Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Clash of Civilizations, agaaaaaaaaaaaaaain

Samuel Huntington, in his work, “The Clash of Civilizations,” sees that the world is organized at the macro level in “civilizations” or the largest group to which a people will consider themselves as part of a “broader cultural entity.” (Huntington 1993) Huntington argues that the frontiers that exist between civilizations in the physical world as areas of friction that are likely to erupt into full scale conflict. He takes a realist’s view of the world and notes that there are places all over the world where groups from different civilizations are in conflict. Huntington extrapolates these examples into a thesis that predicts that in those areas where disparate civilizations exist across a frontier will feature conflict.

The thesis is less than satisfactory in describing the conflict between the Communism and democracy, and the current conflict between radical Islam and democracy. Communism does not seem to meet Huntington’s description of “civilization,” but for 45 years, the main area of friction in international relations was between communism and democratic countries. Forces were literally arrayed across from one another in Western Europe, the Florida Straits, the Korean DMZ, the Taiwan Straits, Vietnam and in Africa. Civilizations did not seem to matter in that conflict, but ideology certainly did. Likewise in the current conflict, ideology is the most important trait of those in conflict. Huntington, were he alive, would look at the current range of conflicts; 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, India, sub-Saharan Africa and seen Islam in conflict with the West, Hindus, Slavs and Africans. But that seems overly complicated. The current battles are between adherents of the most radical strains of Islam against anyone who believes anything else. Radical Islam is relentless, aggressive and willing to confront anyone. Although Kennan was writing about communism in his essay “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” his words are nonetheless prescient in the current conflict. “It cannot easily be defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion, but only by intelligent long range policies on the part of [radical Islam’s] adversaries – policies no less variegated and resourceful in their application than those of [radical Islam] itself.” (Kennan 1947, 861) A virulent ideology, with a worldwide presence challenging any country or people who do not believe, this goes beyond civilization and goes to ideas. The real frontier in the world is not based on characteristics but on the ideas that the people hold. Where those ideas are in tension, so too will be people and countries.

Sources Cited

Cashman, Greg. 1993. What Causes War? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Doughtery, James E. and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. 2001. Contending Theories of International Relations: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: Longman.

Huntington, Samuel. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Foreign Affairs 72:3.

Kennan, George. 1947. "Sources of Soviet Conduct." Foreign Affairs 26:2.

Little, Richard. 2007. The Balance of Power in International Relations: Metaphors, Myths and Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morgenthau, Hans. 1978. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, Revised. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974. The modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.

Waltz, Kenneth. 1992. “Realist Thought and Neorealist Theory” in Robert L. Rothstein and William T.R. Fox, The Evolution of Theory in International Relations. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.