The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order  
Clash civilizations.jpg
Author(s) Samuel P. Huntington
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date 1996
ISBN 0-684-84441-9
OCLC Number 38269418

The Clash of Civilizations is a theory, proposed by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.

This theory was originally formulated in a 1992 lecture[1] at the American Enterprise Institute, which was then developed in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article titled "The Clash of Civilizations?",[2] in response to Francis Fukuyama's 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

The phrase itself was first used by Bernard Lewis in an article in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly titled "The Roots of Muslim Rage".[3]

This expression derives from clash of cultures, already used during the colonial period and the Belle Époque.[4]



Huntington began his thinking by surveying the diverse theories about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. Some theorists and writers argued that human rights, liberal democracy and capitalist free market economy had become the only remaining ideological alternative for nations in the post-Cold War world. Specifically, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the 'end of history' in a Hegelian sense.

Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural and religious lines.

As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.

In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.[2]

In the end of the article, he writes:

This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypothesis as to what the future may be like.[2]

Major civilizations according to Huntington

The clash of civilizations according to Huntington (1996), as presented in the book. The author states that, instead of belonging to one of the "major" civilizations, Ethiopia and Haiti are "Lone" countries, and that Israel could be considered a unique state with its own civilization, but one which is extremely similar to the West. Huntington also believes that the Anglophone Caribbean, former British colonies in the Caribbean, constitutes a distinct entity.[5]

Huntington divided the world into the "major civilizations" in his thesis as such:

Huntington's thesis of civilizational clash

Russia, Japan, and India are what Huntington terms 'swing civilizations' and may favor either side. Russia, for example, clashes with the many Muslim ethnic groups on its southern border (such as Chechnya) but—according to Huntington—cooperates with Iran to avoid further Muslim-Orthodox violence in Southern Russia, and to help continue the flow of oil. Huntington argues that a "Sino-Islamic connection" is emerging in which China will cooperate more closely with Iran, Pakistan, and other states to augment its international position.

Huntington also argues that civilizational conflicts are "particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims", identifying the "bloody borders" between Islamic and non-Islamic civilizations. This conflict dates back as far as the initial thrust of Islam into Europe,[citation needed] its eventual expulsion in the Iberian reconquest, the attacks of the Ottoman Turks on Eastern Europe and Vienna, and the European imperial division of the Islamic nations in the 1800s and 1900s.

Huntington also believes that some of the factors contributing to this conflict are that both Christianity (which has influenced Western civilization) and Islam are:

  • Missionary religions, seeking conversion of others
  • Universal, "all-or-nothing" religions, in the sense that it is believed by both sides that only their faith is the correct one
  • Teleological religions, that is, that their values and beliefs represent the goals of existence and purpose in human existence.
  • Irreligious people who violate the base principles of those religions are perceived to be furthering their own pointless aims, which leads to violent interactions.

More recent factors contributing to a Western-Islamic clash, Huntington wrote, are the Islamic Resurgence and demographic explosion in Islam, coupled with the values of Western universalism—that is, the view that all civilizations should adopt Western values—that infuriate Islamic fundamentalists. All these historical and modern factors combined, Huntington wrote briefly in his Foreign Affairs article and in much more detail in his 1996 book, would lead to a bloody clash between the Islamic and Western civilizations. The political party Hizb ut-Tahrir also reiterate Huntington's views in their published book, The Inevitability of Clash of Civilisation.[6]

Core state and fault line conflicts

In Huntington's view, intercivilizational conflict manifests itself in two forms: fault line conflicts and core state conflicts.

Fault line conflicts are on a local level and occur between adjacent states belonging to different civilizations or within states that are home to populations from different civilizations.

Core state conflicts are on a global level between the major states of different civilizations. Core state conflicts can arise out of fault line conflicts when core states become involved.[7]

These conflicts may result from a number of causes, such as: relative influence or power (military or economic), discrimination against people from a different civilization, intervention to protect kinsmen in a different civilization, or different values and culture, particularly when one civilization attempts to impose its values on people of a different civilization.[7]

Modernization, westernization, and "torn countries"

Critics of Huntington's ideas often extend their criticisms to traditional cultures and internal reformers who wish to modernize without adopting the values and attitudes of Western culture. These critics[who?] sometimes claim that to modernize is necessarily to become Westernized to a very large extent.

In reply, those[who?] who consider the Clash of Civilizations thesis accurate often point to the example of Japan, claiming that it is not a Western state at its core. They argue that it adopted much Western technology (also inventing technology of its own in recent times), parliamentary democracy, and free enterprise, but has remained culturally very distinct from the West.[citation needed]

China is also cited by some[who?] as a rising non-Western economy. Many[who?] also point out the East Asian Tigers or neighboring states as having adapted western economics, while maintaining traditional or authoritarian social government.

Perhaps the ultimate example of non-Western modernization is Russia, the core state of the Orthodox civilization. The variant of this argument that uses Russia as an example relies on the acceptance of a unique non-Western civilization headed by an Orthodox state such as Russia or perhaps an Eastern European country.[citation needed]

Huntington argues that Russia is primarily a non-Western state although he seems to agree that it shares a considerable amount of cultural ancestry with the modern West. Russia was one of the great powers during World War I. It also happened to be a non-Western power.

According to Huntington, the West is distinguished from Orthodox Christian countries by the experience of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Enlightenment, overseas colonialism rather than contiguous expansion and colonialism, and a recent re-infusion of Classical culture through Rome rather than through the continuous trajectory of the Byzantine Empire.

The differences among the modern Slavic states can still be seen today. This issue is also linked to the "universalizing factor" exhibited in some civilizations[clarification needed].

Huntington refers to countries that are seeking to affiliate with another civilization as "torn countries." Turkey, whose political leadership has systematically tried to Westernize the country since the 1920s, is his chief example.

Turkey's history, culture, and traditions are derived from Islamic civilization, but Turkey's elite, beginning with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who took power as first President of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, imposed western institutions and dress, embraced the Latin alphabet, joined NATO, and is seeking to join the European Union. Mexico and Russia are also considered to be torn by Huntington. He also gives the example of Australia as a country torn between its Western civilizational heritage and its growing economic engagement with Asia.

According to Huntington, a torn country must meet three requirements to redefine its civilizational identity. Its political and economic elite must support the move. Second, the public must be willing to accept the redefinition. Third, the elites of the civilization that the torn country is trying to join must accept the country.

As noted in the book, to date no torn country has successfully redefined its civilizational identity, this mostly due to the elites of the 'host' civilization refusing to accept the torn country, though if Turkey gained membership of the European Union it has been noted that many of its people would support Westernization[who?]. If this were to happen it would be the first to redefine its civilizational identity.


Huntington has fallen under the stern critique of various academic writers, who have either empirically, historically, logically or ideologically refuted his claims (Fox, 2005; Mungiu Pippidi & Mindruta, 2002; Henderson & Tucker, 2001; Russett, Oneal, & Cox, 2000).[8][9][10][11] In another article explicitly referring to Huntington, Amartya Sen (1999) points to the fact that "diversity is a feature of most cultures in the world. Western civilization is no exception. The practice of democracy that has won out in the modern West is largely a result of a consensus that has emerged since the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and particularly in the last century or so. To read in this a historical commitment of the West—over the millennia—to democracy, and then to contrast it with non-Western traditions (treating each as monolithic) would be a great mistake" (p. 16).[12]

In his Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman proposes another criticism of the civilization clash hypothesis. According to Berman, distinct cultural boundaries do not exist in the present day. He argues there is no "Islamic civilization" nor a "Western civilization", and that the evidence for a civilization clash is not convincing, especially when considering relationships such as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia. In addition, he cites the fact that many Islamic extremists spent a significant amount of time living and/or studying in the Western world. According to Berman, conflict arises because of philosophical beliefs various groups share (or do not share), regardless of cultural or religious identity.[13]

Edward Said issued a response to Huntington's thesis in his "The Clash of Ignorance".[14] Said argues that Huntington's categorization of the world's fixed "civilizations" omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture. A long time critic of the Huntingtonian paradigm, and an outspoken proponent of Arab issues, Edward Said (2004) also claimed that not only is the Clash of Civilisations thesis a "reductive and vulgar notion" (p. 226), but it is also an illustration “of the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims” (p. 293).[15]

Especially under Said's critique fell Huntington's view of 'Islam' as a monolithical entity:

My concern […] is that the mere use of the label «Islam», either to explain or indiscriminately condemn «Islam», actually ends up becoming a form of attack […] «Islam» defines a relatively small proportion of what actually takes place in the Islamic world, which numbers a billion people, and includes dozens of countries, societies, traditions, languages and, of course, an infinite number of different experiences. It is simply false to try to trace all this back to something called «Islam», no matter how vociferously polemical Orientalists […] insisted that Islam regulates Islamic societies from top to bottom, that dar al Islam is a single, coherent entity, that church and state are really one in Islam, and so forth.

Said , 1997, p. xvi

As early as the 1970s, scholars such as Abu Zahra argued that Islam vastly varies contextually and historically. Sections from the Koran that assert equality for men and women have been pointed out and warnings have been issued regarding the very significant gaps that may (and do) exist between erudite, theologically nuanced readings of the Koran on one hand, and widely held popular views and practices on the other. Embracing an already problematic "bulk" of Islam as an explanation for social and cultural phenomena might not only prove unproductive, but is arguably a flawed course of reasoning, since it ignores or neglects specific state policies and interventions (Zahra, 1970, cited in Goddard, Llobera & Shore, 1994, p. 66)[16]

Fundamental questions such as what Islam means for Muslims themselves in the modern world are equally "an issue for debate and action in the context of the politics of nation states, the struggle for energy supplies, superpower rivalry, and dependency. What is the «umma», the Islamic community, and how and where is «ijma», or consensus to be formed?" (Gilsenan, 1982, cited in Lukens Bull, 1999, p. 15).[17]

Similar anti-Huntingtonian arguments have been woven around the term 'fundamentalism', a "slippery concept […], and word that has come to be associated almost automatically with Islam, although it has a flourishing, usually elided, relationship with Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism" (Said, 1997, p. xvi).[18] It has been suggested that "the deliberately created associations between Islam and fundamentalism ensure that the average reader comes to see Islam and fundamentalism as essentially the same thing" (idem). Indeed, Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Tunisia hardly fit into Huntington's fierce Weltanschauung, while his prediction that Turkey might decide to follow some sort of imperial past becomes less plausible by the day, as even newly elected "Islamic" Turkish conservative leaders turn towards Brussels, and not Tashkent, when contemplating foreign affairs.

Opposing concepts

In recent years, the theory of Dialogue Among Civilizations, a response to Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, has become the center of some international attention. The concept, which was introduced by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, was the basis for United Nations' resolution to name the year 2001 as the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.[19][20]

The Alliance of Civilizations (AOC) initiative was proposed at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005 by the President of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The initiative is intended to galvanize collective action across diverse societies to combat extremism, to overcome cultural and social barriers between mainly the Western and predominantly Muslim worlds, and to reduce the tensions and polarization between societies which differ in religious and cultural values.

The Intermediate Region

Huntington's geopolitical model, especially the structures for North Africa and Eurasia, is largely derived from the "Intermediate Region" geopolitical model first formulated by Dimitri Kitsikis and published in 1978.[21] The Intermediate Region, which spans the Adriatic Sea and the Indus River, is neither western nor eastern (at least, with respect to the Far East) but is considered distinct.

Concerning this region, Huntington departs from Kitsikis contending that a civilizational fault line exists between the two dominant yet differing religions (Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam), hence a dynamic of external conflict. However, Kitsikis establishes an integrated civilization comprising these two peoples along with those belonging to the less dominant religions of Shiite Islam, Alevism and Judaism. They have a set of mutual cultural, social, economic and political views and norms which radically differ from those in the West and the Far East.

In the Intermediate Region, therefore, one cannot speak of a civiliational clash or external conflict, but rather an internal conflict, not for cultural domination, but for political succession. This has been successfully demonstrated by documenting the rise of Christianity from the hellenized Roman Empire, the rise of the Islamic caliphates from the Christianized Roman Empire and the rise of Ottoman rule from the Islamic caliphates and the Christianized Roman Empire.

See also

  • The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Official copy (free preview): The Clash of Civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993
  3. ^ Bernard Lewis: The Roots of Muslim Rage The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990
  4. ^ Louis Massignon, La psychologie musulmane (1931), in Idem, Ecrits mémorables, t. I, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2009, p. 629: "Après la venue de Bonaparte au Caire, le clash of cultures entre l'ancienne Chrétienté et l'Islam prit un nouvel aspect, par invasion (sans échange) de l'échelle de valeurs occidentales dans la mentalité collective musulmane".
  5. ^ THE WORLD OF CIVILIZATIONS: POST-1990 scanned image
  6. ^ The Inevitability of Clash of Civilisation
  7. ^ a b Huntington, Samuel P. (2002) [1997]. "Chapter 9: The Global Politics of Civilizations". The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (The Free Press ed.). London: Simon $ Schuster. p. 207f. ISBN 0-7432-3149-X. 
  8. ^ Fox, J. (2005). Paradigm Lost: Huntington's Unfulfilled Clash of Civilizations Prediction into the 21st Century. International Politics, 42, pp. 428–457.
  9. ^ Mungiu-Pippidi, A., & Mindruta, D. (2002). Was Huntington Right? Testing Cultural Legacies and the Civilization Border. International Politics, 39(2), pp. 193 213.
  10. ^ Henderson, E. A., & Tucker, R. (2001). Clear and Present Strangers: The Clash of Civilizations and International Conflict. International Studies Quarterly, 45, pp. 317 338.
  11. ^ Russett, B. M.; Oneal, J. R.; Cox, M. (2000). "Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Déjà Vu? Some Evidence". Journal of Peace Research 37: 583–608. 
  12. ^ Sen A (1999). "Democracy as a Universal Value". Journal of Democracy 10 (3): 3–17. doi:10.1353/jod.1999.0055. 
  13. ^ Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W W Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-05775-5.
  14. ^ Edward Said: The Clash of Ignorance The Nation, October 2001
  15. ^ Said, E. W. (2004). From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
  16. ^ Goddard, V., Llobera, J., & Shore, C. (1994). The Anthropology of Europe: Identity and Boundaries in Conflict. Oxford: Berg.
  17. ^ Lukens Bull, R. (1999). Between Text and Practice: Considerations in the Anthropological Study of Islam. Marburg Journal of Religion: 4(2) (electronic version).
  18. ^ Said, E. W. (1997). Covering Islam. How the Media and the Experts Detemine How We See the Rest of the World (Fully rev. ed.), New York: Vintage Books.
  19. ^ Retrieved on 05-24-07
  20. ^ Retrieved on 05-24-07
  21. ^ Dimitri Kitsikis, A Comparative History of Greece and Turkey in the 20th century. In Greek, Συγκριτική Ἱστορία Ἑλλάδος καί Τουρκίας στόν 20ό αἰῶνα, Athens, Hestia, 1978. Supplemented 2nd edition: Hestia, 1990. 3rd edition: Hestia, 1998, 357 pp.. In Turkish, Yırmı Asırda Karşılaştırmalı Türk-Yunan Tarihi, İstanbul, Türk Dünyası Araştırmaları Dergisi, II-8, 1980.

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