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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order
Book Review
Ammara Maqsood


Author: Samuel Huntington

Publisher: Penguin Books, New Delhi

Year: 1996


‘La revanche de dieu,’1 a term that Huntington himself also uses, is apt in explaining the trends and world view that the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order projects. The mainstream contemporary political theory, especially post-cold war has tended to regard primordial identities of religion, race and ethnicity as part of the old world and that these constructs have an insignificant role in shaping the world order in modern times. Genocides in former Yugoslav followed by an upsurge in separatist movements and religious militantism in the late twentieth century, however, seem to suggest that identity politics have an important role to play in shaping conflicts and wars in modern times. Primordial identities based on religion and cultural and ethnic commonalities seem to be reasserting themselves with a vengeance. There has been as Kepel originally stated, ‘La revanche de dieu’ (the revenge of God).

Huntington, in the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, analyses and asserts the resurgence of post-cold war cultural identities to explain the prevailing and future world order. Discarding arguments and world views which assert the existence and proliferation of a universal culture, Huntington argues that the ‘great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflicts will be cultural.’2 He then goes on to offer a theoretical approach on how countries from common civilizations will align themselves and what sort of inter-civilization alliances will be formed. In order to assess how plausible such a framework is and the strengths and weaknesses of his arguments, this book review looks at how Huntington has built his argument through a chapter-wise summary of the book and then offers a critique on the content.

Chapter Summaries

Huntington begins his argument by looking at the weaknesses present in the four paradigms existing in the political world after the cold war. He goes on to show how the rise of ethnic conflicts and genocide has extinguished most hopes of a one world model.  In most cases, the one world model has been replaced by the ‘us against them’ (West against the rest) model which Huntington regards weak, as it fails to look at the differences in the non-western civilizations. He goes on to explain that the realist model of international relation suffers from limitations as it calls the sheer chaos model highlighting failed states as close to reality but simplistic as it fails to see any order in the world at all. He goes on to state that there may be a degree of truth in each of the models but that ‘the four paradigms are also incompatible with each other’3 making it difficult to accept different pieces from each model. He then goes on to assert that the civilization model that he proposes eliminates this problem as elements from each model can be incorporated into this model. He then discusses the rise in ethnic conflicts to elucidate the need for a civilization model to understand and predict political happenings.

The second chapter moves on to define and explain the characteristics of a civilization. Huntington terms civilizations as ‘broadest cultural entity… the biggest ‘we’ within which we feel culturally at home as distinguished from all the other ‘thems’ out there.’4 According to Huntington, the main civilizations that exist in the world today are Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Western, Latin American and possibly an African civilization. In later chapters Huntington also discusses the Russian Orthodox civilization separately from the Western civilization. After elucidating the civilizations that exist in contemporary times, Huntington discusses that the rise of the west in the 16th century led to world politics and other civilization being dominated by a ‘unidirectional impact of the Western civilization.’5 The 20th century, however has seen the rise of other civilizations leading to intense sustained and multidirectional interactions among all civilizations.’6

The next chapter discusses the notion of a universal civilization which occurred as a direct result of dominance of the western civilization. Huntington discards the notion of a universal civilization by looking at the rise of indigenous languages and religion especially Islam. Thirdly, where it is mostly assumed that modernization of societies shows their westernization and thus move towards a universal civilization, Huntington differentiates between westernization and modernization. He argues that ‘the west was the west long before it was modern’7 and goes on to look at the characteristics of the civilization which made it western.8 He then moves on to look at the different responses societies have had to the west and modernization such as Rejectionsim, Kemalism and Reformism and argues that societies are becoming more modern and less western.

Following from this, the next chapter looks at the decline of the west and the rise of other societies. It should be clarified at this point that when Huntington talks of the decline of the western civilization, he talks of a gradual and slow decline. He argues that the west is likely to remain a dominant power for a long time to continue but there is a ‘slow, gradual and inexorable’9 fall marked, for instance, by the decline in its population, economic products and military capabilities in comparison to other societies especially East Asia. Furthermore, he analyses a rise in non-western cultures seen by the indigenizing stance taken by post-colonial leaders. In East Asia’s case, he shows how East Asia attributes its economic success and growth to adherence to their own culture rather than following the western model. The next chapter expounds on this idea further. Huntington also explains a resurgence of religion which has occurred ‘as result of long standing sources of identity and systems of authority being disrupted’10 through processes of modernity. People, hence, turn to religion for a sense of belonging.

Building on the previous chapter, chapter 5 moves on to explain the roots behind the challenge East Asia and Islam are presenting to the West and how these challenges are different from each other. The economic success of East Asia which it attributes to its culture has led to a renewed self confidence in the East Asian culture. This in turn has led to a promotion of Asian values as universal values and also made East Asian countries assert themselves when dealing with the west. The Asians are, thus, using their economic success to assert themselves, where as in the Muslim world, Muslims are increasingly turning towards Islam as a source of identity. Huntington goes on to argue that population growth in the Islamic world leading to a population consisting largely of youth, the failure of the state to deliver economically and the dictatorial nature of the state which suppresses political activity, has led to a rise in fundamentalism and Islamic Resurgence in the world.

Chapter 6 describes the current trends in the world today of cultural alignment. Whereas in the cold era, a country could define itself as being non aligned or aligned on the basis of its security interests, there has been a crisis of identity post cold war.11 Countries thus have shifted to relying on ties of blood, language, religion and values to reaffirm their identities. This has not only led to the formation of organizations such as NATO and EU which have realigned countries of roughly the same civilization together but Huntington also goes on to argue that only those international organizations can be effective whose members are from a similar civilization.  Huntington moves on to discuss the structure of civilizations based on core countries, lone countries, member states, cleft countries and torn countries.12

The next chapter builds on the structure of civilization by showing that ‘civilizational grouping are emerging involving core states, member states, culturally similar minority populations in adjoining states. States in these civilizational blocs often tend to be distributed in concentric circles around the core state or states, reflecting their degree of integration with the bloc.’13 It goes on to discuss the changes occurring in the Western, Sinic and Orthodox civilizations due to this grouping. Huntington goes on to discuss in considerable detail the lack of a definite core state in the Islamic civilization and its reason. He goes on to discuss that in the Islamic world, identities and loyalties are shaped as an inverse U; where loyalty is extended to the family, tribe or clan at a micro level and the whole culture or religion at the broader level with very little significance given to the nation state. This in itself is problematic as a string core state is needed to bring the civilization or Ummah together yet the Ummah holds the concept of a nation state illegitimate. Huntington goes on to argue that it’s the absence of the nation state that has led to so many external and internal conflicts in the Islamic world. He also looks at possible core states that could have emerged and the reasons they have not emerged so far.

The following chapter discusses the different clashes that can occur between civilizations at a micro and macro level. Huntington argues that at the micro level, most clashes are and will continue to be between Islam and its Orthodox, Hindu, African and Western Christian neighbours, and the macro clashes will be between the west on one hand and the Islamic and Sinic civilizations on the other. The rest of the civilizations are what he calls ‘swing civilizations’ meaning they will shift allegiance one way or the other depending on different interests. In this regard, he shows how a Confucius-Islamic connection has emerged over the recent years. He then goes on to look at the declining ability of the west to promote a single culture and dominate global politics due to the difficulties it is facing in maintaining its military superiority and counter proliferation, promoting western values and institutions by forcing other societies to respect human rights and adopt democracy and protecting its ethnic and social integrity by restricting the number of migrants and refugees from non-western societies entering western societies.14

Chapter 9 moves on to discuss inter civilizational politics at the micro and macro levels. Huntington predicts that micro level conflicts will occur between neighbouring states from different civilizations and groups from different civilizations within a state. Macro level conflicts will emerge between core states of different civilizations. Huntington focuses his argument on the possible shift of power from Unites States to China as a source for inter civilizational conflict and the dynamism of Islam as a source of relatively small ongoing fault line wars.15 He moves on to discuss the historical antagonism between the western and Islamic world and moves on to look at the five modern sources of conflict: population growth in the Muslim world generating a large number of disaffected unemployed youth who can be recruited by fundamentalist organizations, the rise of Islamic Resurgence, West’s simultaneous efforts to universalize its values and institutions, maintain its military superiority and intervene in conflicts in the Muslim world, the collapse of communism which was the common enemy of both civilizations and an increased contact between both civilizations which has stimulated a new sense of identity.16

Huntington looks at the rise of China as an economic and military power and the shift that may occur in the power balance due to it. In regard to this, he discusses the increased antagonism between Asian societies and the west leading to a band-wagoning of states around China. He goes on to discuss a possible deepening of relations between Islamic and Sinic world and the alignments that are likely to occur between the swing and other civilizations.

Chapter 10 elucidates how the Soviet-Afghan and Gulf war were ‘transition wars to an era dominated by ethnic conflict and fault line wars between countries from different civilizations’17. Huntington shows how both wars were straight forward wars where one country attacked the other but came to be seen as civilizational wars. He moves on to discuss the incidence of communal and fault line wars in the Islamic world. He explains why ‘Islam has bloody borders’18 by looking at empirical data which shows that the maximum incidence of wars in the recent decades has been between Muslims and Muslims or between Muslims and non-Muslims. The most common reasons given for this situation are the demographic pressures of the Muslim world, the fact that Islam has traditionally been a religion of the sword, the way the religion spread from Arabia to Asia via North Africa has brought Muslims into direct contact with other cultures and the indigestibility of Islam as a religion. However, Huntington argues that perhaps the most significant reason for this is the absence of a core state in the Islamic world, an issue discussed in detail in the next chapter.

Chapter 11 explains how fault line wars tend to exaggerate differences between civilizations and causes the war to further intensify. ‘In the course of a war, multiple identities fade, and the identity most meaningful in relation to the conflict comes to dominate. That identity almost always is defined by religion.’19 A fault line was between two countries or groups starts to involve the rest of the countries directly or indirectly in the war. Huntington goes on to look at the important role core states have to play in resolving the war. He builds this claim by highlighting the need for a disinterested third party to resolve conflicts and that in the case of fault line wars, core states have the capability to negotiate agreements from their counter parts and to induce their kin to accept these agreements.20 In this light, the Islamic world lacking a core state has been unable to come up with a mediating force that has the ability to make its counterparts negotiate terms and then press the concerned country to accept these terms.

The last chapter titled the ‘future of civilizations’ looks at the future of the western civilization in particular. He looks at the tendency of every dominant civilization to think of itself as universal and immortal yet every civilization that thought so has fallen. He admits that the western civilization is unique as it brought modernization in the world but that it must use this uniqueness to renew itself and overcome its decline. He also goes on to discuss the need for core states not to intervene in the other’s sphere of influence in order to maintain peace.

Analysis and Critique

The question that now needs to be looked at is that how plausible is the framework that Huntington provides. One distinctive factor of Huntington’s work is that he tries to bring culture back into the study of international relations and state behavior. As Shulman states, ‘Huntington redresses one of the main glaring weaknesses of liberalism and realism alike: neglect of cultural sources of cooperation and conflict.’21 However, at the same time, most scholars are also quick to point out flaws in Huntington’s methodology and framework. Rosecrance and Jervis22, for instance, highlight the downplay of inter-civilizational conflicts in Huntington’s analysis of global conflicts including conflicts between religious sects. Rosecrance further argues that ‘if civilization is the one true independent variable, why did it give away to power relations during the Cold War’23 and goes on to show that the inter-civilization alignments in the cold war and the ones Huntington addresses (between Japan and China and India, Russia and the West) show the interests of powerful states and not overarching cultures. This argument highlights a related weakness in Huntington’s analysis of excluding the influence of the world economy in political decision making.

Evans goes on to argue this issue further in his review of the book and points out that Huntington’s analysis of the ‘tensions between the United States and China are remarkable to the extent that they unfold without reliance on explanations involving Confucianism or Chinese culture.’24 He goes on to point out that the cause of tensions seems to be overwhelmingly based on economic interests, an issue that Huntington fails to look at. Evans concludes that bringing civilizations into the framework for analyzing geo-political trends confuses the real issue of economic gains and the conflicting interests of the elite and the middle class within a culture. Shulman also points out weaknesses in Huntington’s predictions of the future world order stating that the he never gives a time frame for the emerging world order and never explains ‘what proportion of alliances and successful integration schemes must be there within civilizations and what proportion of conflicts must be there between civilizations to support the civilizational perspective.’25

Where does this critique leave Huntington’s thesis? Though his inclusion of culture as an influencing factor in global conflicts seems to be valid, he seems to fall into the same trap of determinism he wanted to take political theory out of. Instead of taking economics as a dogma, he takes culture. His reliance solely on culture may have been more valid if he looked at the behaviour and sentiments of people within a state (differentiating it from state behaviour) and the direction of translational links between them; he, in other words, fails to completely prove how state behaviour may be completely based on cultural affiliations. Culture and civilization may play a part in influencing state decisions, but it cannot be thought to be the dominating factor.





1. Gilles Kepel, Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World, (University Park, Pa: Penn. State University Press, 1994), 2

2. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 22.

3. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1996), 36

4. Ibid,  43

5. Ibid, 53

6. Ibid, 53

7. Ibid, 69

8. These characteristics according to Huntington are the classical legacy, Catholicism and Protestantism, European languages, separation of spiritual and temporal authority, social pluralism, representative bodies and individualism.

9. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1996), 83

10. Ibid, 97

11. Ibid, 127

12. Core countries are the principle source of the civilization’s culture, lone countries lack cultural commonalities with other countries, cleft countries have different civilizations living within them and torn countries are those who belong to one civilization but its leaders want to shift it to another.

13. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1996), 155

14. Ibid, 186

15. Ibid, 208

16. Ibid, 211

17. Ibid, 246

18. Ibid, 254

19. Ibid, 267

20. Ibid, 292

21. Stephen Shulman, Review of  The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington in Political Science Quarterly Vol. 60, No 1 (Feb, 1998), 304-306.

22. Robert Jervis, Review of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington in Political Science Quarterly,  Vol. 112, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), 307-308.

23. Richard Rosecrance, Review of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 92, No. 4  (December 1998), 978-980.

24. Peter Evans, Review of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 26 No. 6 (Nov 1997), 691-693.

25. Stephen Shulman, Review of  The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington in Political Science Quarterly Vol. 60, No 1 (Feb, 1998), 304-306.

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