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A Look Back At A Predicted ‘Clash Of Civilizations’

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This volume brings together a broad range of Foreign Affairs content to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Samuel Huntington’s classic article “The Clash of Civilizations?”

Huntington’s essay argued that culture, rather than ideology or geopolitics, would be the driving source of international conflict in the post-Cold War era. It struck a nerve because it raised important and uncomfortable subjects in direct and powerful ways. Two decades on, the jury is still hung, with critics and defenders passionately arguing the piece’s merits and demerits, agreeing only on its enduring significance both as a marker of its times and a theoretical perspective that demands serious engagement.

We believe that readers should make up their own minds about how well his argument does and doesn’t hold up. So we’ve pulled together the original article; a broad range of responses from prominent commentators; Huntington’s response to his critics; a recent retrospective analysis by Richard Betts; eulogies of Huntington from Stephen Peter Rosen, Eliot Cohen, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Henry Rosovsky; and a video of a celebration of Huntington’s career featuring reminiscences from some of his students, including Cohen, Francis Fukuyama, and Fareed Zakaria. An introduction by Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose sets the stage for the debates that follow.

 It was 20 years ago that Samuel Huntington’s essay on what he termed “the clash of civilizations” was first published in the journal Foreign Affairs. The essay predicted the next frontier of global conflict would occur along cultural cleavages — most prominently between the Islamic world and the West. Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose and Robert Siegel discussed on Sep 3, 2013 how perceptions of the essay have changed over time.

TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Twenty years ago this summer, the journal Foreign Affairs published what proved to be a very controversial article. The political scientist Samuel Huntington declared a new phase to world politics. The fundamental source of conflict in this new world, he wrote, will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The Cold War was over and the Soviet Union was finished. As Huntington put it to Charlie Rose…

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON: The big question is what will be the patterns of association and of conflict among nations in the post-Cold War world. And if one looked at the evidence, it seems to me that it is overwhelming that nations are going to be aligning themselves along cultural lines.

SIEGEL: There would be a “Clash of Civilizations.” That was the title of the Foreign Affairs article, which grew into a book.

Samuel Huntington died five years ago, but the often furious arguments that his thesis inspired can still be heard now and again. And this summer, Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, marked the 20th anniversary with an issue that collected many of the writings – pro and con – that have clashed over the “Clash of Civilization.”

And joining us today is the editor of the Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose. Welcome to the program once again.

GIDEON ROSE: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: On Huntington’s map of the world’s civilizations, there was: Western, Latin American, African, Eastern Orthodox, Islamic, Confucian, Hindu and Japanese. Is it fair to say that elite opinion scoffed at this schematic of the world civilizations?

ROSE: They did. On the other hand, it’s also fair to say that many of the individual arguments about the specifics didn’t get at the larger point, which is really about how much culture matters as opposed to broad, impersonal structural forces like geopolitics or economics or ideology.

SIEGEL: For some context here, in the early 1990s, European communism had imploded. But in Yugoslavia, there was a war that had Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims at one another’s throats. That, I think, influenced Huntington a great deal, didn’t it?

ROSE: Yeah, I think what also influenced Sam was the fact that there was a feeling out there, after the end of the Cold War, either that the world would go peacefully towards democracy and international harmony – which he didn’t believe – or that the kinds of patterns that we see the past of conflict, conflict over ideologies, like the Cold War; conflicts over geopolitics, like the modern European history with nations jockeying for power like billiard balls, that those would replay themselves….MORE

Huntington’s “Clash Of Civilizations” FOREIGN AFAIRS SUMMER 1993-PDF

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