The Clash of Civilizations

References: Fox, Jonathon. Ethnic minorities and the clash of civilizations: A quantitative analysis of Huntingtons thesis. British Journal of Political Science.

The Clash of Civilizations


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The Clash of Civilizations

The thesis of the challenging and potentially important “Clash of Civilizations” is that the growing threat of violence arising from renewed conflicts between cultures and countries that base their traditions on religious faith and dogma. Samuel P Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University and foreign policy adviser to President Clinton, argues that policymakers should be mindful of current developments, especially when they interfere in other nations' affairs.

The clash of civilizations is a controversial theory in international relations. It was originally formulated in an article by Samuel P. Huntington entitled “The Clash of Civilizations?” published in the academic journal Foreign Affairs in 1993. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”. Huntington's central thesis is that main conflicts have always been marked by clashes between fundamentally different civilisations rather than between similar nations. He states that major conflicts occur on the boundaries between these civilizations. His theories may be applied not only to international conflicts (for example World War II as a conflict between Eastern and Western European civilisation and between West and Japan) but also to domestic ones where countries lie on the “fault lines” between civilisations (example is Yugoslavia as conflicts between Eastern European and Islamic civilisations). Huntington also identifies the extent and grounds of conflict. He studies the politics of post-colonialism and national identity and reviews many other possible sources of conflict awaiting the civilisations currently competing for resources and status within the world structure.

This work brings to fore issues that have been pushed to the side for long. Huntingtons view is somehow sad, for we see from his work that the clash is certainly unavoidable. Nonetheless, its effect and speed can be reduced or deferred. The question Huntington puts is whether mankind actually reached the end of civilisation?

Analysing “The Clash of Civilizations” we cannot omit essential question: “Will conflicts between civilizations dominate world politics?” Huntingtons answer is affirmative; clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace nowadays. An international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war. National states remain the principal actors on the international arena, but the most important category is the major civilizations - Western, Latin America, African, Islamic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. Huntington asserts that civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries, no definite beginnings and ending. According to his view, they are mortal, nevertheless, long-lived. They develop and adapt. Also all civilizations have particular weak points. The hotspots are on the fault lines between civilizations - the Middle East, Chechnya, the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Kashmir, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. The West, - Huntington says, - is the most powerful civilization but its relative power is declining at the same time as Confucian and Islamic societies are rising to balance the west. Huntington warns us that dangerous clashes are likely to proceed from Western arrogance and Islamic intolerance. According “The Clash of Civilizations” the essential problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. Islam is a different civilization with obvious conviction of superiority of their culture. Huntington presents in his book the evidence, the argument and offers a strategy for the West to protect its culture while learning to coexist in a multipolar and multi-civilization world.

Huntington explains that the expansion of the Western civilization has ended and the riot against the west has already begun. The West confronts nowadays numerous problems: of slow economic growth, stagnating populations, unemployment, huge government deficits, low savings rates, social degeneration, drugs and crime. Thus, economic power is shifting to Asia. Moreover, military power and political weight are supposed to go after. Asia and Islam have been the active civilizations of the last quarter century. China is probable to have the world's largest economy early in the 21st century. In addition, Asia is expected to have seven of the ten largest economies by 2020.

Huntington began his meditations by surveying diverse thinking about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. According to Huntington, future conflicts will base on culture. He claims that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest ranking of cultural identity, would increasingly become useful in considering the potential for conflict. “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future”.

It is important to say that using various studies of history and making certain decision, Huntington divided the civilizations in following way: Western Christendom, centred on Europe and North America, including Australia and New Zealand; the Muslim world of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Malaysia, and Indonesia; the Hindu civilization, located mainly in India, Nepal; the Sinic civilization of China, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan; Sub-Saharan Africa; the Buddhist areas of Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Buryatia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Tibet; and Japan is considered as an independent civilization (Huntington 1993, 26).

Huntington states that the Western creed that the West's values and political systems were universal was very naive and that insistence towards democratization of the rest of the world and acceptance of universal norms would only further antagonize other civilizations. Huntington also identified the Sinic civilization to be the most powerful continuous threat to the West World. He represents Islamic civilization as a probable ally to China, for these both civilizations have revisionist goals and also are involved in conflicts with other civilizations. Huntingon also marked the Orthodox, Hindu, and Japanese civilizations as “swing” civilizations that are probable to go in different ways in their development.

Samuel P. Huntington's article “The Clash of Civilizations” (1993) published in the Foreign Affairs journal suggested the idea that the world is returning to a civilization-dominated world where future conflicts would come from clashes between “civilizations”. Nevertheless, this theory has been largely criticised for overgeneralization, disregarding local conflicts and for improperly predicting what has happened in the decade after its publication. Events of September the 11th also became the ground for the claim Huntington is simply not supported by the evidence. Although, it was published when a post Cold War world was searching for a new perspective to view international relations and it has however proved influential.

Huntington's theory draws a future where the “great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural” (Huntington 1993, 22). Huntington also argues the idea that the end of ideological conflict between liberal democracy and communism will lead to the conflict that is supposed to take place along the borders between civilizations. On the other hand, he predicts confrontation between countries from different civilizations for control over international institutions and economic and military power (Huntington 1993, 29). The author also explains how the West World represents its policies as constructive and beneficial for the rest of the world and that the idea of a universal culture is a creation of Western minds. In evidence thereof, he says about such Western values as human rights, claiming that they very often are the least important values to other civilizations (James Graham, 2004).

The clash of civilizations thesis as every theory has its flaws. James Graham considers that Huntingtons thesis somehow distorted the reality, although they are original and persuasive. He also points the advantage that this theory made people look at non-Western cultures more seriously and with greater interest. Huntington also is criticized for being too vague and indistinct addressing many specific issues (James Graham, 2004). Many specialists say that Huntingtons anecdotal style is simply not suitable enough to account for the rationalizations and arguments he represents in such a serious work (Fox 2002, 423). A comprehensive analysis accomplished by Jonathon Fox for the period 1989-2002 concluded that the precise contrary of what Huntington predicted occurred in fact (Fox 2002, 425). In addition, James Graham says that civilization conflicts were less widespread than noncivilization conflicts and the end of the Cold War had no noteworthy impact on the relation between them (James Graham, 2004). Most confusing of all was the observation that where civilization conflict did occur it was more likely to take place between groups that were culturally similar, that is in the frame of the same civilization and not between them. These conclusions openly contradict Huntington's thoughts.

Many say that Huntington's thesis ignores culture's tendency to be fast changing and multi-dimensional (Herzfeld 1997, 116). Most of the Western countries are becoming multi or bi-cultural now. From this statement, we may conclude th

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