A Civilization Update: Conflict Is Cultural

Since Sept. 11, there’s been no paucity of pundits – from the glib chattering class and political partisans to disgruntled insiders and wonkish academics — holding forth on what it all means and where we go from here. Arguably no author of a 10-year-old tome has been more quoted these days than Samuel P. Huntington. “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” ought to be required reading for anyone who cares about context beyond “evil doers” who “hate freedom” and, thus, us.

Five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and five years before Sept. 11, Huntington was assessing the new geo-political landscape – one less driven by ideology than cultural identity. Indeed, such identities, according to Huntington, were already disturbingly shaping the pattern of conflict in the post-Cold War world. His pragmatic perspective and somber assessments, not all of which have played well with all Americans, are insightful and controversial; his prescience sometimes uncanny. He’s sobering, blunt, at times politically incorrect and worth paying attention to.

Some of Huntington’s observations from his 1996 “Clash of Civilizations”:

* “The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.”

* “The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies.”

* “Democratization conflicts with Westernization, and democracy is inherently a parochializing not a cosmopolitanizing process. Politicians in non-Western societies do not win elections by demonstrating how Western they are. Electoral competition instead stimulates them to fashion what they believe will be the most popular appeals, and those are usually ethnic, nationalist and religious in character.”

* “Asians believe that East Asia will sustain its rapid economic development, will soon surpass the West in economic product, and hence will be increasingly powerful in world affairs compared to the West

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