The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations Themes

Westernization vs Modernization

In the first section of his text, Huntington emphasizes the distinction between Westernization and Modernization. He explains that Modernization is the process by which countries industrialize; it involves technological innovations, spreading literacy, and becoming more globally competitive. Westernization refers to the process of spreading Western values to other places. These could include a belief in individualism, Western popular culture, and secularism. Some scholars have equated the two and argued that as the world modernizes it also becomes more Western. Huntington, however, argues that the world has become more modern but less Western. In fact, he believes that modernization gives greater power to different cultures and allows them to stand up to the West. Increased contact between cultures also emphasizes the differences between them. Civilizations begin to define themselves against the West, and focus on strengthening their unique system of values and beliefs.

Language and Religion

Huntington identifies language and religion as the two most important factors in shaping a given culture. A shared language helps the people of a given culture to relate to one another. A shared religion gives them a set of values and guiding principles that further unite them. Huntington thus analyzes linguistic and religious trends in order to prove his major point that non-Western civilizations have been gaining in confidence and prominence since the end of the Cold War. He points to the resurgence of indigenous languages as proof of resistance to the West; instead of retaining the language of their former conquerors, many liberated former colonies have refused to speak English or French and have instead gone back to their traditional language. Huntington also points out that many religions have gone in a more fundamentalist direction since the end of the Cold War. They are filling the ideological void left after the communist system collapsed. He also shows that more religions have sprung up worldwide. This proves his point that cultural differentiation is occurring as different civilizations rise up to challenge the previously dominant Western one.

Hard and Soft Power

Huntington repeatedly refers to the interactions between hard and soft power when analyzing the successes and failures of different civilizations. Huntington explains that hard power refers to a country’s concrete means for influencing others; for example, this would include military strength, economic resources, etc. Soft power refers to cultural capital, which can also be used to sway other countries in favor of one country’s position. For example, the United States can wield soft power through cultural products such as Hollywood films, pop music, etc., all of which transmit American values and perspectives on the world when consumed in other countries. Huntington argues that hard power is necessary for generating soft power. For example, he believes East Asian confidence in the region’s cultural commonalities originates in its newfound economic power. This shapes his overall argument that the balance of power is shifting away from the West. As East Asia and Muslim regions become more economically powerful or experience population growth that gives them social capital, they are also more culturally relevant. Their hard and soft power allows them to defy the West. In the near future, they will be the most powerful civilizations, at the expense of Western civilization.

Religious Resurgence

Huntington connects the resurgence of religions across the world with the rise of non-Western civilization. He focuses in particular on the resurgence of Islam. In many ways, it has been made possible by the changing demographics of the region. As populations grew and skewed younger in Muslim countries, they gained in political and economic strength overall. With this newfound strength, they gained greater confidence in their traditional culture and religion. At the same time, modernization led to a new sense of isolation and alienation. As people moved to cities and away from traditional jobs and family structures, they sought a concrete sense of identity and stability in religious values. In turn, the resurgence of Islam has shaped the political direction of Muslim countries. While several Middle Eastern countries seemed to be turning toward the West in the early 20th century, they have more recently turned against the West as they have re-embraced Islam. The democratic structure of these countries actually spurs this process; as Islam surged in practice across the populations of Muslim countries, its people were more inclined to want to elect religious candidates. Thus, potential leaders became more and more radical as they turned toward Islam in order to gain a base of support in their countries.

Core States

Huntington emphasizes the importance of core states throughout his text. By definition, they are an important determinant of the order of a civilization: the core state has the most cultural and political strength of the nations within a particular civilization. Important core states today include China in East Asia, and the United States and Britain in the West. Huntington uses the example of these states to prove his argument about the importance of culture. Such states generally focus on controlling and supporting other states in their own civilization, and tend to come into conflict only with other core states in different civilizations. Core states also reveal their importance when they are absent. Islamic civilization, for example, does not have a core state at the moment. This contributes to the internal and external conflicts that characterize Islamic civilization today.

Universalism vs Uniqueness

Huntington continuously refers to the central struggle between universalism and uniqueness. Western civilization is the most recent and salient example of a civilization that strives for universalism. This means that it believes its own cultural values are superior to others. For example, the values of individualism, self-determination, etc as pitted against opposite values of community, authoritarianism, etc. As such, the West has attempted to spread these values to all of the civilizations across the world. In other words, it has attempted to make its own culture universal. However, Huntington points out that this practice is based on the false assumption that any culture’s values are inherently superior or more advanced. In fact, other civilizations tend to reject this Western arrogance. Huntington points out that a better practice would be to focus on maintaining the West’s uniqueness. In a world where other civilizations have gained in strength and confidence, the West cannot expect to realistically universalize its culture. Instead, it should begin to protect this culture against possible encroachments from these other, suddenly stronger civilizations. If it continues to insist on universalism, it could end up without any culture of its own.

Multicultural vs. Multicivilizational

Huntington refers to both multiculturalism and multicivilizationalism throughout his text. The two are separate and often competing ideals. Multiculturalism refers to the existence of multiple cultures within one country. Multicivilizationalism, on the other hand, refers to the existence of multiple competing civilizations in the world. Huntington fundamentally rejects multiculturalism as a doomed and dangerous philosophy. It involves the shifting of a country’s identity from one civilization to another, which Huntington always discounts as a fruitless endeavor. In America, for example, multiculturalists want to shift from identification only with the West and toward identification as a country of multiple civilizations. This means that the US would end up not belonging to any single civilization, and would lack a cultural core. On the other hand, Huntington believes that multicivilizationalism—the belief that distinct cultures exist in different parts of the world, as distinct civilizations—must be acknowledged as the new world order in order to keep global peace. For example, he believes the West must stop trying to universalize its own culture and recognize the equal validity of other civilizations. Each major civilization should be given a permanent seat on the Security Council, in order to reflect the real balance of power in the world. Preserving Western culture requires renewing Western identity and rejecting multiculturalism at home. But the security of the world requires an acceptance of global multiculturalism.