The Clash of Civilizations

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The Clash of Civilizations is a theory of international politics put forward by Samuel Huntington, most notably in his 1993 article "The Clash of Civilizations?", which appeared in Foreign Affairs, and his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington posits that clashes between civilizations are the most prevalent and enduring type of conflict the world has known. It predates and consumes states, and thus, regardless of supposed advancement in international relations, this clash is likely to continue. He argues that civilizations are meaningful and have defined borders just as states do. This theory is meant to shift the focus from state-centered conflict to provide a larger picture.

Huntington's argument rests on three platforms. He first forwards that varying civilizations are different ideologically, religiously, and value-wise. Next, globalization means that the world is shrinking because of greater communications, creating more friction between civilizations without sufficient borders. Modernization speeds this process, separating people from local and national identities. Civilizations pursue their own interests as states do, and these interests are often deep and fundamental, making them hard to compromise on. Finally, economic integration creates regional blocs which enhances civilizational identity. This ultimately cements an "us-versus-them" mentality between civilizations, where one finds the need to defy the other, holding that those outsides are threats and making compromise unlikely. Huntington focuses specifically on the clash between the "Western" and "Islamic" Civilizations, with the possibility of the "Chinese Civilization" allying with the Islamic one. 


The Clash of Civilizations skews Neoliberal predictions for peace. Organizations like the EU and the UN are not as powerful as these civilizational identities, and these institutions are often also defined in regional groups (such as NAFTA). The implication of this is that institutions group civilizations and codify differences among them, making conflict more likely.


Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996.