The Clash of Civilizations? Essay

Commentators in the school of International Relations, which is still very much a developing subject, have had to revise their theories in the study of Global Culture after some profound structural transformations that seem to have brought an entirely new meaning to the subject of cultural identity. The present era is marked by spectacular technological innovations, exceptional economic opportunities and unprecedented political reforms, these have not only unleashed forces that affect people’s lives globally (Naisnitt and Abursdene, 1990), but also signaled the necessity to accept cultural diversification within states as an unavoidable and inevitable phenomenon.

Samuel P. Huntington’s theory on ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, suggests that world politics is entering a new phase. It is his hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in the New World will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. Huntington believes that the great divisions amongst humankind, and thus the dominating source of conflict, will take a in the cultural form. Nation states will still remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.

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Huntington states: The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future. Huntington suggests that the old groupings of the Cold War are no longer relevant (i.e.: categorizing the world by economic muscles First, Second and Third Worlds). He proposes a new grouping of countries, not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization. Through the course of this assignment, I aim to look at certain aspects of this proposal such as, why we have a clash of civilizations, and what are the determinants responsible of these outcomes might be.

According to Huntington acquiring a civilization is what provides a state with an identity. It is identified both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. However of all the objective elements which define civilizations, the most important he states is religion. The major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s greatest religions, and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other; The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness (Samuel P. Huntington, 1996).

Clearly singling religion as a major factor at the heart of this debate, and what is more is The Clash of Rights reviews that this century-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. In fact it could become more violent. The bloody crisis of the Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf.

However more importantly as power continues to shift from the long predominant West to non-Western civilizations, global politics has become multi-polar and multi-civilizational and as the West attempts to assert its values and to protect its interests, non-Western societies confront a choice. Huntington states: Some attempts to emulate the West and join with the West; while other Confucian and Islamic societies attempt to expand their own economic and military power to resist and to balance against the West.

The end of the Cold War, heralded by the fall of the Berlin Wall saw vigorous attempts by world leaders to try and create a harmonious environment in world politics, in which civilizations could all co-exist irrespective of culture. However, over eighty years of global conflict in the 21st century did not recede without leaving permanent global detriments and the summary by Sheer Chaos which stresses that: the breakdown of governmental authority, the breakup of states, the intensification of tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict, the emergence of international criminal mafias, refugees multiplying into the tens of millions, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the spread of terrorism, the prevalence of massacres and ethnic cleansing could not sum up the post-Cold War era more accurately.

However other commentator’s support the realist concept of international relations, which suggests that states are the only important actors in world affairs and the relation among states’ is one of anarchy. Hence to insure their survival and security, states invariably attempt to maximize their power. (The Myth of the State; E Cassirer) This theory generously appears to be more accurate as to why we have a clash of civilizations; however it assumes that all states perceive their interests in the same way and act in the same way. States define their interests in terms of power but also in terms of values, culture, and institutions presently influence how states define their interests.

Huntington claims that conflict amongst civilizations is undoubtedly deep-rooted he explains that, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. History, language, culture, differentiate civilizations from each other these differences are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. They do not necessarily mean conflict, however over the centuries; differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and most violent conflicts. Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between the peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalties within civilizations.

An example of this is seen with North African immigrants in France who generate hostility as opposed to Catholic Poles who are seen as good immigrants. However it has also become apparent that this struggle ‘clash of civilization’ despite it happening on a micro-level it also happens on a macro-level. Japan faces difficulties in creating an economic entity in East Asia because Japan has a society and a civilization, which is unique to itself. However the strong trade and investment links Japan may develop with other east Asian countries, its cultural differences with those countries inhabit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional economic integration like that of Europe and North America. As Murray Weidenbaum had observed: Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, commerce and finance.

This clearly suggests that the clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels, at the micro-level, and at the macro-level. Whereby states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power and this struggle at a macro-level would be to gain power and control thus to ultimately promote their micro aspects and ensure the survival of their civilizations.

The period in which economic development seemed inextricably linked to cultural modernization (i.e., to Westernization) is now over, and the balance of power may change in the years ahead. It seems evident that the modernist cultural world view that Europeans and Americans once viewed as the necessary cultural condition for economic development and technological progress has now become irrelevant in much of the non-Western world.

Japan, China and other Asian nations have proven that thoroughly modern strategies of economic and technological progress can be adapted to and supported by ancient non-Western cultural traditions. With the Cold War over, the underlying differences between China and the United States have reasserted themselves in areas such as human rights, trade, and weapons proliferation. Even though the West still enjoys technological, military, and economic superiority over most non-Western nations in the future, this superiority is bound to diminish.

While the debates on Huntington’s controversial theory will continue for quite a long time because a consensus is hard to reach, they have shed light on international studies by highlighting the role of civilization and culture in world politics. The second half of this century has seen a resurgence of cultural and political confidence

in Asia as a result of the rapid economic growth in the region. In the meantime, Western countries are experiencing a decline of influence in the world, which is compounded by a diminishing cohesive force within the Western alliance after the end of the Cold War. Along with that, the integrity of Western civilization is threatened by the multi-ethnic culture brought by immigrants. Huntington’s theory suggests a sense of frustration and anxiety among many Westerners toward the rise of Asia. It also reflects a growing uncertainty and lack of confidence about the future of Western civilization.

The theory, therefore, is an attempt to explain the dilemma facing the West, by stating that the clash of civilizations will dominate the post Cold War world politics.

By introducing civilization and cultural factors into the research of world politics,

Huntington’s theory clearly proves to have major academic value. Nevertheless, it is unreasonable to see civilization as a more important factor than all the others, such as race, nationality and economic interests. It is indisputable that there are huge differences between civilizations, which occasionally bring about frictions. Nevertheless, it is misleading and dangerous to magnify such frictions into world political clashes and wars.

Bibliography

‘The Clash of Civilizations’ (by, Samuel P. Huntington)

‘Clash of cultural’ (www.askjeeves.co.uk) – No references merely additional reading to consolidate knowledge on the topic

‘The Myth of the State’ (by, E Cassirer)

‘Ten new directions in the 1990’s’ (by, John Naisbitt and Patricia Abursdene)

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