Huntington and the Rebirth of International Identity Politics

In the wake of the fall 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 dramatic economic changes in China, the global connections question of the 1990s seemed to be how quickly nations would transition towards Western-style liberal democracies and market economies. Huntington disagreed and decided to describe why.
After a short 20th century hiatus dominated by ideological conflict, Huntington claimed that the cultural and civilizational battles were swiftly reassuming decisive significance. Far from the post-Communist world becoming characterized by liberal associations and expectations, Huntington maintained that different groups and nations are increasingly linked and characterized by civilizational bonds and inclined to view other cultural groupings together with diffidence and morals.
A lot of the Clash of Civilizations involved marshalling evidence to confirm this claim. It pointedout as an instance, to the outbreak of battles in what Huntington presented as civilizational border areas like Ukraine and Lebanon, or the territories contested by China and India. Huntington particularly stressed that China’s leadership had been consciously positioning their nation as a civilizational great power. He also observed how much more and more Muslims were emphasizing Islam’s transnational character along with other allegiances and behaving accordingly–sometimes .
Huntington has been unpersuaded that these conflicts could be disregarded as lumps on the inevitable road to global liberal arrangement as people came to their rational celebrity adventures and accompanied their economical self-interest. It followed that responsible political leaders required to begin questioning sacred cows such as multiculturalism, and quit assuming that economic freedom and prosperity has been the universal remedy for spiritual and cultural conflict.
An Angry Establishment
To say that Huntington’s thesis sparked numerous controversies are an understatement. Readers of the original article proved alternatively infuriated, supportive, or jaded by its argument. Huntington’s novel reflects his attempt to respond comprehensively to the kaleidoscope of reactions, or, as he put it,”to elaborate, refine, nutritional supplement, and, on occasion, be eligible the themes set forth in the article and to develop many thoughts and cover several subjects not dealt with or touched upon only in passing in the report.”
Huntington’s development of his ranks created even fiercer debates that have not actually gone away. Less-polemical versions of the identical indictment aren’t tough to find.
An individual could respond to these charges by posing questions such as: Is it possible to suggest that cultural patterns grown and solidified over generations employ quite powerful influences over choices made by men and women profoundly formed by a given culture? Might it be racially-prejudiced to state the very distinct conceptions of God imparted to societies by small-o orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam have given rise to quite disparate conceptions of freedom and justice that exercise considerable influence over the notion of people living in particular cultural preferences, whether they recognize it or not? Or maybe more basically: did Huntington assert at any stage that pale-skinned individuals are inherently superior to darker-toned persons–or vice-versa?
More compelling critiques of Huntington’s central states concerned the adequacy of the social science. Most notably, one may point to many cases that contradict his heart argument. So much for international Muslim solidarity. Likewise the increasing rapprochement between Israel and assorted Sunni Muslim Arab nations in light of a mutual threat from Shi’ite Muslim Arabian Iran doesn’t fit into Huntington’s paradigm. Nor do the ties between China and Iran that have grown over the previous ten years. In these and other circumstances, federal and economic interests seem to trump transnational cultural-religious affinities.
Another issue with Huntington’s standing was that a number of his civilizational groupings, particularly his African and Latin American groups, were far less worked out (to his own satisfaction) in comparison to his Western, Hindi, Sinic, Japanese, and Muslim groups. Others questioned the sufficiency of Huntington’s picture of the civilizations develop. Civilizations, argued the economist Amartya Sen, were more internally diverse than Huntington claimed. In a more tempered article preceding his”insidious racism” charge, Said claimed that Huntington downplayed the degree to which cultures shaped each other.
The comprehensiveness using Huntington’s argument has been rejected by a lot of scholars suggests many possibilities. One is that Huntington’s theory was so outlandish and its flaws so evident it triggered these responses. The next is that Huntington was posing questions that diplomatic and academic guilds had (such as most of guilds) frozen out since they threatened established but redundant orthodoxies upon that many diplomatic or academic careers were built.
Is it that not all civilizations were alike compatible with values such as liberty or institutional preferences such as constitutionalism? And if that was the situation, what did it mean to, say, the capacity of 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 world. Nor was there any shortage of social scientists that had difficulty conceiving that some thing hard to quantify (like civilization ) nevertheless exerts tremendous influence. Above all, Huntington was questioning a consensus that had grown among some sections of political and academic opinion from the 1990s about what they thought to be liberalism’s coming ascendency following the collapse of its primary ideological competitor, Communism, in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
History Is Not Ending
The immediate intellectual foundation to Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations has been Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992). This book famously suggested that history would culminate in, as Fukuyama wrote in an earlier post , the”universalization of Western liberal democracy as the last form of human government.” In later writings, Fukuyama additional more specificity to what he had in mind. In 2007, he said that”The EU’s attempt to surpass sovereignty and conventional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is far more consistent with a’post-historical’ world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.”
The issue with such contentions, Huntington claimed, was that cultures and the differences that they embody were far more resilient than some Western social scientists were ready to acknowledge. By this, Huntington didn’t mean that civilizations don’t change. They obviously do. Some die. But cultures additionally embody substantial continuity, Huntington given, insofar as”values, standards, institutions, and modes of thinking to that successive generations in a particular society have attached primary importance” transcend the particulars of particular regimes and economic systems.
Of all these characteristics, Huntington identified faith as especially important. It was not a matter of how lots of people in a particular society practiced the prevailing religion. That constantly changes. But faith and spiritual culture, Huntington claimed, helped to create cultures”comprehensive.” “[N]not one of the constituent parts,” he said,”could be realized without reference to the encompassing civilization.” France and Australia could be independent sovereign-states at various ends of earth. Nevertheless both derive a lot of the civilizational identity from Western Religious assumptions and emphases. Likewise Yemen and Malaysia are rather dissimilar nations. Neither, however, is eloquent without regard to the dominant faith prevailing within their respective boundaries and those of many different nations and therefore the history and culture connected with that religion.
Through The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington presented 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, distinct”amounts” of identity. Yet, he added, the”biggest’we’ in that we feel at home since distinguished from all the other’thems’ out there” has been civilizational identity. That is why your average New Zealander will more likely feel at home in Switzerland compared to Iran or Mongolia.
Modernization Is Not Westernization
1 objection to the line of thought is that facets of Western civilization are very universalized across the world in a way quite unlike any other. Certainly, some might argue, countries like Indonesia are more economically and politically similar to nations including Britain than they were 500 or 1000 years back. They have become more like the West–not the other way round. But herein lies one of Huntington’s main insights: it is an error to conflate modernization with Westernization.
Western civilization’s core measurements, Huntington said, had congealed collectively by the early modern era. Under this rubric, Huntington comprised the Greco-Romano and Jewish heritages, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, a strong differentiation between temporal and spiritual jurisdiction, multilingualism coupled with one leading language (Latin, then French, and currently English) to get elites, social pluralism, individualism, rule of law, and an emphasis on ideology. The different Enlightenments sharpened the sway of some of the features and dulled others but didn’t, from Huntington’s standpoint, substantially alter the principles.
To Huntington’s head, modernization–which he recognized are the Scientific Revolution and”industrialization, urbanization, raising levels of education, education, wealth, and social mobilization, and much more complicated and diversified occupational structures”–emerged out of the Western cultural milieu. The simple fact, however, a culture underwent modernization didn’t automatically mean it was embracing Western (let alone liberal) beliefs.
2016 underscored the governmental authority of identity inside the West. People hunted for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert federal sovereignty and therefore a distinct identity was just one strand uniting people who listened about many different issues. So also the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ desire to reevaluate things they saw as the American state’s particular interests over the globalist issues that seemingly preoccupied their political leaders.Time might be stand out the weight of that claim. India’s continuing marketing of pro-growth coverages has gone with consecutive Hindu nationalist authorities seeking to marginalize India’s Muslim minority, to the purpose of trying to strip several Muslims of the Indian citizenship. Similarly China’s economic modernization has not led it to embrace liberal ideals and ideals. Instead, the plan and a lot of the population increasingly stress the nation’s civilizational distinctiveness as well as authoritarian strands of Confucian thought and the very long tradition of centralized rule that preceded the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Beijing’s practice of repressing specific groups considered possible sources of instability such as Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Chinese Christians, so it ought to be said, are part and parcel of traditional Chinese governance as opposed to simply reflecting Marxist governmental demands.
Similar patterns are observable in Turkey. From Kemal Ataturk onwards, most Turkish authorities participated in a top-down attempt to modernize and westernize their nation simultaneously. Modernization certainly occurred. Now, nevertheless, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his followers have been emphasizing Turkey’s character with its Ottoman and Islamic ago while portraying the West as drowsy.
For this, one may incorporate that modernization programs embarked upon by many non-Western political actors at the late-19th century were never primarily about Westernization. More recent scholarship have illustrated that serial Ottoman authorities’ adoption of Western technology, military techniques, and organizational forms didn’t involve approval of Western standards. Ottoman reformers consistently associated their efforts , as one Middle East historian observes,”Islam, the sultan and caliph, the glories of the Ottoman and Islamic ago, and the anxiously hoped-for go back to splendor and worldly power.”
Building factories is one thing but adopting Western values is another. Just as 19th-century Japan’s embrace of Western technology and a few Western-style political structures did not imply abandoning identifying features of Japanese culture such as the bushido honor code or Shintoism, nor does a contemporary Pakistani’s usage of an iPhone imply he will eventually accept the idea of religious tolerance. New technology and contemporary political institutions don’t necessarily alter your sense of who you are or what you consider important. They can even develop into a way for reinforcing and dispersing long-standing cultural intangibles during all levels of society.
The Development of Civilization States
But he also believed this hegemony would be contested on a cultural level: so much so that”a central part of post-Cold War world politics” would be”the discussion of Western power and culture with all the power and culture of non-Western cultures”
After 9/11, this and other claims made in Huntington’s book acquired considerable grip. Those inclined to see faith as an atavistic holdover needed to confront the fact that lots of Western-educated, young Middle-Eastern Muslim guys from relatively affluent backgrounds such as the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and people that planned the surgery such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hadn’t become”just like us” following exposure to Western societies characterized by liberal constitutionalism and promote economies. Neither economic affluence nor the expertise of bourgeois standards had mollified their views.
Renewed attention to Huntington’s notion has also been created by the development over the previous twenty years of regimes that present their nations as more than another nation. Yet these nations do belong to distinct civilizational traditions. Moreover, if their political leaders speak in civilizational terms, their apparent goal is to draw upon such cultural and historical resources as a method of shaping contemporary realities.
It’s not coincidental, as an instance, that Xi and other leading Chinese political figures consistently refer to”the century of humiliation” that China endured roughly between 1839 and 1949 in the hands of Western forces as well as Russia and Japan. Beijing’s modern efforts to establish a really global spot for China in the 21st century sun can not be readily separated from this sense of cultural history and retrieval.
Authoritarian statism has been central to Russia’s political tradition for decades. That convention has gone hand-in-hand with expansionism on Russia’s part. That 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 appears entirely unnatural to people like Putin but also many ordinary Russians.
Identity, Identity, Identity
These developments point to another thing that Huntington’s novel was one of the very first to comprehend as a element that would reshape post-Communist global politics: the reemergence of identity as a central pivot of international connections.
The barbarous wars marking Yugoslavia’s breakup through the 1990s dramatically emphasized Huntington’s point. Ethno-cultural consolidation has been the most priority–not trade relations between Croatia and Serbia. Likewise, no amount of promised liberalization by Mikhail Gorbachev was ever going to persuade Lithuanians and Estonians their future lay into a transformed union of nations where Russia remained the centerpiece. They wanted and got a clear separation in Russia, then identified themselves explicitly using the West by joining NATO and the EU.
Across the Muslim world, Huntington stated, people were left handed those 20th century nationalisms that had given room for non-Muslims. Many were increasingly associating themselves with different pan-Islamic identities that bound together folks as far apart as Brunei and Senegal while simultaneously excluding groups that their households had lived alongside for centuries.
2016 underscored the governmental authority of identity inside the West. People hunted for Brexit for many reasons, but a desire to reassert federal sovereignty and therefore a distinct identity was just one strand uniting people who listened about many different issues. So also the election of Donald Trump represented many Americans’ desire to reevaluate things they viewed as the American state’s particular interests over the globalist issues that seemingly preoccupied their political leaders.
In both cases, the economic dimension of queries like trade and immigration were subordinated to the intertwined issues of identity and national sovereignty. If Britain had to depart the free trade zone of the EU to revive its sovereignty, or when America needed to renegotiate NAFTA since it was deemed essential to provide more employment security for Americans, then make it. The bonds and duties connected with shared viability were eclipsing economics.
Davos Man Cometh
Not everybody in the West has distinguished identity’s reassertion as a element in international and domestic politics. But this dissatisfaction, shown with the lengths to which many British governmental leaders moved to attempt to nullify Brexit later 2016, also points to a significant weakness in Huntington’s debate: his underestimation of the degree to which Western nations would become internally splintered over cultural and identity questions.
Davos Man has been Huntington’s shorthand method of describing those American”professors, global civil servants and executives in global businesses, as well as successful high-technology entrepreneurs” that”have little demand for federal devotion, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see federal authorities as residues from the past whose only useful purpose is to ease the elite’s global operations.” On an individual level, this fragmentation owes something to the hostile perspective of Western civilization that has prevailed in several Western universities as well as other culture-forming institutions as the 1960s. When Western culture is effectively contrasted with countless oppressions that must be unmasked at the name of different liberations, lots of people’s willingness to identify with the West is necessarily corroded. The eruption of wokeness, and the way that it reflects a disintegration at multiple levels of how lots of people in Western nations recognize themselves vis-à-vis their national and cultural heritages, is not something that Huntington’s thesis anticipated or may account for. If, since Huntington posits, faith is central to any civilization’s self-understanding, a disappearing of its grasp upon people’s creativity will facilitate wider cultural transformations.
Another internal Western branch unforeseen by the Clash of Civilizations worries a sharp branch focused around the nation’s place in global affairs. On one side of the split are those Westerners who widely see the world in liberal transnational and technocratic conditions –as a tool to be managed towards the understanding of deeper economic integration, stronger cultural ties and associations, and the spread of real liberal values. On the opposite side are those who respect supranational jobs as utopian daydreaming and always degenerating into rule by unaccountable self-selecting bureaucracies. These are regarded as far more historically grounded than supranational entities and a stronger foundation for freedom compared to edicts from Brussels or UN declarations.
Huntington himself recognized this branch was assuming increasing importance in several Western nations. In an essay entitled”Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite,” composed eight years following the Clash of Civilizations, Huntington maintained the split ran right through the heart of the American polity. He summed up the very polarizing type of figure within this phenomenon in a famous expression:”Davos Man.”
Named after the place where the World Economic Forum meets each calendar year, Davos Man has been Huntington’s shorthand method of describing those American”professors, global civil servants and executives in global businesses, as well as effective high-technology entrepreneurs” that”have little demand for federal devotion, perspective national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see federal authorities as residues from the past whose only useful purpose is to ease the elite’s international operations.” Ranged against him, he maintained, was the remainder of America. These Americans were becoming increasingly patriotic and more and more connected to the sort of federal bonds that Davos Man saw as redundant. “The public is nationalist,” Huntington said,”elites transnationalist.”
Measuring Success
Since Huntington penned those words, divisions derived from the specific realignment have upturned politics within and between Western nations. In this regard, he turned out to be prescient. But it was likewise an insight that did not adapt to the specific civilizational schema laid out by Huntington from the 1990s. The development of Davos Man has been, after all, even significantly less about clashes between distinct civilizational groups than a disagreement about status, devotion, and identity inside the West.
That said, admitting the saliency of intra-Western battles is compatible with holding that international relations is being formed by regimes and political moves that view the world in civilizational-like terms that bridge the past and present. In that way, Huntington’s outlook for international politics turned out to be right about a few important trends that would shape the post-Cold War world.
As time passes , the insufficiencies of some theory that tries to deliver a comprehensive explanation of what is going on in the world become increasingly more obvious–often to the point of entirely discrediting the thesis. What counts as success would be if a grand narrative creates wider consciousness of realities that people who dominate the discourse have tried to ignore, compels open new and lasting disagreements, and highlights the flaws and fallacies of dominant theories. By that standard, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations remains a text that, for most of its flaws, not the very populous Eurocrat, confident liberal internationalist, or devout practitioner of Bismarckian realpolitik is able to dismiss today.