His hypothesis is simple and straightforward: "The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation-states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts in global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future". Huntington's postulation is that a clash will occur because differences between civilisations are not only real, they are basic; the world is becoming a smaller place; the processes of economic modernisation and social change throughout the world are separating people from long-standing local identities; the growth of civilisation-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West; cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and less easily compromised than political and economic ones and economic regionalism is increasing.
A heady sense of euphoria had swept the world as the great Communist empire collapsed in the early-1990s. For almost half a century hundreds of millions of people, especially in Europe and North America, had lived under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Now the world was once again in the throes of change. President George Bush (Senior) had gleefully proclaimed the beginning of a new era “free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace, an era in which the nations of the world can prosper and live in harmony”. A decade later, the dream seems to have passed and the world has taken hard knocks from reality.
History not ending yet
Since only one superpower remained, the dominant view was there could be no major conflict in the future. Nuclear weapons were suddenly perceived as extravagantly redundant. A call was raised for the dismantling of Nato. Some scholars even predicted that war itself would soon be out of date. However, events that have unfolded since then, particularly the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, have belied these hopes. The words of James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, have turned out to be more prophetic than those of his President: “We confront a deeply troubled and conflict prone world, which is more complicated, more volatile and much less predictable”.
The global system is caught up in revolutionary upheaval today. The concept of the nation-state, the most basic building block of the global system, is itself changing. Approximately one-third of all the present members of the United Nations, are threatened by ethnic disharmony, rebel movements and insurgencies.
National borders are becoming increasingly porous; rapid fluctuations in the currency rates are giving the central banks many anxious moments; imports and immigrants are moving freely across the world and terrorists, guns and drugs are threatening the sovereignty of nations. Out of this chaos, a new kind of political entity, described as the “post-national” state, is emerging.
Many scholars and intellectuals have proffered their own visions of the emerging world order. Of all these, Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History and the Last Man and Samuel Huntington’s article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Clash of Civilisations”, (later developed into a book) have become modern day classics in the genre of international relations. Fukuyama has theorised that the world is witnessing the end of ideological conflict between democracy and totalitarianism and that the decisive defeat of totalitarianism will be the likely outcome. This, in turn, would bring about the end of conflict in the developed countries. However, the Third World would continue to suffer wars as it is “mired in history” and still in the process of resolving its ideological conflicts.
Fukuyama’s argument suffers from the fallacy of a single alternative, as the end of totalitarianism and communism does not necessarily mean the automatic emergence of liberal democracy. Recent events in Zimbabwe are pointers. Fukuyama’s paradigms are limited in their applicability mainly to the Western world and tend to ignore the rest. With the emergence of many new forms of authoritarianism, ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism, it is extremely unlikely that ideological and physical conflicts will end and the world will witness the “end of history”.
Decline of progressivism
Perhaps no other writing on international affairs has attracted as much critical analysis as Huntington’s essay on the possibility of a clash between civilisations. His hypothesis is simple and straightforward: “The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation-states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts in global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The (cultural) fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future”.
Huntington’s postulation is that a clash will occur because differences between civilisations are not only real, they are basic; the world is becoming a smaller place; the processes of economic modernisation and social change throughout the world are separating people from long-standing local identities; the growth of civilisation-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West; cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and, hence, less easily compromised than political and economic ones and economic regionalism is increasing. Thus, Huntington challenges the geo-economic school, which sees trade conflict and global competition as the main source of political rivalries. Many analysts perceive the Afghanistan conflict as the first conflict along civilisational fault lines.
While not disagreeing entirely with Huntington, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, of Future Shock and Third Wave fame, find his reliance on the traditional definition of civilisation inadequate. In their new book entitled War And Anti-War they state: “We, too, believe civilisations will clash in the future. But not along the lines he (Huntington) suggests. An even larger potential collision lies ahead — a ‘master conflict’ within which his clash of civilisations could itself be subsumed. We might think of it as a collision of (industrial) ‘super civilisations’.”
The Tofflers use the word civilisation to refer to First Wave agrarianism, Second Wave industrialism and to the emerging Third Wave globalism. The Tofflers predict that the historic change from a bisected to a trisected world could well trigger the deepest power struggles on the planet as each country tries to position itself in the emerging three-tiered power structure. “The resulting collisions, reflecting the sharply differing needs of two radically different civilisations, could provoke some of the worst bloodshed in the years to come.
In his essay entitled “The End of Progressivism”, Eisuke Sakakibara disagrees with the projections of both Fukuyama and Huntington. In his view, “The Cold War was nothing but a conflict between two extreme versions of progressivism — socialism and neo-classical capitalism.” He avers that civilisations do indeed rise and fall and often clash with each offer, but more important, they have interacted and coexisted throughout most of history. According to Sakakibara, the clash of civilisations is not the inevitable result of their co-existence but rather the result of their recent interaction with Western progressivism.
Globalism’s teething pains
Though nation-states have played a predominant role in global affairs for a few centuries, the major civilisations have had a far greater impact on the shaping of human history. However, it would be premature to downgrade the fervour of nationalism in moulding the future contours of the emerging political firmament. Commenting on Huntington’s hypothesis, Dipankar Banerjee, director of the Strategic Studies Institute, Colombo, has written: “The entire concept of civilisational conflict, attractive though it may seem on the surface, does not fully address the many contradictions in the world today.”
It is clear that the “end of history”, in Francis Fukuyama’s misleading phrase, is not at hand: Civilisations will continue to coexist and, if at all they do clash, it will only be sometime in the distant future. As recent events have shown, in the foreseeable future, conflicts will be more likely to occur between terrorist organisations and nation-states and, in some case, between nation-states themselves to correct the aberrations of history.
The real competition among nations will be in the arena of trade and commerce. Environmental and ecological issues will play a major role in the interaction between nations. Non-adherence to the principles of tolerance and moderation and the lack of maturity in the global discourse will certainly lead to an escalation in tensions between nations and, eventually, between civilisations.
Also, if “modernity” is the new weapon with which the West plans to prod Third World cultures into neo-colonialism, this would be a divisive, diversionary and, ultimately, harmful approach. If, on the other hand, “modernity” is advocated in its evolutionary historical and cultural context, a truly useful and: ‘satisfying inter-civilisational understanding can be promoted that can help to build on the strengths of shared common legacies, rather than to magnify the few differences that remain. Whichever way the winds of change choose to blow, the contours of the emerging world order will remain blurred for a long time to come.