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Samuel Huntington “The Clash of Civilizations” The context Who is Samuel Huntington? What prompted him to write “Clash of Civilizations” What has he done since? The Hypothesis World politics is entering a new phase in the wake of the end of the Cold War

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Samuel Huntington

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samuel huntington

Samuel Huntington

“The Clash of Civilizations”

the context
The context
  • Who is Samuel Huntington?
  • What prompted him to write “Clash of Civilizations”
  • What has he done since?
the hypothesis
The Hypothesis
  • World politics is entering a new phase in the wake of the end of the Cold War
  • 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”.
conflict in modern history
Conflict in Modern History

Conflict in the modern era, for Huntington, has been largely a sequence of;

  • conflicts between princes (what we will study as the “Westphalian system”), then
  • conflicts between nation-states (after the French revolution), then
  • conflicts between ideologies (during the Cold War)
underlying assumptions
Underlying Assumptions
  • Huntington is reproducing what we might call a ‘neo-Hegelian’ view of history (history as unfolding through conflict)
  • Assumes that the end of the Cold War is a defining moment in history, “a tipping point”
  • Assumes that civilizations are fairly fixed over time
the contemporary era
The Contemporary Era

For Huntington, this means that international politics, hitherto, was in a western phase; non-western civilizations were the objects of history, the targets of western colonialism. In the post-Cold War, they “join the West as the movers and shapers of history”.

civilizations and history
Civilizations and History
  • In this view, contemporary civilizations represent the product of a long process of ‘identity formation’
  • It is the incompatability between these core values that will produce inevitable conflict between different civilizations
  • While from a contemporary perspective this may seem like a new phenomenon, it is actually a reversion to a previous period of history
  • Read in this fashion, the “clash of civilizations” represents the closing of a parenthesis in world history.
what is a civilization
What is a Civilization?

Three attributes: objective, subjective, and dynamic.

  • Objective elements include language, history, religion, customs, institutions
  • Subjective elements include variable levels of self-identification
  • Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall, divide and merge
why will civilizations clash
Why will civilizations clash?
  • Differences between civilizations are more fundamental and enduring than ideological or political differences.
  • Interactions between civilizations are increasing.
  • Economic modernization and social change are separating people from longstanding identities; they weaken the nation-state as a source of identity.
  • The rest of the world is increasingly willing to define itself in non-Western ways.
  • Cultural characteristics are less mutable and less easily compromised than political and economic ones.
  • Economic regionalism is increasing, which will increase “civilization consciousness”. Common culture, Huntington argues, may be a prerequisite for economic integration.
the two levels of the clash
The Two Levels of the Clash

At the micro level, groups clash along the “fault lines” of adjacent civilizations

At the macro level, states from different civilizations compete for political and economic power.

the kin country syndrome
The “kin-country syndrome”
  • Groups or states becoming involved in a war with groups or states from another civilization will attempt to rally other groups or states from their own civilization behind their cause.
  • Examples may be, the Gulf War, the former Soviet Union in the Caucasus, and Yugoslavia.
the west versus the rest
The West versus the Rest?

Talk of “the world community” and the “free world” is, according to Huntington, a thin veneer for the domination of global affairs by western interests.

The West sees its values as universalist (meaning that they are applicable to everyone, irrespective of civilization). International institutions based on these values are merely tools for maintaining and promoting western values and domination.

torn countries
Torn countries?

Some countries are torn over which civilization their country belongs to (Russia, Mexico, Turkey). They can redefine their identity on three conditions;

  • A supportive elite
  • Acquiescent masses
  • Willingness from the dominant civilization
the biggest challenge to the west
The Biggest Challenge to the West?

The biggest challenge to the West will come from an emerging Confucian-Islamic connection, primarily concentrated around the asserted right to develop and deploy NBC weapons (counter to the western value of non-proliferation).


Nation-states may not disappear, singular civilizations will not become the norm. But;

  • civilization-consciousness is increasing and will become the dominant source of conflict
  • The west will need to strengthen its own civilization to meet the challenge
  • The West will need to better understand other civilizations and seek to define areas of potential co-existence