Bibliomantic's Reviews > The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington
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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Four stars??? What scale are you rating on? Influence?


Bibliomantic It's a very important book in international relations studies. While I think that it is flawed, and somewhat extreme, it is that only in scale and needs refinement. Others have done that since, others still applied aspects of it effectively, but the central thesis remains as a monument to either rally around or to stand against. With all this going for it I cannot see myself giving it less than four stars.


message 3: by Kelly (last edited Feb 02, 2010 08:20AM) (new)

Kelly While I think that it is flawed, and somewhat extreme, it is that only in scale and needs refinement.

I'm curious by what you mean as "flawed only in scale". Before I get up in arms about that, I want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding. (EDITOR'S NOTE: I will admit that I have a somewhat emotional reaction to this book that probably has as much to do with what the ideology has been used for since its publication as it does the book itself.)

Totally understand the rating on the basis of importance in public consciousness and as a point of departure and debate, though.


message 4: by Bibliomantic (last edited Feb 02, 2010 11:05AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bibliomantic What I mean is that Huntington's thesis is both right and wrong. Although there is no proverbial global clash of civilizations, there most definitely are localized clashes of various forms and sizes. Of course, from al Qaeda’s perspective, the clash is actually global and it is that of civilizations. But more realistically, it is a local and internal struggle within the Muslim world. Of course, we are seen as the modernizing and decadent force supporting the liberal side, and so the regressive militant side strikes out against us when they have the chance. Would it be more correct to call it cultural rather civilizational clash? Perhaps, and maybe that would qualify for a refinement of Huntington’s thesis. In ‘America at the Crossroads’ Fukuyama rightly points out that Muslim terrorism in Europe and America was fostered in various diaspora communities. They are alienated, have a hard time assimilating and face rejection by the locals. That’s where once again you have localized Hutingtonian clashes that begin on small scale, but as Madrid, London, and 9/11 show, could result in catastrophic attacks and even end up having global reach. Fukuyama wants better outreach to welcome these people and help them integrate and thus not fall into the arms and ideologies of extremists and seek comfort and identity there. He also shows how Huntington’s thesis misses the fact that the ideologies inspiring the militants are partly of Western origin, and you cannot separate civilizations so cleanly, since both sides share root elements. There also is no denying that there are clashes across great divides. The US can, after all, greatly affect events in distant places or what type of government rules a particular country thousands of miles away. Soft power exerted by our industries and our media are often deemed offensive to local customs in many places around the world, and some object to that even as their neighbors may welcome it. But however much that may create animosity between cultures and groups, nothing about this speaks to a clash of the type Huntington spoke.
To put it simply, Huntington paints with broad brush strokes and vivid colors that make clear distinctions between one side and the other. The problem is that things aren’t so simple, and when one wants to think more carefully about international conflicts, separations and distinctions begin to blur, and the ‘civilizations’ that Huntington talks about are more aptly reduced to smaller scale cultural frictions that on occasion have global reach, and where differences between adversaries are not so clear cut.



message 5: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Although there is no proverbial global clash of civilizations, there most definitely are localized clashes of various forms and sizes. Of course, from al Qaeda’s perspective, the clash is actually global and it is that of civilizations. But more realistically, it is a local and internal struggle within the Muslim world. Of course, we are seen as the modernizing and decadent force supporting the liberal side, and so the regressive militant side strikes out against us when they have the chance. Would it be more correct to call it cultural rather civilizational clash?

Ok. I agree with this, and have a view on that last question. (Also, this sounds like the thesis of Aslan's No God but God. Did you read that? If not, you should, you'd probably like it. )

Just for a moment: I really think that the "clash of xxxx" thing is just really unhelpful, and I don't like using that phrase. I think the language itself of "culture or "civilization" tries to tap into the "elemental" language used by nationalists in the 19th century to differentiate groups of people from each other, and takes the debate out of the realm of the reasonable. Unless this is prefaced by a lengthy definition of what you mean by "culture" or "civilization", and I don't think people are listening by that point.

I would say if we must use "clash of xxx" language, I would call it "clash of ideologies", which at least makes it conceivable that people can change their minds, and shows that there are disagreements inside communities that may share cultures or similiar history.

However, I just question the use of this whole thing itself. We already know there are conflicts- we already know they are all over. We know there are different sides to a conflict- that's not a contribution of value. Nobody doesn't know this stuff. Why wouldn't we be better served with a bunch of histories of the little conflicts going on? As opposed to pretending to give people a framework through which they can make a very simplistic sense of the world?

I just don't think he's saying what you're saying. He's saying something else, about the whole world basically being at war. He's buying into Al-Qaeda's mentality and working within their framework. I just think it means that he's just plain wrong.

I don't think we disagree, mostly, I just think that you're seeing some value here that I don't.


message 6: by Bibliomantic (last edited Feb 02, 2010 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bibliomantic I would say if we must use "clash of xxx" language, I would call it "clash of ideologies", which at least makes it conceivable that people can change their minds, and shows that there are disagreements inside communities that may share cultures or similiar history.

The problem here, though, is that often it is culture and not ideology. The former is more comprehensive, behavioral and downright palatable, whereas the latter is more abstract and really a Western product.

I too think that we mostly agree, and not least in that Huntington's thesis corresponds more to al Qaeda's line of thinking than to that of Washington's (whether under Obama, Bush or Clinton, ...). As a matter of fact, it seemed to me like al Qaeda were trying to make Huntington's thesis into actuality by stoking the fire on both sides of what they perceived to be the civilizational divide. That they were largely unsuccessful at this does not help the thesis either. And I also question whether the thesis is useful beyond being simply a rallying point. But it's one of the Big Idea books, and as such it almost had to be written.


message 7: by Kelly (last edited Feb 02, 2010 12:05PM) (new)

Kelly But it's one of the Big Ideas books, and as such it almost had to be written.

If by "had" you mean it was inevitable, then yeah, that's probably true. Though I think it has been written, per se, down the centuries by war leaders trying to rally their populace against the fearsome Other. I wish it wasn't legitimized, yet again, by an academic. I suppose it is useful in that it got people to talk openly about ideas they might not otherwise have done, I'll give you that.


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