The west won the cold war, but cannot and should not impose its distinct values on other world civilisations. Samuel Huntington, in an elaboration of his "Clash of Civilisations" essay published in 1993, argues that the west can only flourish in a more hostile world by abandoning its universal aspirationsby Samuel Huntington / February 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Published in February 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine
In the post cold war world the most important distinctions among people are not ideological, political or economic. They are cultural. People and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations and, at the broadest level, civilisations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.
Nation states remain the principal actors in world affairs. Their behaviour is shaped as in the past by the pursuit of power and wealth, but it is also shaped by cultural preferences and differences. The most important groupings of states are no longer the three blocs of the cold war but rather the world’s seven or eight major civilisations. Which are they?
Sinic. All scholars recognise the existence of either a single distinct Chinese civilisation dating back at least to 1500 BC, or of two civilisations one succeeding the other in the early centuries of the Christian epoch. While Confucianism is a major component of Chinese civilisation, Chinese civilisation is more than Confucianism.
Japanese. Some scholars combine Japanese and Chinese culture under a single far eastern civilisation. Most, however, recognise Japan as a distinct civilisation which was the offspring of Chinese civilisation, emerging between AD 100 and 400.
Hindu. One or more successive civilisations have existed on the subcontinent since at least 1500 BC. In one form or another, Hinduism has been central to the culture of the subcontinent since the second millennium BC. It has continued to be so even though India has a substantial Muslim community.
Islamic. Originating in the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century AD, Islam spread rapidly across north Africa and the Iberian peninsula and also eastward into central Asia, the subcontinent and southeast Asia. Many distinct cultures exist within Islam, including Arab, Turkic, Persian and Malay.