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 3, Chapter 6 : The Emerging Order of Civilizations (The Cultural Reconfiguration of Global Politics) | Summary



Groping for Groupings: The Politics of Identity

Because of modernization, global politics are being realigned along cultural lines, widening the rift between people and countries with different cultures. This also means that cultural ties influence political boundaries as well—and the divides between them grow deeper and become the central source of conflicts.

The answer to the question "Who are you?" defines a culture's identity and place in world politics. The factors people use to consider their identity as a culture have to do with belief, ancestry, language, and institutions. Cold War alignments have given way to civilizational ones. In this shuffling of affiliations, countries with similar cultures find themselves aligning. Cultural identity has become increasingly important in contrast with other kinds of identity. Modernization also leads to dislocation and alienation, which creates a need for more meaningful identities. At the same time, modern advances in communication and transportation lead to more frequent and inclusive interactions among people of different civilizations. This can direct people to think of their identity in much broader terms—European rather than French, for example. It is also normal for humans to define themselves in terms of who they aren't—their enemies. This leads to a kind of self-definition that supports a broader cultural identity.

Culture and Economic Cooperation

In the 1990s, regional conflicts replaced global conflicts as a security agenda for countries. Yet regions are geographical, not political or cultural. In places such as Western Europe and Latin America, civilizational commonality brings about regional organization and cooperation. In East Asia, the regional multicivilizational organization ASEAN is an example of both the effectiveness of multicultural organizations and its limits. It has no military alliances, and while its members cooperate militarily, they are also engaging in military buildups rather than reductions. Any meaningful East Asian regional organizations will thrive only if there is enough cultural commonality to keep them going. The end of the Cold War brought about renewed efforts to revive or create regional economic organizations. One country that suffers from a possibly lonely economic future, however, is Japan. This nation does not culturally identify itself with either the West or East Asia. In the 21st century, patterns of trade will shift from being based on nation alliances to patterns of culture.

The Structure of Civilizations

Civilizations have political structures. Post–Cold War countries have begun to identify their relationships through the lens of member states, core states, lone countries, cleft countries, and torn countries. A member state is a country that fully identifies culturally with one civilization—for example, how Egypt identifies culturally as an Arab-Islamic civilization. Civilizations usually have at least one place viewed by its citizens as the principal source of their culture. These are often identified as the core state—its most powerful and culturally central state. Yet those core states can shift over time. A lone country, on the other hand, does not have cultural commonality with other societies. Ethiopia is an example of a lone country since it is culturally isolated because of its language and religious differences. Many countries are also divided by the differences and conflicts among different ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Deep divisions are likely to emerge in a cleft country, where large groups belong to different civilizations; for example, Sudan's civil war between the Muslim north and Christian south. Torn countries have a single predominant culture that lies in one civilization but leaders who want to shift it to another civilization. Mexico is an example of a torn country since it has moved from defining itself as a Latin American country to a North American society.

Torn Countries: The Failure of Civilization Shifting

In order for a torn country to successfully redefine its civilizational identity, the political and economic influencers must be supportive of it. The citizens must also be willing to embrace their redefinition as a society, and the civilization of the identity it is shifting toward must accept it. The process can be prolonged and interrupted, and no successful examples exist. One example can be seen in the history of Russia and its struggle between Slavophiles and Westernizers in debating Russia's true identity, where the question was whether to adopt Western values or Orthodox/Eurasian ones. Another torn country that attempted to redefine its identity was Turkey. Its leader during the 1920s and 1930s changed its written language so as to distance itself from its past identity. The Turks also saw themselves as offering an alternative identity of a secular, democratic Muslim state. Yet democracy there reinforced indigenization and the return to religion, with many of its citizens embracing Islam. This resurgence activated anti-Western sentiments and undermined Turkey's original goals of becoming secularist and pro-Western. Turkey's current identification as a bridge between east and west confirms that it is indeed a torn country. Similar to Turkey, Mexico in the 1980s began to reorient itself as a North American country by changing its investments and economy. Yet this attempt at realignment has increased U.S. demands for restrictions on immigration as well as U.S. worries about its factories moving south. Finally, Australia is a country trying to redefine itself as an Asian society rather than a Western one. Australia was spurred not along cultural lines but rather economic ones because of the rapid growth of East Asian economies. Yet both elite and public consensus on this shift is less than enthusiastic. Asian states are also lukewarm about accepting Australia's attempts at integration, because of the large gap between their cultures and values. These examples show that the culture of a society cannot be fundamentally reshaped—and that the most likely outcome is a torn country.


In the post–Cold War world, the order of civilizations is shifting. New factors are at play in regard to how a civilization achieves power and influence over others. In "Groping for Groupings: The Politics of Identity," Huntington reiterates how "global politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines." Once civilizations fell in line behind either the West or the Soviet Union. Now reclamation of civilizational culture has contributed to new boundaries, alliances, and enemies being made.

The lines are being redrawn not according to the boundaries of countries or states. They are changing along the lines of similar cultures sticking together and different cultures growing increasingly suspicious of one another. This also means that "political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones." Culture is playing a larger role in determining the politicians that rise to power. Those politicians are typically the ones who've learned to tell their citizens the cultural identification and affirmation they need to hear.

Huntington points out that "The question, 'Which side are you on?' has been replaced by the much more fundamental one, 'Who are you?'" This is significant in that once identifying oneself as being on the "side" of a power meant aligning with that identity. Now the issue becomes identity first and allies later. Politicians have learned to invoke the question of "Who are we?" rather than "Whose power do we align with?" This ignites "old antagonisms and affiliations" between groups as people grope to find a community they identify with. This community must provide meaning and a sense of identity and inclusion. Huntington again reminds the reader that "civilizations are the broadest cultural entities." Therefore conflicts between civilizations strike at the very heart of a group's identity—which makes it "central to global politics."

One cannot ignore how a civilization identifies itself if it wants to understand how it interacts on a global playing field. This deepening and intensifying of civilizational identities also creates a broader consciousness of just how civilizations are different—and threatening to each identity. Huntington lays bare the fact that at a primitive level, humans are wired to be suspicious of that which is different. Self-definition requires an "other" to measure oneself (or one's civilization) against. This is what creates competition, rivals, and opponents on both small and large scales. In "Culture and Economic Cooperation," Huntington points out the ways this plays out on different levels of civilization. He says that "businessmen make deals with people they can understand and trust," and states associate with "like-minded states they understand and trust." These examples demonstrate how fundamental and intrinsic cultural commonalities are to the success of cooperation on an economic and political level.

Inside each civilization is a unique political structure. "The Structure of Civilizations" notes that the ethnic, racial, and religious makeup of a civilization plays "an important role in the politics of the country." Civilizations have no technical boundaries. Tension and conflict can spring up when two different civilizations reside in close proximity inside the technical boundaries of a country or state. Each civilization likely has different politics that will come into conflict during elections. Huntington points out the example of cleft countries "that territorially bestride the fault lines between civilizations" and the difficulty they face in achieving unity. Conflict is only natural when each civilization must confront the differences of another so closely, and, on so many levels, that compromise and understanding are difficult. Torn countries also face a similar standoff. Turkey lacks unity because it sees itself as "a very significant bridge in a region extending from west to east." As Huntington points out, however, a bridge is not fully a part of either region. This leaves it vulnerable to issues of identity by confirming that it is torn between the two.

These examples of torn and cleft countries lead Huntington to wonder just how non-Western societies can modernize. He points to Japan, which has built upon and used "their own traditions, institutions, and values" as a way to escape Western influence on its culture. Outside of that example, Huntington claims that any leaders who believe they can "fundamentally reshape the culture of their societies are destined to fail." They will be unable to permanently suppress or eliminate their indigenous culture. Emulating Westernization is not the answer—Huntington's examples have shown that it produces only torn countries.

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