The “Clash of Civilizations” After Twenty Years

Next year (2013) will be the twentieth anniversary of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” idea. It was a stunningly successful piece of punditry. The phrase became an instant catchword. The idea was widely debated and bitterly criticized. What’s left, after two decades?
What Huntington got wrong: a couple of really crucial things. First, he anticipated war among civilizations. But this was quite wrong. All kinds of war have in fact declined. It is not that civilizations alone are at peace, almost everyone is at peace. Second, because he envisaged war, he prescribed a new set of rules to prevent it in which leading states of each civilization would be recognized as having special rights and responsibilities to police their civilizations, intervening where necessary. But this updated spheres-of-influence notion was a non-starter. It was unnecessary to keep the peace, and it was unrealistic, since lesser states were never likely to give their civilization’s big power the right to intervene in their affairs.
What Huntington got right: also a couple of crucial things. First he realized that civilizations exist and they are important. Second, he also was right to speak of a clash among them in the sense not of a war but of contention for status or prestige. Civilizations compete for prestige as do other sorts of grouping.



Filed under big ideas, civilizations, world affairs

3 responses to “The “Clash of Civilizations” After Twenty Years

  1. turkischland

    Reblogged this on turkischland.

  2. Pingback: Twenty Years of the “Clash of Civilizations” | Breviosity

  3. Pingback: More Clashing of Civilizations | Breviosity

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