Culture and Civilization Matters

July 7, 2009

The Clash of Civilizations

This blog entry provides pointers to some of the core concepts surrounding civilization.

The primary course reading that deals with the topic of Civilization is Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 Foreign Affairs article entitled, “The Clash of Civilizations?

In this article, Huntington’s central thesis is that “The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural…..The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington defines the following world regions as Civilizations: Western, Orthodox, Islamic, African, Latin American, Sinic, Hindu, Buddhist, Japanese:


In this article, Huntington suggests that, “A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined by both the common objective elements such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people.” (p. 24)

Take this quick POLL based on this map:

Huntington closes his article by suggesting that the West will have to, “develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people see their interests. It will require an effort to identify the commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant Future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with others.”

One of the design points for this course calls for the examination of differing points of view on a given topic. This type of analysis creates the tension required for personal sensemaking to occur.

While very influential, Huntington’s arguments in this article have not gone without criticism. Most notably, Edward Said of Columbia in his article, “The Clash of Ignorance” suggests that Huntington’s static categorization of the worlds civilizations omits the dynamic nature culture.

For a more detailed account of Said’s response to Huntington you can view his address at University of Massachusetts entitled “The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations” below:

Edward Said’s Response to Huntington (58:18):

Some Questions to Ponder:

    Do you agree with Huntington that we have progressed from Wars of Kings(e.g. Royalty) to Wars of Peoples (e.g. Nation States) to Wars of Ideas (e.g. Culture)? Why or Why Not?

    What are Said’s arguments against Huntington’s position? Do his arguments have merit?

    Based on reviewing this posting, what are your own perspectives on how culture and civilization will influence and impact the future of enterprise?

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