This thesis investigates one of the most interesting and debated recent theories in the field of international relations, namely the one Harvard-professor Samuel P. Huntington, ”The Clash of Civilizations”, put forward in an article in the Journal of Foreign Affairs in 1993.
Huntington states that civilizational and cultural factors, not economics or ideologies, will be the principle reason why conflicts occur in our Post Cold War world. Huntington provoked many by claiming that "In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations." The article evoked an enormous response world-wide. According to the editor of Foreign Affairs, it stirred up more discussion than any other article since the 1940’s.
In contrast to the prevailing debate and criticisms of Huntington's theory, which mainly deals with Huntington's claim that the rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations, my aim has been to question the conceptual construction of his theory. Central to the discussion has been to analyze Huntington's theory within a geopolitical historical context and a contemporary political context.
In the preface of the book (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order) that followed the article, Huntington says that his theory "…aspires to present a framework, a paradigm, for viewing global politics that will be meaningful to scholars and useful to policymakers." That his theory represents a paradigm within the field of international relations is a bold claim to make, even for a Harvard professor. This thesis dismisses his claim on the basis that the theory does nothing but continue a long, western geopolitical tradition. In other words, his theory has rather placed new political issues into an old theoretical framework.
Having deconstructed Huntington's theory, the theory's objective is also questioned; is his theory really about a clash of civilizations? Is it possible to understand Huntington's 'civilizational' world order theory as some form of identity politics? Huntington is afraid that the political unity and cultural homogeneity in his country is threatened. He sees the traditional Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, English cultural inheritance of the American identity being undermined by various groups within the United States. A foreign common threat would help quell dissidence and enforce a stronger sense of community. Therefore a domestic cultural problem needs a foreign cultural threat. In this light, Huntington, like many before him, provides a new dangerous 'Other', which helps to discipline the American 'Self'. This new 'Other' is defined along cultural terms as opposed to ideological terms, which was the case during the cold war.
In the end, Huntington's theory is significant because it represents a vital part of our present western mental conceptual framework. It has contributed to the renaissance of concepts such as religion, culture and civilizations in today's leading political discourse. In other words, Huntington's theory tells us more about American domestic and foreign policy than it does about a coming clash of civilizations.