In the article The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington, the author argues against the intellectual proposal that future conflicts arise primarily based on ideological or economic differences, but instead suggests that future conflicts emerge between competing and vastly different cultures. (Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22-49. doi:10.2307/20045621.)
The author describes “the evolution of conflict in the modern world” (Huntington, 1993), beginning with the period just after the Peace of Westphalia when conflicts were mainly between monarchs struggling over power and land. After this period, there is a shift to conflicts between nations instead of between monarchs, beginning with the French Revolution and lasting until the end of World War I. Another shift follows, characterized by ideological conflict, principally between fascism, democracy, and communism. (Huntington, 1993) Collectively, these periods of conflict occur between nation-states within the Western culture, as opposed to conflicts between cultures.
The characterization of the present period, as described by Huntington, is by the separation of people by culture, instead of strictly by national borders. The author divides the world into seven or eight major civilizations; Western, Confusion, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and maybe African. (Huntington, 1993)
Huntington proposes that major categorical and fundamental differences exist between civilizations. Differences in history, language, culture, tradition, and religion lead to non-aligned views on “the relationship between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy.” (Huntington, 1993) Such differences in worldviews, ingrained by centuries, are not quickly, easily, or often surrendered or significantly modified.
The author identifies several future points of conflict based on differences in cultures and changing relationships among the world’s population.
The increased transportation and communication interaction between civilizations one point of conflict. With increased contact, comes increased familiarity with, not only cultural similarities but also with incompatible differences between cultures. Interactions between like cultures produce less animosity, fear, and conflict than between different ones. Familiarity with differences leads people to a greater consciousness of themselves and their own culture. (Huntington, 1993)
Another potential issue is the weakening of local identities due to economic modernization and social change. Even though Western modern technology and transportation changes help to modernize the world in many ways, one of the results is an increase and spread of secularization into many cultures. A reaction to this ongoing secularization leads people to decrease their nationality identification and increasingly creates a want to return to an identity based on their culture or religion. Religious fundamentalist movements are one result of this process, and the boundaries of religion are more civilizational than national. (Huntington, 1993)
While the West is in many ways at the peak of its influence, there is a resulting movement of cultures to preserve their cultural integrity by returning to their traditional roots. The pressure to abandon tradition and join in the Western culture creates a backlash against the idea that a culture is inferior from simply not being Western. Many cultures have proud and long histories, and the want to keep and promote those things is a natural response to a perceived threat to them. (Huntington, 1993)
Cultural identities are less malleable than economic or political beliefs. As Huntington states, “communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians and Azeris cannot become Armenians.” (Huntington, 1993) Simply put, people can change and re-define their beliefs, but they can’t which culture they were born into.
Economic regionalism is increasing with borders drawn along cultural lines. Cultural blocks of trade have developed among like cultures, and this regional success leads to a greater awareness of the cultural group. In terms of trade, similarities in culture become more important than ideology, as the trade relationship of China and Taiwan demonstrates. Trade across cultures, while sometimes successful, is usually perceived with less approval and more suspicion than trade among like cultures. (Huntington, 1993)
Peoples are now identifying their differences along ethnic and religious lines. The ongoing conflict between the West and the Islamic culture is likely to continue, having escalated even more since the article’s publication in 1993. Arab population growth and migration into Europe has created cultural clashes, anti-immigrant, and anti-Islamic sentiments. Christian and Muslim conflict has increased in Africa, as well as between Orthodox Christian and Muslims in Eastern Europe. Hindu and Muslims continue to clash in India. As Huntington states, “Islam has bloody borders.” (Huntington, 1993)
In the first Gulf War, perceived lines between the West and fundamentalist Muslims magnified. Some Moslem leaders alleged that the West used a double-standard, showing favoritism to “kin-countries” during the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict and continued through continued support of Israel. “Kin-country” conflict is also alleged among the Russians, Turks, and Armenians in the Azerbaijan conflict. This trend has continued since the publication of Huntington’s article in 1993.
“The Clash of Civilizations?” hit on many accuracies about the conflicts that have occurred since it’s publication. Increased transportation and communication continue to create awareness of cultural differences. The weakening of local identities due to economic modernization and social change continues to fuel religious fundamentalism. Prevalence of the Western culture continues to lead non-Western cultures to return to their traditional cultural values. Cultural identity usually takes precedent over ideological or economic beliefs. Economic regionalism continues to prosper and differ along cultural lines. Much of the world’s population self-identifies along cultural and religious lines. A perceived cultural double-standard is described by many as an example of “The West against the rest.” (Huntington, 1993)
With the exception of an update for 9/11 and the war in Iraq, Huntington article is as relevant today as it ever was.