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June 10, 2005

The Clash of Civilizations (and the remaking of world order)

Samuel P. Huntington – ISBN - 0684844419

Not everyone agrees with Huntington’s “take” on this issue. By far and large I don’t, but it is a position well worth exploring. A complex read with a textbook flavor, it is nonetheless worth the time. What follows is but a sketch of this “lengthy and dense” book.

He begins: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

I take serious issue with the first part of that statement, considering that: a) much of the known world was Christian before the Muslims “converted” many of them, and, b) the Western way of war is founded upon the superiority of its scientific and philosophic approach to knowledge and ideas, (including weapons manufacture), and it represents our conviction (values and religion?) that every life is precious. The Western approach to war is ultimately about saving as many lives as possible by superior organization of the violence we visit on those who attack us. It is true that we fight wars of annihilation, but we do so to protect ourselves. Still, we are not guilty of gratuitous violence. Of course it is true that our adversaries don’t like it. Perhaps they should leave us alone? From the days of the Greek polis the West has generally fought in units, protecting one another, whereas the rest of the world fights as individuals. Not all warriors, however brave and fierce, are soldiers!

He importantly—and correctly--observes that we are mistaken to presume that because others wear jeans, drink coke and listen to rap, they are westernized. No more than as we drive Japanese-made cars, use Korean-made TV’s, wear Chinese-made clothing we become them. And he is correct in his notation that we see Western civilization as universal, as it offers an answer to the question: who am I? To the extent that Westerners see the world as one, the rest see us as a threat. At its root Western culture—and most, its American version--is optimistic. Others are not.

Not all cultures are modernizable to Western standards. He exposits on why Japanese and Hindu cultures more easily adapt than do Islamic or Confucian cultures. (While true, in the broadest sense, one wonders what he thinks now in observing the Afghanis and the Iraqis drink from the spring of liberty and self government.)

As Western power declines we can no longer impose our concepts of liberalism, democracy, human rights, etc. on other cultures. “People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity.” (This, of course, is the nature of most other cultures, and why the West is superior . . . and why we must try to encourage, not impose, democracy.)

“In its political manifestations, the Islamic resurgence bears some resemblance to Marxism (some?), with scriptural texts, a vision of the perfect society, commitment to fundamental change, rejection of the powers that be and the nation state, and doctrinal diversity ranging from moderate reformist (?!) to violent revolutionary.” The general failure in Muslim society of liberal democracy reflects the inhospitable nature of Islamic culture and society to Western liberal concepts.

Global politics is being reconfigured along cultural (i.e. religious) lines. Peoples with similar cultures are uniting, and those with dissimilar cultures are fragmenting, and political boundaries are being redrawn coincident with culture. “Civilizations are the ultimate human tribes, and the clash of civilizations is tribal conflict on a global scale.” As Cold War alliances evaporate, and inter-civilizational “partnerships” dictated by Russia or the U.S. fail to be realized, trust and friendship between civilizations will be rare, and if present, brief. Cold peace, cold war, trade war, arms races are but a few of the likely phases and stations in the “new world order. “The size of China’s displacement of the world is such that the world must find a new balance in 30-40 years. It’s not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of men.” (Lee Kuan Yew) China’s emergence will dwarf any comparable phenomena during the last half of the second millennium.

He notes, damagingly and correctly, that multi-culturalists challenge a central element of the American creed by substituting for individual rights, rights of groups defined in terms of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual preference, etc. Since Crevecoeur, Tocqueville and others long ago noted that the American Creed is the cement in the structure of this great nation, rejection of this Creed will not only end the U.S., but will effectively end Western civilization. The USSR is vanishing. We too can collapse and disappear if this concept of America and a common culture is disavowed by a substantial number of our citizens. Contrary to the ideation that with the collapse of communism the West will prevail, it is more likely that Western liberalism will simply be the next domino to fall. (With this it is impossible to disagree!)

“In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false, it is immoral, and it is dangerous.” Culture follows power, and if non-Western societies are once again to be shaped by Western culture it will be, essentially, at the point of a gun. (I disagree vigorously!) Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism (seen as he does and describes it.)

The West differs from other civilizations not alone in the way it has developed but in the distinctive character of its values and its institutions. Christianity, along with pluralism, individualism, and the rule of law made it possible for the West to invent modernity, expand thruout the world, and become the envy of most other societies. The West ought preserve, protect and renew these unique standards, not, impose them on others (by suasion, perhaps, but not by force, which is virtually impossible.)

Law and order are the primary concerns, and these are dissipating in the modern world, with anarchy widespread, failing states common, global crime, general weakening of families, and a decline in trust and social solidarity. Ethnic, religious and civilizational violence ruled by the gun are prevalent in much of the world.

Abstention from foreign conflicts will be one of the most important of rules in the forthcoming multi-civilizational, multi-polar world (assuming they permit us to do that.) The second important rule will be mediation with other core states, and we will have to seek a “commonalities rule,” with an attempt at expansion of the values, institutions and practices common with peoples of other civilizations.

Civilization depends on understanding and cooperation amongst the political, spiritual and intellectual leaders of the world’s major civilizations. An international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war.

In wars between cultures, culture loses.

Posted by respeto at June 10, 2005 2:00 PM