Samuel P. Huntington

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Samuel P. Huntington (1927–2008) was a professor of political science,[1] and director of Harvard's Center for International Affairs. He began his career as an advisor to the South African secret service during the apartheid regime.[2] He is famous for writing the provocative book The Clash of Civilizations the Remaking of the World Order,[3] which hypothesized that, in the post-Cold War era, international conflict would not be defined by ideological competition between Marxism and capitalism, but rather clashes between civilizations. To support his argument, Huntington broke the world down into five civilizations and analyzed recent conflicts between the groups.

While first received positively, after the 9/11 attacks Huntington's thesis was widely criticized for his famous quotation, "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards,"[4] implying Islam was at war with much of the rest of the world. The George W. Bush State Department immediately repudiated the claim that the War on Terror was a clash of civilizations, and attempted to limit the conflict by isolating and marginalizing radical Islamic extremists.[5]

An excerpt from the obituary of Samuel P. Huntington published at The Telegraph:

Huntington identified eight major civilisations in the world: "Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization." But much of the article examined the scope for conflict between just two of those: the West and Islam.

The West, he suggested was "at its peak" and its "efforts to promote its values of democracy and liberalism as universal values, to maintain its military predominance and to advance its economic interests" would only "engender countering responses from other civilizations". With ethnicity and religion defining identity, wars would not be about "what side you are on" but "what you are". Military confrontations would take on "an 'us' against 'them' relation".

The clash of civilisations, would, Huntington suggested, be acted out most violently on the boundaries between them. "Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years," he noted, predicting that it would become "more virulent". But Islam's problems would not just be with the West. "Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines," he wrote. "Islam has bloody borders.""[6]

Huntington is often referred to as a civilizational historian and built upon the work pioneered by Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee. Despite the criticism Huntington received in the early days of the War on Terror as his work fell out of use in academic circles, two decades after the book first appeared many began to view the work as prophetic.


Huntington wrote of China in 1996:

It appears probable that for most of history China had the world's largest economy. The diffusion of technology and the economic development of non-Western societies in the second half of the twentieth century are now producing a return to the historical pattern. This will be a slow process, but by the middle of the twenty-first century, if not before, the distribution of economic product and manufacturing output among the leading civilizations is likely to resemble that of 1800. The two-hundred-year Western "blip" on the world economy will be over.[7]


Huntington wrote about Ukraine in 1996:

the restraint of Russian and Ukrainian leaders prevented this issue from generating violence, and the election two months later of the pro-Russian Kuchma as Ukrainian president undermined the Crimean thrust for secession.

That election did, however, raise the possibility of the western part of the country seceding from a Ukraine that was drawing closer and closer to Russia. Some Russians might welcome this. As one Russian general put it, "Ukraine or rather Eastern Ukraine will come back in five, ten or fifteen years. Western Ukraine can go to hell!" Such a rump Uniate and Western-oriented Ukraine, however, would only be viable if it had strong and effective Western support. Such support is, in turn, likely to be forthcoming only if relations between the West and Russia deteriorated seriously and came to resemble those of the Cold War.[8]


  • The avoidance of major inter-civilizational wars requires core states to refrain from intervening in conflicts in other civilizations. This is a truth which some states, particularly the United States, will undoubtedly find difficult to accept.


  2. Mr. Huntington Goes to Pretoria, By Gay Seidman, The Harvard Crimson, November 5, 1987.
  4. “Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
  5. "radical Islamic extremists" or "jihadists". A question remained to what extent jihad was inherent to Islam, or "secularization" vs. "desecularization."
  6. Samuel P. Huntington - Obituary, The Telegragh, 2008
  7. The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order, Samuel P. Huntington, Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 88.

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