September 21, 2013


THE REAL CLASH IS WITHIN CIVILISATIONS : Twenty years on, Samuel Huntington's seminal essay remains misunderstood. (FRANK FUREDI, 20 SEPTEMBER 2013, spiked)

The main strength of this thesis was to draw attention to the decoupling of ideological factors from global conflict. This was difficult for many to accept after decades of ideologically driven struggles, domestic and international. Yet Huntington's focus on struggles between cultures did capture an important dynamic at work in the late twentieth century. He was right, for instance, to point out the significance of culture as a medium for the expression of conflict.

But his assertion that such conflicts will assume the form of civilisational clashes was misguided. Aside from the dubious status of civilisational narratives, it is clear that the defining feature of the contemporary world is that these divisions exist within society itself. When Huntington claimed that 'civilisational identities will replace all other identities', he appeared to overlook the fact that such identities are constantly contested within a civilisation itself. One possible reason why Huntington focused on civilisational struggles, and particularly on the theme of the 'West versus the Rest', was the difficulty he and members of the Western political elites have in openly acknowledging the depth of the cultural divisions within their own society, particularly in the US. There is a perceptible tendency - especially on the part of anti-traditionalist and anti-conservative commentators - to minimise the issues at stake in the so-called Culture Wars. The title of one such sceptic's tome - 'Culture War? The myth of a polarised America' - vividly expresses this orientation.

In his response to his critics, 'If not civilisations, what?', Huntington sought to strengthen his argument by pointing to the cultural divisions within his own society: he called attention to the increasing tendency within America to question the traditional representation of the American way of life; he wrote of a movement of 'intellectuals and politicians' who promote the 'ideology of "multiculturalism"' and who 'insist on the rewriting of American political, social, and literary history from the viewpoint of non-European groups'; he pointed to what he called the possible 'de-Westernisation of the United States', and asked whether this will 'also mean its de-Americanisation'.

He was clearly exercised by the disintegration of the idea of an American Way Of Life. And he was clearly concerned by the potentially destructive consequences of the Culture Wars for the values he himself held dear. However, like many of his colleagues, he found it difficult actually to engage with what he calls the 'internal clash of civilisations'. Hence he was far more comfortable externalising his concerns by focusing on the alleged threat from Confucian, Islamic and other civilisations. On closer examination, Huntington's focus on the clash of civilisations starts to appear as an act of displacement, a means to avoid confronting his real problem: the internal clash of civilisations. [...]

Anti-Americanism and contempt for aspects of the so-called Western way of life exercise widespread influence in many European countries. These sentiments are most systematically expressed through cultural critiques of consumerism, capitalist selfishness, greed and ambition. Ideas that denounce Western arrogance and its belief in science and progress are actually generated from within the societies of Europe and America. As the authors of the book Suicide of the West noted, the crisis of the West 'is internally generated': 'it lies in Western heads'. Sadly, far too many people can only make sense of a problem of their own making when it assumes the form of an exotic threat from abroad.

In reality, the clash within the West was over even when Mr. Huntington wrote, there simply is no counter-culture that offers a plausible alternative to democratic/capitalist/protestantism and so there is virtually no one--certainly no one with any access to power--advocating one.

There are still a few remnants abroad where dictators and terrorists impose or seek to impose alternatives.  But, of course, the fact that they have to be imposed and maintained by force demonstrates their terminal weaknesses   Global Politics today consists of little more than the need to replace a couple of rump Communist regimes--the PRC and North Korea--and a few Arab dictatorships--Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.--while continuing to decimate Islamicist terror organizations in Waziristan, Yemen and other essentially ungoverned areas.

The rather limited nature of this conflict does make the diminutive term "clash"  more appropriate than "war."

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Posted by at September 21, 2013 7:48 AM

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