Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 101-104
[Access article in PDF]
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. By Samuel P. Huntington. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Pp. 367. $26 (cloth); $14 (paper).
Surprisingly, the Library of Congress has classified Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order as "history," which it assuredly is not, either in scope or in method. Rather, Huntington's book belongs in the realm of political science speculation, gussied up with what the author believes to be "history"--or at least numerous references to "history tells us" or "throughout history," to prove his points. So why is The Clash of Civilizations being reviewed here? Because Huntington makes a big claim about history, and especially about historical continuity--a claim that world historians should be made aware of.
Huntington's thesis is that the bipolarity of the Cold War obscured a fundamental fact about the world and its history: namely, that the largest units of common human identity, difference, action, and conflict have been, and once again are, civilizations, which are drawing together once again the countries and peoples previously divided by Cold War politics. From this premise, Huntington goes on to make foreign policy recommendations for the United States: understand its clear and leading role within Western civilization, bolster those civilizational elements within its own borders, and bond with other states belonging to Western civilization (in particular in Europe up to the borders of the former Soviet Union). Further, the United States should gird itself for conflict with what Huntington sees as the two major challengers to Western civilization--the Chinese (which he labels "Sinic") and Islamic civilizations. Huntington explicitly hopes that his book will provide policymakers (and others?) with a new paradigm of international relations to replace the "realist" school's paradigm [End Page 101] (governed by power maximization calculations, viewing the nation-state as the primary actor in world affairs).
Huntington begins by defining civilizations primarily in terms of culture, in particular "values, beliefs, institutions, and social structures" (p. 42), mostly as revealed through religion (p. 47). Using this broad definition, Huntington identifies "seven or eight" contemporary civilizations: the Sinic (Chinese, which includes China, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam), Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox (Russia, Serbia, Greece), Western, Latin American, and possibly African (pp. 45-47). He then provides a thumbnail (and quite standard) historical sketch of the relations among civilizations, which boils down to the story of "the rise of the West" from 1500 on (pp. 49-50). This "rise" generated resentment from other civilizations, in particular the Chinese and Islamic, and also--because "history tells us" that civilizations go through inevitable cycles of rise and fall--challenges to the West now that it is entering a phase of decline (chap. 4) while the Sinic and Islamic civilizations are on the "rise" (chap. 5).
Driving the rise of east Asia (which includes Chinese and Japanese civilizations) is rapid economic growth, while the rise of Islam is powered by a combination of religious revival and high birth rates. Huntington sees all this as "destabilizing...the Western-dominated established international order" (p. 121). Complicating matters, Huntington believes, is the absence in Islamic civilization of a "core state" (unlike the West, which has the United States; the Orthodox, which has Russia; or the Sinic, which has China), resulting in "a source of threat to other civilizations" because there is no single power with which the core states of Western, Orthodox, Hindu, or Sinic civilizations can deal (p. 177). Huntington thus points to "Islam's bloody borders" (pp. 254-58) as a particular kind of "fault line" war between civilizations, emphasizing Islam's fundamental and continuing conflict with the West.
How has Huntington gone wrong in giving this picture of the world and its history? Let me count the ways.
Huntington's book is bad history in at least five ways. First, good historians recognize the place of their material and approach in the context of other interpretations...