea of "torn countries," or countries that have yet to entirely claim or create an identity. These countries include Russia, Turkey, Mexico, and Australia.

Huntington discusses the new structure of civilizations as centered around a small number of powerful core states. "Culture commonality legitimates the leadership and order-imposing role of the core states for both member state and core external powers and institutions" (156). Examples of core states are France and Germany for the EU. Their sphere of influence ends where Western Christendom ends. In other words, civilizations are strictly bound to religious affiliation. Huntington argues that the Islamic civilization, which he identified earlier in the book, lacks a core state and is the factor that disallows these societies to successfully develop and modernize. The remainder of this section goes into great detail to explain the different divisions of core states throughout the world.

Part IV:  Clashes of Civilizations

Huntington predicts and describes the great clashes that will occur among civilizations. First, he anticipates a coalition or cooperation between Islamic and Sinic cultures to work against a common enemy, the West. Three issues that separate the West from the rest are identified by Huntington as:

  • The West's ability to maintain military superiority through the nonproliferation of emerging powers.
  • The promotion of Western political values such as human rights and democracy.
  • The Restriction of non-Western immigrants and refugees into Western societies.

Non-Western countries see all three aspects as the Western countries attempt to enforce and maintain their status as the cultural hegemony.

In the chapter  The Global Politics of Civilizations , Huntington predicts the conflict between Islam and the West to be a "small, fault line war," and the conflict between the America and China having the potential to be an "intercivilizational war of core states" (207).

Islam and the West

Huntington goes into a brief historical explanation of the conflictual nature of Islam and Christianity and then lists five factors that have exacerbated conflict between the two religions in the late twentieth century. These factors are:

  • the Muslim population growth has generated large numbers of unemployed and dissatisfied youth that become recruits to Islamic causes,
  • the recent resurgence of Islam has given Muslims a reaffirmation of the relevance of Islam compared to other religions,
  • the West's attempt to universalize values and institutions, and maintain military superiority has generated intense resentment within Muslim communities,
  • without the common threat of communism, the West and Islam now perceive each other as enemies, and
  • increased communication and interaction between Islam and the West has exaggerated the perceived differences between the two societies (211).

Asia, China, and America

Economic development in Asia and China has resulted in an antagonistic relationship with America. As discussed in previous sections, economic success in Asia and China has created an increased sense of cultural relevancy. Huntington predicts that the combination of economic success of the East Asian countries and the heightened military power of China could result in a major world conflict. This conflict would be intensified even more by alignments between Islamic and Sinic civilizations. The end of chapter nine provides a detailed diagram (The Global Politics of Civilizations: Emerging Alliances) which helps explain the complexity of the political relationships in the post-Cold War era (245).

Huntington defines the Soviet-Afghan war and the First Gulf War as the emergence of civilization wars. Huntington interprets the Afghan War as a civilization war because it was seen as the first successful resistance to a foreign power, which boosted the self-confidence, and power of many fighters in the Islamic world. The war also "left behind an uneasy coalition of Islamic organizations intent on promoting Islam against all non-Muslim forces" (247). In other words, the war created a generation of fighters that perceived the West to be a major threat to their way of life.

The First Gulf War was a Muslim conflict in which the West intervened; the war was widely opposed by non-Westerners and widely supported by Westerners. Huntington states that "Islamic fundamentalist groups…denounced [the war] as a war against 'Islam and its civilization' by an alliance of 'Crusaders and Zionists' and proclaimed their backing of Iraq in the face of 'military and economic aggression against its people" (249). The war was interpreted as a war of us vs. them; Islam v. Christianity.

To better understand the definition of the fault line between civilizations, Huntington provides a description of characteristics and dynamics of fault line conflicts. They can be described by the following:

  • Communal conflicts between states or groups from different civilizations
  • Almost always between people of different religions
  • Prolonged duration
  • Violent in nature
  • Identity wars (us vs. them), eventually breaks down to religious identity
  • Encouraged and financed by Diaspora communities
  • Violence rarely ends permanently
  • Propensity for peace is increased with third party intervention

Part V:  The Future of Civilizations

In the concluding sections of his book, Huntington discusses the challengers of the West, and whether or not external and internal challenges will erode the West's power. External challenges include the emerging cultural identities in the non-Western world. Internal challenges include the erosion of principle values, morals, and beliefs within Western culture. He also contributes to the debate between multiculturalists and monoculturalists and states that, "A multicultural world is unavoidable because global empire is impossible. The preservation of the United States and the West requires the renewal of Western identity" (318). The ability for the West to remain a global political power, it needs to adapt to increasing power and influence of different civilizations. Without adapting, the West is destined to decline in power and influence, or it will clash with other powerful civilizations. According to Huntington, the West clashing with another civilization is "the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order" (321).

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Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” Report

Samuel p. huntington and his ideas, fault line conflicts and core state conflicts, criticism of the clash of civilizations theory, false appraisal of muslim interests in huntington’s theory.

Samuel P. Huntington authored the book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order which was published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster Inc. The book is an expanded version of an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine in 1993 titled The Clash of Civilizations? When the article came out during the post-Cold War era, it provoked a debate among foreign relations experts because of its contrary view that conflicts will continue to threaten world stability. The prevailing sentiment then was that the end of the Cold War signaled the end of hostilities among nations. Huntington argued that while ideological differences were behind the Cold War, cultural and religious animosities will fuel the new conflicts.

Born in New York in 1927, Huntington was a soldier, scholar, teacher and foreign relations expert. At age 18, he graduated with honors at Yale University , after which he served in the US Army . He returned to civilian life by working for a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago followed by a PhD at Harvard University , where he started teaching at age 23. From 1950 until his death in 2008 at age 81, Huntington was a member of Harvard’s Department of Government. He also served as deputy director of Columbia University’s Institute for War and Peace studies, and consultant to the US Department of State at the same time.

Huntington’s first major book was The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (1957), which is considered the most influential book on American civil-military relations . This was followed by the book Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), which challenged the conventional view of modernization theorists that economic and social progress would produce stable democracies in recently decolonized countries. When Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations? for Foreign Affairs magazine, it made the same ripple effect such that he expanded it to book length and published it as The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order in 1996. In the book, Huntington maintains that while conflicts in the Cold War occurred between the communist East and capitalist West, they will now occur among the world’s major civilizations with religious and cultural underpinnings.

The clash of civilizations theory postulates that the bloodiest conflicts in this century would take place between Islamic and Western civilizations. According to this thesis of Huntington, the fall of communism signaled by the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991 ended the Cold War era in which the protagonists were the forces of democracy and communism. In place of these opposing forces, the clash theory holds that the post-Cold War world will be increasingly polarized between Islamic and Western civilizations and societies. The new world order seen by Huntington after the Cold War, in which the bloodiest clashes will occur between Islam and the West, was actually prefigured by events in early history that included the European forays of Islamic forces in Europe. Troops carrying the Islamic flag supposedly attacked and conquered the Ottoman Turks in Vienna and parts of Eastern Europe but they were later repulsed from Iberia. In effect, there had always been an ideological conflict between Islam and Christianity, on which Western civilization is based, because of the universal belief that one’s religion is always better than the others. For this reason, followers of one religion seek to convert people from other religions and this becomes the source of conflicts. Huntington indicated in his book that through the years, as Western countries prospered and outpaced other regions that practice non-Christian religions, the concept of universalism acquired more than religious meaning in the West, which began to believe that all civilizations should adopt Western values. This is perceived to be the underlying reason behind the US invasion of Iraq and its continued presence in that Muslim country. This becomes a source of great resentment for Muslims, especially the Islamic fundamentalists. According to Huntington, all these historical and modern factors combined have led and would further lead to bloody clashes between the Islamic and Western civilizations. Among the more recent expressions of such anti-Western resentment were 9/11, the Afghanistan-Iraq conflict, and the Israeli-Hizbollah-Lebanese wars in 2006.

In Huntington’s view, conflicts between different civilizations manifest themselves in two forms – fault line conflicts and core state conflicts. He describes fault line conflicts are those that occur between neighboring states belonging to different civilizations or within states that are home to populations from different civilizations, while core state conflicts are global in character and occur between major states of different civilizations. According to Huntington, fault line conflicts can deteriorate into core state conflicts when the states engaged in a core state conflict become involved. For example, the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon used to be a fault line type of fighting that nearly deteriorated into a confrontation between the Western and Arab or Islamic worlds. The one-month war started when the Muslim fundamentalist Hezbollah established bases in south Lebanon. Israel refrained at first from attacking for fear of antagonizing the world but when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers from across the Israel-Lebanon border, this became an excuse for the Israeli Air Force to launch 9,000 bombing missions against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. The fighting dragged for a month because outside powers joined the fray – Israel was supplied with arms by the US, which represents the West, and the Hezbollah troops were armed and trained in war by Islamic Syria and Iran. Only when both sides realized that the civilian casualties in the war were getting too high that a ceasefire was reached.

Huntington says such conflicts may result from a number of causes, such as relative influence or power in the military or economic sense, discrimination against people from a different civilization, intervention to protect kinsmen in a different civilization, or different values and culture, particularly when one civilization attempts to impose its values on people of a different civilization. It was argued that the trends of global conflict after the end of the Cold War have increasingly appeared at these civilizational divisions, as can be witnessed in Yugoslavia after its breakup, in Chechnya, and in India-Pakistan borders.

Huntington believes the root cause of present and future clashes between Islam and the West is the dominant perception in the West that its values and political systems are superior to others and so these must be imposed on Islamic countries where democracy is unknown. This will further antagonize the Islam world and other civilizations, including the Sinic civilization represented by China. In fact, the Islamic regions have now “bloody borders” as a result of globalization, which sees many civilizations commingling with each other in all parts of the world, including the Middle East. As in the West, the Islamic civilization also experiences a population bulge such that the increasing number of idealistic Muslim youths are forced to co-exist with Sinic, Orthodox, African and Western citizens – with sometimes disastrous results. Thus, the population explosion in Islamic civilization is fueling instability on the border of Islam and its interiors where fundamentalist movements are becoming increasingly popular, Huntington claims.

All the data supporting Huntington’s thesis may be categorized as secondary information generated through the observation method of research. He drew his conclusions from media reports of events and interpreted them without collecting primary data through the direct communication method of research. This is a rather weak basis for his arguments. If direct communication were used, Huntington would have interviewed several Western leaders on a person-to-person basis to confirm or deny the view that Western universalism dictates such actions as the US intervention in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and its support of Israel. In the same manner, his arguments that Islamic powers also entertain thoughts of imposing their own concept of civilization on the West would have been more credible if he had talked with key Islamic figures. In fact, critics of Huntington’s thesis contend that he relied mostly on anecdotal evidence, without going into a more rigorous empirical study to compare the inter-civilizational conflicts that have happened since the end of the Cold War period. It was noted that while regional wars with the characteristics described by Huntington increased immediately after the Cold War, these actually and steadily declined since then.

Reacting to Huntington’s thesis, Edward Said (2001) published an article in The Nation arguing that Huntington’s categorization of the world’s fixed “civilizations” omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture and that his ideas are based not on harmony but on the clash or conflict between worlds. Said dismisses the theory that each civilization is a self-enclosed world and that each race has a different psychology and destiny. This is imagined geography, he says. Said stops short of calling Huntington a warmonger but describes the clash theory as an interventionist and aggressive political stance that perpetuates the wartime mentality among Americans. Instead of promoting ideas aimed at reconciling the western and eastern cultures, this theory tries to prolong the Cold War by creating a gap between capitalist and Islamic countries.

Said disagrees that there are cultural boundaries anywhere in the world, neither is there an Islamic civilization distinct from Western civilization. An example is the friendly relationships between the US and Saudi Arabia. It is also a fact that many Islamic extremists’ study or live in the Western world, eventually adopting the culture of the host country. Westerners do the same way in Islamic countries. If there are conflicts, Said says, these may have arisen out of differences in philosophical beliefs not of cultural or religious identity. The reason is that, contrary to what Huntington proposes, people easily adapt to values transmitted from other cultures and religions if these promote human welfare. Pope John Paul II himself once said that a clash happens only when Islam or Christianity is misunderstood or manipulated for ideological or political ends.

Those who find credence in the thesis of Huntington take the 9/11 terrorist attack as confirmation of this theory. It is generally accepted that 9/11 was an assault by Islamic extremists against Western values, primarily freedom and democracy. This view was abetted by Osama bin Laden who later on called for attacks on Jews and the Crusaders, which was interpreted as a cry for war with the West. The soberer scholars, however, look at this perspective as lacking a foundation in truth or consideration of the whole picture. It has been asked: Do we know enough of Bin Laden to be able to say with certainty that he wanted to settle an old score with the West by slaughtering as many non-Muslims as possible? This is the belief that Huntington wants to perpetuate, which critics like Edward Said think neglects to consider all the facts.

In fact, even in the Islamic world itself, civilizations are fractured and show little internal unity because of ethnic divisions. Such is the case with the different world views expressed by Muslims among Arabs , Persians , Turks , Pakistanis , Kurds , Berbers , Albanians , Bosnians , Africans and Indonesians . For this reason, Huntington’s clash of civilizations may be caused not by religion or culture but by ideas related to progress and modernity, as some backward civilizations resent the development achieved by others. Those who disagree with Huntington say even consumerism and entertainment could generate conflicts.

According to Said and other scholars that oppose Huntington’s hypothesis, what Islam is crying for is not really the annihilation of Western civilization but for national sovereignty and freedom in Iraq, Palestine and other oppressed Muslim nations. If Islamic leaders seem suspicious of the West it is because of purely economic and political reasons, such as that the real American goal in asserting its presence in the Middle East is to take control of the oil-producing regimes in the Persian Gulf. Thus, many viewed 9/11 as the initial confirmation of Huntington’s thesis since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US were perceived to be the handiwork of Islamic forces as a declaration of war against the West and all the values it stands for. However, there is a section of the academic community that has opposed the clash theory from the start and continues to attack it as having proceeded on the wrong premise. After assessing the rationale of Huntington’s thesis and evaluating the logic of the arguments lined up by critics against it, finds that the clash theory may be an overreaction to terrorism instigated by Muslim extremists and a misreading of these attacks.

This was probably the reason why an initiative at the United Nations for the formation of the so-called Alliance of Civilizations in 2005 did not materialize. Under the proposal, the UN will galvanize a collective action to overcome cultural and social barriers between Islam and the Western world so that polarization between societies with different religions and cultural values would be reduced. The move did not prosper because of contrary perceptions that there is no polarization to speak of.

  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2021, November 20). Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”. https://ivypanda.com/essays/huntingtons-the-clash-of-civilizations-and-the-remaking-of-world-order/

"Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”." IvyPanda , 20 Nov. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/huntingtons-the-clash-of-civilizations-and-the-remaking-of-world-order/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”'. 20 November.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”." November 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/huntingtons-the-clash-of-civilizations-and-the-remaking-of-world-order/.

1. IvyPanda . "Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”." November 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/huntingtons-the-clash-of-civilizations-and-the-remaking-of-world-order/.


IvyPanda . "Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”." November 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/huntingtons-the-clash-of-civilizations-and-the-remaking-of-world-order/.

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Critical Review: The Clash of Civilizations (Samuel P. Huntington)

Essay, 2013, 8 pages, grade: a, michael kennedy (author).

Abstract or Introduction

This critical review examines Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 article titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”. In this article, Huntington (1993a) argues that in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, international relations would no longer be dominated by an ideological conflict as was witnessed during the Cold War years, between capitalism and communism. Nor would the next pattern of conflict be dominated by state-to-state tensions. Instead, as Huntington argues, the world would witness a clash of civilizations between a Western civilization and other major civilizations – in particular an Islamic civilization and a Confusion civilization. Huntington makes valid arguments in terms of what international relations would not be dominated by, however; the argument that a clash of civilizations based on cultural differences between the West and other civilizations is a simplistic hypothesis born out of a realist Cold War paradigm.

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Title: Critical Review: The Clash of Civilizations (Samuel P. Huntington)


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