30 December, 2008

Samuel Huntington

I will return to Israel and Palestine shortly, but first a few words on the late Samuel Huntington, who died on Christmas Eve. Huntington enjoyed a long career as a political scientist and intellectual Cold Warrior, writing The Third Wave, an interesting-sounding book on democratisation. In later years, he was best known for writing The Clash of Civilisations, first as an article in Foreign Affairs and then as a book. The timing of this work was interesting – it appeared in 1993, when the western world was still somewhat basking in the warm fuzzy glow that followed victory in the Cold War, with Francis Fukuyama's vision of history ending in a glorious and peaceful liberal future capturing something of the zeitgeist. Huntington rejected Fukuyama's optimism, foreseeing the future as one of conflict. His idea, crudely summarised (I have not actually read the article or book) is that the world is divided up into civilisations. Some of these civilisations are capable of relatively friendly interaction with the others, but some of them (notably the Muslim World and China*) are naturally going to want to engage with our civilisation in bloody conflict. Huntington's policy prescriptions are simple enough – those civilisations must be contained, and people from them should not be allowed into our countries unless they have been purged of their foreign ways.

I gather that for much of the 1990s, Huntington's ideas served to provide some intellectual backing for those who fancied a new Cold War with China. After 9-11, however, Huntington's ideas suddenly found a new audience. It suddenly became a lot more credible to say that there are people out there who are not like us and who hate us for what we are. Huntington's ideas may be a bit facile, but they were arguably the intellectual framework behind the War on Terror.

Huntington's death seems not to have attracted as much notice as might be expected. This could, perhaps, be a sign that his influenced has waned and the world is now embracing more sophisticated and nuanced analysis of world affairs. Or maybe I look at the wrong news sources.

Some links:

Wikipedia entry on Samuel Huntington

Telegraph obituary

Conservapedia entry on Samuel Huntington


Ken said...

He had described himself as a "Leninist-Burkean" which should set alarm bells ringing.

I'm come across him a couple of times this term, initially in the context of international migration where his most recent fear mongering was over the "hispanicization" of the US, claiming that certain major cities in the US were likely to become dominated a by a Spanish speaking population. This was rationalised by suggesting that modern technology now makes it is easy for migrants to remain in contact with their home country so that they are no longer need to make any effort to learn English. The fact that many surveys have shown that although 1st generation migrants to the US tend to speak their mother-tongue, the second generation prefer to speak English or are perfectly bilingual and by the 3rd generation nearly all prefer to speak English.

Where he still has some relevance was his suggestion that developing countries need to become "strong" states that concentrate on getting the economy right and worry about "democratization" later. It's not a particularly nuanced position either but given that many of the post WWII development success stories have roughly followed this formulae it still carries some weight.

ian said...

The first thing is presumably his fear of what will happen when countries have two "civilisations" in them.

The second thing, the justification for dictatorship in a developing state - this is a crypto-marxist argument... the second or third hand version of his argument I picked up was that the middle class in a developing state will be too weak to maintain a democracy geared towards further development, so the great unwashed will stifle progress by focusing on immediate redistribution.