A photo of Samuel P. Huntington in 2004 at The World Economic Forum - wikipedia

Three Reasons why Huntington still matters

The purpose of this article is to argue why Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ argument is essential for understanding global political relationships in 2015, and why the argument will be necessary to prevent conflicts in the near future. In summary, Huntington’s clash of civilizations takes place in a post-Cold War setting and is based on the premise that global politics will no longer be defined along ideological, ‘communist vs capitalist’ lines. Instead, according to Huntington, human politics in the near future will be motivated by culture. Huntington's 'near future' is the now, the year 2015. Since civilizations, according to Huntington, are the macro-representations of culture, it is sensible to then claim that global politics will be driven by civilizational identification and interaction. This article will examine three reasons why Huntington still matters through briefly describing events in 'Asia', Russia, and Turkey as evidence to support Huntington’s claim that global politics is functioning along cultural, albeit civilizational, lines.

First, Huntington (2003) devotes much of his analysis towards the Asia-Pacific and in particular China, or what he termed the ‘Sinic’ Civilization. Huntington was well aware of the growing global Asian influence. According to Huntington (2003), “… during the coming decades Asian economic growth will have deeply destabilizing effects on the Western-dominated established international order, with the development of China, if it continues, producing a massive shift in power among civilizations” (p. 121). Nearly two decades after Huntington made this claim, China is positioned to become the largest economy in the world. The influence of 'Asia', and in particular China, has become so significant that the President of the United States of America declared an ‘Asian Pivot’ an essential element for American success (Office of the Press Secretary 2012 & Nakamura 2014). The pivot was a policy of repositioning America’s economic and political influence towards the Pacific – a clear response to the ‘destabilizing effect’ of China. Furthermore the influence of 'Asia' is quite vague when one recognizes that three of Huntington's civilizations exist within this geographic zone. While the focus is typically on the rise of China, both Japan and India are recognized by Huntingtin as two significant and independent Asian civilizations. For The West to be successful in 'Asia' it must cooperate with at least one of the regional civilizations and can no longer 'do it alone'.

Second of all, a significant aspect of Huntington’s civilizational world order is the concept of torn countries. Huntington argues that certain nation-states share traits of particular civilizations, yet feel pulled in another direction. Three notable nation-states referred to by Huntington include Mexico, Turkey, and Russia. With reference to Russia and the collapse of the Soviet Union’s synthesis, Huntington asks, “With the collapse of that synthesis, the debate over Russia’s true identity emerged in full vigor. Should Russia adopt Western values, institutions, and practices, and attempt to become part of the West? Or did Russia embody a distinct Orthodox and Eurasian civilization, different from the West’s with a unique destiny to link Europe and Asia?” (Huntington 2003 p. 142). Given Russia’s rebirth as an independent nation-state following the dismantling of the Soviet Union Huntington argued that Russia would face a cultural struggle. Russia would have to determine whether it is a part of the Western Civilization or whether it is the leader of a separate, Orthodox Civilization in the tradition of the Russian Tsars and perhaps as far back as the Byzantine Empire. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has been notable for promoting a ‘multi-polar world order’ to replace the Western-led alliance of nation-states (Putin 2007), as of 2014 the Russian President has been vocal about returning Russia to greatness through the reestablishment of Novorossiya (Basora & Fisher 2014). Considering Russia’s covert invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and continuing into 2015, it appears President Putin is attempting to solidify Russia as an independent civilization.

The third reason why Huntington’s ‘clash’ is relevant in 2015 is based on the transition of Turkey away from a secular governance model, towards an Islamist state. Turkey’s legacy as a secular democratic nation-state was an indirect consequence of World War One. Following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk transitioned the Islamist Empire into a republic becoming its first president and implementing reforms which would later be termed Kemalism (Kili 1980). With respects to Ataturk’s legacy in Turkey and its position as a secular-democratic Muslim nation- state, Huntington (2003 p. 178) asks the question, “What, however, if Turkey redefined itself?” Huntington then frames a scenario. “At some point, Turkey could be ready to give up its frustrating and humiliating role as a beggar pleading for membership in the West and to resume its much more impressive and elevated historical role as the principal Islamic interlocutor and antagonist of the West” (p. 178). Anyone paying attention to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies will undoubtedly fall under the impression that Turkey is repositioning itself as away from Kemalism (Miller-Christie 2013 and Fradkin & Libby 2013). In fact, some might even claim that President Erdogan’s objective is to reposition Turkey along the lines of its Ottoman greatness – following the pattern of President Putin in Russia. Given the uneasy state of secularism (not to mention liberal democracy) within Turkey as of 2015, Huntington’s caution towards Turkey and his depiction of Turkey as a torn country offers valuable insight into where the ancestors of The Ottoman Empire might be headed.

The purpose of this article has been to argue that Huntington’s clash of civilizations premise is entirely relevant in 2015, twenty years after its original publication. In order to support the claim of Huntington’s relevance in 2015, this article has relied on evidence from three regions not often considered essential the clash of civilizations premise. While many often cite Huntington’s clash argument in correlation with the Western ‘war on terrorism’ and the Islamist jihad against the ‘infidel’ Western nations, this article suggests that Huntington’s argument is more relevant than simply a clash between the Western and Islamic values. Through analyzing the clash, albeit briefly, in the context of the Asian civilizations of China, Japan, and India, in addition to the torn countries of Russia and Turkey, this article has revealed the clash as more than a phenomena restricted to one global political theatre. Therefore, when reading Huntington’s work it is essential to understand the premise in a global and historical context. Civilizations, according to Huntington, are not limited to one geographic location nor to one specific culture. Understanding the global interactions of civilizations will better equip us to make sense of the human community living within the twenty-first century.



Basora, AA & Fisher, A 2014, ‘Putin’s ‘Greater Novorossiya’ – The dismemberment of Ukraine’, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 17 April, available at: http://www.fpri.org/articles/2014/05/putins-greater-novorossiya-dismemberment-ukraine.

Fradkin, H & Libby, L 2013, ‘Edrogan’s grand vision: Rise and decline’, World Affairs, March/April, available at: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/erdogan%E2%80%99s-grand-vision-rise-and-decline.

Huntington, SP 2003, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remarking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, New York: NY, USA.

Kili, S 1980, ‘Kemalism in contemporary Turkey’, International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 381-404.
Miller-Christie, A 2014, ‘Edrogan launches Sunni Islamist revival in Turkish schools’, Newsweek, 16 December, available at: http://www.newsweek.com/2014/12/26/erdogan-launches-sunni-islamist-revival-turkish-schools-292237.html.

Nakamura, D 2014, ‘Obama aims to reinvigorate Asia strategy’, The Washington Post, 16 April, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-aims-to-reinvigorate-asia-strategy/2014/04/16/4a46ed5e-c4bf-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html.

Office of the Press Secretary, 2012, ‘On-the-Record Conference Call on the President’s Upcoming Trip to Asia’, The White House, 15 November, available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/11/15/record-conference-call-presidents-upcoming-trip-asia.

Putin, V 2007, ‘Speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, President of Russia: Diplomacy and External Affairs, February 10, available at: http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2007/02/10/0138_type82912type82914type82917type84779_118123.shtml.