Civilizational Clash: Deep Green Implication    

                                                                                                                 A review by David Orton

                                       The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order

                               by Samuel P. Huntington. Simon & Schuster, 1996,

           367 pages, softcover, ISBN 0-684-84441-9, Ca$23.


        "The revolt against the West was originally legitimated by asserting the
        universality of Western values; it is now legitimated by asserting the

superiority of non-Western values."
p. 93 

                    "The West is...attempting to integrate the economies of non-Western societies
                    into a global economic system which it dominates."
p. 184


            This is a complex, erudite and thoughtful book, which has changed how I look at the international social and
        political order. It is required as a post-September 11th, 2001 insightful reading, even though it was published
        several years before this wake-up event. The author, a US political scientist, was "the director of security
        planning for the National Security Council" in the White House regime of Jimmy Carter. So Huntington has had
        access to a lot of very interesting behind-the-scenes data denied to lesser mortals. The ideas in this book were
        first presented in a lecture at the Washington "American Enterprise Institute." It is strange for this reviewer to urge
        others to read a book which has on its cover endorsements by people (reactionaries from my perspective) like
        Henry Kissinger, Zbrigniew Brzezinski, and newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post,
        and The Wall Street Journal. This also is a book which has been denounced by some on the Left as written
        by a right-winger and therefore, presumably, of no significance.  The negative references to this book which I seem
        to frequently encounter in post September 11th readings, perhaps have to do with the thesis advanced that the
        West is in a period of increasing tension, particularly with two civilizations: the Islamic and the Sinic world (China
        and countries in close geographic orbit/influence). Huntington is no liberal or left winger, he accepts the West
        "restraining" the military power of Islamic ("Islam has bloody borders") and Sinic countries, and "maintaining"
        technological/military superiority over other civilisations.
(p. 312)


            I believe the endorsements by the US Establishment can be understood because of the author's "realism" and
        the provision of what is seen as sage interventionist advice: "The preservation of the United States and the
        West requires a renewal of Western identity. The security of the world requires acceptance of global
(p. 318)  By Western civilization/identity, I am following Huntington's analysis, and speaking of
        that civilization which arose around 700 or 800 AD, and whose components today include Western Europe
        (NATO membership), North America, the settler countries of Australia and New Zealand and possibly Latin
        America, although this area of the world is yet to determine its ultimate orientation.


            As someone who had been shaped in my past thinking by an engagement with Marxism, where religion is
        essentially defined as an "opiate", I have come to see, since September 11th, that various religions, including Islam,
        are far more important in the consciousness of people than I had previously believed. Religions, mediated by
        cultures, help shape how people engage with the social world and with the natural world. (The natural world
        concern is, unfortunately, not to be found in this book.) But Huntington's book has helped my understanding of
        how "Civilizations" appear to thrust humans towards the re-sacralizing of human societies. For deeper greens, this
        is not the re-sacralizing (making sacred in an animistic sense) of the natural world, necessary to stop the Earth's
        despoliation through capitalist commodification. Also, theocratic or religion-based societies seem to need "out"
        groups for self-definition purposes. Not everyone, it seems, can be "chosen", and we have such words as "heathen",
        "infidel" and "goy" to help define the religiously unwashed. In Huntington's book, true friends require true enemies:
        "For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most
        dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world's major civilizations."
(p. 20)


        Civilizations and discontent

            Huntington is saying that today in global politics it is civilizations, not ideologies or nation states, that become the
        driving force of what passes for social order/disorder. The countries in this world are grouping themselves around
        or in alliance with the core or leading states of the various civilizations with which they identify. Some civilizations,
        e.g. Islamic and African, have yet to see the definite emergence of "core" states. The author speaks of seven or
        eight major civilizations in our world: Western, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, African, Latin American (?), Orthodox -
        Russian, Buddhist and Japanese. The end of the Cold War has come to mean that peoples are not divided along
        ideological lines but along civilizational lines. In these civilizational self-identities, there is little room for ecology
        (which is not discussed in this book), but there seems to be an increasingly central role for religion: "To a very
        large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world's great
(p. 42)


            As Huntington points out, the war in Bosnia was a war between representative states allying themselves with
        three distinct civilizations and religions: "Western governments and elites backed the Croats, castigated the
        Serbs, and were generally indifferent to or fearful of the Muslims."
(p. 289) On the other hand, the Spanish
        Civil War in the 30s was a struggle between ideologies and political systems.


            This is how the author describes the evident resurgence of religions which we see around us:

                "The 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. Religious groups meet social needs untended by state bureaucracies... The
                breakdown of order and of civil society creates vacuums which are filled by religious, often
                fundamentalist groups."
(p. 98)


            Civilizational identity increasingly guides the orientation of nation states. This book is about how we now define
        ourselves and what this means for contemporary political activity. The author has a conventional US anti-
        communist view, "democracy" is capitalist-style democracy, and he sees NATO as "the security organization of
        Western civilization" (p. 161) in the aftermath of the Cold War. Reading this book, whether or not we "like" the
        analysis, shows, for those who seek a deep green world with Earth-centered values which are also socially just,
        what we have to contend with and understand.


            Cultural or civilizational definitions have come to the foreground. Huntington seems to be saying that the
        United States should not fight battles it cannot ultimately win (the current Bush Administration does not seem to
        be listening), but that interventions in world political affairs should be to assist Western civilization. This, from
        someone who takes it for granted that the US is the leader of Western civilization, even though this civilization,
        arguably the most powerful at the present time, is in decline relative to other, ascending, civilizations. For
        Huntington, the underlying assumption is that "Western" civilization is in some sense "the best" and other
        civilizations also need this Western heritage. Yet there is not an out-and-out Western arrogance in this book,
        because the author opposes the "parochial conceit that the European civilization of the West is now the universal
        civilization of the world." (p. 55) Any claims to Western "universalism" for Huntington are self-delusions, "pretensions"
        and "dangerous." Western civilization should be seen as unique but not universal. He differentiates between
        "Westernization" and "modernization" and says that other civilizations through their various nation states are
        seeking to modernize, not westernize. Huntington also believes that each major civilization should be represented
        on the Security Council of the United Nations with at least one seat. The present Council reflects only post-World
        War II reality.


        Contradictions and disagreement

            1. Ecological ignorance. This would be my primary criticism of this book and its enormous weakness. The
        author shows absolutely no awareness of the ecological impact of increased economic growth on the Earth and
        non human life forms. More economic growth/strength simply leads to more influence for a nation and increased
        military spending for Huntington. He is totally anthropocentric in orientation. (Huntington is aware of the
        population pressure resulting from the pro-natalist Islamic religion.) His basic ecological limitation is shown when
        the author defines "self" solely in social and cultural terms, with world citizens ending up in one civilization or another.
        While this is, I believe, unfortunately the existing social reality, as deep greens we are first and foremost
        "Earthlings." The Earth is our basic reference and the carrier of primary values. It is this ecocentric world view
        which gives basic meaning to our lives, not support for a religion, a state, a civilization, a cultural community, an
        extended family, etc. All humans, irrespective of their religious beliefs or civilizational allegiance, need to come to
        think of themselves first as Earthlings. This must come to fundamentally shape their basic self- identity before
        anything else. Given this, we need for our social identities to draw from all civilizations, not just the West.

            2. There is an absence of any class analysis or any consideration of the role played by trans-national corporations
        in this book.

            3. Huntington seems to accept a multicivilizational world but not apparently for the United States. This is a policy
        of exclusivity for large minorities of US citizens: "A multicivilizational United States will not be the United
        States; it will be the United Nations."
(p. 306)

            "The futures of the United States and of the West depend upon Americans reaffirming their commitment
        to Western civilization. Domestically this means rejecting the divisive calls of multiculturalism.
        Internationally it means rejecting the elusive and illusory calls to identify the United States with Asia...
        Americans are culturally part of the Western family; multiculturalists may damage and even destroy that
        relationship but they cannot replace it. When Americans look for their cultural roots, they find them in
(p. 307)



            I have found this book very helpful, with its focus on the new role played by civilizations and world religions in
        contemporary politics. One can say that Marxism has paid little attention to cultural factors but where this
        "Western" ideology has had ongoing longevity, is where it has engaged with what seem to be compatible Confucian
        and Taoist values!


            I do find the analysis in The Clash of Civilizations as "too inevitable." If Huntington's views hold out, then there
        is little hope to exit the environmental quagmire which we are into. Yet as well as raising the deep ecology flag, all
        of us need to address the role of religious fundamentalisms: Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Hindu, etc. and how to
        undercut them. This book is useful in this latter regard. Living in any theocratic state, no matter which religion it is
        based on, would be very bad news for most of us, as for fellow non human Earthlings. We cannot overcome
        religious fundamentalism, if we ignore social injustice and also attempt to impose on others our "own" Western
        economic fundamentalism.


            I think it is necessary to try and outline, for those of us in the West, what are the positive accomplishments of
        this civilization which need upholding. It is a civilization which has accomplishments as well as crimes to its history.
        If we do not do this, then the capitalist economic fundamentalists will put forward their paradigm, e.g. free markets,
        rule of law, individualism, competition, etc. as the "legacy" of the West which we should defend and, if necessary,
        if those in the White House have their way, what we should be prepared to die for.

                                                                                                                                January 6, 2003

                    Printed in the online journal The Trumpeter, Vol. 19.2:   

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