Do Civilizations Hold?

ALBERT L. WEEKS is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at New York University.

Samuel P. Huntington has resurrected an old controversy in the study of international affairs: the relationship between "microcosmic" and "macrocosmic" processes. Partisans of the former single out the nation state as the basic unit, or determining factor, in the yin and yang of world politics. The "macros," on the other hand, view world affairs on the lofty level of the civilizations to which nation states belong and by which their behavior is allegedly largely determined.

To one degree or another, much of the latter school's thinking, although they may be loath to admit it, derives from Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Quincy Wright, F. N. Parkinson and others. In contrast, scholars such as Hans J. Morgenthau, John H. Herz and Raymond Aron have tended to hew to the "micro" school.

Both schools began debating the issue vigorously back in the 1950s. That Huntington is resurrecting the controversy 40 years later is symptomatic of the failure of globalism--specifically the idea of establishing a "new world order"-to take root and of the failure to make sense of contradictory trends and events. His aim is to find new, easily classified determinants of contemporary quasi-chaotic international behavior and thus to get a handle on the international kaleidoscope.

His methodology is not new. In arguing the macro case in the 1940s, Toynbee distinguished what he called primary, secondary and tertiary civilizations by the time of their appearance in history, contending that their attributes continued to influence contemporary events. Wright, likewise applying a historical method, classified civilizations as "bellicose" (including Syrian, Japanese and Mexican), "moderately bellicose" (Germanic, Western, Russian, Scandinavian, etc.) and "most peaceful" (such as Irish, Indian and Chinese). Like Toynbee and now Huntington, he attributed contemporary significance to these factors. Huntington's classification, while different in several respects from those of his illustrious predecessors, also identifies determinants on a grand scale by "civilizations."

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