The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why does Huntington focus on the role of civilizations in the post-Cold War world, as opposed to other potential groups or institutions?

    Huntington defines a civilization as the broadest level of a particular cultural grouping. This means a civilization shares values, cultures, and often religions and languages as well. These are important distinguishing characteristics between peoples. For Huntington, the level of the civilization allows for the most productive comparisons between people. He also believes more specifically than after the Cold War, civilizational differences became more important than ideological ones. Whereas the major world split used to be between communism and capitalism, it is now between the seven or eight major civilizations and their differing cultures and values. Huntington believes that conflict is most likely between these civilizations. Thus, we should focus on studying them in order to best understand and prevent future international conflicts.

  2. 2

    How does Huntington defend his own civilizational paradigm against other possible paradigms for explaining the post-Cold War world?

    Huntington analyzes how other existing paradigms fall short. He points out that the "one world" paradigm is false, since we do not actually live in a harmonious and universalized society. He also dismisses the "two world" paradigm for being too simplistic and failing to explain change over time; although certain divisions do remain constant today, such as between rich and poor nations, the division between West vs. East is now too simplistic, since the “non-Western” world actually consists of many different groupings. Huntington does accept the realist and chaos paradigms to some degree. He agrees that states are important actors and tend to act out of security interests. He also agrees that chaos has increased across the world thanks to ethnic conflicts, problems with refugees, etc. However, he believes that these two explanations are also too simple because they do not account for explaining different structures. His own paradigm refocuses on conflicts between civilizations, which are more relevant to today’s world than those between two poles, between states, or across borders.

  3. 3

    What are the three major characteristics that define Western decline?

    It is a slow process at the moment, although it could speed up over time. For the moment, we do not necessarily notice it happening. It is an irregular process; it goes through periods of stopping and restarting. This means that it may seem like things are getting better, but the general pattern is one of decline. Third, it is defined partly by a loss of resources. In general, resources are needed to influence other countries. As the West’s share of resources declines, so does its general power across the world.

  4. 4

    What is “indigenization” and why is it important for global politics?

    This term refers to the fact that non-Western civilizations are re-embracing their indigenous, or native, cultures. Many leaders of non-Western countries indigenize their own personas and leadership styles because their people no longer respect Western values, and want a return to their ancestral cultures instead. For example, in Muslim countries, many leaders have embraced an Islamic style of government. Indigenization is an important trend to follow because it implies a defiance of the West. It is a trend that is made possible by the decline of Western civilization and the rise of the other six or seven civilizations as defined by Huntington. Indigenization can be seen as a sign of the new world order, in which the West is no longer dominant but rather must give way to East Asian and Islamic societies, in particular.

  5. 5

    What are the different categories into which countries in a given civilization can be ordered?

    There are five major categories of country: member states, core states, lone countries, cleft countries, and torn countries. A member state is a country fully culturally aligned with one civilization. Core states are the most powerful and culturally central states of a civilization. A lone country is one that lacks cultural commonality with any other society. A cleft country is one where large groups belong to different civilizations. For example, Sudan is split between a Muslim north and largely Christian South. Usually, cleft countries involve deep divisions and can separate or at least consider separation. A torn country is one that has a single predominant culture that places it in one civilization, but that has a leadership that wants to shift it to a different civilization.

  6. 6

    Why are torn countries always doomed to fail?

    Three factors are needed, all at the same time, for a torn country to shift its identity: the political and economic elite has to approve of it, the public has to be willing to accept it, and important players in the new civilization have to be willing to accept the new member. These conditions are almost impossible to meet all at once. Torn countries are always doomed to fail in their efforts to fully re-integrate into a new civilization because they cannot meet all of these criteria at the same time. Even if the elites and general public of a given country want it to become aligned with a new civilization, this new civilization will often reject the country. For example, Turkey’s attempts to Westernize by joining the EU have been rejected by the EU, which refuses to let a non-Western country into its mix. A state can never fully re-align itself with a new civilization.

  7. 7

    What are the main issues that divide the West from Sinic and Islamic societies, and how have they been developing more recently?

    The three main issues are: maintaining military superiority, promoting Western political values and institutions, and protecting Western culture's integrity from immigrants and refugees. China and Islamic countries have collaborated on making more advanced weapons possible for both sides, which goes against the US interest in nonproliferation. Soon, the US will be forced to stop trying to counter proliferation, and instead accommodate it and attempt to make it fit its own interests. In terms of promoting Western values, other civilizations have more recently put up stronger resistance, and it has become a major divisive issue. Western countries and the Asian-Islamic block approach issues like human rights very differently. Third, Western views on immigration have been changing as well. When labor was needed in the 20th century, Europe welcomed Turkish refugees. Today, Europeans fear the threat of immigrants from Muslim countries overrunning their continent. Westerners oppose immigrants from other civilizations, whom they view as a threat to their own culture.

  8. 8

    What are fault line wars, and why are they particularly problematic?

    Fault line wars are communal conflicts between states or groups from different civilizations. They involve a struggle for control over people or territory, and often involve ethnic cleansing as a means of reclaiming this territory. Violence between people of different civilizations is more likely to spark retaliation, since it plays into civilizational divides. Fault line wars are particularly tricky because they can worsen over time, as identities become focused and hardened. This also means that such conflicts often require intercivilizational cooperation to contain or end them. Whereas conflict in the Cold War flowed from above—meaning that the two superpowers were engaged in conflict with one another, and this often spread to the local level in the countries affiliated with them—conflicts now bubble up from below, at a local level that gradually comes to involve the global level, as well. They are particularly difficult to end, particularly violent, and can involve a multitude of other, secondary and tertiary actors as well.

  9. 9

    What are some ways in which Western civilization does differ from past civilizations, and what does this mean for its current trajectory?

    The West has had a huge impact on all other civilizations that have come into existence since 1500. No other civilization in the past has had comparable influence on the world. The West also began the processes of modernization and industrialization, which have now spread worldwide. This also means that the West remains the most wealthy and technologically advanced country to this day. This kind of advantage in wealth and modernity is also unparalleled. However, the overall evolution of the West reflects the same patterns common to civilizations throughout history. Its current trajectory does not significantly differ from that of past civilizations that eventually failed. For example, the West is now in its “golden age.” This time of peace can be attributed to the absence of serious competitors, and involves particular prosperity. In the past, however, this phase has been the precursor to the failure of a civilization. The trajectory of the West could still be leading to slow internal decline or rapid external defeat.

  10. 10

    What are the three major ways in which the West should respond to the newly multicivilizational world?

    Western statesmen should recognize and understand the importance of culture. Past American administrations, such as the Bush and Clinton administrations, rejected the idea that there could be a fundamental divide between the Orthodox Christian and Islamic parts of Europe; for example, the US government in the 1990s pushed for subjecting Muslims to Orthodox Russian rule in Chechnya, without acknowledging that this could cause problems moving forward. In the future, politicians will have to recognize such divisions if they want to avoid inflaming them and accidentally acting in ways that go against US interests. Second, the West needs to move past its Cold War mindset. This means it has to let go of certain institutions that were important in the Cold War but are no longer practical. Most importantly, the West must recognize that its culture is not a universal one. In practice, this would mean no longer trying to export liberal democracy around the world. Instead, the US should focus on developing and protecting its own Western culture at home.