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 | Summary



Part 1: A World of Civilizations

Cultural and civilizational identities have become increasingly meaningful to people in different civilizations since the ending of the Cold War. These strengthening identities have shaped global politics, deepening divisions between civilizations, shaping both conflicts and alliances. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, distinctions among civilizations have become cultural rather than political. This allowed non-Western civilizations to develop greater economic wealth and influence as they were able to assert their own cultural values. While similar civilizations grow more united through their cultural similarities, divisions between different civilizations deepen. This also means that the power and influence of Western civilization are in decline. Another byproduct of civilizational identification is an increase in religious fundamentalism, since religion is one of the greatest unifiers.

The very concept of multiple civilizations shows that there can be no one standard to measure each other against. Since civilizations have no precise boundaries, they change over time, evolving and adapting. Relationships among civilizations have evolved along the lines of contact, with the West conquering the most territory and thereby becoming the most influential. Yet the inevitable response to this expansion was a backlash against Western interference, creating tensions and opportunities for civilizational clashes. Economic interdependence, too, also creates more opportunities for disagreements and wars. Modernization has "Westernized" many civilizations. But some have shown that they are able to reject Westernism while embracing modernism. This, in turn, allows civilizations to strengthen their own cultural identities.

Part 2: The Shifting Balance of Civilizations

Although the West could argue that it is the dominant power globally, other evidence suggests that the world's economic power is shifting to East Asia. This weakening of the West's influence means that other civilizations are becoming less willing to accept its assertions of dominance. This rejection, in turn, decreases Western confidence. As China grows stronger and bolder, it signals to other civilizations that rejecting Western culture is okay. As non-Western civilizations gain increasing access to literacy, education, and urbanization, so too are they able to shape their societies. The distribution of cultures also mirrors the distribution of power globally.

A global revival of religions has also taken place. As ideologies such as communism have collapsed, religion has become an alternative institution. Economics is another factor determining the new hierarchy of civilizations, with development in East Asia being the most significant. This development thereby alters the balance of power between Asia and the West. Other non-Western civilizations emulate Asia rather than the West. The other rising power is that of Islam. A booming Muslim population turns toward religion as a source of identity and civilizational development. Islam accepts modernity. But it rejects Western culture and aims for fundamental reform as it provides schools, health care, and community support that the government does not.

Part 3: The Emerging Order of Civilizations

Modernization has contributed to global politics becoming realigned along cultural lines. This, in turn, deepens the divide between civilizations with different cultures. Civilizational differences then become the central source of global conflicts. Modernization also brings people of different civilizations in increasingly close proximity, providing more occasions for misunderstanding and conflict. Regional conflicts have replaced global conflicts as the source of clashes initiated and reverberating outward. These clashes can also produce torn or cleft countries. A cleft country, such as Ukraine or French Guiana, is divided along different civilizations that are forced to live among one another. Core states have replaced the two superpowers of the Cold War as the epicenters of attraction or rejection by other countries. This makes the concept of a global community obsolete as core states become individual sources of order within each civilization.

Part 4: Clash of Civilizations

As cultural divisions between civilizations deepen, relationships between them will drift apart and become increasingly antagonistic. Small-scale clashes will escalate into global clashes, in contrast to the top-down influence that occurred during the Cold War. The West's attempts to influence non-Western civilizations will be met with hostility and resentment. The common enemy of the West will likely create common interests. Many non-Western civilizations have begun stockpiling nuclear weapons. This is an attempt to assert their dominance and guarantee that the West won't take military action against them. This approach diffuses global power since no one civilization can dominate another. The West believed it had ushered in democracy to non-Western civilizations. But those democracies have voted for anti-Western leaders who disagree with the West over issues of human rights and immigration.

Fault line conflicts occur as intercivilizational conflicts between neighboring states from different civilizations. These conflicts are seen most commonly between Muslims and non-Muslims. Cultural differences serve only to sharpen these conflicts. Such a quasi-war has developed between Islam and the West. Yet the other clash the West faces is with the rising economic successes of China. These tensions have become central to global politics, and the resulting fault line wars are often difficult to resolve through negotiations and compromise. "Hate dynamics" emerge, painting the battles in terms of "us versus them," which exacerbates mutual distrust and fear. Fault line wars tend to escalate since they reverberate outward from communities to core states and kin countries. While they may halt for a period of time, they rarely end forever because of the deep identity divisions between groups of different civilizations. It usually takes the intervention of a core state, and even then its leaders may be painted as traitors.

Part 5: The Future of Civilizations

Every civilization wants to believe in its own immortality and potential for power. The paradox is that every civilization throughout history has believed this—even the ones that have ultimately ended. Although the West has had the most overwhelming impact on all other civilizations, its immortality is not guaranteed. It faces various civilizational threats, from both the Islamic Resurgence and the economic dynamism of Asia. Once the West has no more room to expand itself militarily, politically, and economically, it will inevitably decline. Then it may no longer be able to defend itself. Although civilizations can and have renewed themselves, the future health of the West relies on its ability to preserve its own culture and influence. Its biggest threat is that of multiculturalism, which threatens to replace Westernism because it eradicates the uniqueness of Western culture. Cultural coexistence is possible only insofar as civilizations are able to find commonalities rather than promote a model universal civilization.

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