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

Essay 2013 8 Pages

Politics - International Politics - General and Theories



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.

Huntington begins by claiming that although certain cultural differences occur between varying communities within a state, and likewise between states within a civilization, common bonds within that civilization ultimately lead to civilizations being completely distinct from others. As Huntington uses as an example, two villages in Italy may be different culturally, however, these two villages will still maintain an overall Italian culture. This Italian culture is different from German culture, for example, but they both are part of a larger European culture, which is part of Western civilization’s culture. Western civilization, as Huntington argues, shares no commonality in cultural values with other civilizations such as the Islamic and Confucian civilizations. Since Western civilization is largely based on the principles of democracy and human rights while other civilizations are not; Huntington argues that this creates a divide between the “West and the rest”. Therefore, Huntington argues that the West and other civilizations will ultimately clash as they do not share a broader cultural identity, short of the human race.

Although Huntington makes a strong and valid argument that culture is a main source of conflict, the claim that the broader civilization that one identifies with ‘intensely’ appears to be overgeneralized as Huntington’s civilization groupings are fraught with their own internal cultural divisions and conflict. If current conflicts within these civilizations are examined, it is quite evident that Huntington’s elusion to unity among civilizations is invalid. Furthermore, Huntington’s claim that loyalties to civilizations as a source of conflict versus national or ethnic identities is flawed. As Russet, Oneal, and Cox (2000) argue, this claim is doubtful, particularly in the Islamic civilization where interests within particular states have outweighed those of all-encompassing Islamic or pan-Arab convictions. Therefore, this would seem to invalidate Huntington’s claim that one identifies with him or herself as a member of their Western, Islamic, or Confusion civilization first and foremost.

The world’s most important conflicts, as Huntington argues, will occur along the fault lines that demarcate a civilization’s boundary with another’s. This has provoked some statistical analyses to be conducted to determine the validity of Huntington’s claim that this has been the case. Russet et al. (2000) conducted one such analysis and reported that “there is little evidence that [civilizations] define the fault lines along which international conflict is apt to occur”. Furthermore, Errol Henderson (1998) did a study reporting that although differences in religion increase the incidence of war, ethnic and linguistic similarity also increase the likelihood of conflict. This study also found that geographical proximity between states is also a stronger factor than culture. These reports are of interest as they demonstrate that cultural differences are not the prime source of conflict. In fact, it appears that in some cases, similarity between differing groups within the same civilization creates a more likely foundation for conflict. This brings into question Huntington’s claim that conflicts between civilizations will be concentrated on the cultural fault lines dividing civilizations. It is also reasonable to argue that many of the conflicts Huntington identifies on these fault lines simply have a greater likelihood to conflict as they are neighboring states.

As Kunihiko Imai (2006) explains, these statistical results disprove one of Huntington’s major hypotheses. However, since the research was based on data from past militarized disputes, the test may not have been appropriate for Huntington’s thesis in a post-Cold War era. Therefore, whether conflict is found along the fault lines of civilizational boundaries or not does not necessarily disprove Huntington’s thesis. However, this weakens the argument made that as civilizations grow increasingly grounded in their own cultures, values, and religions, conflict will occur along the fault lines where civilizations are demarcated. Therefore, cultures may be attempting to further establish their own unique identities in defense from globalization; however, clashes will not necessarily occur along cultural or civilizational boundaries.



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critical review clash civilizations samuel huntington



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