restricted access Power Clashes in a Multicultural World
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Power Clashes in a Multicultural World
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1996)

With Cold War doctrines declared passe, realists are toiling to reshape their ideas of balance of power and to reconfigure their maps of international conflict. Samuel Huntington, in his recent and much discussed The Clash of Civilizations, redraws the world map along “civilizational” lines. His claim is that ideology no longer plays a notable role in politics; instead, ethnicity, religion and culture determine states’ actions. States are neatly fitted into groups of seven civilizations, and each one is supposed to behave according to a coherent set of civilizational norms. In particular, states are to be neighborly with their civilizational kin and belligerent towards everyone else. For Huntington, difference can mean only hegemony or conflict.

But perhaps it’s not diversity that is potentially dangerous, but the way in which it is handled politically. Such is the stance adopted by Talal Asad in the last part of his Genealogies of Religion. In order to probe multicultural politics in Great Britain, Asad analyzes British reactions to what is labeled Islamic fundamentalism, i.e., the Muslim outcry against the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Asad reveals the insensitivity of Brits on both sides of the political spectrum to fundamental immigrant beliefs and traditions, uncovers the power relations involved in the construction of British “core values,” and challenges free expression as defined by a particular political class. Asad’s critique of the British homogenizing projects offers a useful model for examining the ideological motives behind Huntington’s rejection of multiculturalism and his theory of civilizational clashes.

Huntington rightly recognizes the increased salience of cultural identifications in the post-Cold War environment. However, he presents cultural revival and the “ethnification” of politics in an exceedingly negative light—they are troubling phenomena and the main causes of bloody ethnic conflicts at the post-Cold War civilizational battlefield. 1 The author depicts cultural resurgence in military terms: “In a world where culture counts, the platoons are tribes and ethnic groups, the regiments are nations, and the armies are civilizations. The increased extent to which people throughout the world differentiate themselves along cultural lines means that conflicts between cultural groups are increasingly important.” 2 For Huntington, cultural questions involve a zero-sum choice 3, and in this sense, his treatment of diversity and multiculturalism are highly influenced by his realist ideology.

Evidence of Huntington’s ideological affiliation can be found in his definition of American “core values”: “Historically American national identity has been defined culturally by the heritage of Western civilization and politically by the principles of the American creed on which Americans overwhelmingly agree: liberty, democracy, individualism, equality before the law, constitutionalism, private property.” 4 American may largely affirm these items, but it’s much less likely that they’d agree to confine American values to this list. Social democratic ethics have found their place in the US sociopolitical landscape, and individualistic, neo-liberalist values are not considered by Americans of all political preferences to be keys to a healthy society.

How is it then that Huntington finds in himself the authority not only to define the “American creed,” but also to urge politicians away from the promotion of diversity and toward his selection of “core values”? We witness here what might be called the “sanctification of Huntingtonian subjectivity.” I borrow the idea from William Connolly, who used it to describe the following kind of moral logic: “What I already am (or purport to be) sets the unquestioned standard against which everyone else must be measured and judged, and to the extent you share these subjectivities with me we together embody the standard for everyone else.” 5 Huntington_s attempts to offer a proper sociopolitical norm, if not to the whole world (he admits that the times of modernization are over), then at least to his own country, reflect this intolerant logic.

What is significant about Huntington’s project is that he implicitly draws authority from his belonging to a white male elite which has dominated US politics. He cites the Founding Fathers as a source of inspiration for his list...