A Clash of Civilizations. An Idée Fixe? The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington Review by: Dieter Senghaas Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 127-132 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/425236 . Accessed: 08/01/2012 05:04
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? 1998 Journal of Peace Research,
R ES E A R C H
vol35, no.1, 1998, pp. 127-132 Oaks,CA (London,Thousand SagePublications and New Delhi) [0022-3433(199801)35:1; 127-132; 0031451
A Clash of Civilizations - An Idee Fixe?*
Institute for Intercultural and International Studies, University of Bremen
Huntington's thesis on the prospectiveclash of civilizations is criticized in two directions: neither the original article or the book gives any systematic analysis of the inherent link between the cultural characteristicsof civilizations and the actual behavior of core representativesof such civilizations. Although Huntington's thesis is more plausibleat the micro-level,his argumentis deficient here as well: most ethnopolitical conflicts in the modern world result from protracted socio-economic discrimination ratherthan from culturalroots. The culturalizationof such conflicts is, as a rule, a relativelylate phenomenon in an escalationprocess, turning socio-economic conflicts into identity conflicts once the level of collective frustrationbecomes high. In contrast to his empirical analysis, Huntington's political recipe of non-intervention, joint mediation and finding commonalities among key representatives of different civilizations can be applauded, but they are in strange contradiction to the book-length analysispresented by the author.
A Clash of Civilizations
Standing on the threshold of the 21st century, are we about to begin an era that is This characterized a clash of civilizations? by was raised in 1993 by Samuel question Huntington in a widely discussed article. The title of that article included a question mark, whether seriously or rhetorically intended. In the subsequentbook, the clash of civilizations,however, became the very definition of the new order of world policy in the 21st century. No question mark any more!The original idea was aimed at understanding world policy after the end of the East-West Conflict, which no longer takes lizations - does it really exist or is it first place in categories of power political emerging? conflicts, of arms races,of fighting for scarce economic resources,or as an ideological sys-
tem antagonism. Instead, Huntington intended to introduce into the analysis of internationalpolicy a completely new way of looking at it as a clash of cultures.That paradigmatic perspective has now changed without reservationinto a statement of fact. In the future, international policy will accordingto Huntington - reallybe characterized by a clash of civilizations, at the macro- as well as at the micro-level. With this contention, a merely provocativethesis that at firstseemed to be basedon a plausible suggestion was accentuatedonce more and, thus by implication, will become more exposed to critical scrutiny. The clash of civi-
* A review of Samuel P. Huntington, 1996. The Clash of
New York: and Civilizations theRemaking WorldOrder. of
Simon & Schuster. 367 pp.
Although Huntington placescilvilizationsat the centre of attention, very little can be
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35 volume / numberI I january 1998 to have first priority.These attitudes form a contrastto those of the Americanpeople: to the primacy given to liberty, equality, democracy and individualism as well as to their tendency to mistrust government, to oppose authority, to strengthen a system of checks and balances,to declarehuman rights sacred,to forgetthe past, to ignore the future and to concentrate on the maximizationof profitsin the immediatepresent. Islamic civilization is nearly left out by Huntington. This is the more surprisingas it is not Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism that he regards as the main problem, but Islam itself, supposedly a civilization completely different from all the others. Huntington emphazises that Muslim societies and states located at the cultural fault lines of the world have shown to be excessively violent. He arguesthat Muslim enthusiasm for war and readinessto use violence cannot now be denied either by Muslims or non-Muslims. An obvious conclusion would therefore be that Islam per se has a violent character. In a book on the clash of civilizationsit is of that the readiness civilizationsto surprising fight is not explicitlythematized.Occasional comments and historical referencesto crusades (Christian)and 'sacredwars' (Islamic), as well as to the tendencyin the Chinesestatemanship to think in categoriesof hegemony instead of the balance of power, cannot replace a systematic analysis. Such analysis requiresan answer to the question of what actuallycausesconflict behaviour,as well as a or restraint a crusadementality,or contrarily, readinessfor dialogue in individual civilizations (takenas 'actors')and why, especiallyin for the caseof a clashof civilizations, readiness conflict and violence, for aggressionand violent behaviouremergefrom the very 'soul of culture'(paideuma) of individualcivilizations, Assuming, as Huntington obvirespectively. and ously does, the existenceof a recognizable moreoverintact 'soul of culture'in individual
learned about them. He only states that, in today's world, we may find five or probably seven different cultural areas: the Sinic, Japanese, Hinduistic, Islamic and Western civilizationsand, in addition, probablysome Latin-American and African civilizations (the latter being markedwith a big question mark). Thorough interpretations of these civilizations are not given by Huntington, with one major exception. According to Huntington, the essence of Western civilization is based on the following factors: the classical inheritance (Greek rationalism, Roman law, etc.), Catholicism and Protestantism, the variety of European languages, the division of church and state power, rule of law, social pluralism, representative public bodies and individualism. Huntington rightly emphazises that these factors,or a combination of them, have been the very foundation for the Western individuality. With a slight exaggeration,he even are argues that these characteristics Western but not modern in the Western world. The modern age and modernization(understood as industrialization, urbanization, literacy, education, prosperityand social mobility, as well as complex and diversifiedprofessional structures)are of a more recent design, the of essential cultural characteristics the West being much older. Only incidental notes can be found concerning the Sinic civilization, especially the Confucian ethos, which is taken for granted in manyAsian societies.This ethos is equated with values such as authorityand hierarchy, the submission of rights and interestsof the individual under the collective, the importance of consent, the avoidance of confrontation, face-saving and, generally, the supremacyof the state and the society over the individual. Asian people, moreover, according to Huntington, tend to consider the evolution of their societies over long-time periods, over centuriesor even millenniums. The maximizationof long-termprofitsis said
A CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
civilizations,only a very detailed analysisof such culture profiles could give hints as to their inherent bellicosity. Such analysis is, surprisingly, not given, thus changing his at into a pipe dream paradigm the macro-level without foundation. This book, which regards the clash of civilizationsas the crux of international policy, does not explain why specificcivilizationsor the statesrepresenting them have to clash at all as a consequenceof culturalcharacteristics. Assuming that Huntof ington's essential characteristics Western civilization (the only civilization that is describedin some detail) are well-founded,one cannot explain well the extensive history of wars in Europe, or the colonial and imperial aggression and violence of Europe in its relationto the rest of the world. The weakness of Huntington's argument at the macro-levelis more obvious where he points out concrete world political conflict lines. Beyond the Western sphere he especially sees two essential events. First, 'Asiatic Affirmation' - meaning the economic and political rise of East-Asia and South-East-Asia to form a new centre of gravitation of world policy and the world economy. Second, 'Islamic Resurgence',i.e. the revival of Islam as a political power. Huntington constructs a collusion of Confucianism and Islamism, combining their mutual forces in their culturaldisputes with the West. But such inter-culturaldisputes, accordingto Huntington, do not only include political fights over human rights but also fights over the non-proliferationof the means of mass extermination. The Confucian component of this track is to be representedby China and North Korea, the Islamic component by Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Algeria.The relationshipof this construct (so far only 'discovered' by Huntington) to the Sinic or Islamic 'soul of culture' (or civilization), however, remains somewhat undefined, especially in view of the fact that the arms trade of these govern-
ments may well be analysedin power-political or economic categories. The interpretation of these occurrences as a 'clash of civilization',i.e. as conflict behaviourgenerated by the individual civilization, can only be regarded as a redundant explanation. Thus, the argument becomes disappointAbove all, it remainswithout ingly arbitrary. a cultural foundation as, despite being focused on culture, it does not offer links between culture on the one hand and concrete behaviour at the global political level on the other. A major weaknessof Huntington's argument is that he assumes civilizations to be some kind of'beings' at the macro-level.In a nutshell, he essentialially arguesin terms of culture even if he demonstratessome sense of history and conflict. At long last he regards civilizations as not adaptable and changeableover centuries.Deep down, they remain constant, and they tend to process externalinfluences so as to guaranteecontinuity. The ahistoricalassumptionsconcerning culture, especiallyabout deep culture or the soul of culture, produce a view of variable events as something always predestined by the deep structureof individual civilization. A lack of a proper analysis of culture thus develops into a predilection for culturalistic argumentation.In other words, if one focuses on civilizationsor especiallya 'clash of civilizations',a substantialanalysisof the individual civilization should be the very foundation of the argument. One would then have to admit the observableambiguity of each civilization in the present as well as in the past, and that holistic statementshave never been analyticallyuseful and cannot be justifiedtoday in the face of growing cultural
conflicts within civilizations.
Culture or Economic Deprivation? Huntington's analysisincludes the macro-as well as the micro-level.He sees the effects of
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volume / number1 /january 1998 35 virulent politically and they develop a dynamic of hate as discriminationgrows. of One cannot deny the culturalcharacter such conflicts. And the fault lines running diametricallythrough societies are of great relevance.The cultural factors, however, in these conflicts are generallynot very significant at the beginning of the conflict, which is incited by socio-economic factors.Only as a result of escalation can they later become independent factorswith a genuine impetus. This is effectively proven by the fact that despite the specific cultural orientation observed on both sides of a fault line, comparable problematic socio-economic contexts develop more or less identical conflict dynamics. In other words, when a conflict that is culturally influenced but not determined by culture escalates, it is not relevant whether it runs along Confucian versus Hinduist or Islamic versus ChristianWestern orientations. Such cultural orientations seem to be interchangeable: Catholicism and Protestantismin Northern Ireland, Buddhism and Hinduism in Sri Lanka, and so on. These orientationsdo, of course, differ, but within an escalating dynamic of a conflict based on cultural differences, culture seems to be interchangeable. Even if second or third-classfactors can become first-classones in comparable conflict escalations, as research has shown, Hungtington's analysisof fault line conflicts at the micro-levelmisplacesthe culturalfactors in a kind of culturalisticapproach not well-rooted in reality. Huntington seems to have fallen prey to a superficialanalysisat the micro-level, all the more astonishingas he once worked in comparative development research.Among the development problems, only demographyis mentioned and it gets more attention in his book than in his earlierarticle:Whereverdemographyexplodes, i.e. societies gain a majority of young people, with a social mobilization (urbanization and literacy)
cultural problems not only in world policy between culturalcore states, but also at a regional and subregional level and, naturally, in internal conflicts. All ethnopolitical or ethno-nationalisticconflicts can, as a rule, be used as illustrativematerial.If they escalate, these conflicts are also charactarized culby tural and especiallyby religious dimensions. But in this respect also Huntington's analysis remainssuperficial.In spite of the broadrange existing research on ethnicity his analysisdoes not consider that culturaland, as a rule, religious factors are rarelyof great relevanceat the very beginning of a conflict escalation. Socio-economic problems with no prospectsof a solution are more important. In most such cases, long-standing and frustrating social and economic discrimination is involved - a discriminationthat repeats itself at the political and culturallevel. Such a situation can be observedwith respect to discriminatedminorities all around the world: minorities are pushed into marginal social and economic positions; they are deprived of the chance of upward mobility otherwise possible in a modernizingsociety. Under today's conditions, however, this refusal of any modernization and upward mobility cannot be maintained for long. Educationalopportunitiesfor minoritiescan lead to social mobility, open up new horizons and createrisingexpectations.But only if the discrepancybetween education and blocked chances for upward mobility is felt as frustration and only if this deprivationis registered as a collectiveproblem ratherthan just an individualone, will policy be culturalized or culturepoliticized.This transitionbecomes inevitableif minoritiesare explicitlydiscriminated by the majorityin order to counteract their social and economic demands. Even if such a policy is counterproductivetoday, it can be observed all over resulting in ethnopolitical conflicts in the course of modernizing processes.This context preciselydefines their 'modernity'.These conflicts are highly
A CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
occurringat the same time, a very dangerous and explosive social situation emerges. Accordingto Huntington, this is the take off point and, especially,the sounding-boardof fundamentalist movements and political militancy of any kind. This observation is correct but has to be part of a well-founded analysisof the differentdimensions lying, as a rule, underneath an escalating development crisis,as can be observedin many parts of the Third World, especially in societies divided by fault lines. Fault lines do occur at the micro-level, but they are not automaticallybased on cultural differences in cases where Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims on one side and Catholics, Hindus, Christians on the other side confront each other. They are created by socio-economic problems involving systematic discrimination. Distribution conflicts, in these cases, form the core of the conflicts and must be judged as primary factors. The chances for education, upward mobility, qualified positions, for status, incomes and political participationare essential, rather than the kind or intensity and, even less, the contents of religion. Religion gains momentum and becomes a rallypoint, a resourcein desperation,only when promising life perspectives do not emerge otherwise. In the lattercase, a distributionconflict tends to become a conflict of identity, but in its very core it still remains a conflict of distribution. This is a common dynamic in modernizing societies which have not found an internal social balance due to lacking economic substance,resultingin unbearable
In protracteddevelopmentcrises,cultural revivalism will be of growing importance. This situation will be typical for most Islamic societies in the foreseeable future. Where, in contrast,the development is positive - as for instance in East Asia - this
'revivalof culture' will only be transitional. Successful societies inevitably become pluralistic societies, although in an unplanned way. This also changes, naturally, their 'cultural soul' (if ever identifiable) into a pluralistic one. The question of identity, however, does not go away. On the contrary, it becomes a permanent point of discussion - with no chance to solve it. This leads to a perfectly acceptable situation, to an endless self-reflectionabout identity - a condition todaywell documented in Western
At the end of his book Huntington comes close to a plea for exactly this kind of permanent self-reflection. How can co-existence be conceived in view of a multipolar and multi-culturalworld?The author warns the West against considering the genuine Western values as universal.For him, these values are indeed most valuable. Yet, they should not be imposed on others, as any step in this direction would be counterproductive. What Huntington underestimates, however, is the fact that Western values are also met with approval in other, non-Western societies. Not primarily because they originated in the West, but because they are oriented towards the protection of individualsand their integrity. injustice. In this case, the time may come when the culturalization of policy or the In all non-Western societies there have been politicization of culture are consideredto be and there will be political and humanistic a ready-made means for political dispute. movements orientated to values, which, by But nearly nothing will be felt or heard of chance or not, have their roots in Western the soul of culture: to be heard instead are civilization. These movements are of great political slogans, culturallyphrasedin order value and far more importantthan intervento induce a correspondingsounding-board. tionist policies. Only in places where such
volume 35/ number1 /january1998 allow coexistence in pluralisticand complex situations,especiallyin foreign relationson a global level. To apply 'thick' morality to international relations involves cultural imperialism,which is no longer accepted in today's world and which would lead to cultural conflicts wherever pursued. 'Thin' morality on the other hand allows coexistence - in decency and dignity. At the very end, Huntington pleads for openness, collective learning, even cultural innovation - normative orientations which seem in discrepancy with his culturalistic assessment of the main development trend in our world: the clash of civilizations.This, indeed, is a strangeending, which somehow requiresa new da capo. References
Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. 'The Clash of Civilisations?',ForeignAffairs72(3): 22-49. Munich: Kiing, Hans, 1990. Projekt Weltethos. Piper.
Walzer, Michael, 1994. Thick and Thin. Moral Argument at Home and Abroad. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
new cultural orientations grow, might they become permanent. This principle of restraintand non-interventionism, for which Huntington pleads for a multiculturaland multipolar world, is worth thinking about even if there are border cases for legitimate intervention, as in cases of confirmed genocide. Also the principle of joint mediation - introduced as second possibility by Huntington - can be accepted as he sees it as a means to deescalate fault line conflicts. Finally, Huntington pleads for common principles: people of all civilizations should look for values, institutions and practices that they have in common with others in order to reenforcethem. In this respect, the program for a world ethos by Hans Kuiing(1990) comes to mind, i.e. the formulation of genAccording erallybinding minimal standards. to Huntington this is absolutely necessary, not only to restrictthe clash of civilizations, but also to generallystrengthencivilized behaviour. All over the world he sees civil behaviour declining in many respects and barbaricattitudes gaining ground. Forgetting for a moment his own grim analyses of a prospective clash of civilizations, Huntington finally pleads for an understanding and co-operation between the leading politicians and intellectualsof all civilizations. Following Michael Walzer (1994), Huntington makes a difference between 'thick' and 'thin' morality.The first is a morality with maximum standards, the second being the morality that is meant to
DIETER SENGHAAS, b. 1940, PhD in (Frankfurt University, Science Political 1967); Professor of Peace, Conflict and of University Research, Development Bremen. Most recent books: Wohin driftet die Welt (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994); editor of Frieden denken (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1995) and Frieden machen (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1997).