The Modernizing Imperative: Tradition and Change

I approach the work of Samuel P. Huntington with keen interest and high expectations. Like most political scientists, I have learned much from his writings. Now in his article "The Clash of Civilizations?" he once again raises new questions.

In his essay, Huntington asserts that civilizations are real and important and predicts that "conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict." He further argues that institutions for cooperation will be more likely to develop within civilizations, and conflicts will most often arise between groups in different civilizations. These strike me as interesting but dubious propositions.

Huntington's classification of contemporary civilizations is questionable. He identifies "seven or eight major civilizations" in the contemporary world: Western (which includes both European and North American variants), Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American "and possibly African."

This is a strange list.

If civilization is defined by common objective elements such as language, history, religion, customs and institutions and, subjectively, by identification, and if it is the broadest collectivity with which persons intensely identify, why distinguish "Latin American" from "Western" civilization? Like North America, Latin America is a continent settled by Europeans who brought with them European languages and a European version of Judeo-Christian religion, law, literature and gender roles. The Indian component in Latin American culture is more important in some countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru) than in North America. But the African influence is more important in the United States than in all but a few Latin American countries (Brazil, Belize and Cuba). Both North and South America are "Western" European with an admixture of other elements.

And what is Russia if not "Western"? The East/West designations of the Cold War made sense in a European context, but in a global context Slavic/Orthodox people are Europeans who share in Western culture. Orthodox theology and liturgy, Leninism and Tolstoy are expressions of Western culture.

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