Clash of Civilizations

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= Book and concept


* Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations. Simon and Schuster, 1996


(Essay version: Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs 72 (3): 22–49.)


Mariana Barbosa:

"While developing his thesis, Huntington’s “aim was to find new, easily classified determinants of contemporary quasi-chaotic international behavior and thus to get a handle on the international kaleidoscope” (Weeks, 1993, p.67). The starting argument, both in his article and book, is that after the end of the Cold War era “the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations" (Huntington, 1993 a, p.22).

According to Huntington, civilizations will clash due to several reasons that make the relationship dangerous: the strength of their differences, which aren’t ephemeral; the civilization awareness due to the globalization process and also to economic regionalisms; and the role of the West nowadays (Huntington, 1993 a, pp.25-27)/ Peter J. Katzenstein, in his book Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralist Perspectives, classifies Huntington’s style as ‘actor oriented’ analysis or ‘dispositional analyses’ as he “views civilizations as coherent, consensual, and able to act actors, with dispositional characteristics, (…) [which] exist objectively in the real world as coherent cultural complexes” (Katzenstein, 2010, p.6)."



* Book: The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ 25 Years On: A Multidisciplinary Appraisal.

URL = download


Jan Lüdert:

“Scholars have criticized his overbroad conceptualizations of civilization and culture. These scholars contest his thesis because it lacks convincing empirical evidence (Russett, O’neal, and Cox 2000; Henderson and Tucker 2001; Chiozza 2002). A main line of contention against the CoC thesis is that it offers an impoverished and oversimplified view of pluralist cultures (Katzenstein 2009). Huntington, these scholars counter, assumes that civilizations are monolithic and homogenous and that there exists an unchanging duality between us and them. The religion of Islam, these authors go on to argue, is ‘fabricated to whip up feelings of hostility and antipathy’ in the West (Said 2001, 9). I agree that a Huntingtonian worldview risks conflating violent extremisms with Islam itself. It ultimately offers insufficient leverage for understanding a complex world.”



The Context of the Times

Jeffrey Haynes:

"Bernard Lewis (1990), the British orientalist, was the first to claim there was a ‘clash between civilizations’ in a speech at Johns Hopkins University in 1957. Lewis argued that Islam and the West had differing values which would only be resolved following conflict. Initially, however, Lewis’s contention did not create much of a stir. This was hardly surprising given that the main foreign policy issue confronting the West in the late 1950s was dealing with what was widely perceived as an expansionist Soviet Union. Four decades later, Lewis’s clash between civilizations had become a clash of civilizations. This was the claim of Samuel Huntington, who contended that a clash between the West and the ‘Muslim world’ would be the key foreign policy issue for the US (and the West more generally) after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Like Lewis, 40 years earlier, Huntington argued that one of the two ‘sides’ was ideationally destined to prevail over the over. Because of their differing values, it would not be possible for them to unite to defeat humanity’s myriad common problems (such as climate change, poverty, and gender inequality).

The relationship between a scholarly argument relating to, and popular understanding of, a phenomenon is not always clear. Had things turned out differently, Huntington’s arguments on the ‘clash of civilizations’ would probably have been debated only by a few scholars, without much impact on policy-makers or popular understanding of how the world works. But the events of 9/11 made Huntington’s arguments mainstream and centre stage. The 9/11 attacks had been preceded by others which, with hindsight, could be seen as initial signs of a ‘civilizational war’ between the West and the Muslim world. A first jihadi assault on the Twin Towers in 1993 was followed in 1998 by attacks on two US embassies in Africa. The 1993 and 1998 attacks, coupled with 9/11, seemed to some to be clear signs that Islamist extremists were willing to take the ‘clash of civilizations’ to the stage of open conflict with the US.

Neither President George W. Bush nor President Barack Obama responded to terrorism carried out by actors motivated by Islamist ideologies by declaring war on ‘Islam’. President Bush stated a week after 9/11 that ‘[t]hese acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith’. The US response, Bush decreed, was to go to war with al-Qaeda terrorists, whose words and deeds perverted ‘the peaceful teaching of Islam’ (Bush 2001). A few years later, Obama also denied that there was a ‘clash of civilizations’ between the US and the Muslim world. In a major speech in Cairo in 2009, not long after assuming the presidency, Obama sought to reach out to Muslim-majority societies, aiming to set relations on an improved footing (Obama 2009). However, neither Bush nor Obama was successful in preventing a ‘clash of civilizations’ mentality from spreading and gaining strength at the popular level in America, especially among those who identify with the political and religious right. Right-wing political media such as Fox News and certain politically conservative evangelical leaders became more and more bluntly critical of Islam with each passing year.

By the time of the presidential campaign in 2016, the issue of the relationship between the US and the Muslim-majority world was very much in the spotlight. During the electoral process, the republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, stated (among many other things) that ‘I think Islam hates us’ (2017). There was no attempt to clarify that he was referring only to ‘radical Islamic terrorists’ (Trump 2017). Few on the hard-right thought he needed to offer any clarification or qualification.

My argument in this brief piece is not that Huntington’s article and book were so important because his argument was ‘correct’ or ‘right’. My claim is twofold: First, Huntington’s article was and is important because it captured perfectly the end-of-the-Cold War zeitgeist, a way of seeing the world which has endured in the uncertain years which have followed, as exemplified by the hostility shown to ‘Islam’ by candidate (now President) Trump. Second, Huntington’s argument has proved to be an abiding statement about globalisation and the hopes and fears that it conveys. It is almost irrelevant that his focal point: the impossibility of the West – read; the US – and ‘Islam’ – read; ‘Islamic radicalism/fundamentalism’ – living together in harmony was laughingly over-simplified, redolent of the paranoia of someone experiencing the shattering of a stable, safe and unchanging world suddenly and demonstrably confronted with the scenario of the post-World War II paradigm smashed to smithereens. What was a card-carrying Realist, such as Huntington, to do under these circumstances? The response was to find a new enemy and dress it up in the same preposterous ‘baddy’ clothes that had marked the treatment by US Realists of the Soviet Union from the start of the Cold War in the late 1940s and transfer the characteristics of conflict to a new ‘actor’: ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’

It may be worth recalling that a quarter century ago in the early 1990s, the world was just emerging from a 50-year period of secular ideological polarization, focused on the US and the Soviet Union, the poster children of very different worldviews: ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘global communism’. Contrary to today’s triumphalist claims of some in the US, the US did not ‘win’ the Cold War; rather, the Soviet Union ‘lost’ it. Unable to compete with America in a competition for global dominance, its shaky, dysfunctional and misanthropic political/social/economic system spectacularly imploded within a seemingly impossibly short period of time: apparently as strong as ever in the mid-1980s, by 1991, the Soviet Union and its system as well as its parasitic coterie of attendant nations were no more. This left a gulf, a hole, a vacuum. How, and with what, to fill it?

Globalization, redolent of democracy, capitalism and freedom, was the heady force which defeated the USSR. In addition, globalization was also the factor which reinjected religion back into international relations, having been forced in the centuries following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 into marginalization. The sudden demise of the Cold War, as well as the Soviet Union and its attendant secular ideology, opened the way for a new focus on ‘culture’ and ‘civilizations’, of which religion is very often an integral aspect. The 9/11 attacks on the United States were a key event in the debate about the role of cultural and religious difference – especially, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ – in international conflict, especially in the way that they focused attention on al-Qaeda’s then dominant brand of globalized cultural terrorism. For some scholars, analysts and policy makers – especially but not exclusively in the United States – 9/11 marked the practical onset of Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ between two cultural entities: the ‘Christian West’ and the ‘Islamic world’, with special concern directed at Islamic ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘radical terrorists’. This is not to suggest that Huntington’s arguments have had it all their own way. For some, 9/11 was not the start of a ‘clash of civilizations’ but rather the last gasp of transnational Islamist radicalism. (It remains to be seen if still unfolding events in Mali, Niger, Nigeria and elsewhere are the start of a new phase of Islamist radicalism.) On the other hand, it is hard to disagree with the claim that the events of September 11 thrust culture to the forefront of the international agenda, providing Huntington’s thesis with a new lease of life. Henceforward, many commentators were no longer inhibited in attributing essentialist characteristics to the ‘Christian West’ and ‘Islam’. After 9/11, there was a pronounced penchant to see the world in a Huntington-inspired simplistic division, with straight lines on maps – ‘Islam has bloody borders’, Huntington averred (1993, 35) – apparently the key to understanding what were increasingly portrayed as definitively ethically and racially defined lines across the globe.

September 11, 2001, as well as many subsequent terrorist outrages, were perpetrated by al-Qaeda or its followers; all involved extremist Muslims that wanted to cause destruction and loss of life against ‘Western’ targets that nevertheless often led to considerable loss of life, for example in Istanbul and Casablanca, among Muslims. The US response – the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ – targeted Muslims, some believe rather indiscriminately, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Some have claimed that these events ‘prove’ the correctness of Huntington’s thesis. In such views, the 9/11 attacks and the US response suggested that Huntington’s prophecy about clashing civilizations was now less abstract and more plausible than when first articulated in the early 1990s. Others contend, however, that 9/11 was not the start of the ‘clash of civilizations’ – but, as already noted, the last gasp of radical Islamists’ attempts to foment revolutionary change which had begun with Iran’s revolution in 1979 and carried on into the 1980s with determined attempts by Islamist radicals to gain state power in Algeria and Egypt. We can also note, however, that 9/11 not only had major effects on both the US and international relations but also contributed to a surge of Islamic radicalism in Saudi Arabia. This was a result not only of the presence of US troops in the kingdom, as highlighted by al-Qaeda’s then leader, the late Osama bin Laden, but also due to a growing realization that the function of Saudi Arabia’s ulema was and is overwhelmingly to underpin and explain away the unearned and unrepresentative dominance of the ruling king, his extended family and parasitic entourage."


Revisiting Huntington Through Toynbee

Ian Hall:

"there are good reasons, I argue in what follows, to revisit Toynbee when reading Huntington’s argument. 

His concept of civilization, developed in A Study of History (12 volumes, 1934–61), and especially his 

explorations of ‘encounters’ between civilizations and the effects he thought those encounters had, are 

useful instruments for destabilizing some of Huntington’s key claims."


"The conclusion to the book version of The Clash of Civilizations opens, oddly enough, with a discussion of Toynbee’s warning of the ‘mirage of immortality’ he thought beguiled and distracted civilizations in decline (Toynbee 1945a, 301). But where Toynbee called for an effort to draw upon the inheritance bequeathed by all civilizations to construct new social and political institutions befitting of the ‘ecumenical community’ created by the West’s unification of the world (Toynbee 1954a), Huntington argued for something narrower . In The Clash of Civilizations and especially in Who are We? (2004), he called for the renewal and revival of the West, which he thought had been weakened by immigration and by multiculturalism, which aided and abetted the spread of non-Western cultural and religious beliefs and practices, by economic malaise, and by ‘moral decay’(1998, 304). The United States, he argued, must defend the Anglo-Saxon Protestant beliefs and practices that delivered past social and political success, so as to ensure it can play the necessary role of the West’s ‘core state’.

Toynbee, of course, warned against such policies, which he characterized as anachronistic archaisms. But more importantly, as we have seen, his Study of History raises questions about the assumptions that underlie Huntington’s prescriptions. In particular, Toynbee’s work suggests that historical encounters between civilizations were more frequent and consequential than Huntington allowed. Second, it points to the extent of the transmission not just of technologies, but also of social and political ideas, and to their impact, as bodies of thought like Jewish millenarianism encountered Hellenic philosophy to create Christianity, for example, or indeed how Christian ideas shaped Hindu revivalism.[11] Third, it draws attention to agency and away from Huntington’s overly structural account of ideas and beliefs, pointing to the role played by both scholars and political actors in borrowing, accepting, appropriating, and indeed manipulating ‘foreign’ philosophies and religious concepts, as well as technologies, for their own purposes, as Toynbee’s non-Western students did when they recognized, implicitly or not, Western history as ‘theirs’ as well as ‘ours’. In turn, of course, that draws attention to the great unanswered, pressing question of The Clash of Civilizations: who is responsible for this resurgence of cultural and religious politics in the post-Cold War era?"


Comparing Toynbee and Huntington

Ian Hall:

"here are many differences between Huntington and Toynbee’s projects, especially in their conclusions and their policy prescriptions, but they had similar aims and assumptions. Both sought to use civilizational history to explain contemporary phenomena. Huntington’s aim was to try to provide a parsimonious explanation for what he perceived as new patterns of behavior by states (and some non-state actors) in post-Cold War international relations, patterns that he argued could not adequately be explained by existing state-centric theories (Huntington 1998, 19–39). In particular, he was interested in the agitation and civil conflict that had emerged towards the end of the 1980s in parts of the Muslim world, in the soon-to-be-dissolved Soviet Union and state of Yugoslavia, between Hindu nationalists and Muslims in India, and between Tibetans and Han Chinese (Huntington 1993). Toynbee too was interested in explaining the causes of conflict, but his objective was to explain why the West had so catastrophically descended into a devastating war in 1914 and why international disorder persisted after 1919. Struck at the outset of the First World War by the apparent parallels between what he knew of ancient Greek history, especially of the Peloponnesian War, and the present, he set out to ascertain whether other past civilizations had experienced similar episodes of conflict – ‘Times of Troubles’, as he called them – and to determine whether the episodes had similar causes (Toynbee 1956b, 8; see also Hall 2014).

Both Huntington and Toynbee determined that the best way to explain the causes of contemporary conflicts was to look at civilizations rather than at states or other kinds of political or social groups. Toynbee began to explore this possibility first in The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922), which tried to explain the ferocity of the Greco-Turkish war of 1919–22, with its grim episodes of what later became known as ethnic-cleansing,[4] but only set it out in full in the first volume of his Study of History (1934). His argument was that historians must take a civilizational view of the past, because the histories of lesser social bodies made little sense in isolation. Civilizations, on this view, were the necessary context within which historical events must be interpreted, rather than things like nation-states, which were modern inventions (Toynbee 1934, 44–50). Huntington’s account of a civilization was strikingly similar. In the book version of The Clash of Civilizations he defined a civilization as ‘the broadest cultural entity’ and argued that ‘none of their constituent units can be fully understood without reference to the encompassing civilization’ (Huntington 1998, 43 and 42). For both, only a civilizational view was sufficient to explain the phenomena they wanted to analyze.

Contacts and Clashes

Both Toynbee and Huntington acknowledged, of course, that these understandings of civilizations generated problems for the stories that they wanted to tell. Toynbee knew from the start that using a civilization to frame the interpretation of some historical episode might not, in fact, be sufficient. Civilizational boundaries (in so far as we can define them) are porous; civilizations interacted with others, and thus it might be necessary for historians to place things in an even wider context if they were to explain them properly. He had done this in the Western Question, a study of what happened when two civilizations came into contact ‘in space’, to use his language, but he had also long been concerned with contacts ‘in time’, where a civilization drew up inherited knowledge or beliefs from an earlier one.[5] In particular, as a classicist, Toynbee was interested in contacts between the ancient Greek or ‘Hellenic’ civilization, which he considered ‘dead’, and later civilizations, especially the transmission and mediation to the West of ideas and practices by the medieval Byzantine empire, but also the influence of the Hellenic ideas on both the Muslim and Hindu worlds.

What Toynbee found in his Study of History, indeed, was that civilizations are rarely immune from outside influence, either from past civilizations or present ones. Only a couple of examples rose and fell in relative isolation, unaffected by others. Most emerged either out of a pre-existing civilization, drawing on its legacy of ideas and beliefs in a process Toynbee called, in his peculiar idiom, ‘Apparentation-and-Affiliation’(1934, 97–105). Thus the West and the Orthodox world drew on Hellenic civilization; what he called the Babylonian and Hittite civilizations drew on the Sumerian; the two branches of the modern Islamic world, Arabic (Sunni) and ‘Iranic’ (Shia), drew on the pre-Islamic ‘Syriac’ civilization; and what he took to be contemporary ‘Far Eastern’ civilization, in China, Korea, and Japan, drew on a pre-existing but distinct ‘Sinic’ civilization, and so on (Toynbee 1954b, 107).[7] Then there were encounters between ‘living’ civilizations that shaped those involved. Some led to ‘fruitful’ exchanges (Toynbee gave the examples of the influence of Hellenic thought and art on ancient India, and then later on both medieval Christianity and Islam, as well as the Renaissance); some to the near total collapse of civilizations (such as those in the Americas); and some to retrenchment and resistance (as occurred in parts of the ‘Far East’ and the Muslim world when they encountered the modern West) (Toynbee 1954b).

Huntington, for his part, also wrestled in The Clash of Civilizations with the issue of boundaries and inter-civilizational contacts.

He conceded that:

- Civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries and no precise beginnings and endings. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and shapes of civilizations change over time. The cultures of peoples interact and overlap.

He recognized too that civilizations ‘evolve’, observing that ‘[t]hey are dynamic, they rise and fall, they merge and divide’ (Huntington 1998, 44). But Huntington insisted that ‘[c]ivilizations are nonetheless meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom sharp, they are real’ (Huntington 1998, 43). Moreover, he asserted that, historically, civilizations had rarely interacted, and there were few instances of inter-civilizational contact that led to really significant changes in the one or the other, until the modern era. Prior to 1500 CE, he argued, contacts between them were either ‘nonexistent or limited’ or ‘intermittent and intense’ (Huntington 1998, 48). Distance and transport technologies prevented anything more.

Only after 1500 CE, with the invention of new technologies that permitted more people to travel longer distances, Huntington maintained, did situations arise in which civilizations could be substantially changed by encounters with others. Importantly, however, he asserted that not all civilizations were changed to the same extent, and implied that some elements of a civilization – its cultural or religious kernel – could not be changed, though it could be destroyed. Instead, in the modern period, he argued ‘[i]ntermittent or limited multidirectional encounters among civilizations gave way to the sustained, overpowering, unidirectional impact of the West on all other civilizations’ (Huntington 1998, 50). The result was the ‘subordination of other societies to Western civilization’. This occurred not because of the superiority of Western ideas, Huntington insisted, but because of the superiority of Western technology, especially its military technology (Huntington 1998, 51). And despite their ‘subordination’ to Western power, he maintained, non-Western societies remained culturally distinct and resistant to Western cultural influence.

The technological unification of the world by the West thus brought into being, for Huntington, a ‘multicivilizational system’ characterized by ‘intense, sustained, and multidirectional interactions among all civilizations’ (Huntington 1998, 51). It had not, he went to great pains to argue, generated anything like a ‘universal civilization’.[8] No universal language is in the process of formation, he argued; rather, languages once marginalized by imperial powers are being revived. Nor are we seeing a universal religion emerge; instead, adherents of major religions are becoming more entrenched in their beliefs, some even more fundamentalist. In sum, modernization has taken place without Westernization, strengthening non-Western cultures insofar as they have acquired new technologies, including new weapons, and reducing ‘the relative power of the West’ (Huntington 1998, 78).

Technologies and Ideas

Toynbee was also deeply concerned by the impact of the West on the rest of the world – that was the central theme of his incendiary The World and the West. His work on Turkey, during the First World War and after, left him well versed in the dynamics of modernization in a non-Western society, under the Ottomans and then under Kemal Ataturk. In his Study of History he ranged much further, examining Peter the Great and then the Bolshevik attempts to modernize Russia, the Meiji Restoration in Japan, and Sun Yat-sen’s attempt to reform post-Qing China. He recognized that the spread of Western technologies to other societies was undercutting the relative power of the West, but he also emphasized that modern weapons and military science were not the only inventions that were aiding the revival of non-Western societies. Political and other ideas, including philosophical arguments and religious beliefs, Toynbee argued, had also changed those societies, and fueling what became known, in the 1950s, as the ‘Revolt against the West’ (Hall 2011).

Although during the course of writing A Study of History, Toynbee offered different accounts of what occurred when civilizations encountered each other, he was consistent in insisting that the effects were much more dramatic than Huntington suggested."



Contextual Quote

"What we are experiencing in the world at large today is not Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” because in the proper sense of the word a “civilization” no longer exists. In planetization, civilizations no longer have an integral territorial boundary or membrane. All human times—tribal, national, and global—have been compressed into a single space by electronic media. This compression can be seen as an intense miniaturization in which, in McLuhan’s terms, “the sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new, larger, and invisible environment.“ Just as the railroads and the Dime Novel created the Wild West, so now global travel and electronic social media are creating a compressed and miniaturized Islamist movement that is not an expression of Islamic Civilization, but rather its collapse."

- William Irwin Thompson [2]


1. From

"The “clash of civilizations” is a thesis that guides contemporary social science research in a comparative and global perspective. It is also a concept frequently used in political and public discourse, especially regarding the relationship between the “West” and Islam. This entry is intended to provide readers with an understanding of the origins and meaning of the clash of civilizations, selected research pertinent to this thesis, and a critical examination of this thesis and research.

Although historian Bernard Lewis had used the term earlier, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington popularized the “clash of civilizations” in a highly influential 1993 article in the journal Foreign Affairs and in a bestselling book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). In these works, Huntington puts forth the clash of civilizations thesis in an attempt to explain the causes, character, and consequences of divisions among people and between states after the collapse of Eastern European Communism in the late twentieth century. The thesis combines historical insights with contemporary developments, such as the increasing importance of religion and the rise of religious fundamentalism. Huntington writes, “the most important distinctions among people [today] are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural” (1996, p. 21). “The most important groupings of states are no longer the three blocs of the Cold War,” Huntington further asserts, “but rather the world’s seven or eight civilizations” (1996, p. 21). These civilizations contain all of the elements of culture, such as language, history, identity, customs, institutions, and religion, but the clash of civilizations thesis holds that religion is the major fault line. Accordingly, the world’s people and states are classified into the following civilizations, largely on the basis of their religious traditions: Sinic (Chinese), Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox, Western (Christian), Latin American, and “possibly,” African. As evidence in support of this thesis, Huntington points in his 1993 article to fighting among (Western Christian) Croats, (Muslim) Bosnians, and (Orthodox) Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, U.S. bombing of Baghdad, and the subsequent negative Muslim reaction. Furthermore, Huntington predicts, “the next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations” (1993, p. 39). The most dangerous civilizational conflicts, from Huntington’s perspective, will arise from Western arrogance, Muslim intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness."


2, By Krishan Kumar:

"By general consent, Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1997) marks the inauguration of a renewed interest in civilization. “Human history,” announced Huntington firmly, “is the history of civilizations” (ibid.: 40). Civilizations, for Huntington (as for Toynbee), derive from the major world religions.4 Renouncing the idea of a “universal civilization” toward which the whole world was converging, Huntington wished to stress the separate “fault lines” that divided, and continue to divide, the major civilizations. He was particularly concerned, in the contemporary period, with those separating Western civilization from those of Asia—especially the Sinic and Japanese varieties—and from Islamic civilization. The West sees Asian and Islamic civilizations as “challenger civilizations” to its historic dominance. But it is evident that, for Huntington, Islam is regarded as the greatest threat at the present time (ibid.: 217–18).

The 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent conflicts with Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups, were bound to add to this feeling of a cosmic clash between Islam and the West. In the years since, the sense of Islam as the West's principal antagonist has for most Westerners abated somewhat, but not the feeling that the West is embattled, surrounded by threats and challenges on all sides. That has if anything increased. The rise of China to economic predominance is the obvious challenge (e.g., Jacques 2012), but India, too, finally but unmistakably demonstrating its potential, represents another important contender. And Japan, while still apparently unable to pull itself out of the doldrums brought about by the massive economic downturn of the 1990s, remains a formidable competitor; it could always return to the position it had reached in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was widely forecast that it would become “number one,” at least economically.

Asia, in its many varieties, seems poised to present the greatest civilizational challenge to the West. Hence the popularity of terms such as “re-orient”—the return of or to the East—(e.g., Frank 1998; see Hobson 2004), and the revival of a thriving literature concerned with what we might call the “Weber problem”: how and why, and when, did the West rise to dominate the world, and how secure is that dominance today? The return of civilization as a form of analysis is at least partly bound up with the return of the old questions: “What is the West?” and “What is the relation of the West to ‘the rest’?”5

That is the evident concern of what we might take as the most recent expression of the trend that Huntington started, Niall Ferguson's Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011). Ferguson's book, based on a series made for British television, clearly continues the Huntingtonian theme, and its very subtitle is taken from the title of one of Huntington's chapters (ch. 8: “The West and the Rest: Intercivilizational Issues”). The very lively, sometimes vitriolic controversy Ferguson's book has engendered itself shows that he has touched a very living nerve. In a similar vein, and also controversial, is historian Anthony Pagden's combative Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East and West (2008). Pagden makes no bones about “the clash of civilizations,” which he clearly regards as the master theme of the past two millennia, nor does he attempt to conceal his partiality for the civilization of the West. Equally warm, in all senses, was the reception for Ian Morris's Why the West Rules—For Now (2011). Morris is a classicist and a historian and much praised by Ferguson, though he writes in a less combative style. He, too, tries to explain how it was that the West rose to prominence, and what the prospects might be for the future.6

The question of the present condition and future of the West is not the only thing driving the revival of civilizational analysis. There is what many regard as a much more deep-seated challenge, to not just Western civilization but also to what we might think of as civilization itself, civilization as the accomplishment of the whole of humanity. Here what is at issue is not so much the rivalry and competition between civilizations, but between civilization and nature, or perhaps more accurately the way in which human action impacts on the relation between human civilization and the natural world. "


More information

See also:

  • Niall Ferguson's Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011)
  • Anthony Pagden's Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East and West



Inglehart, Ronald, and Pippa Norris. 2003. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World. Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Moaddel, Mansoor. 2002. The Study of Islamic Culture and Politics: An Overview and Assessment. Annual Review of Sociology 28: 359–386.

Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart. 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.