The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington

Summary and takeaways from the book.

Tribal mindset of unenlightened people with low standards who are easily satisfied leads to tribal cultures and eventually closed nations.

Most people lack the confidence to engage with 'barbarians-at-the gates' for a win-win deal.

"Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt", or change.

"The central theme of this book is that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world. "

"In the emerging era, clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war."

ISBN: 9781451628975
First published: 1996
Pages: 368
Available on: amazon

Samuel P. Huntington was Professor at Harvard University, director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, and also director of security planning for the National Security Council.

This is a classic and well known book on Global Politics.

The author thanks those who supported him. This is notable as even as Professor at Harvard, he appreciated organizations supporting him without whose support "completion of the book would have been delayed for years".

"My work on this book was made possible by the financial support of the John M. Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Without their assistance, completion of the book would have been delayed for years, and I greatly appreciate their generous backing of this effort. While other foundations have increasingly focused on domestic issues, Olin and Smith Richardson deserve accolades for maintaining their interest in and support for work on war, peace, and national and international security."

This is also a subtle hint to support analysts, thinkers, and writers that help us make sense of the world around us.

"people define themselves on the basis of ancestry, language, religion, and customs."

"Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together. Peoples and countries with different cultures are coming apart."

"World politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines, with new patterns of conflict and cooperation replacing those of the Cold War. "

"The hot spots in world politics are on the "fault lines" between civilizations: witness the fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya, the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Kashmir, the Middle East, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and many other places."

"old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant. Those who deny them deny their family, their heritage, their culture, their birthright, their very selves! They will not lightly be forgiven."

"most dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world's major civilizations."

"The central theme of this book is that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world. "

"Little or no evidence exists, however, to support the assumption that the emergence of pervasive global communications is producing significant convergence in attitudes and beliefs. " The Global Village had been abandoned.

The idea of world divided along civilizational lines extends even to the International Olympic Committee. "voting in the International Olympic Committee is by secret ballot, it clearly was along civilizational lines."

Rise of civilization as super state

"States are and will remain the dominant entities in world affairs. They maintain armies, conduct diplomacy, negotiate treaties, fight wars, control international organizations, influence and in considerable measure shape production and commerce. "

However, this view "suffers severe limitations."

"In the post-Cold War world, states increasingly define their interests in civilizational terms. They cooperate with and ally themselves with states with similar or common culture and are more often in conflict with countries of different culture. States define threats in terms of the intentions of other states, and those intentions and how they are perceived are powerfully shaped by cultural considerations."

Imperialism, Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots"

"The West, and especially the United States, which has always been a missionary nation, believe that the non-Western peoples should commit themselves to the Western values of democracy, free markets, limited government, human rights, individualism, the rule of law, and should embody these values in their institutions. Minorities in other civilizations embrace and promote these values, but the dominant attitudes toward them in non-Western cultures range from widespread skepticism to intense opposition. What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest."

"Through the IMF and other international economic institutions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of non-Western peoples, however, the IMF undoubtedly would win the support of finance ministers and a few others but get an overwhelmingly unfavorable rating from almost everyone else, who would agree with Georgi Arbatov's description of IMF officials as "neo-Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people's money, imposing undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and stifling economic freedom."

"Non-Westerners also do not hesitate to point to the gaps between Western principle and Western action. Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots" are the price of universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue with China but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle."

The West, with its Imperialism, Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots", has led to dim and cynical view of its 'values'.

Immigrants: Barbarians at the gates

People don't like foreigners and immigrants. Deepest and vocal hatred is reserved for mass immigrants.

"European societies generally either do not want to assimilate immigrants or have great difficulty doing so, and the degree to which Muslim immigrants and their children want to be assimilated is unclear."

"While Europeans see the immigration threat as Muslim or Arab, Americans see it as both Latin American and Asian but primarily as Mexican. "

Why the clash of civilizations?

"Why should cultural commonality facilitate cooperation and cohesion among people and cultural differences promote cleavages and conflicts?"

Author gives 5 reasons in his book. I have a similar view.

People today are materially well-off due to exploitation of natural resources; gifts of globalization and capitalism; and science and technology. Even a marginal middle class person has comforts, services, and technology that a king 100 years ago can only dream of e.g. AC/heating, running water, advanced healthcare, smartphones and free entertainment.

In-spite of the material prosperity, most people stay intellectually and emotionally undeveloped. Majority are mentally 50-year old babies. Their 'village' with it's tribe gives them everything and they are reasonably satisfied.

Unfamiliar people bring potential risk or reward. Most people lack the confidence to engage with 'barbarians-at-the gates' for a win-win deal. People also make instant judgement about other people. This is a survival instinct from the old days when people had to make instant judgement of fight or flight when facing people from outside their tribe.

The response of majority is to withdraw into the familiar shell of their own kind. They are saved from potential risks, but also miss out on opportunities and rewards.

Why take risks when your low standards are already being met. "Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt", or change.

Politicians and bureaucrats are also of the people. They incorporate this culture into their decision making. Making safe and intellectually lazy decisions that will be supported by majority is the natural path for leaders without intellect or courage. The end result is that governments align their Nations along tribal and civilization lines as well.
"Civilizations are the ultimate human tribes, and the clash of civilizations is tribal conflict on a global scale".

Tribal mindset of unenlightened people with low standards who are easily satisfied leads to tribal cultures and eventually closed nations.

Most people lack the confidence to engage with 'barbarians-at-the gates' for a win-win deal.

"Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt", or change.

In my view, this is the root cause of people and nations aligning along civilization lines - tribal mindset of unenlightened people with low standards who are easily satisfied.

The author elaborates on another reason for clash of civilizations: "It is human to hate. For self-definition and motivation people need enemies: competitors in business, rivals in achievement, opponents in politics. They naturally distrust and see as threats those who are different and have the capability to harm them."

People have to hate someone to get up from bed. Hate gives them meaning in life. The author says "For self- definition and motivation people need enemies". And the colored man is an instantly identifiable and easily hateable enemy. Is this what is racism?
"The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone".
- Huxley.
Prosperity today comes from collaboration, co-operation, and "Coopetition" - cooperative competition. USA and China; and capitalism are examples of this. Even BigTech giants like Apple and Google collaborate, co-operate and compete.

Relatively isolated tribes specially in Asia are welcoming to strangers, but most people in Europe and the West are indifferent at best, and hostile racists at worst to foreigners. Relatively isolated tribes see strangers as opportunities to trade, learn and engage. Most Westerners already have their low standards met by their system. So they are indifferent to new opportunities.

A Western capitalist will have a more welcoming attitude to foreigners as he sees opportunities for collaboration and co-operation.

The solution to this is to not be a 50-year old baby; and be intellectually and emotionally developed to grow beyond having your basic needs fulfilled.

"Necessity is the mother of invention". Perhaps aspiration, ambition, vision leading to engagement is the mother of collaboration and co-operation with the barbarians-at-the-gates. It is the path to unimaginable opportunities.

It is this collaboration and co-operation between people, businesses and nations that improved our standard of living and brought us to the point where we think we don't need anything beyond our tribe and village. If we value our quality of life, we have to see strangers not as instantly identifiable and easily hateable enemy, but as opportunities to trade, learn and engage.

West with diminishing hard and soft power

"In 1919 Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau together virtually controlled the world. Sitting in Paris, they determined what countries would exist and which would not, what new countries would be created, what their boundaries would be and who would rule them, and how the Middle East and other parts of the world would be divided up among the victorious powers. "

"A hundred years later, no small group of statesmen will be able to exercise comparable power; to the extent that any group does it will not consist of three Westerners but leaders of the core states of the world's seven or eight major civilizations."

"The successors to Reagan, Thatcher, Mitterrand, and Kohl will be rivaled by those of Deng Xiaoping, Nakasone, Indira Gandhi, Yeltsin, Khomeini, and Suharto. "

"broad diffusion of hard power is occurring in the world and the major nations "are less able to use their traditional power resources to achieve their purposes than in the past."

The results: "Western leverage over East and Southeast Asia has been greatly reduced".

"The belief that non-Western peoples should adopt Western values, institutions, and culture is immoral". "Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism." Will the west become imperialist in it's desire to impose its values? Can it?

"Western universalism is dangerous to the world because it could lead to a major intercivilizational war between core states and it is dangerous to the West because it could lead to defeat of the West."

It is probably for the best of both the West and the rest that the West sees decline in its power.

"The principal responsibility of Western leaders, consequently, is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, which is beyond their declining power, but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization. "

Global chaos

In-spite of the material prosperity, most people all over the world and across all cultures stay intellectually and emotionally undeveloped. Majority are mentally 50-year old babies.

Western World Order imposed some level of order and reason domestically and globally. As the influence of west declines, prosperous other civilizations will not maintain this order but return to a life of prosperity with primeval instincts.

Free of western cultural influence and institutions, they will not revert to noble savage, they will just be prosperous savages.
The author asks: "Modernization has generally enhanced the material level of Civilization throughout the world. But has it also enhanced the moral and cultural dimensions of Civilization?"
"will a moral reversion occur as Western power declines? Much evidence exists in the 1990s for the relevance of the "sheer chaos" paradigm of world affairs: a global breakdown of law and order, failed states and increasing anarchy in many parts of the world, a global crime wave, transnational mafias and drug cartels, increasing drug addiction in many societies, a general weakening of the family, a decline in trust and social solidarity in many countries, ethnic, religious, and civilizational violence and rule by the gun prevalent in much of the world. In city after city—Moscow,Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, Shanghai, London, Rome, Warsaw, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Delhi, Karachi, Cairo, Bogota, Washington — crime seems to be soaring and basic elements of Civilization fading away. People speak of a global crisis in governance. "

"Law and order is the first prerequisite of Civilization and in much of the world —Africa, Latin America, the former Soviet Union, South Asia, the Middle East —it appears to be evaporating, while also under serious assault in China, Japan, and the West."

"On a worldwide basis Civilization seems in many respects to be yielding to barbarism, generating the image of an unprecedented phenomenon, a global Dark Ages, possibly descending on humanity."

Cultural renaissance

"Asian assertiveness is rooted in economic growth; Muslim assertiveness stems in considerable measure from social mobilization and population growth. "

"Asians no longer regard everything Western or American as necessarily the best."

"Successful economic development generates self-confidence and assertiveness on the part of those who produce it and benefit from it. Wealth, like power, is assumed to be proof of virtue, a demonstration of moral and cultural superiority. As they have become more successful economically, East Asians have not hesitated to emphasize the distinctiveness of their culture and to trumpet the superiority of their values and way of life compared to those of the West and other societies".

"American hegemony has eroded. Europe, even with the events of 1992,is little more than a peninsula. The world is now as Arab, Asian, and African, as it is Western."

Rediscovering religion

"People do not live by reason alone."

"All religions... furnish people with a sense of identity and a direction in life."

"religious resurgence throughout the world is a reaction against secularism, moral relativism, and self-indulgence, and a reaffirmation of the values of order, discipline, work, mutual help, and human solidarity."

People not only rediscover religion, they also change their religion. "If traditionally dominant religions do not meet the emotional and social needs of the uprooted, other religious groups move in to do so and in the process greatly expand their memberships and the saliency of religion in social and political life."

If a different religion "offered a surer comfort in a time of confusion and change", people change their religion.

"churches meet the basic needs of the person — human warmth, healing, a deep spiritual experience."
Religion that does not offer guidance for "psychological, emotional, and social traumas of modernization" will see members leave and join other religions.
There is westernization and modernization - the Westoxification of the world. Non-Western societies are seeing revival of non-Western religions, anti-Westernism and "declaration of cultural independence from the West".

Their motto is "We will be modern but we won't be you."


"China's emergence as a major power will dwarf any comparable phenomena during the last half of the second millennium. "The size of China's displacement of the world," Lee Kuan Yew observed in 1994, "is such that the world must find a new balance in 30 or 40 years. It's not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of man.""
China "is the biggest player in the history of man".
- Lee Kuan Yew.
"Confucian-Islamic connection will continue and perhaps broaden and deepen" and "close relations among Pakistan, Iran, and China".

Danger of war

The author describes evolution of fault lines wars, and role of other parties in ending the war.

Smaller wars can lead to bigger wars from "intervention by the core state of one civilization (the United States) in a dispute between the core state of another civilization (China) and a member state of that civilization (Vietnam)."

"avoidance of major intercivilizational wars requires core states to refrain from intervening in conflicts in other civilizations."

* * *

"In the emerging era, clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war."

How will this international order be setup specially with West's history of "Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots"". What will make other civilizations with almost equal military and economic power accept any international order?

Only history will tell if the multi-polar world will distinct civilizations with their own values will be good for humanity or not.

Clash of civilizations and universalism: expecting Western values to be followed universally.

Looks like US Secretary of State Antony Blinken understands Clash of Civilizations and universalism, but media and politicians ignore it for sound bytes to the public!

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