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Huntington and the Rebirth of International Identity Politics

25 decades ago, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008) published a book which continues to elicit sharply polarized reactions. ,” Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996) argued that the primary force driving post-Cold War global politics would be”battle between groups from different civilizations.”

In the wake of the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America from the mid-1980s onwards, America’s triumph over the Soviet Union in 1991, and also spectacular economic changes in China, the international connections wonder of the 1990s seemed to be how fast nations would transition involving Western-style liberal democracies and market economies. Huntington disagreed and chose to describe why.

After a brief 20th century hiatus dominated by ideological battle, Huntington maintained that the cultural and civilizational battles were quickly reassuming critical significance. Far from the post-Communist world becoming distinguished by liberal associations and expectations, Huntington maintained that different groups and nations would be increasingly linked and defined by civilizational bonds and inclined to view additional ethnic groupings with diffidence and morals.

A lot of the Clash of Civilizations included marshalling evidence to confirm that claim. It pointedout for example, into the outbreak of battles in what Huntington presented as civilizational border regions like Ukraine and Lebanon, or even the lands contested by China and India. Huntington especially stressed that China’s leadership has been intentionally positioning their country as a civilizational great power. In addition, he observed how more and more Muslims were highlighting Islam’s transnational character along with other allegiances and behaving so –sometimes .

Huntington was unpersuaded that such conflicts could be disregarded as bumps on the inevitable road to international liberal order because people came into their rational actor senses and followed their economical self-interest. It followed that responsible political leaders required to start questioning holy cows like multiculturalism, and quit imagining that economic freedom and wealth was the universal remedy for spiritual and cultural conflict.

An Angry Institution

To say that Huntington’s thesis sparked multiple controversies would be an understatement. Readers of the original article were alternatively infuriated, supportive, or jaded by its argument. Huntington’s novel reflects his effort to respond comprehensively for this kaleidoscope of responses, or, as he put it”into elaborate, refine, supplement, and, on occasion, be eligible the topics put forth in the article and to create many thoughts and cover many subjects not dealt with or touched upon only in passing in the report.”

Huntington’s creation of his ranks generated even fiercer debates that have not really gone away. Less-polemical versions of the same indictment are not tricky to discover.

One could respond to such fees by posing questions such as: Is it possible to imply that cultural patterns developed and solidified over generations apply really powerful influences over decisions made by men and women profoundly formed with a culture? Is it racially-prejudiced to state that the very distinct conceptions of God imparted to societies from small-o orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam have given rise to very disparate conceptions of freedom and justice that exercise considerable influence over the thought of people living in particular ethnic preferences, whether they realize it or not? Or maybe more basically: did Huntington assert at any stage that pale-skinned individuals are somehow inherently superior to darker-toned men –or even vice-versa?

More persuasive critiques of both Huntington’s central claims concerned the adequacy of the social science. Most notably, an individual can point to many cases that contradict his heart argument. So much for global Muslim solidarity. Similarly the increasing rapprochement between Israel and various Sunni Muslim Arab nations in light of some mutual danger from Shi’ite Muslim Arabian Iran does not match into Huntington’s paradigm. Nor do the close ties between China and Iran that have developed over the previous ten decades. In these and other scenarios, federal and financial interests seem to trump transnational cultural-religious affinities.

Another issue with Huntington’s place was that some of his own civilizational groupings, especially his African American and Latin American categories, were much less worked out (even to his own gratification ) in comparison to his Western, Hindi, Sinic, Japanese, and Muslim groups. Others challenged the sufficiency of Huntington’s picture of how civilizations develop. Civilizations, argued the economist Amartya Sen, were internally diverse than Huntington asserted.

The comprehensiveness using Huntington’s argument was rejected by a lot of scholars suggests many possibilities. One is that Huntington’s theory was so eccentric and its flaws therefore evident that it provoked such responses. Still another is that Huntington had been posing concerns that diplomatic and academic guilds had (such as most of guilds) suspended out since they threatened established but reckless orthodoxies upon that many academic or diplomatic careers were assembled.

Yet another possibility is that Huntington had dared to query many assumptions that had acquired the status of being politically-correct. Could it be that not all civilizations were just compatible with values like freedom or institutional preferences like constitutionalism? And if that was the situation, what did it mean for, say, the potential for particular minorities like Muslims living in Western nations to adapt to norms that Westerners take for granted?

Huntington’s propositions also contested the adequacy of the several lenses through which numerous scholars perceived the world. It had been hard for some economists to hear that economic self-interest may not be quite the driving force of history that they imagined it to be. Nor was there any lack of social scientists that had trouble conceiving that some thing hard to quantify (like civilization ) nonetheless exerts tremendous influence.

History Is Not End

This publication superbly suggested that background would culminate in, as Fukuyama wrote in an earlier post that the”universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” In later writings, Fukuyama additional more specificity to which he had in mind. In 2007, he said that”The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and standard power politics by demonstrating a transnational rule of law is a lot more in line with a’post-historical’ world than the Americans’ ongoing belief in God, domestic sovereignty, and their military.”

The issue with such contentions, Huntington maintained, was that cultures and the differences that they embody were much more resilient than a Western social scientists were prepared to admit. By this, Huntington did not signify that civilizations do not change. They obviously do. Some even die. But cultures additionally embody considerable continuity, Huntington stated, insofar as”values, norms, institutions, and modes of thinking to that successive generations in a specific society have attached chief importance” exceed the particulars of certain regimes and financial systems.

Of all these characteristics, Huntington identified faith as especially significant. It wasn’t a question of how lots of folks in a specific society practiced the prevailing religion. That constantly varies. But faith and spiritual civilization, Huntington claimed, helped to make cultures”comprehensive.” “[N]not one of their constituent components,” he said,”might be understood without reference to the encompassing culture.” France and Australia might be independent sovereign-states at different ends of earth. However both derive a lot of their civilizational identity from Western Christian premises and emphases. Similarly Yemen and Malaysia are rather dissimilar nations. Neither, however, is comprehensible without reference to the dominant faith prevailing within their respective boundaries and people of many different nations and therefore the culture and history connected with that religion.

Through The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington presented the West as a somewhat homogenous whole. Huntington didn’t deny that Italy isn’t Britain, or that California isn’t Indiana, or that Paris isn’t Canberra. There were, Huntington confessed, distinct”amounts” of identity. However , he added, the”biggest’we’ in that we feel at home as distinguished from all of the different’thems’ on the market” was civilizational identity. That is why your average New Zealander will likely feel at home in Switzerland compared to Iran or even Mongolia.

Modernization Isn’t Westernization

One objection to this line of thought is all that aspects of Western culture are very universalized across the planet in a way quite unlike another. Certainly, some might argue, states like Indonesia are more efficiently and politically much like nations like Britain than they had been 500 or even 1000 decades ago. They’ve been like the West–not the other way round.

Western culture’s core measurements, Huntington said, had congealed jointly from the early modern period. Under this rubric, Huntington comprised the Greco-Romano and Jewish heritages, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, a strong differentiation between temporal and religious authority, multilingualism coupled with one leading language (Latin, then French, now English) for elites, societal pluralism, individualism, rule of law, and an emphasis on ideology. The different Enlightenments sharpened the influence of a few of those features and dulled other people but did not, from Huntington’s standpoint, substantially alter the principles.

To Huntington’s brain, modernization–that he recognized are the Scientific Revolution plus”industrialization, urbanization, increasing levels of education, education, wealth, and social mobilization, and more complicated and diversified occupational structures”–emerged from this Western ethnic milieu. The simple fact, however, that a civilization underwent modernization did not automatically signify that it had been adopting Western (let alone liberal) faith.

2016 underscored the political authority of identity within the West. People searched for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert federal sovereignty and therefore a distinct identity was one strand joining people who otherwise disagreed about many different problems. So too the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ want to prioritize that which they saw as the American state’s particular interests within the globalist worries that apparently preoccupied their political leaders.Time may be stand out the weight of the claim. India’s continuing promotion of pro-growth policies has gone together with consecutive Hindu nationalist governments trying to marginalize India’s Muslim minority, even to the purpose of trying to strip many Muslims of their Indian citizenship. Similarly China’s financial modernization has not led it to embrace liberal ideals and ideals. Rather, the plan and a lot of the populace increasingly stress the country’s civilizational distinctiveness as well as authoritarian strands of Confucian thought and the very long tradition of centralized rule that preceded the institution of the People’s Republic in 1949. Beijing’s custom of repressing specific groups considered potential sources of uncertainty like Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Chinese Christians, it ought to be said, are a part and parcel of traditional Chinese government as opposed to simply reflecting Marxist socioeconomic demands.

Similar patterns are observable in Turkey. From Kemal Ataturk onwards, Turkish governments engaged in a top notch effort to modernize and westernize their country concurrently. Modernization certainly occurred. Now, however, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his followers ‘ are highlighting Turkey’s continuity with its Ottoman and Islamic past while portraying the West as exhausted. Erdogan’s 2020 decision to convert Istanbul’s historic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque following a court annulled a 1934 presidential decree turning it into a museum reflects this process of cultural-repositioning.

To this, an individual can insert that modernization programs embarked upon by most non-Western political celebrities at the late-19th century were never mostly about Westernization. More recent research have shown that successive Ottoman governments’ adoption of Western technology, military procedures, and organizational forms did not involve approval of Western norms.

Building factories is one thing but comprehensively adopting Western values is rather another. Just as 19th-century Japan’s embrace of Western technology and some Western-style political structures didn’t imply abandoning identifying features of Japanese culture like the bushido honor code or Shintoism, nor does a modern Pakistani’s utilization of an iPhone imply that he will accept the idea of religious tolerance. New technology and modern political institutions do not necessarily alter your sense of who you are or whatever you believe significant. They can even become a way for reinforcing and dispersing longstanding cultural intangibles during all levels of society.

The Development of Civilization States

Although he disassociated modernization from Westernization, Huntington nevertheless believed that the 21st century West–by which he meant Anglosphere nations like America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well as Western, Central, Mediterranean, and Baltic Europe–would remain politically, economically, and militarily dominant. However, he also thought that this hegemony would be contested on a cultural level: so much so that”a fundamental part of post-Cold War world politics” would be”the discussion of Western culture and power with all the culture and power of non-Western civilizations.”

After 9/11, this and other claims created in Huntington’s publication acquired considerable grip. Those inclined to see faith as an atavistic holdover needed to face the fact that lots of Western-educated, youthful Middle-Eastern Muslim guys from relatively affluent backgrounds such as the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and individuals that planned the operation like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hadn’t become”like us” following exposure to Western societies characterized by liberal constitutionalism and promote savings. Neither financial affluence nor the experience of bourgeois norms had mollified their perspectives. If anything, their antipathy towards the West had increased.

Renewed focus on Huntington’s thought has also been created from the emergence over the past twenty decades of regimes that present their nations as more than just another country. Nevertheless these nations do belong into distinct civilizational traditions. Furthermore, when their political leaders speak in civilizational terms, their apparent intent is to draw upon such cultural and historical sources as a way of forming modern realities.

It isn’t coincidental, for example, that Xi and other leading Chinese political characters always reference”the century of humiliation” that China endured roughly between 1839 and 1949 at the hands of Western powers as well as Russia and Japan. In 2019, Xi gave a speech in which he explained the founding of the People’s Republic as terminating the period of abasement and signaling the beginning of the rejuvenation of a 5,000 year-old culture. Beijing’s modern efforts to establish a truly global place for China in the 21st century sun can not be readily separated from this sense of cultural heritage and recovery.

Similarly Putin isn’t making it up when he claims that Russia”has evolved… as a state‑civilization, bolstered from the Russian people, Russian language, Russian culture, Russian Orthodox Church and the country’s other traditional religions.” Authoritarian statism was fundamental to Russia’s political civilization for centuries. That is one reason why the span of Russian retraction that occurred after the break-up of the USSR and Moscow’s hegemony over Eastern Europe and Central Asia appears entirely unnatural to folks like Putin but also many ordinary Russians.

Identity, Identity, Identity

These developments point to something else that Huntington’s novel was among the very first to comprehend as a factor that would reshape post-Communist international politics: the reemergence of identity as a fundamental pivot of international relations.

The barbarous wars signaling Yugoslavia’s breakup throughout the 1990s dramatically emphasized Huntington’s point. Ethno-cultural consolidation was that the priority–not trade relations between Croatia and Serbia. Similarly, no amount of promised liberalization from Mikhail Gorbachev was ever going to persuade Lithuanians and Estonians that their future lay at a transformed union of nations in which Russia remained the headboard.

Around the Muslim world, Huntington statedthat people were left handed those 20th century nationalisms that had supplied room for non-Muslims. Many were linking themselves with different pan-Islamic identities that jumped together folks as far apart as Brunei and Senegal while concurrently excluding groups that their households had lived jointly for centuries. In the process of duking it out with Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, actually once relatively secular Muslim Bosnians found themselves identifying with all the battles of other Muslims in suburban lands, also subsequently rallying to several jihadist groups inside and outside Europe.

2016 underscored the political authority of identity within the West. People searched for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert federal sovereignty and therefore a distinct identity was one strand joining people who otherwise disagreed about many different problems. So too the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ want to prioritize that which they saw as the American state’s particular interests within the globalist issues that apparently preoccupied their leaders.

In both instances, the financial measurement of questions like trade and immigration were subordinated to the issues of identity and national sovereignty. If Britain had to leave the free trade zone of the EU to reestablish its sovereignty, or when America needed to renegotiate NAFTA since it had been deemed crucial to provide more job protection for Americans, then so be it. The bonds and obligations connected with shared viability were eclipsing economics.

Davos Man Cometh

Not everyone in the West has celebrated individuality’s reassertion as a factor in domestic and international politics. However, this dissatisfaction, exhibited by the lengths to which numerous British political leaders went to try and nullify Brexit later 2016, also points to some significant weakness in Huntington’s argument: his own underestimation of the degree to which Western nations would become splintered over cultural and identity questions.

Davos Man was Huntington’s shorthand method of explaining those American”professors, global civil servants and executives in global businesses, as well as effective high-technology entrepreneurs” that”have very little demand for federal devotion, see national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are evaporating, and also see federal governments as residues from the past whose only useful purpose is to ease the elite’s global operations.” On one level, this fragmentation owes something to the competitive perspective of Western culture that has prevailed in many Western universities and other culture-forming institutions since the 1960s. When Western civilization is effectively contrasted with innumerable oppressions that must be unmasked at the name of different liberations, lots of people’s willingness to identify with the West is inevitably corroded. Even the eruption of all wokeness, and how it reflects a disintegration at multiple levels of how lots of folks in Western nations understand themselves vis-à-vis their national and cultural heritages, isn’t something that Huntington’s thesis likely or can account for. Such trends are exacerbated with the implosion and marginalization of the West’s two fundamental faiths–Judaism and Christianity–from many Western nations and their replacement with causes like environmentalism that have acquired quasi-religious status. If, as Huntington posits, faith is fundamental to any culture’s self-understanding, a fading of its own grip upon people’s creativity will facilitate wider cultural transformations.

Another inner Western branch unforeseen from the Clash of Civilizations concerns a sharp branch focused around the country’s place in international affairs. On the side of this split are those Westerners who widely find the planet in liberal transnational and technocratic conditions –as a tool to be managed towards the understanding of deeper economic integration, even stronger transnational ties and associations, and the spread of secular liberal values. On the opposite side are people who regard supranational projects as utopian daydreaming and always degenerating into rule by unaccountable self-selecting bureaucracies. What things, they think, are both local, regional, and national identities and their underlying cultural and spiritual roots. All these are regarded as far more grounded than supranational entities and a stronger foundation for freedom compared to edicts from Brussels or even UN declarations.

Huntington himself comprehended that this branch was assuming increasing importance in many Western nations. He awakened the most polarizing type of figure in this happening in a famous expression:”Davos Man.”

Named after the location where the World Economic Forum meets each calendar year, Davos Man was Huntington’s shorthand method of explaining those American”professors, global civil servants and executives in global businesses, as well as successful high-technology entrepreneurs” that”have very little demand for federal devotion, perspective national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are evaporating, and also see federal governments as residues from the past whose only useful purpose is to ease the elite’s global operations.” Ranged against them, he claimed, was the rest of America. These Americans have become increasingly patriotic and more and more attached to the sort of federal bonds that Davos Man saw as redundant.

Measuring Success

Since Huntington composed those words, branches derived from this specific realignment have upturned politics within and between Western nations. In this respect, he turned out to be prescient. However, it was likewise an insight that didn’t adapt to this specific civilizational schema laid out from Huntington in the 1990s. The growth of Davos Man was, after all, even significantly less about clashes between distinct civilizational groups than a debate about status, devotion, and identity within the West.

Nevertheless, admitting the saliency of all intra-Western battles is compatible with holding that international relations is being formed by regimes and political moves that see the world in civilizational-like conditions that bridge the past and present. In that way, Huntington’s outlook for global politics turned out to be correct about some critical tendencies that would form the post-Cold War universe.

Over time, the insufficiencies of almost any theory that attempts to give an extensive explanation of what is going on in the world become increasingly more evident –often to the point of entirely discrediting the thesis. What counts as success would be if a grand story generates wider awareness of realities that individuals who rule the discourse have tried to dismiss, compels open fresh and lasting debates, also highlights the flaws and fallacies of hitherto dominant theories. By that standard, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations stays a text that, for most of its flaws, not even the most earnest Eurocrat, convinced liberal internationalist, or even devout practitioner of Bismarckian realpolitik can afford to dismiss today.