In many ways The Clash of Civilizations is a rebuttal against Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History. Instead of arguing that the liberal democratic values endorsed in the West are the natural pinnacle of human civilization, Huntington says that The West’s values will be attacked by competing civilizations.
Huntington does not believe that nation states are the basic building blocks of human society. He argues that it is Civilizations, which represent a shared human experience influenced by culture, religion, language, and philosophy which are now the most important players on the human stage. Huntington says that at present (1990s to now) there exists at least nine different Civilizations, each possessing different values that puts them in potential and actual conflict with each other. It is not about nations fighting over land or resources, but about the fundamental clash of values between Civilizations.
Huntington’s use of Civilizations does provide a fresh way to look at historical and current events. His paradigm of human development and conflict becomes epic which inspired the imagination of his most ardent supporters who see Huntington as nothing less than a prophet. He is seen as accurately foretelling the current conflict that is taking place between the The West and Islam. The 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers becomes a crystallized moment representing this inter-Civilization conflict.
And conflict is where Huntington focuses his book on, going on to describe how the West needs to be prepared for eventual outright conflict with China and Islam. Economic warfare is not below Huntington in his advocacy that The West should restrict trade with China and other potential enemies. Because China and Islam make up over two billion people and continue to grow, The West is vastly outnumbered and needs to prepare for the worst. He calls for America to reject multiculturalism (which weakens the American spirit), and align itself fully with Europe so that The West can present a unified front. Huntington is so convinced about our inevitable collision course that he ends the book with a chilling tale of a future World War between The West and China. His message is cynical and possesses a prophetic/apocalyptic flavor.
But zeal is not all that Huntington brings to the table. He brings forward enough meticulous research, statistics, and facts to support his case. Huntington’s scope is grand and his message is powerful, but is it accurate or valid?
I don’t think so. While its fascinating to think of epic conflict between Civilizations, I think he is mislead. The problem is fundamentally a programming one of Garbage In Garbage Out. I believe that Huntington has made fundamentally incorrect assumptions that gives wrong outcomes despite an abundance of facts and data. Just because he proves his answer does not mean that he has asked the right question.
Huntington believes that Civilizations exist and are the basis of all future human strife, yet his concept of Civilization is contradicted by four fundamental weaknesses.
1) Huntington takes entirely diverse regions such as the West which includes U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and Europe and treats them as a whole. It becomes difficult to accept his assumption that such diverse groups are acting in concert together and against other diverse collectives. He sees World War I & II as little more than ‘civil-wars’ because they were largely fought in The West. Wars fought during the Cold War in Korea and Vietnam are treated as inconsequential internal Civilization strife, despite immense loss of life and capital expenditures. Such conflicts are just a prelude to the epic Clash of Civilizations that is going to come. To downplay such tragic human events because they do not fit within his proposed model, smacks of intellectual dishonesty.
2) Huntington is ignorant about human nature. Just like how Karl Marx believed that the natural evolution of civilization was towards class conflict and the eventual establishment of a classless society, Huntington too is convinced that Civilization conflict is inevitable. Marx has been proven wrong because he fundamentally misunderstood human nature and Huntington makes the same mistake. He sets out to challenge Fukuyama, yet fails to address the fundamental question of human nature. Fukuyama tied his entire theory back to human nature’s desire for happiness and liberty, yet Huntington completely fails to mention the topic. Human nature is inconsequential when it comes to such epic affairs as Civilization conflict and this assumption betrays a unforgivable ignorance.
3) He is unable to cleanly define what a Civilization is. His collective of nine Civilizations are based on diverse societal characteristics. For a few it is religion (Islam, Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist), for others it is language (Sino, Latin America, Japanese), and again for others it is geographic (The West, Africa). What exactly is a Civilization if it can be any one of three things. If the Civilizations were such viable entities, how does he explain the constant political and ethnic conflict that take place within each of these Civilizations. If most conflict takes place internally, should that not be the source of focus instead of developing a fascinating concept of ‘Civilizations’ that simply does not exist?
4) He ignores the fundamental human invention of ideology, and how most conflict occurs because of ideology, not due to conflicting Civilization values. Culturally, the Jewish and Islamic religions have more in common with each other than they would with Indian or Chinese thought, yet there is little overt conflict between Israel and India or China. Why is it that all of the largest wars have been fought based around ideology such as Catholicism vs Protestantism, Christianity vs Islam, and Capitalism vs Communism. None of these conflicts had anything to do with conflicting Civilization values. Huntington does not ask why the three Biblical religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have such a war-torn history. If Huntington’s theory was correct, then the Bible-based religions should be joining to war against the Confucists in China, the Buddhists in Asia, and the Hindus in India. Ideological conflict better explains why wars exist within and between nations and societies, while Huntington’s theory of Civlization does not.
The Clash of Civilizations is fascinating and riveting reading that possesses conviction, facts, and inspiration, but remains very, very wrong.
(2 stars out of 5 ? introduces an interesting, but fundamentally flawed concept of Civilization as a geopolitical unit. Meticulous research cannot fix misdirected theory)