The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order | Study Guide

Samuel P. Huntington

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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order | Part 1, Chapter 3 : A World of Civilizations (A Universal Civilization? Modernization and Westernization) | Summary



Universal Civilization: Meanings

The idea of a universal civilization implies a coming together of humanity. It means an increasing acceptance of common values, beliefs, and institutions throughout the world. However, as a concept this is nothing new—humans in all societies have long shared certain basic values and institutions, such as family. Yet humanity is also divided into subgroups such as tribes and nations. A universal civilization can imply what civilized societies have in common that distinguish them from primitive societies. It can also imply that the world is moving toward the eradication of primitive peoples and their cultures. Another implication is that the spread of Western consumption and popular culture is creating a universal civilization. Cultural fads have been handed between civilizations throughout history, although they rarely alter the underlying culture of the benefitting civilization.

The central elements of any civilization are language and religion. If a universal civilization is indeed emerging, then the world should see a trend toward the emergence of a universal language and religion. Yet data suggest that the overall pattern of language use in the world hasn't changed. Some claim that English is becoming a universal language. But a more accurate depiction is that it is the most common language in which people from different language groups use to communicate with each other. Using this common language to communicate doesn't eliminate language and cultural differences. It merely helps speakers cope with them. English is not a language identified with a particular ethnic group or religion. Using it for intercultural communications helps maintain and reinforce people's separate cultural identities.

Throughout history, the way language is distributed in the world mirrors how power is distributed. Shifts in power also produce a shift in language use. This suggests that as the West's powers decline, so too will the predominant use of English as a common language between cultures. There is also a resurgence post–Cold War of languages that have long been suppressed or forgotten in an attempt to reclaim cultural identities. This suggests a diffusion of power.

Huntington claims that a universal religion is only slightly more likely to emerge than a universal language. There has been a global resurgence of religions in the late 20th century. Specifically, a rise in religious fundamentalism reinforces the differences among religions. The two religions increasing in adherents are Islam and Christianity. Huntington notes that Christianity spreads primarily through conversion, but Islam spreads by both conversion and reproduction. This gives Islam an advantage.

Universal Civilizations: Sources

The idea of a universal civilization is itself a product of Western civilization. It helped the West justify the extension of its politics and economy, as well as its cultural dominance over non-Western societies. Yet the idea of a universal civilization finds little support in non-Western civilizations. They see the entire idea as Western—and inherently imperialist. Huntington says that just because Soviet communism collapsed doesn't mean that other civilizations will rush to embrace Western democracy as its only alternative. There is still a fundamental division of humanity along the lines of ethnicity and religion that only serves to create new conflicts between civilizations. The assumption that increased commerce and trade are creating a common global culture is also debunked. Civilizations continued to go to war with each other despite international trade being at an all-time high. In fact, economic interdependence can lead to an increase in conflict between civilizations.

The West and Modernization

Another argument in favor of a universal civilization emerging is that of modernization. Industrialization, literacy, and wealth have all expanded since the 18th century, allowing humans to increasingly shape and control their environments. The West was the first civilization to modernize. Other civilizations follow suit in a way that makes the West the dominant cultural influence on the world. Although modern societies do have much in common, they are not necessarily homogenous. Even the West itself inherited much from previous civilizations, such as Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christianity. The West also adopted practices such as the separation of church and state, as well as the rule of law. It is also a pluralistic society, with diverse autonomous groups that gave rise to the institutions of modern democracy. Lastly, Western civilization contributed to the modernization of individualism in regard to rights and liberties. This emphasis on individualism has become the defining hallmark of Western civilization.

Responses to the West and Modernization

While some non-Western societies have embraced both modernization and Westernization, others have rejected one or both. Japan is one society that rejected Western influence until the mid-19th century. China also barred any modernization that came from the West for centuries.

Increasingly, however, Western power made it difficult for other societies to exclude it. When it comes to societies that have embraced both modernization and Westernization, Huntington notes that both reinforce the other. This makes it difficult to reject just one influence. An example of a society embracing both is that of Kemalism. A new Turkey was created out of the ashes of its former empire in an attempt to modernize and Westernize it. A different alternative is that of "reformism." A society allows some influence of Westernization and modernization. But it attempts to preserve the central values, practices, and institutions of its culture. In the early stages of a society's change, Westernization promotes its modernization. As time goes on, that modernization leads to de-Westernization as indigenous culture resurges as a response. Huntington concludes that modernization does not necessarily mean Westernization. Many societies have been able to maintain their culture while embracing modernization, such as Chinese and Islamic societies. If anything, modernization strengthens cultures and reduces the power of the West.


In "Universal Civilizations: Meanings," Huntington debates the idea of whether a universal civilization is possible. What this really implies, he says, is that Western civilization is the universal civilization because of its influence, power, and intimidation. He gives the example of the economic influence of the West in allowing people from other civilizations to buy its products. He points out that this doesn't mean those civilizations have adopted Western culture. He states, "Only naive arrogance can lead Westerners to assume that non-Westerners will become 'Westernized' by acquiring Western goods." This hubris on the part of Western civilization is also what has slowed its realization that it may no longer be the dominant power in the world.

Huntington also points to the use of language as a possible indicator of a universal civilization. English is the primary language by which different civilization communicate interculturally. Yet the use of English is merely "a way of coping with linguistic and cultural differences, not a way of eliminating them." Speaking English interculturally does not change the identity and community of the non-native English-speaking civilization. It is just a tool for mutual communication. If anything, Huntington claims, the use of English as an intercultural communication tool "reinforces peoples' separate cultural identities." It brings a heightened awareness of the differences between cultures. It is a constant reminder to non-native English speakers to preserve their own culture by continuing to speak a native language amongst themselves. Yet language, like culture, reflects "the distribution of power" in the world. The most widely spoken languages are the languages of "imperial states," which promote or force the use of their languages by other groups. Huntington notes that "as the power of the West gradually declines ... the use of English ... in other societies ... will also slowly erode." In this light, the use of a language is a clear reflection of the power its native civilization wields among other civilizations. It can be a good indicator of how much power that civilization has gained or lost. Since one of Huntington's key ideas is that power is diffusing across civilizations, it would make sense that the use of languages reflects that diffusion.

In "Universal Civilization: Sources," Huntington points out that, although the West sees its culture as universal, non-Western civilizations see it merely as "Western." This division in how each civilization sees the influence of the West is key. The West sees its influence as benign and serving a greater good, while non-Western civilizations see it as malignant and imperialistic.

This raises the question of how Western and non-Western civilizations could ever possibly agree on what constitutes a "greater good." This debate also focuses on the degree to which one civilization can or should impose its ideals on another. If anything, new divisions are constantly being created along the lines of ethnic and religious identities that find themselves at odds. With an increase in the ability to travel, trade, and communicate, civilizations with different identities encounter more and more opportunities to disagree or come into conflict. This creates a growing tension between the West and non-Western civilizations, who increasingly see each other as "the Other."

Modernization is one of the key reasons civilizations are coming into increasing contact with each other. In "The West and Modernization," Huntington points out that the West is the leader of modernity. It was the first civilization to modernize. Other civilizations soon adopted many of the West's patterns of modernization. Huntington says the argument became that "modern Western culture will become the universal culture of the world." Other civilizations have adopted modernized ideas of education, work, wealth, and class. But there is still a rejection of Western influence when it comes to ideas about individualism and liberties. This hints that a complete embrace of Western culture as a dominant culture is impossible. Huntington points out one theory that holds that "modernization and Westernization reinforce each other and have to go together"—and should be embraced together.

His conclusion is that modernization does not necessarily mean Westernization. He points to the many non-Western societies that "have modernized without abandoning their own cultures and adopting wholesale Western values, institutions, and practices." In this view, the West is not the nexus of modernization, and to take that view is very West-centric and arrogant. A reinforcing theory states that "modernization, instead, strengthens those cultures and reduces the relative power of the West." As non-Western civilizations gain confidence and identity through their own modernization, they come to rely less on the West's influence. They are able to see themselves as the influencer.

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