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 2, Chapter 4 : The Shifting Balance of Civilizations (The Fading of the West: Power, Culture, and Indigenization) | Summary



Western Power: Dominance and Decline

One picture that exists of the West's power is that of total dominance since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The West makes the decisions about global politics and security. It is the only civilization that has interests in every other civilization for political and economic reasons. But a different picture shows that the West is a civilization in decline. Its power has decreased in relative proportion to that of other civilizations. The world's economic power is shifting to East Asia, whose military and political influence is also being bolstered.

This weakening of the West's influence means that other societies are less willing to accept its assertions of dominance. In response, the West has become less confident and able to assert itself. Huntington claims that Asian civilizations will see the biggest increase in power. China will emerge as the one to challenge the West the most in terms of global influence. In turn, this will embolden other societies to reject Western culture. Yet the decline of the West is a slow process—its rise to power took 400 years. It's likely that its decline will take just as long. Yet it is conceivable that it could accelerate.

The decline of a civilization rarely happens on a straight line, however—it is given to pauses, reversals, and reassertions of power. The West's resources in proportion to other civilizations have already peaked and begun to decline in the 20th century. By 1490 Western societies controlled 52.5 million square miles. By 1920 Western societies ruled close to half of Earth. But by 1993 this control had been cut in half. Meanwhile, the territory of independent Islamic societies rose. Westerners represent a decreasing minority of the world's population. At the same time, there has been a shift in non-Westerners gaining access to literacy, education, and urbanization. This allows them to participate to a greater extent in the shaping of their societies. This shift also mirrors the fact that four of the world's seven largest economies belong to non-Western nations: Japan, China, Russia, and India. When it comes to military capability, by the 1920s the West was far ahead of other civilizations in regard to their effectiveness and power. But since then its military power has declined relative to that of other civilizations. As other civilizations develop economically, they also are able to produce more sophisticated weapons.

Indigenization: The Resurgence of Non-Western Cultures

The distribution of cultures in the world mirrors the distribution of their power. Historically, when a civilization finds its culture it also cements values, practices, and power. It follows, then, that as Western culture erodes, the civilizations that once held less power begin to claim their own cultures and flourish. There are two kinds of power: hard and soft. Hard power means a civilization can command power based on economic and military strength. Soft power is the ability to influence based on its culture and ideologies. Yet soft power is dependent on hard power since it requires the appeal of its material success. It follows that as Western hard power declines, its ability to influence ideas about human rights, liberalism, and democracy also declines. This, in turn, allows societies like East Asia to attribute their own development not to the influence of Western culture but to their own. This creates an interesting paradox: it's through adopting Western democratic institutions that indigenization flourishes.

La Revanche de Dieu

In the first half of the 20th century, intellectuals tended to believe that the gathering modernization of society would lead to religion playing a lesser role in people's lives. It was hotly debated whether or not this would be beneficial or detrimental to society. Yet this prediction has gone on to be unfounded. A global revival of religion has actually taken place, dubbed "la revanche de Dieu." With it came the approach or belief that modernism had failed because of a separation from God. A renewed embrace of religion swept through the void left after the collapse of communism in countries that had once practiced it as an ideology.

The most obvious cause of this global resurgence of religion is the very same thing that was accused of killing off religion: modernization. As society and economics shift, people look for a source of identity and a stable community. Huntington points out that "people do not live by reason alone." They do not pursue their own self-interests until they can define what that self is. Religion provides answers for people asking determining questions about the self. Religion also meets social needs that governments cannot. In this light, religion takes the place of ideology. The revival of non-Western religions is also a powerful response of anti-Westernism. It is not a rejection of modernity. It is a rejection of the culture of secularism that is associated with the West.


The West is a unique case study in understanding a civilization's cycle of dominance and decline. In "Western Power: Dominance and Decline," Huntington paints two portraits of the power of the West in relation to other civilizations. One is a near-total dominance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The second is a civilization in decline. While there is evidence to categorize the West as either, Huntington focuses his argument on the latter. One indication of a civilization's ability to dominate is the willingness of other societies to accept its dominance. Huntington finds that other societies are less and less willing to "accept the West's dictates or abide its sermons." As a natural consequence, "the West's self-confidence and will to dominate" are also eroding. Huntington implies that the two trends are inextricably linked. As self-confidence declines, it will become increasingly difficult for the West to reestablish its dominance and power over other civilizations.

As Huntington pointed out in Chapter 3, modernization of non-Western societies leads them to become more socially mobilized through education and technology. This makes them more powerful and autonomous. The very modernization the West has brought to other civilizations has enabled them to become more powerful and confident themselves. Although the West has also dominated the world's economy, that power is seemingly returning to China. For much of history, China has had the world's largest economy. In this view, the 200-year dominance of the West on the world's economy will be viewed as a "blip" in the longer arc of history. Huntington points out that as recently as 1919, three major Western players "together virtually controlled the world." They determined which countries could exist or be created as well as their boundaries and rulers. Yet the power has balanced to include the influence of the world's multiple major civilizations—the majority of which are non-Western. This shift means that "the age of Western dominance will be over." Although Huntington makes this claim boldly, he cannot say with certainty which non-Western civilization might usurp its dominance. There will continue to be tensions between all major civilizations with shifting alliances and enemies as each one plays the long game.

In "Indigenization: The Resurgence of Non-Western Cultures," Huntington points out that "the distribution of cultures in the world reflects the distribution of power." Since civilizations aren't necessarily marked by hard boundaries, the demographic explosion of the Islamic civilization can be tracked. It can be shown how Islam can gain power through its spreading culture across the globe and different countries. Islam can do this without even needing a core state to dictate.

Huntington also cites the distinction between "hard power" and soft power." The former is about a civilization's economic and military strength, and the latter is about its appeal to culture and ideology. Viewed through these specific lenses, it is evident that hard power is becoming more diffuse throughout civilizations as more accrue nuclear weapons and economic strength. This places more of an emphasis on soft power—which "is power only when it rests on a foundation of hard power." Therefore, a civilization must have hard power at its base in order to spread its cultural influence and ideology. This also leads civilizations to harken back to their indigenous roots in order to identify and strengthen their soft power. The effect can be seen in non-Western elections in which politicians use ethnic, nationalist, or religious appeals rather than embracing Westernism. They seem to intuit the growing yearning civilizations have for establishing and embracing their indigenous identities. Huntington claims "we are witnessing the end of the era dominated by Western ideologies ... multiple and diverse civilizations will interact, compete, coexist, and accommodate each other." The West seems to be the last to realize that this shift is taking place. It blindly continues to attempt to wield its influence, which only creates growing animosity toward it from non-Western civilizations.

La Revanche de Dieu means "the revival of God." In this section, Huntington highlights the growing trend of civilizations to embrace and revive their religious roots. It's a global phenomenon, which for Huntington means there must be a global explanation. Significantly, he posits that the very thing that was supposed to have caused the death of religion has enabled its resurgence: modernization. As the sources of identity and authority have been disrupted, people have become increasingly separated from their roots. This creates a space in which people yearn to reclaim their roots and find a stable community. Religion provides the obvious answer to meeting these burgeoning needs of a modern society. This is a society in which people grow alienated and isolated from their home communities when forced to leave. Huntington says that during periods of societal stress and uncertainty, people search for a deeper sense of meaning and identity, which religion can provide. He also notes that "religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers." This infers that one group sees itself as superior to the other.

Another tension-creating issue happens between civilizations that are spread along religious fault lines. This can make it difficult for both compromise and empathy toward the "Other." As people turn toward religion for a sense of belonging and meaning, fundamentalist movements spring up in response. These movements are "a way of coping with the experience of chaos, the loss of identity ... created by the rapid introduction of modern social and political patterns." In short, the more extreme the belief, the more certainty it provides for people, the more rigidly the lines are drawn between believers and non-believers. Huntington also posits that "religious groups meet social needs left untended by state bureaucracies." The implication is that perhaps humans were wrong to look to governments for moral and social needs. This left an opportunistic gap for religious—and particularly fundamentalist—groups to provide a sense of community and order for people.

In modern history, ideologies such as communism widely failed and were once thought to be an ideological replacement for religion. With secular failures, and without a widely embraced ideology to replace it, people turn to religion for comfort, guidance, and order. For Huntington, this is an obvious and predictable outcome that speaks to the fundamental human need to belong and find meaning and order. Islam is the most swiftly rising religion, which hints that "the revival of non-Western religions is the most powerful manifestation of anti-Westernism in non-Western societies." He sees it as a reclamation of cultural independence from the West. Significantly it is one that doesn't reject modernism. The rise of Islam likely caught the West off-guard. This surprise contributes to an uneasy and growing tension between the two civilizations. This is particularly enhanced because Islam lacks a core state and is based on religion rather than politics.

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