Summary of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations


A controversial theory that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. The theory gained widespread attention after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that primary axis of conflict in the future would be along cultural and religious lines.

Using various studies of history, Huntington divided the world into the “major” civilizations in his thesis as such:

  1. Western civilization, centered on Western Europe (particularly the European Union) and North America, Auatralia. Latin America and post-soviet states – are under question.
  2. The Orthodox world of Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine, sometimes considered part of the western civilization.
  3. Latin America. It’s a hybrid of the western world and the local indigenous people. May be considered a part of Western civilization, though it has slightly distinct social and political structures from Europe and North America.
  4. The Muslim world of Central Asia, North Africa, Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Somalia, Mindanao, and parts of India.
  5. Hindu civilization, located chiefly in India, Nepal, and culturally adhered to by the global Non-resident Indians and People of Indian Origin, the diaspora.
  6. The Sinic civilization of China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This group also includes the Chinese diaspora, especially in relation to Southeast Asia.
  7. Japan, considered a hybrid of Chinese civilization and older Altaic patterns.
  8. The civilization of Sub-Saharan Africa is considered as a possible 8th civilization by Huntington.
  9. The Buddhist areas of Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Arunachal Pradesh, Kalmykia, parts of Nepal, parts of Siberia, and the Tibetan government-in-exile are identified as separate from other civilizations, but Huntington believes that they do not constitute a major civilization in the sense of international affairs.
  10. Ethiopia, Haiti, and Turkey – classified as “lone” or “torn” countries.

Wars such as those following the break up of Yugoslavia, in Chechnya, and between India and Pakistan were cited as evidence of inter-civilizational conflict.

Huntington also argues that the widespread Western belief in the universality of the West’s values and political systems is naive and that continued insistence on democratization and such “universal” norms will only further antagonize other civilizations. Huntington sees the West as reluctant to accept this because it built the international system, wrote its laws, and gave it substance in the form of the United Nations. Huntington identifies a major shift of economic, military, and political power from the West to the other civilizations of the world, most significantly to what he identifies as the two “challenger civilizations”, Sinic and Islam. The rise of China poses one of the most significant problems and the most powerful long-term threat to the West, as Chinese cultural assertion clashes with the American desire for the lack of a regional hegemony in East Asia. Huntington argues that the Islamic civilization has experienced a massive population explosion which is fueling instability both on the borders of Islam and in its interior, where fundamentalist movements are becoming increasingly popular. Huntington sees Islamic civilization as a potential ally to China, both having more revisionist goals and sharing common conflicts with other civilizations, especially the West.

Swing Civilizations – Russia, Japan, and India – may favor either side.

Muslims – Non-muslisms civilization conflicts – He believes that the current global war on terror between the West and Islam is not a modern consequence of a few crazed radicals, but rather reflects a millennium-plus history of conflict between the two civilizations. Both Christianity and Islam are “all or nothing” religions. Huntington also argues that civilizational conflicts are “particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims”, identifying the “bloody borders” between Islamic and nonIslamic civilizations.

Along with Sinic-Western conflict, he believed, the Western-Islamic clash would represent the bloodiest conflicts of the early 21st century. Thus, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent events including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have been widely viewed as support for the Clash theory.


  1. The Muslim world is severely fractured along ethnic lines with Kurds, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Pakistanis, and Indonesians all having very different world views.
  2. Western civilization includes both Protestant and Catholic branches.
  3. The distinction between the Western and Orthodox civilizations excludes non-religious factors, such as the post-Communist legacy or the level of economic development.
  4. The NATO and EU membership of Romania and Bulgaria (since 2004 and 2007, correspondingly) present a challenge to some of Huntington’s analysis and the line he drew throughout Romania failed to materialize.

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