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Hutington original essay The Clash of civilizations

On the fault line: will the battles of the crusades be echoed in the future between civilisations such as Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu and Latin American?

World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be - the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a central aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological nor primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future.

Conflict between civilisations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after the emergence of the modern international system with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the conflicts of the western world were largely among princes-emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with the French revolution the principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes. In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, "The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun."

This 19th-century pattern lasted until the end of the first world war. Then, as a result of the Russian revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between communism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, neither of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and each of which defined its identity in terms of its ideology.

These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within western civilisation. "Western civil wars," as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the cold war as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. With the end of the cold war, international politics moves out of its western phase and its centrepiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-western civilisations and among non-western civilisations. In the politics of civilisations, the peoples and governments of non-western civilisations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.

During the cold war the world was divided into the First, Second and Third Worlds. Those divisions are no longer relevant. It is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilisation.

What do we mean when we talk of a civilisation? A civilisation is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese and westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilisations.

A civilisation is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. People have levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a westerner. The civilisation to which he belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he intensely identifies. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and boundaries of civilisations change.

Civilisations may involve a large number of people, as with China ("a civilization pretending to be a state," as Lucian Pye put it) , or a small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean. A civilisation may include several nation states, as is the case with western, Latin American and Arab civilisations, or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilisation. Follow reading >>>

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