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Clash Of Civilizations Essay Summary Format

Huntington’s text addresses the structure of global politics in the post-Cold War world. After the Cold War came to an end and the world was no longer dominated by the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, how were international affairs reorganized? How can we characterize the balance of power in the world today? And where does Western civilization fit into the mix? Huntington answers these questions by focusing on the recent rise of seven or eight major civilizations. His central argument is that culture and cultural identity shape the patterns of conflict, coming together, and splitting apart of international institutions in the post-Cold War world. With the end of the Cold War, countries stopped defining themselves by the ideologies they aligned with. They could no longer turn to their status as Communist or Capitalist nations in order to define themselves and their place in the international order. Instead, countries began to emphasize their cultural identity. This emphasis on culture meant that no country was exempt from determining where it stood. States no longer asked each other, “whose side are you on,” but rather “who are you?” This second question is impossible to avoid.

The five sections of Huntington’s text present different components of this central argument regarding the importance of cultural identity. In the first part, Huntington argues that global politics have become multipolar and multicivilizational. In other words, the world contains multiple different major powers and civilizations that interact on an international stage. He also points out that the process of modernization does not necessarily lead to Westernization or the universalization of civilizations. When countries become modern through industrialization, they do not automatically adopt Western values or merge into one shared culture. The West must begin to recognize that it is fruitless to attempt to spread Western civilization throughout the rest of the world.

In the second part, Huntington focuses on the shift away from Western power and toward Asian and Islamic civilizations. A recent religious resurgence has impacted the Islamic world. This has been motivated in part by the alienation that can result from modernization; as people move away from their family structures and into cities to work industrial jobs, they tend to lose their old senses of identity. In the absence of strong family or community ties, religion presents a good alternative for building a new identity. Huntington argues that the rise of Islam makes Muslim civilization less stable overall; it prompts leaders to make religious appeals and youths to mobilize violently around religious causes. However, he points out that the demographic growth of Islamic societies makes them stronger and more able to influence global politics, as well. They are more culturally confident and have the strength needed to promote that culture. In East Asia, meanwhile, economic growth has brought a similar confidence to countries like China. In general, non-Western civilizations are refocusing on their own particular cultures while rejecting the West. Their economic and demographic strength makes this possible, in a way it wasn’t when the West was more definitively dominant during the Cold War.

In the third section, Huntington argues that international politics are reorganizing around the lines of different civilizations. The key players in world affairs are now the primary states of each of the seven civilizations. Huntington outlines the general structure of civilizations: core states, which are the strongest and most influential members; member states, which are clearly aligned with a given civilization; lone countries, which are culturally isolated; cleft countries, which include more than one influential cultural group; and torn countries, which started out in one civilization but have attempted to shift to a different one. Overall, similar cultures cooperate with one another when it comes to international politics. Of course, this also means that cultures which differ from one another are likely to come into conflict. It is also more difficult than ever to shift a society from one culture to another, because cultural identities have become more solidified as they have become more important.

In the fourth section, Huntington explains that the Western desire to dominate the world is what leads to conflict with Islam and China. As China and Islam have gained in strength and cultural confidence, they have been less willing to accept Western dominance. However, the West has continued to try to exert its influence, anyway. Moving forward, the West will have to become more accommodating on the key issues that bring it into conflict with China and Islam: militarization, human rights, and the influx of refugees and immigrants in the Western world. Huntington predicts that the West will no longer be able to influence these issues as clearly as it once could. Instead, it will have to focus on preserving its own culture while respecting the boundaries of these other civilizations.

Huntington’s last section argues that the West must accept its own civilization as unique, instead of wanting to make it universal. Above all, it must protect this unique culture from non-Western influence. If the United States continues to embrace multiculturalism, for example, it will eventually lose its central identity as a Western nation; it will no longer be identifiable as the United States, but rather will become something closer to the United Nations. The preservation of Western culture is also important when it comes to making sure that the world as a whole can maintain the multicivilizational nature of world politics. The West must stop trying to universalize, and must instead allow other civilizations to hold on to their unique cultures and values. Only by rejecting multiculturalism and embracing multicivilizationalism can the world avoid devolving into conflicts between the major civilizations.


This critical review examines Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 article titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”. In this article, Huntington (1993a) argues that in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, international relations would no longer be dominated by an ideological conflict as was witnessed during the Cold War years, between capitalism and communism. Nor would the next pattern of conflict be dominated by state-to-state tensions. Instead, as Huntington argues, the world would witness a clash of civilizations between a Western civilization and other major civilizations – in particular an Islamic civilization and a Confusion civilization. Huntington makes valid arguments in terms of what international relations would not be dominated by, however; the argument that a clash of civilizations based on cultural differences between the West and other civilizations is a simplistic hypothesis born out of a realist Cold War paradigm.

Huntington begins by claiming that although certain cultural differences occur between varying communities within a state, and likewise between states within a civilization, common bonds within that civilization ultimately lead to civilizations being completely distinct from others. As Huntington uses as an example, two villages in Italy may be different culturally, however, these two villages will still maintain an overall Italian culture. This Italian culture is different from German culture, for example, but they both are part of a larger European culture, which is part of Western civilization’s culture. Western civilization, as Huntington argues, shares no commonality in cultural values with other civilizations such as the Islamic and Confucian civilizations. Since Western civilization is largely based on the principles of democracy and human rights while other civilizations are not; Huntington argues that this creates a divide between the “West and the rest”. Therefore, Huntington argues that the West and other civilizations will ultimately clash as they do not share a broader cultural identity, short of the human race.

Although Huntington makes a strong and valid argument that culture is a main source of conflict, the claim that the broader civilization that one identifies with ‘intensely’ appears to be overgeneralized as Huntington’s civilization groupings are fraught with their own internal cultural divisions and conflict. If current conflicts within these civilizations are examined, it is quite evident that Huntington’s elusion to unity among civilizations is invalid. Furthermore, Huntington’s claim that loyalties to civilizations as a source of conflict versus national or ethnic identities is flawed. As Russet, Oneal, and Cox (2000) argue, this claim is doubtful, particularly in the Islamic civilization where interests within particular states have outweighed those of all-encompassing Islamic or pan-Arab convictions. Therefore, this would seem to invalidate Huntington’s claim that one identifies with him or herself as a member of their Western, Islamic, or Confusion civilization first and foremost.

The world’s most important conflicts, as Huntington argues, will occur along the fault lines that demarcate a civilization’s boundary with another’s. This has provoked some statistical analyses to be conducted to determine the validity of Huntington’s claim that this has been the case. Russet et al. (2000) conducted one such analysis and reported that “there is little evidence that [civilizations] define the fault lines along which international conflict is apt to occur”. Furthermore, Errol Henderson (1998) did a study reporting that although differences in religion increase the incidence of war, ethnic and linguistic similarity also increase the likelihood of conflict. This study also found that geographical proximity between states is also a stronger factor than culture. These reports are of interest as they demonstrate that cultural differences are not the prime source of conflict. In fact, it appears that in some cases, similarity between differing groups within the same civilization creates a more likely foundation for conflict. This brings into question Huntington’s claim that conflicts between civilizations will be concentrated on the cultural fault lines dividing civilizations. It is also reasonable to argue that many of the conflicts Huntington identifies on these fault lines simply have a greater likelihood to conflict as they are neighboring states.

As Kunihiko Imai (2006) explains, these statistical results disprove one of Huntington’s major hypotheses. However, since the research was based on data from past militarized disputes, the test may not have been appropriate for Huntington’s thesis in a post-Cold War era. Therefore, whether conflict is found along the fault lines of civilizational boundaries or not does not necessarily disprove Huntington’s thesis. However, this weakens the argument made that as civilizations grow increasingly grounded in their own cultures, values, and religions, conflict will occur along the fault lines where civilizations are demarcated. Therefore, cultures may be attempting to further establish their own unique identities in defense from globalization; however, clashes will not necessarily occur along cultural or civilizational boundaries.


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