31 Dec 2008

The Clash of Civilizations

Posted by jofr

In his book The Clash of Civilizations Harvard professor Samuel Phillips Huntington (1927-2008) proposed a theory that people’s cultural identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. In the past centuries, we had indeed a clash of different cultural systems and their entities: first between religious entities, then between political entities, and finally between economical entities. The religious clashes are the most ancient ones besides the archaic clash of clans, tribes and chiefdoms. They existed (mixed with other forms) since the dawn of civilization. In the beginning, there was no clear difference between religion, politics and economy: in ancient Egypt the king was the religious and “economic” leader, too. During the course of time, independent religions, national states and international companies emerged, and the conflicts escalated in heavy clashes and wars during the last centuries. In Europe, the focus shifted gradually from religion to politics and finally to the economy:

  • 17th century: religious clash of religions (e.g. the religious Thirty Years’ War)
  • 18th century: clash of monarchies (e.g. World War I)
  • 19th century: political clash of states (e.g. the Franco Prussian War)
  • 20th century: clash of ideologies (e.g. the cold war)
  • 21th century: economic clash of international corporations

Interestingly, we can find intermediate periods between the major clashes of cultural systems where a clash of “mixed” systems happened. Monarchies are a mixture of religion and state, while ideologies like capitalism and communism fall between politics and economy.

In Europe the last heavy war was World War II. World War II ended the conflicts and clashes between national states, like World War I which ended the clashes between struggling monarchies. The major wars were also endpoints for different cultural clashes:

  • clash of religions ended with the Thirty Years’ War (religion and state became independent: secularization, emergence of social institutions)
  • clash of monarchies ended with World War I (monarchy and state became independent: democratization, emergence of political parties)
  • clash of political states ended with World War II (state and economy became independent: globalization, emergence of global corporations)

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