Huntington’s clash

Samuel Huntingdon, the guy who most annoyed the triumphalist US neo-cons, died on Christmas Eve. The Economist‘s Lexington column had an astute appreciation of him.

Samuel Huntington thought that all this [‘end of history’ stuff] was bunk. In “The Clash of Civilisations?” he presented a darker view. He argued that the old ideological divisions of the Cold War would be replaced not by universal harmony but by even older cultural divisions. The world was deeply divided between different civilisations. And far from being drawn together by globalisation, these different cultures were being drawn into conflict.

Huntington added another barb to his argument by suggesting that Western civilisation was in relative decline: the American power-mongers who thought that they were the architects of a new world order were more likely to find themselves the victims of cultural forces that they did not even know existed. The future was being forged in the mosques of Tehran and the planning commissions of Beijing rather than the cafés of Harvard Square. His original 1993 article, in Foreign Affairs, was translated into 26 languages and expanded into a best-selling book.

The “Clash of Civilisations?” was only the most famous of numerous exercises in goring sacred cows. In “The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late 20th Century” (1991), he argued that democratisation might have more to do with the Second Vatican Council, which had unleashed a wave of democratisation across the Catholic world, than with the spread of free-markets. In “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” (2004) he challenged the reigning orthodoxy of multiculturalism, pointing out that American civilisation is the product of Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture, and warning that the huge influx of Latinos threatened to unmoor it from its roots.