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Samuel Huntington: Argued that Islam was destined to clash with the West (WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM CC BY-SA 2.0)

It is time to put the United Nations out of its misery. Created in 1945 to prevent conflicts between almost 200 nation states, it has passed its sell-by date. Such conflicts are no longer the global priority. The new menace — horrific clashes between the world’s nine historic civilisations — demands the creation of a new body. The United Civilisations, perhaps?

That is the radical message implicit in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, published in this country exactly 20 years ago. The author was the Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington, an adviser to successive US Presidents and probably the finest political scientist of his generation. He was certainly the most contentious. By the 1990s most American policymakers had simply lost patience with him.

Yet the book remains, I would argue, the most prescient (and certainly the most provocative) work of American political science since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the apparent end of ideological Communism. Its relevance has increased along with growing global chaos and, in particular, the rapid expansion of aggressive, fundamentalist versions of Islam (one of those civilisations into which Huntington divided the globe), and concomitant Islamist terror. Huntington suggests that American foreign policy since the early 1990s has been largely responsible for the mess. This, he says, is because it is based on two false premises: first, the belief, that Western civilisation (Judaeo-Christian America with Western Europe in tow) is the one genuine global superpower, and as such is free to throw its weight about. The second is the belief that global “modernisation” means that the other eight civilisations are evolving, inevitably and happily, into imitations of America.

Given the unhappy state of the world, Huntington’s thesis demands serious examination by America’s presidential hopefuls. Instead, it is ignored by, or receives knee-jerk accusations of racism and Islamophobia from America’s Democratic Left. And it is dismissed as lacking muscle-flexing patriotism by much of the Republican Right.

Moreover, the author was, and is, generally regarded by liberal academics with self-righteous distaste. Huntington, a Democrat, had form. He supported an ever more ruthless Vietnam War right to the end. He then applied tick-box political science measures to apartheid South Africa. Compared to other African states, South Africa came out well: a relatively independent judiciary, no military coups, a relatively high standard of living for blacks as well as whites. He decided that apartheid South Africa was worth supporting — and said so. When The Clash of Civilizations was published, many liberal intellectuals got their own back by attacking the man but not seriously examining his thesis. You can see why. When the book appeared in 1996 the Cold War had recently ended. “We” had won and were in triumphalist mode. In its most extreme form that triumphalism was expressed by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama — surprisingly an ex-student of Huntington — in his now notorious “end of history” thesis.

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September 5th, 2016
10:09 AM
Ideological Communism was defeated, but cultural Marxism has been winning the march through Western institutions ever since. Huntington was right. He may even have been over-optimistic regarding our fate. How can a civilisation vanquish its external enemies when it harbours and nurtures millions of internal philosophical enemies? How can we expect our adversaries to respect us, when many of our political leaders plainly undermine our values?

Geoffrey Hicking
September 4th, 2016
8:09 PM
...and yet when ISIS is driven from Iraqi and Syrian towns, women in liberated territory throw off their burkas. Women that might regard themselves as Muslims. Women in India are marching for equality, South Africans are voting against Zuma. There's still time for it all to go wrong, but we could at least have ago at pulling something from the wreckage. A 'United Civilisations' sounds interesting. Right now Huntingdon is right, but I imagine that he is calling on us to prove him wrong.

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