The Blog


Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, $ 26

11:00 PM, Dec 8, 1996 • By ROBERT KAGAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In the course of tearing into the noxious idea that human liberty is a universal value and is spreading, Huntington oscillates between a Buchananite cultural conservatism -- he worries about how immigration may sap the West of its distinctive Westernness -- and the kind of extreme cultural relativism that would make any conservative's hair curl.

The relativism wins out. Like the American Left in the 1970s, Huntington denounces Western universalism as a form of "imperialism." Asians see things differently, he notes, and he sees nothing wrong with the assertion by Singapore's president that the "Asian Way" -- that is, the limitation of political rights in the interest of order -- is as right for Asians as democracy is for Westerners. Indeed, Huntington argues that in the era of the "civilizational paradigm," the preservation of world peace depends on the West butting out of other civilizations' business. (So much for the Hong Kongese and Taiwanese who didn't know they had crossed an uncrossable " civilizational" barrier when they began choosing their leaders democratically. )

Eager to expose the "vacuousness" of Western universalism, Huntington is mesmerized by the Chinese economic miracle. He considers it the definitive refutation of Fukuyama's thesis that there is no longer any viable alternative to Western-style classical liberalism. Liberalism has triumphed, according to Fukuyama, largely because any nation that wants to keep up with the great powers must undergo the process of modernization, which is impossible without liberalization. All other paths promising a route to success -- traditional authoritarianism, fascism, and finally communism -- have proven to be dead ends.

Not so with China, Huntington argues; China is modernizing, but it is not Westernizing. And with its vast population, vast territory, its stunning economic growth, and its politically repressed population, China is destined to surpass "the West" in the future -- somewhere around 2025. It is more likely that Fukuyama is right and that China will eventually face the choice between being rich and free, or poor (and unstable) and tyrannical. But in any case, it is astonishing that Huntington believes he can chart the course of what may be the most turbulent nation of the twentieth century by following a straight line two or three decades into the future.

Huntington's prediction of China's future global mastery is as poorly grounded as his despair about the future of the West, and his general determinism, pessimism, and relativism are unlikely to stand up any better to the test of time than the work of his forebears a century ago, Henry and Brooks Adams.

By Robert Kagan