Samuel Huntington’s Civilizations Map. Source: Wikipedia
In 1992, Dr. Samuel Huntington outlined his view of the coming world order. It was a heady time: the Berlin Wall had just fallen; East and West Germany were reunifying; Operation Desert Storm repelled Saddam Hussein’s aggressive invasion of Iraq. George H. W. Bush spoke of a “new world order.” Some political theorists proposed that we had reached the end of history. Liberal democracy and free-market capitalism, they thought, were inevitably the best way for societies to organize themselves. There was no reasonable alternative.
Huntington didn’t see it this way. He observed that there were still large cultural rifts observable around the world. He described eight major world civilizations: Western, Islamic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Latin American, and African. The peoples in these groups are separated by many factors, especially religion. The principal conflicts of the future, he thought, would occur along these cultural fault lines. Like the rifts between continental plates, these conflicts would quietly sit under the surface, then suddenly shift. War is then like a cross-cultural earthquake.
Today, we see active clashes among the first four: China, Russia, Islam, and the West. These go along with a total a lack of understanding. China sees itself as a great civilization that was oppressed and is now assuming its proper place in the world. Vladimir Putin justifies his aggression as a defense of the Russian people, language, and culture from Western decadence. Islamic jihadis believe there are only two regions of the word: the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb—the “House of Islam” and the “House of War.” And now we’re observing conflict within the House of Islam.
Ironically, there are many people who deny we are in a civilizational clash. They claim that Iranians and Chinese and Russians and Brazilians are just like us, just with different hair. But that’s the whole point. Our various backgrounds mean we don’t understand one another’s distinct cultural values. We don’t all want the same thing. But the self-criticism that characterizes Western culture leads others to believe our civilization is weak and fundamentally flawed. Hence the belief that most of the world’s problems come from the blind assertion of American power.
Source: USAF, Wikimedia
Conflict is growing: hacking and cyber-war, guerilla war and terrorism, unprovoked drone strikes, espionage and other attacks. We need to acknowledge this and be ready. Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary, supposedly said: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
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