Saturday, December 27, 2008

Samuel Huntington, 1927-2008. R.I.P.

Harvard political science professor Samuel Huntington has died. Huntington succumbed to congestive heart failure and complications from diabetes. He was 81.

Huntington is best known for "Clash of Civilizations" thesis. It was first published in Foreign Affairs in 1993. It would be expanded into a book three years later.

In a nutshell, Huntington argues that conflicts in the 21st century are defined by culture rather than economics and ideology. He divided the world into 7 cultural chasms. The greatest threats to the West were from what her termed the Simic culture (led by China) and Islamic culture. Huntington's thoughts gained greater credence after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Some labeled Huntington a neo-conservative but I don't think it's an accurate description. Huntington was more realist in his thinking. He did not think American values, much less Western ones, were universal and believed exporting democracy as we understood it served no one. In an interview conducted shortly before the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks he said:

Western culture, particularly American culture, emphasizes individualism to an extent no other culture I know of does. Other cultures put the emphasis on community, family and social factors, whereas we talk about the rights of individuals. When we have gone abroad and have had to exercise our influence, very naturally we bring our values and cultures with us and try to persuade, at times coerce, other people to accept them. (

Samuel Huntington might have left this mortal coil. But his ideas and the consequences of them will likely be with us for this century and beyond.

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