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 5, Chapter 12 : The Future of Civilizations (The West, Civilizations, and Civilization) | Summary



The Renewal of the West?

Each civilization believes in its own immortality. Most Westerners believe that their civilization is different from all civilizations before it and that its expansion could end other civilizations. Yet the paradox is that all other civilizations throughout history have believed this, even ones that have ended. The West does differ in that it has had an overwhelming impact on all other civilizations that have existed since its inception. However, its development is not necessarily different from the evolutionary patterns common to civilizations throughout history. It also still has the threat of being overpowered by the Islamic Resurgence or the economic dynamism of Asia. The West has already entered into its era of peace and prosperity that make it a universal empire, known as "the golden age." This "golden" phase—which each civilization believes will last forever—has historically ended quite quickly and dramatically or slowly and painfully. The end has been the result of either external threads or internal deterioration. Civilizations grow because they have the instruments to expand—military, political, and economic. They decline when they are unable to get a return on the investment in those instruments. This decline can lead to a stage of invasion, when the civilization is no longer able or willing to defend itself. Yet the larger lesson is that, al though these cycles are probable, they are not inevitable—civilizations can and have renewed themselves. The future civilizational health of the West lies in the balance of moral decline, cultural suicide, and political disunity, and how it copes with these trends. Groups within Western societies, such as immigrants from other civilizations who reject assimilation, can challenge Western culture. This leads to cleft countries with potential for internal strife and disunion. Growing multiculturalism also challenges the West to change its identity with "infusions of non-Western cultures." Huntington points out that no other country has successfully shifted its identity from one civilization to another. The ones that have tried have created "schizophrenic torn countries." The United States is not attempting to identify with another civilization but to create a country of many civilizations without a cultural core. The West's fate may resemble that of the Soviet Union, which broke up after the failure of its ideology. Rejection of the American Creed would mean the end of the United States and the end of Western civilization. The clash between multiculturalists and the defenders of Western civilization is a clash within the American segment of Western civilization. Yet if North America and Europe renew their relationship and commitments, they could bring about a new phase of Western economic and political influence.

The West in the World

American elites have been slower to grasp the significance of the growing power of the non-Western world than their European counterparts. Cultural and civilizational diversity also challenges the Western belief that Western culture is the most universally relevant. Yet this belief is false, immoral, and dangerous in an emerging world of civilizational clashes. If culture follows power, then renewed Western influence on non-Western societies can take place only through imperialism. This idea runs counter to Western notions of self-determination and democracy. Western civilization is not of value because of its universality but because of its uniqueness. The responsibility of Western leaders is not to impose it on other civilizations but to preserve and protect it. This can be done through achieving greater political, economic, and military integration. It can also be done by incorporating Central European states into the European Union and NATO and by encouraging the "Westernization" of Latin America. Other approaches involve restraining the power of Islamic and Chinese domination and maintaining Western technological and military superiority. Western civilization must recognize that intervention in other civilizations' affairs is the most dangerous threat of instability and global conflict.

Civilizational War and Order

A global war between the world's major civilizations is unlikely but not impossible. It could happen through the escalation of a fault line war, or through the shifting balance of power among civilizations. The biggest threat to the West is the rise of China. Any struggle between the West and China would draw nearly every other civilization into its battle, with complicated alliances and enemies developing. Both sides have major nuclear capabilities, and even a negotiated peace would not resolve the fundamental clash of powers. It would also likely result in a dramatic decline in the economic, demographic, and military power of the war's major participants. The greatest beneficiaries would be the civilizations that weren't involved, likely countries in the South. Even if a war weren't to play out on this scale, a civilization interfering with another on behalf of a smaller group is a threat. This is a factor that some states will find difficult to accept. Another shift that should occur is the organization of security councils, which have largely been shaped by Western values and practices. In a multicivilizational world, the U.N. Security Council should represent each major civilization.

The Commonalities of Civilization

Both multiculturalism and universalism deny the uniqueness of Western culture. Yet a multicultural America is impossible, because a non-Western America would not be American. Cultural coexistence may mean searching for what is common to most civilizations rather than promoting supposedly universal features of only one civilization. If humans are ever able to develop a universal civilization, it will have to gradually come about by exploring commonalities. This brings about the question of how the world could go about creating a singular Civilization through modernization. The alternative is one in which Civilization declines into barbarism, yielding a global Dark Ages. The future of a peaceful Civilization hangs in the balance of different civilizations working to understand and cooperate with one another.


Huntington poses many questions about the fates of civilizational conflicts throughout the book, yet he saves any clear solutions for the final chapter. Huntington has painted a bleak and tense portrait. He considers the ways in which civilizations can clash and become deadlocked before any sort of resolution and peace can occur. He points out that conflicts between civilizations will increase in proportion to their increased contacts in regard to economics and demographics.

In "The Renewal of the West?" Huntington frames his title as a question to suggest just how tenuous the proposition is. Once a civilization begins to decline, its society becomes weaker, as does its people's faith in its identity. In the end, a civilization's greatest threat may very well be itself. Huntington attempt to reassure by stating that although "many things are probable, ... nothing is inevitable." He points to the fact that "civilizations can and have renewed themselves." Applying that philosophy to the West, he asks whether it will be able to stop itself from decaying from the inside out. Huntington offers a great deal of discussion and debate over how civilizations can threaten and overpower each other. The idea that the West may fail through no fault other than its own is a sobering realization. Huntington goes on to outline these "internal processes of decay." He predicts that the future health of the West relies on recognizing and stopping these processes more than any external threat.

Huntington identifies one of the largest internal threats of Western civilization to be multiculturalism. He labels this a misguided attempt at universalism that instead deepens the dividing lines between cultures. By promoting multiculturalism, he claims, the government prioritizes diversity over unity. He argues that a civilization's identity is its most crucial factor in wielding power and influence. He aims to identify the danger in allowing the United States to create a country founded on the identity of many civilizations. It will then lack an essential cultural core. Attempting to create a new civilizational identity on the basis of multiculturalism is an inherent rejection of Western civilization. It also creates the ultimate paradox that multiculturalism cannot, in fact, be a civilizational identity. In Huntington's view, the future of the West is fundamentally linked to "Americans reaffirming their commitment to Western civilization." If it does not, and if it takes the path of multiculturalism, it will vanish, along with any power it still wields. Huntington's prescription, therefore, is for Western countries to strengthen their bonds and kinship. This closeness will increase awareness of the "cultural core that binds them together."

Huntington reiterates that the United States has had difficulty recognizing its own declining power and influence as other civilizations gain on it. He affirms that "the U.S. government has had extraordinary difficulty adapting to an era in which global politics is shaped by cultural and civilizational tides." Perhaps this is because the West for so long considered itself a dominant influence that other civilizations emulated. The West has long seen itself as a model for other civilizations to embrace in regard to values, institutions, and culture. But as Huntington pointed out in the cases of Chinese and Islamic civilizations, every civilization believes its culture to be superior. Perhaps the Chinese and Islamic civilizations bowed to the West while it was in power only because they felt they had to. They did not want to be threatened economically or militarily. And as Huntington has demonstrated throughout the book, "culture ... follows power." In light of this, it seems highly unlikely that the West will ever be able to shape and influence non-Western civilizations in the way it once did. It may be able to do this if it is able to regain the power it once wielded. Huntington points out that any other method would be defined as imperialism, and this ideology runs counter to the very notion of Western civilization since it is undemocratic.

Huntington reminds readers that the West is still valuable because of its uniqueness, not in spite of it. The one possible solution he proposes is that Western leaders stop attempting to "reshape other civilizations in the image of the West." Western leaders must preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization. This model of civilizational preservation sounds strikingly similar to the portrait of China that Huntington paints. China goes to great lengths to establish and take pride in its culture. Look inward rather than outward, Huntington hints. He reminds the reader again that "a multicultural America is impossible because a non-Western America is not American." This is his other prescription for Western civilization. His reasons are that it is much harder to find common beliefs and values among civilizations. It is impossible and irresponsible to promote the "supposedly universal features of one civilization" over another. The only moral level (which Huntington reluctantly posits) a universal civilization could agree on would be finding the common key values in their varying religions. This may be the only way to quell clashes and conflicts. But civilizations are historically unlikely to do the soul-searching and exploratory thinking required to figure out what they have in common with their perceived enemies.

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