Culture Clash-ification: A Verse to Huntington's Curse

We owe to Samuel Huntington a potent provocation,

A trenchant tract to counteract a clear exaggeration:

The notion that the West has won, its culture now supreme,

His book rejects--and then corrects--as wishful in extreme.

For, he insists, our world consists of cultural formations

Arising (and revising) out of eight great civilizations.

He sets our pulses pounding and our wisdom teeth to gnashing

With come-to-blows scenarios of different cultures clashing.

This is of course a tour de force, but somewhere in the tour,

Huntington has been undone by paradigm-amour.

For in his zeal to wheel and deal in fundamental frameworks,

He misses cues and misconstrues just how the global game works.

What Sam doesn't seem to get, despite the implications,

Is that the game has been reset by telecommunications.

Networks and computing make the difference fundamental,

By skewing and redoing social bonds--and governmental.

Since entity identity is much more problematic,

Crash-courses in world politics should not be so dogmatic.

For cultures have been compromised, foundations have been shaken;

Resistant values often overwhelmed or overtaken.

These bouts are seldom brittle, like tectonic plates colliding,

But mushy in the middle--more like pools of ink eliding.

The economic pressures for survival and performance

Have helped to steer the atmosphere to cultural conformance.

The reach of voice and video is widely so invasive,

They bleach each local culture like a very harsh abrasive.

Each center hones distinctive tones, yet even these evolve,

So neither core is like before, and outer realms dissolve.

And though we tow our sentiments and symbols from the past,

Their meaning has been leaning as their context is recast.

While all the cards are shuffled and the deck's in disarray,

The task is how to reavow the order of the day.

Yet Huntington is skeptical of cultural convergence,

And won't endorse the course of what is widely in emergence:

A market-based and liberal-laced embrace of competition,

Against which local cultures often brace in opposition.

These global/local battles are recycled and reheated

In country after country where these ruptures are repeated:

The worldly cosmopolitans confronting long tradition;

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis