Book Review – ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order’ by Samuel Phillips

Samuel Phillips Huntington (April 18, 1927 – December 24, 2008) was a renowned Harvard University Professor in the field of Politics and International Affairs, and spent nearly 50 years with the university. An influential American conservative political scientist, adviser and academic, he was the White House Coordinator of Security planning for the National Security Council in the Carter administration. Samuel is often viewed as having helped frame the views of US on the matters of civilian-military interactions and political developments.

In this famous book published in 1996, ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order’ he comments about the global political environment in the post-cold war era that we are now living in. Samuel authored a paper in 1993 ‘The Clash of the Civilization’ for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ journal that got a widespread notice and was hugely debated. This book is based on that line of thought introduced in the paper. As per him, the end of cold war has brought the end of ideology based conflicts between countries. And, all future wars will be fought only between people of different Civilization, which is defined as a master entity encompassing closely interconnected cultures.

The book is widely seen as a reply to Samuel’s famous student Francis Fukuyama’s book, ‘The end of History and the Last Man’ published in 1992. Francis states that in the post-cold war world, the spread of free market economy and liberal democracies may signal the end point of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution. A position that Francis changed in his 1995 book, ‘Trust: Social Virtues and Creation of Prosperity’ and acknowledged that culture cannot be entirely separated from economics.

Samuel breaks down the world into 8 distinct civilizations with some countries left out from a Civilization category as they don’t possess a similar cultural characteristic as the rest within a Civilization. So with clear exceptions the Civilizations are Western comprising of the US, Canada, Western & Central Europe, Australia and Oceania. Latin American made up of Central and South America. Countries in former Soviet Union & Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Romania – make up the ‘Orthodox’. ‘Eastern’ consists of Hindu Civilization centred on India, Nepal, Bhutan, the Sinic consisting of China, Koreas, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and finally the Hybrid Japanese civilization. The Muslim Civilization is that in the countries of the Middle East, West Africa, and other countries like Indonesia, Pakistan etc.

The remaining 2 civilizations are not entirely distinct like the other 6, but they are different, nonetheless. So, in next category are countries like Haiti, Ethiopia, and Israel, which can be considered as countries having their own civilization unrelated to any other. Likewise, the former English colonies of the Caribbean constitute a distinct civilization of their own. Finally, the last civilization is potentially the most complex one. This is what Huntington calls as the ‘Cleft Country’ civilization. In a ‘cleft country’ there is a dominant majority of one civilization but also a sizeable minority of another. Example of such civilization includes, Ukraine, split between the West part that is Christian dominated and the East that is most Orthodox.

Some of the key reasons stated as giving rise to civilization wars are rather compelling. Huntington states that due to globalization and increased communication there is an unprecedented contact between civilizations and this makes people more aware about their differences and enhances consciousness of their civilizations. Furthermore, when people move from their local cultures to big cities for work, religion fills the need for community and this makes people more culturally aligned than they were when living in their native cultures, thus forging a strong civilization bond. And, as the West starts to decline in economic strength and the East and other economies begin to gain, these newly developing economies start to assert their civilization identities and attribute their emerging success to their returning to roots in the form of embracing their civilization.civili

However, the core future conflicts are clearly stated as arising from the formal decline of the western dominance of the world from the last nearly 400-500 years. If the West fails to adjust to the new realities and its diminished position globally, the earth could witness the confrontation of civilizations. The fact that some of the western themes don’t always resonate well with other civilizations, but are still often forced on them is a sure sign of future conflict. For instance,  Democracy, Human Rights, or even Individualism which the world has come to celebrate as modern progressive values aren’t always compatible with some civilizations. And, as these civilizations get stronger and begin to assert their civilization values this could lead to conflicts.

Delving deeper into the context of civilization wars, the ‘Cleft Country’ civilizations are another big source of conflict. As the majority civilization tries to press its cultures and values on the minority, the potential for major ethnic conflicts and violence increases. Managing such confrontations seems almost as difficult as the one involving the West’s conflicts with other civilizations.

While the book makes a very strong case on civilization war, it seems to oversimplify a rather complex problem. Firstly, countries and cultures can’t easily be lumped together to class them as a civilization when within an existing culture itself there are often huge differences. Take the example of Iran while a Muslim country it has secular, moderate, and religious right sections and all generally incompatible ideologically with each other. Another example can be that of Saudi Arabia, where the ruling monarchy is from the House of Saud, but the other major group – Wahhabi – is opposed and in conflict with the ruling section.

Secondly, Turkey is an example of a vibrant secular Muslim majority country which has successfully transformed itself from the Muslim Ottoman Empire to Ataturk’s democratic nation with virtually no violence. Additionally, the US is a prime example of how a multicultural country can be a true melting pot. The US philosophy of country above all other personal differences makes a peaceful co-existence of people of different cultures possible. If anything the events of 9/11 only enhanced the feeling of patriotism in Americans. In the end, civilization is the unique net result of the interactions of various different cultures, and therefore culture and civilizations are dynamic concepts undergoing continuous change and are not static. Hence, the idea of the civilization associated to some unique old era collective identity isn’t accurate, and therefore the imagined future conflicts don’t appeal in the same sense.

Rolf Dobelli

Samuel Phillips Huntington

Samuel Phillips Huntington (April 18, 1927 – December 24, 2008) was a renowned Harvard University Professor in the field of Politics and International Affairs, and spent nearly 50 years with the university. An influential American conservative political scientist, adviser and academic, he was the White House Coordinator of Security planning for the National Security Council in the Carter administration. Samuel is often viewed as having helped frame the views of US on the matters of civilian-military interactions and political developments.
This book is available in many formats. So go ahead and read it!

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