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 4, Chapter 8 : Clashes of Civilizations (The West and the Rest: Intercivilizational Issues) | Summary



Western Universalism

In the future, relationships between states and groups from different civilizations will drift apart and often be antagonistic. On a smaller scale, divisions between Islam and its Orthodox or Christian neighbors bring about tensions. On a larger scale, clashes between Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Chinese assertiveness are likely to increase. The central problem lies in the West's efforts to promote Western culture and its decreasing ability to do so. What the West sees as universalism the rest see as imperialism. Non-Western societies that have achieved political independence wish to free themselves from Western economic, military, and cultural domination. Islam and China believe heavily in their own cultural traditions. As their power and assertiveness grow, the conflicts between each civilization's values and interests also grow in intensity. These tensions highlight the question of what role each civilization will play in shaping the future of the world. One theory predicts that the core states of non-Western civilizations will come together to balance the power of the West. Despite the cultural differences between Islamic and Chinese civilizations, the common enemy of the West might create common interests.

Weapons Proliferation

As countries like Japan and China become richer economically, they will also become more powerful militarily, and eventually, Islamic societies will follow suit. But well into the 21st century, the United States alone will be able to intervene militarily in almost any part of the world. This belief has led many non-Western states to begin acquiring nuclear weapons. They see this as a measure to both assert dominance and guarantee that the United States won't take military action against them. Terrorism and nuclear weapons are typically the weapons of the "non-Western weak" that lack military capabilities. But if they are combined, they can strengthen the weak. The proliferation of weapons has also strengthened the Chinese-Islamic bond, since China has played a central role in transferring weapons to many Muslim states. China has signed agreements with both Pakistan and Iran, helping them develop and acquire weapons.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in an arms race. Each attempted to develop more technologically sophisticated nuclear weapons. Since the Cold War's end, the West now faces new antagonist threats with multiple countries attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The West tries to prevent it. Although the West's attempts may slow the weapons buildup of other societies, it cannot stop it. The West promotes nonproliferation as reflecting the interests of all nations, but other nations see it as serving only the West's ability to dominate. Consequently, the West's primary goal has shifted from nonproliferation to counterproliferation and will likely lead to accommodating proliferation. The increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons also highlights the fact that power is diffusing in a multicivilizational world.

Human Rights and Democracy

During the 1970s and 1980s, over 30 countries shifted their governments from authoritarian to democratic systems. The largest contributing factor was economic development, but the policies and actions of the United States and Europe also ushered in democracy to many countries. This shift was most successful in countries that already had a strong Christian and Western influence. It also ushered in a belief throughout the West that a global democratic revolution was underway. Yet as of 1995, this effort has been met with limited success, since nearly all non-Western civilizations were resistant to pressure from the West. The greatest resistance came from Islam and Asia. Asia was able to resist Western human rights pressures because of its increasing economic wealth and confidence in its own governing systems.

At the 1993 U.N. World Conference on Human Rights, major differences existed between the Western countries and Asian/Islamic countries on human rights issues. The final agreement ended up as a victory for the Asian/Islamic coalition and a defeat for the West. In fact, the agreement was weaker than the one adopted by the U.N. in 1948, reflecting the West's declining influence and power. One critic noted that the new agreement "will define the new international politics of human rights [and] will also multiply the occasions for conflict." The West also encountered the paradox that even with a democratically elected government, anti-Western nationalist and fundamentalists rise to power in order to challenge Western influence.


The immigration of Western people overseas between the 16th and 20th centuries was perhaps the single most important factor in the rise of the West. By the late 20th century, an even larger surge in migration began to occur. This movement was produced by decolonization and the establishment of new states that encouraged or forced people to migrate. Increased options for transportation also helped bolster migration as well as technological advances in communication. This also allowed for a "self-reinforcing" process of migration. Migrants were able to give their communities back home information and resources about how to migrate successfully.

The West's stance on immigration has shifted dramatically over the last century. What were once welcoming borders gave way to sharp changes in attitudes and policies, first in Europe and then in the United States. New immigrants to the United States and Europe overwhelmingly came from non-Western societies. This has led to a Western fear that migrants will take over their jobs and threaten their way of life. This phobia is rooted in cultural clashes and concern over national identity. Anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe has largely replaced the anti-Semitism that once dominated. Votes for right-wing, nationalist, and anti-immigration parties have increased. France, Germany, and Britain drastically cut back their immigration policies in order to lower the number of immigrants. Although the issue came later to the United States, it eventually arrived as public opinion shifted. By 1993, 61 percent of the public wanted less immigration, with the majority citing that it was a threat to American culture. By the mid-1990s, immigration had become a major political issue. The issue of the future will be whether Europe and America become cleft societies that house two distinct and separate communities. The communities will be from two different civilizations (Muslim for Europe and Mexican for the United States).


In "Western Universalism," Huntington claims that "the relations between states and groups from different civilizations will not be close and will often be antagonist." His argument is backed by evidence featuring the conflicts between Islamic, Asian, and Western civilizations. They have become uneasy even at the best of times. Huntington examines the smaller fault line conflicts between Islam and its religious neighbors. He also discusses the larger scale tensions between "the West and the rest." He identifies Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Chinese assertiveness as the major factors in emerging tensions and conflicts. One issue the West faces is coming to terms with its declining ability to influence and dominate other civilizations after centuries of power. Huntington reiterates that while the West sees its values as universal, the non-West sees its imposition as imperial.

An increasing number of non-Western societies have achieved political independence. They have also been able to achieve freedom from "Western economic, military, and cultural domination." This proportional decline and rise in power leads to conflicts about which civilization will emerge as a new dominant power. Conflicts will exist over whether there will be an ongoing struggle and clash between multiple civilizations hoping to dominate the others. Both Islam and China have become emboldened by their civilizations' growth and successes to see their cultures as superior to the West's. Huntington says that "the conflicts between their values and those of the West are multiplying and becoming more intense." With this line of argument, Huntington implies that there can be no de-escalation. There is no going back to a time when different civilizations believed in a universal common good that overrode their differences. These mounting tensions also increase how civilizations view others' threats to their way of life.

In "Weapons Proliferation," Huntington points to the dramatic increase by non-Western civilizations in acquisition of nuclear weapons in an attempt to level the playing field and protect their interests. This, in turn, makes the West uneasy since it has been the biggest proponent of nonproliferation. Huntington notes that "the West promotes nonproliferation as reflecting the interests of all nations in international order and stability." Non-Western civilizations have come to see this as a self-serving Western agenda that prevents universal civilizational equality. To this end, Huntington points out that the newfound proliferation is evidence of a "diffusion of power in a multicivilizational world." The diffusion results from every civilization's access to weapons of mass destruction, ensuring that no one civilization has ultimate power over another.

The issue of human rights presents another cause for tension and disagreement. In "Human Rights and Democracy," Huntington highlights how the spread of democracy is seen as a strictly Western goal. It is one that non-Western civilizations believe has been inflicted on them in order to gain a "seat at the table." The West's declining influence on these issues was reflected during the 1993 U.N. World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. The Western nations were outnumbered at the conference and ended up making far more concessions than their opponents. The resulting agreement was "in many respects weaker than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the U.N. had adopted in 1948." It showed to the world how the West's power and influence had declined over the course of 50 years. This also reflected the fact that new civilizations such as Asia and Islam would be playing a larger role in shaping the international politics of human rights. Their ideas differ greatly from the West's principles. This disparity of ideas, Huntington points out, will likely present only more occasions for conflict on the subject. Another shift in influence the West did not anticipate was that democratic governments installed in non-Western societies would go on to elect anti-Western nationalists. This caused the West to hypocritically try to influence those elections. The result was distrust and disdain in the very civilizations to which they had brought democracy. Huntington highlights how the West's hubris and naïveté have served only to aid in its decline.

On the topic of "Immigration," Huntington points out how instrumental the immigration of Westerners has been to the rise of the West since the 16th century. Yet attitudes toward immigration have shifted dramatically in Western civilization countries—particularly when it comes to immigrants from non-Western societies. The influx of immigrants from other civilizations to Western societies has only amplified the fear of "the Other." Immigrants threaten the concept of a national identity, and their way of life is unfamiliar. This point backs up Huntington's argument that humans tend to define themselves as "us versus them." Seeing "the Other" as the enemy only serves to strengthen one's own civilizational identity.

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