The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Realism, plagued by a need for an enemy, rears its ugly head
|von Samuel P. Huntington|
Huntington is the last member of an Old Guard of Realist who have to define the world in Us. vs. Them terms. With no more Evil Empire to keep men like him in business, he turns to a new enemy. Realism, as a theory of International Relations, cannot stand up without an enemy. Right now, it's rather difficult to find that enemy. As opposed to assuming that the world may no longer be defined in strictly Realist terms, Huntington invents an enemy. Like a man obsessed with Eugenics and Race Theory, he puts forward a claim that the cultures and traditions of the Orient are bound to be hostile toward us. There is no way that people from the East and West can live peaceably together, we are doomed to violence and struggle; pure nonesense and drivel. Huntington does not ever put forth any evidence to prove this theory. He uses rhetoric and singular anecdotes, failing, among other things, to consider how traditions and civilizations change. 500 years ago, we in the West were pretty barbaric. The Spanish started killing heretics in mass numbers, women were forced into a state of perpetual subservience, we fought over the official religion of the state in wars that led to huge casualities, then found a New World with a population we could wipe out. Any civilized society that encountered us would have surely thought 'these barbarians are hopeless.' This is by no means an attempt to categorize other societies as being where we were five hundred years ago. I'm not calling the Middle East and Asia barbaric, nor am I saying we in the West are perfect, but I am saying that relegating relations between cultures to the status of futility is absurd. Democracy and economic development change societies for the better and reduce conflict between states. States that are democractic don't go to war with each other, it doesn't matter if the two states are both Western, both Eastern, or from different cultural traditions entirely. Complex Interdependence (A theory put forth by Keohane and Nye, who know far more about International Relations today than Professor Huntington) has shown that the world is indeed becoming a smaller place and that as all regions are becoming interconnected with each other through commerce and increased communication, we are going to have to learn to live with one another and understand each other. I sincerely hope that Huntington is alone in his girding for battle, the rest of us should be looking toward greater global interconnectedness, not another Crusade.
The title of his book, "The Clash of Civilizations" actually comes from a Bernard Lewis essay. Lewis himself is a narrow minded outsider who claims to understand Islam from a Western point of view. His analysis turns the stomach as well. You know why radicals in the East love Lewis and Huntington? Because as long as these two continue to perpetuate the myth that East and West cannot resolve their differences and that they are eternally doomed to conflict, the right wing radicals abroad can continue to spew their angry rhetoric about the West. Men like Osama bin Laden read this sort of thing and use it to urge their followers on. They can claim that if we in the West really believe this stuff, then it is proof that we are girding ourselves for a battle against Islam, and they in turn, can point the finger at the enemy. Any attempts at reconciliation between the West and the East are hampered by the fact that there are people in our society who listen to these two. The struggle to understand and accept other cultures is a difficult one. It will take time. That however, does not mean we should throw up our hands and claim that tradition and society make the clash between the West and the Orient inevitable.
Huntington breaks the world up into neat little societies, completely ignoring the economic interdependence between these 'civilizations.' He ignores the progress that has already been made thanks to the globalization of the world economy and ignores the fact that we have good relations with many non Western states. He ignores the effects of democracy and the development of the economy on International Relations as well. His theory is all about xenophobia, chauvinism, and the need to define and lash out against an easily identifiable enemy. Let us hope that this book is the death throes of the old Realist regime, as opposed to the healthy war cry, Professor Huntington would have it be.
Civilization as a level of human organization
In biology there are different levels of organization: molecules, cells, tissues, organs and organisms. In sociology could be also different levels of human organization: individual, community, nations, civilizations. This wonderfully written and highly provocative book is describing a civilizational level of human organization.One could not like the conclusions and sequences of civilization paradigm, but there are only two criteria for new theory: power of explanation of existing facts and power of prediction of future. Huntington theory of civilization fits perfectly to both criteria. He provides strong and powerfull analytical instrument for designing a smart national and world policy. Global level of human organization (which still does not exist and so-called globalization is only a rose dream) could not reject the objective existence of lower levels of human organization with all sequential pleasant or unpleasant practical conclusions. Futuristic scenario of World War III written by Huntington in his book already looks like our nearest future (creation of Indian and Pakistanian nuclear bomb. For the world history it does not matter we like these civilization's laws or not. These laws are working not on individual level but on the level of civilization. In any case it is better to look on future with open eyes... and read this excellent book.
A Brilliant New Framework
Huntington draws on the work of the finest anthropologists, including the likes of Spengler, Toynbee, Braudel, Weber, and Quigley, to support and illustrate his masterful analysis. Both these naive assumptions are overcome in favor of a brilliant, balanced, more appropriate framework: that somehow East and West will overcome their significant differences and unite to form one world (governed under Western democratic principles), and that we will remain opposed to Eastern cultures, destined to defeat 'oriental tyranny.'
First, Huntington attempts to define what 'culture' is. "Of all the objective elements which distinguish civilizations, however, the most important usually is religion, as the Athenians emphasized." Religion being the differentiating characteristic of a civilization, Huntington then lists the major contemporary civilizations which include the Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, and Western.
The author refutes the arguement for Western universalism. He points out the phenomenon of cultural indigenization which occurs during or after the process of modernization and generally necessitates the rejection of foreign cultural influences.
Huntington further argues for the imminent decline of the West, at least in relation to up and coming powers, in terms of economic influence and military prowess. Islam and China emerge as the principal challengers to Western hegemony; Islam primarily because of demography and militant cultural universalism and China (the Sinic civilization) due to its emerging extreme economic prosperity.
The cultures of East and West are certainly not irreconcilable, as Huntington later asserts. Each civilization has (at the very least) basic commonalities with ohers, though there are many scenarios in which serious conflicts (aside from ethnic and isolated fault line skirmishes) might occur. Samuel P. Huntington's analysis is bold and sweeping, if perhaps disappointingly egalitarian and idealistic toward its conclusion. Yet it is stunning, provocative and required reading for those interesting in foreign policy, indeed those fascinated by anthropology as well.
As Wang Gungwu has said, "It is not just about the future, but may actually help to shape it."
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