Samuel Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008)[1] was a very influential American Political Scientist who taught for long years at Harvard University. Huntington was a conservative democrat and worked for long years on civil-military relations, democratic theory and democratization.[2] During the Carter administration, Huntington also served as the White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council. He was already a very famous and important scholar. However, Huntington became a real star in the academic field after the publication of his article “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Summer 1993 edition of the Foreign Affairs magazine in response to his former student Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. Huntington later developed his views and published his chef d’ouvre The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order in 1996.[3]

samuel huntington

Samuel Huntington

The Clash of Civilizations: Background of the Term

The Clash of Civilizations is a controversial theory created by Samuel Huntington about the nature of political conflicts in the post-Cold War period. Huntington basically claimed that people’s cultural and religious identities (the civilization that they belong) will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Huntington proposed this theory for the first time in a 1992 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute. A year later, in 1993, he published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine article titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”. The article contained a question mark in its title but since Huntington developed his theory and became more confident about its validity, in 1996 he published his famous also very controversial book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Actually, the term “The Clash of Civilizations” was used earlier by French author Albert Camus in 1946 and by famous historian Bernard Lewis in an article in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly titled “The Roots of Muslim Rage”.[4] Even earlier, the phrase appears in a 1926 book regarding the Middle East by Basil Mathews; Young Islam on Trek: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations.[5] However, Huntington was the first person to systematize different views about the important role played by culture in world politics and turned them into a consisten theory.

The Clash of Civilizations: Theory

Huntington basically claimed that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or economic.[6] In his view, the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be religious and 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 be the battle line of the future.

Chronology of conflict according to Huntington:[7]

1-) Among princes, emperors and absolute monarchs after Westphalia.

2-) Between nations after the French Revolution.

3-) Conflict of ideologies after the Bolshevik Revolution.

All of these conflicts were within the Western civilization. With the end of the Cold War, international politics moved out of its Western phase, and its center-piece became the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations.


Major civilizations according to Huntington[8]

During the Cold War, the world was divided into the First, Second and Third worlds. However, in the post-Cold War era, those divisions are no longer relevant.[9] It is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development, but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.

A civilization is a cultural entity. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. Civilizations obviously blend and overlap, and may include subcivilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions.

Civilizational identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.

Why Civilizations Will Clash?[10]

1. Differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.

2. The world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations. The interactions among peoples of different civilizations enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history

3. The processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labelled “fundamentalist.”

4. The growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations. E.g. “Asianization, “Hinduization, re-Islamization. A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.

5. Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.

6. Economic regionalism is increasing. On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion. Differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment.

The clash of civilizations, thus, occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.

The Fault Lines Between Civilizations

The fault lines between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has re-emerged.[11]

Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years.[12] After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colonial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism manifested themselves; the West became heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy; the oil-rich Muslim countries became money-rich and, when they wished to, weapons-rich. Several wars occurred between Arabs and Western ally Israel.

Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.

On both sides, the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. The conflict of civilizations is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia. The historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent manifests itself now not only is the rivalry between Pakistan and India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between increasingly militant Hindu groups and India’s substantial Muslim minority.

The interactions between civilizations vary greatly in the extent to which they are likely to be characterized by violence. Economic competition clearly predominates between the American and European subcivilizations of the West and between both of them and Japan. On the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomized at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilizations. In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.

Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been growing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia continued, the positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly were along civilizational lines. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.


The book cover

The West vs. The Rest

The West is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations.[13] Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers. The West, in effect, is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values. That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view. Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and institutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and beliefs, are a second source of conflict.

At a more basic level, however, Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate each ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures.

In the political realm, of course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed colonialism or imposition. The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani’s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values.

Those responses generally take one or a combination of three forms.

1. At one extreme, non-Western states can, like Burma and North Korea, attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West, and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated global community. The costs of this course, however, are high, and few states have pursued it exclusively.

2. A second alternative, the equivalent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions.

3. The third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.

Torn Countries

In the future, as people differentiate themselves by civilization, countries with large numbers of people of different civilizations, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are candidates for dismemberment. Some other countries have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another. These are town countries. Their leaders typically wish to pursue a band-wagoning strategy and to make their countries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. “Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportunity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China. Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve out this new identity for itself.”[14]

To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about the move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s joining the West.

The Confucian-Islamic Connection

The obstacles to non-Western countries joining the West vary considerably. They are least for Latin American and East European countries. They are greater for the Orthodox countries of the former Soviet Union. They are still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu and Buddhist societies.

They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power.

Almost without exception, Western countries are reducing their military power; under Yeltsin’s leadership so also is Russia. China, North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however, are significantly expanding their military capabilities.

The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes non-proliferation as a universal norm and non-proliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm. It also threatens a variety of sanctions against those who promote the spread of sophisticated weapons and proposes some benefits for those who do not. The attention of the West focuses, naturally on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.

The non-Western nations, on the other hand, assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military powers of the West.

Implications for the West

The article not argue that civilization identities will replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other. This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects; successful political, security and economic international institutions are more likely to develop within civilizations than across civilizations; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between “the West and the Rest”; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.

This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypotheses as to what the future may be like. If these are plausible hypotheses, however, it is necessary to consider their implications for Western policy. These implications should be divided between short-term advantage and long-term accommodation. In the short term it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization, particularly between its European and North American components; to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the West; to promote and maintain cooperative relations with Russia and Japan; to prevent escalation of local inter-civilization conflicts into major inter-civilization wars; to limit the expansion of the military strength of Confucian and Islamic states; to moderate the reduction of counter military capabilities and maintain military superiority in East and Southwest Asia; to exploit differences and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states; to support in other civilizations groups sympathetic to Western values and interests; to strengthen international institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and values and to promote the involvement of non-Western states in those institutions.

In the longer term other measures would be called for. Western civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilization will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ

[1] For his biographical details, see;

[2] For some of his concepts and theories, see; and

[3] Available at Amazon;

[4] “Clash of Civilizations”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from

[5] “Clash of Civilizations”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from

[6] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 22.

[7] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, pp. 22-23.

[8] “Clash of Civilizations”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from

[9] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 23.

[10] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, pp. 25-27.

[11] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 29.

[12] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 30.

[13] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 39.

[14] Samuel Huntington (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 72/3, Date of Accession: 21.12.2015 from, p. 42.


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