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Huntington and the Rebirth of International Identity Politics

Based on a 1993 Foreign Affairs article,”The Clash of Civilizations?
In the wake of the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America in the mid-1980s onwards, America’s victory over the Soviet Union in 1991, and also dramatic economic changes in China, the international relations query of the 1990s seemed to be how fast nations would transition towards Western-style liberal democracies and market economies. Huntington disagreed and decided to clarify why.
After a brief 20th century hiatus dominated by ideological conflict, Huntington claimed that cultural and civilizational conflicts were swiftly reassuming critical significance. Far in the post-Communist world getting distinguished by liberal institutions and expectations, Huntington held that different classes and nations would be linked and characterized by civilizational bonds and likely to view additional ethnic groupings with diffidence and hostility.
Much of The Clash of Civilizations included marshalling evidence to confirm this claim. It pointedout for example, into the outbreak of conflicts in what Huntington introduced as civilizational border areas like Ukraine and Lebanon, or even the lands contested by China and India. Huntington especially stressed that China’s leadership was intentionally positioning their nation because of civilizational excellent power. In addition, he observed how more and more Muslims were highlighting Islam’s transnational character over other allegiances and behaving so –sometimes violently.
Huntington has been unpersuaded that such conflicts could be disregarded as lumps on the inevitable road to universal liberal order as individuals came into their rational actor senses and accompanied their economic self-interest. It demonstrated that political leaders required to begin questioning sacred cows such as multiculturalism, and stop assuming that economic freedom and prosperity has been the universal cure for spiritual and ethnic conflict.
An Angry Institution
To state that Huntington’s thesis sparked multiple controversies would be an understatement. Clients of the original article were alternatively infuriated, supportive, or jaded by its own argument. Huntington’s novel reflects his effort to respond comprehensively for this kaleidoscope of reactions, or, as he put it”into elaborate, refine, nutritional supplement, and, sometimes, be eligible the topics set forth in the report and also to create many thoughts and cover several topics not dealt with or touched upon only in passing in the report.”
Huntington’s growth of his positions generated even fiercer disagreements that have not actually gone away. Less-polemical variations of the same indictment aren’t tough to discover.
One could respond to such charges by posing questions such as: Is it racist to imply that particular cultural patterns developed and solidified over generations exert very powerful influences over choices made by people profoundly formed by a culture? Might it be racially-prejudiced to say the very different conceptions of God flocked to societies by small-o orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam have given rise to very disparate conceptions of freedom and justice which exercise considerable sway over the notion of people residing in particular cultural settings, whether they realize it or not? Or even more essentially: did Huntington claim at any stage that pale-skinned men and women are inherently superior to darker-toned individuals –or even vice-versa?
More compelling critiques of Huntington’s central claims concerned the adequacy of his social science. Most notably, an individual may point to numerous cases which contradict his heart argument. In our time, for instance, very few Islamic authorities have protested China’s unspeakable treatment of its Uyghur Muslims. So much for global Muslim solidarity. Similarly the increasing rapprochement between Israel and different Sunni Muslim Arab nations in light of some mutual danger in Shi’ite Muslim Arabian Iran doesn’t fit into Huntington’s paradigm. Nor do the ties between China and Iran which have developed over the previous ten years. In these and other instances, national and economic interests seem to trump transnational cultural-religious affinities.
Another problem with Huntington’s position was that a number of his civilizational groupings, especially his African American and Latin American groups, were much less exercised (even to his own gratification ) in comparison to his Western, Hindi, Sinic, Japanese, and Islamic classifications. Others questioned the sufficiency of Huntington’s picture of the cultures develop. Civilizations, argued the economist Amartya Sen, were more internally diverse than Huntington asserted.
The comprehensiveness with Huntington’s argument has been rejected by so many scholars suggests many possibilities. One is that Huntington’s concept was so eccentric and its flaws so evident it provoked such responses. The other is that Huntington was posing concerns that academic and diplomatic guilds had (including most of guilds) frozen out because they jeopardized established but redundant orthodoxies upon which many academic or diplomatic careers had been built.
Still another possibility is that Huntington had dared to query many assumptions which had acquired the status of becoming politically-correct. Could it be that not all cultures were alike compatible with values such as freedom or institutional settings such as constitutionalism? And if this was the situation, what would it mean to, say, the potential for particular minorities such as Muslims living in Western nations to adapt to standards that Westerners take for granted?
Huntington’s propositions also contested the adequacy of the several lenses through which most scholars watched the planet. Nor was there any lack of social scientists who had difficulty conceiving that something difficult to measure (like culture) nevertheless exerts tremendous influence. Above all, Huntington was questioning a consensus that had developed among some sections of academic and political opinion in the 1990s concerning what they considered to be liberalism’s coming ascendency following the collapse of its primary ideological competitor, Communism, in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
History Isn’t Ending
In later writings, Fukuyama additional more specificity to what he had in mind. In 2007, he stated that”The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by demonstrating a rule of law is considerably more consistent with a’post-historical’ universe than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.”
The problem with such contentions, Huntington claimed, was that civilizations and the differences which they embody were much more resilient than a Western social scientists were prepared to acknowledge. By this, Huntington didn’t indicate that civilizations don’t change. They clearly do. Some even die. But civilizations also embody considerable continuity, Huntington specified, insofar as”values, standards, institutions, and ways of thinking to which successive generations in a given society have attached chief importance” exceed the specifics of certain regimes and economic systems.
Of all these features, Huntington identified religion as especially important. It was not a question of how lots of people in a given society practiced the prevailing religion. That constantly varies. But religion and spiritual civilization, Huntington argued, helped to make civilizations”comprehensive.” “[N]none of the constituent parts,” he said,”can be understood with regard to the surrounding civilization.” France and Australia can be independent sovereign-states at different ends of the world. However both derive a lot of the civilizational identity from Western Religious premises and emphases. Similarly Yemen and Malaysia are rather dissimilar nations. Neither, however, is clear without reference to the dominant religion prevailing within their respective boundaries and those of many different nations and therefore the history and culture associated with this religion.
Throughout The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington introduced the West as a relatively homogenous whole. Huntington did not deny that Italy is not Britain, or California is not Indiana, or Paris is not Canberra. There were, Huntington acknowledged, different”levels” of individuality. Yet, he added, the”biggest’we’ in which we feel at home since distinguished from all of the different’thems’ out there” has been civilizational identity. This is why your average New Zealander will more 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 civilization are very universalized across the world in ways quite unlike another. Certainly, some may argue, countries like Indonesia are far more efficiently and politically much like nations including Britain than they had been 500 or even 1000 years ago. They have been like the West–not the other way round. But herein lies one of Huntington’s most important insights: it is a mistake to conflate modernization with Westernization.
Western culture’s core measurements, Huntington stated, had congealed together by the early modern period. The various Enlightenments sharpened the sway of some of those features and dulled others but didn’t, from Huntington’s perspective, substantially change the principles.
On Huntington’s mind, modernization–that he recognized to be the Scientific Revolution and”industrialization, urbanization, increasing levels of education, education, prosperity, and social mobilization, along with more complicated and diversified occupational structures”–emerged from this Western ethnic milieu. The fact, however, a civilization underwent modernization didn’t necessarily indicate it was embracing Western (let alone liberal) beliefs.
2016 underscored the political authority of individuality inside the West. People hunted for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert national sovereignty and therefore a different individuality was one strand joining individuals who listened about many different difficulties. So too the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ want to reevaluate that which they saw as the American country’s particular interests within the globalist concerns that apparently preoccupied their political leaders.Time might be bearing out the weight of that claim. India’s continuing promotion of pro-growth coverages has gone with successive Hindu nationalist authorities trying to marginalize India’s Muslim minority, even to the verge of trying to strip several Muslims of the citizenship. Likewise China’s economic modernization has not led it to embrace liberal ideals and ideals. Instead, the regime and a lot of the populace increasingly stress the country’s civilizational distinctiveness as well as authoritarian strands of Confucian thought and also the long tradition of centralized rule that preceded the institution of the People’s Republic in 1949. Beijing’s practice of repressing particular groups considered possible sources of uncertainty such as Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Chinese Christians, it ought to be said, are part and parcel of traditional Chinese government as opposed to simply reflecting Marxist ideological demands.
Similar patterns are observable in Turkey. From Kemal Ataturk onwards, most Turkish authorities participated in a top-down effort to modernize and westernize their nation concurrently. Modernization certainly occurred.
To this, an individual may insert that modernization programs embarked upon by many non-Western political celebrities in the late-19th century were never primarily about Westernization. More recent research have illustrated that serial Ottoman authorities’ adoption of Western technologies, military techniques, and organizational forms didn’t involve acceptance of Western standards. Ottoman reformers consistently associated their efforts together with, as just a Middle East historian finds,”Islam, the sultan and caliph, the glories of the Ottoman and Islamic past, and the hoped-for come back to splendor and ancestral power”
Building factories is one thing but comprehensively adopting Western values is rather another. Just as 19th-century Japan’s embrace of Western technologies and some Western-style political structures did not suggest abandoning distinctive features of Japanese culture such as the bushido honor code or Shintoism, nor does a modern Pakistani’s utilization of an iPhone mean he will eventually accept the idea of religious tolerance. New technology and modern political institutions don’t necessarily alter your awareness of who you are or what you consider important. They can even turn into a way for strengthening and dispersing long-standing cultural intangibles during all levels of society.
The Development of Civilization States
However, he also thought this hegemony could be contested on a cultural level: a lot so that”a central part of post-Cold War world politics” will be”the interaction of Western power and culture with the power and culture of non-Western civilizations.”
After 9/11, this and other claims made in Huntington’s book acquired considerable traction. Those likely to see religion as a atavistic holdover needed to face the truth that many Western-educated, young Middle-Eastern Islamic men from relatively wealthy backgrounds such as the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and individuals who planned the surgery including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hadn’t turned into”like us” following exposure to Western societies characterized by liberal constitutionalism and market economies. Neither economic affluence nor the expertise of bourgeois standards had mollified their views. If anything, their antipathy towards the West have grown.
Renewed attention to Huntington’s notion has also been generated by the emergence over the past twenty years of regimes which present their nations as more than merely another nation. It’s easy to dismiss people like Turkey’s Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, or even India’s Narendra Modi because cynically using civilizational motifs to combine their power against internal and foreign competitors. Yet these nations do belong into different civilizational traditions. Moreover, when their political leaders speak in civilizational terms, their clear aim is to draw upon such cultural and historical sources as a way of forming modern realities.
It is not coincidental, for example, that Xi and other major Chinese political characters consistently refer to”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 where he described the founding of the People’s Republic as terminating that timing of abasement and marking the beginning of the rejuvenation of a 5,000 year-old civilization. Beijing’s contemporary efforts to establish a really global place for China in the 21st century sun can’t be easily separated from this feeling of cultural history and recovery.
Similarly Putin is not making it up when he claims that Russia”has evolved… because of state‑civilization, reinforced by the Russian people, Russian language, Russian culture, Russian Orthodox Church and the country’s other traditional religions.” Authoritarian statism was central to Russia’s political culture for decades. That tradition has gone awry using expansionism on Russia’s part. This is one reason why the period of Russian retraction that occurred after the break-up of the USSR and Moscow’s hegemony over Eastern Europe and Central Asia seems totally 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 first to recognize as a element which would reshape post-Communist global politics: the reemergence of individuality as a central pivot of international relations.
The barbarous wars marking Yugoslavia’s breakup through the 1990s dramatically highlighted Huntington’s point. Ethno-cultural consolidation has been that the priority–not exchange associations between Croatia and Serbia. Similarly, no amount of promised liberalization by Mikhail Gorbachev was ever going to convince Lithuanians and Estonians their future lay at a changed marriage of nations where Russia remained the headboard.
Across the Muslim world, Huntington said that individuals were abandoning those 20th century nationalisms which had given room for non-Muslims. Many were associating themselves with various pan-Islamic identities which jumped together people as far apart as Brunei and Senegal while concurrently excluding groups that their families had lived alongside for centuries. In the procedure for duking it out with Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, actually after relatively secular Muslim Bosnians found themselves identifying with the struggles of other Muslims in neighboring lands, and then reverted to different jihadist groups inside and outside Europe.
2016 underscored the political authority of individuality inside the West. People hunted for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert national sovereignty and therefore a different individuality was one strand joining individuals who listened about many different difficulties. So too the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ want to reevaluate that which they saw as the American country’s particular interests within the globalist issues that apparently preoccupied their political leaders.
In both instances, the economic dimension of questions like immigration and trade were subordinated to the related topics of individuality and national sovereignty. If Britain had to leave the free trade zone of the EU to reestablish its sovereignty, or if America needed to renegotiate NAFTA because it was deemed crucial to provide more job security for Americans, then make it. The bonds and obligations associated with shared viability were eclipsing economics.
Davos Man Cometh
Not everybody in the West has celebrated identity’s reassertion as a element in international and domestic politics. However, this dissatisfaction, shown with the lengths to which most British political leaders proceeded to attempt to nullify Brexit later 2016, also points to some substantial weakness in Huntington’s debate: his underestimation of the degree to which Western nations would become splintered over individuality and cultural concerns.
Davos Man has been Huntington’s shorthand way of explaining those American”professors, global civil servants and leaders in global companies, as well as effective high-technology entrepreneurs” who”have little demand for national loyalty, view national boundaries as hurdles that thankfully are vanishing, and also see national authorities as residues from yesteryear whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations” On an individual level, this fragmentation owes something to the hostile perspective of Western civilization which has prevailed in several Western universities as well as other culture-forming institutions since the 1960s. When Western civilization is effectively equated with innumerable oppressions that have to be unmasked in the name of various liberations, many people’s willingness to identify with the West is inevitably corroded. The eruption of wokeness, and how it reflects a disintegration at multiple heights of how lots of people in Western nations recognize themselves vis-à-vis their cultural and national heritages, is not something that Huntington’s thesis anticipated or can account for. Such trends have been exacerbated by the implosion and marginalization of the West’s two central faiths–Judaism and Christianity–from several Western nations as well as their replacement with causes such as environmentalism which have acquired quasi-religious status. If, since Huntington posits, religion is central to any culture’s self-understanding, a fading of its grip upon people’s creativity will facilitate broader cultural transformations.
Another internal Western division unforeseen by the Clash of Civilizations worries a sharp division focused around the country’s place in international affairs. On one side of this split are those Westerners who widely see the world in liberal transnational and technocratic terms–as a tool to be handled towards the realization of deeper economic integration, stronger cultural ties and institutions, and also the spread of real liberal values. On the other side are those who regard supranational projects as utopian daydreaming and invariably degenerating into rule by unaccountable self-selecting bureaucracies. What matters, they think, are both local, regional, and national identities and their inherent cultural and spiritual origins. These are regarded as far more historically grounded than supranational entities and a stronger foundation for freedom compared to edicts from Brussels or even UN declarations.
Huntington himself comprehended this division was assuming increasing importance in several Western nations. He summed up the very polarizing kind of figure inside this happening in a famous phrase:”Davos Man.”
Named after the place where the World Economic Forum meets each calendar year, Davos Man has been Huntington’s shorthand way of explaining those American”professors, global civil servants and leaders in global companies, as well as successful high-technology entrepreneurs” who”have little demand for national loyalty, perspective national boundaries as hurdles that thankfully are vanishing, and also see national authorities as residues from yesteryear whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations” Ranged against them, he claimed, was the remainder of America. These Americans have become increasingly patriotic and more and more attached to the sort of national bonds which Davos Man saw as redundant. “The public is ” Huntington stated,”elites transnationalist.”
Measuring Success
Since Huntington penned those words, divisions derived from this particular realignment have upturned politics indoors and between Western nations. In this respect, he turned out to be prescient. But it was also an insight which did not conform to this distinct civilizational schema laid out by Huntington in the 1990s. The rise of Davos Man has been, after all, significantly less about clashes between different civilizational classes than a debate about standing, loyalty, and identity within the West.
That said, admitting the saliency of intra-Western conflicts is compatible with holding that international relations is being formed by regimes and political moves that see the planet in civilizational-like conditions which bridge the past and present. In that way, Huntington’s prognosis for global politics turned out to be correct about some important trends that would form the post-Cold War world.
As time passes , the insufficiencies of some concept that tries to supply an extensive explanation of what is happening in the world become more and more evident –often to the point of entirely discrediting the thesis. What counts as victory would be whether a grand narrative creates wider consciousness of realities that individuals who dominate the discourse have attempted to dismiss, compels open new and lasting disagreements, and highlights the weaknesses and fallacies of dominant theories. By that standard, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations stays a text that, for most of its weaknesses, not even the very populous Eurocrat, persuaded liberal internationalist, or even a professional of Bismarckian realpolitik is able to dismiss today.