Friday, March 20, 2015

Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington

Imagine you went to a speaking engagement given by one of the most distinguished and influential calculus professors. Assume for the sake of argument that you’re actually interested in calculus. You listen to him speak and there seems to be something wrong; you assume that there has to be a rational explanation; after all he is one of the most reputable calculus professors in the country. You raise your hand to ask about it but he doesn’t call on you; you wait until after he’s done speaking and he talks to the crowd but you can’t get to the front before he leaves for the evening. Undeterred you check out his books the next day to see if the answer is in them and you find something stunning which you can’t believe at first. There are numerous simple arithmetic mistakes starting very early in his book! Surely this can’t be true so you check and double check and yes it is true. How could someone like this possibly gain such an impeccable reputation? In calculus or other mathematical and engineering sciences this almost certainly doesn’t happen; however in the social sciences where the fundamentals aren’t always quite so clear cut or at least they don’t seem quite so clear cut it may be a different story.

Samuel Huntington’s work, including his book, “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” may fall into this category to some degree. He is one of the most influential Political Sciences among some people including some of the most powerful people with connections and influence in Washington and the Corporate world yet I have no doubt that when it comes to some of the most fundamental principles that apply to his work he either gets them wrong or he doesn’t acknowledge them at all. As I explained in my Blog entry about “Why I’m a fundamentalist,” (not the way fundamentalism is commonly described as you can see if you read the entry) the fundamentals in many subjects are not always clear cut and at times it is necessary to sort through different ideas before coming to the right conclusions; this is why they have per review in the academic world; however Samuel Huntington seems to have been selective about which peers he will listen to. Two of the most important basics that he either ignores, in the Clash of Civilizations, are the fundamentals of democracy and the most important root causes of violence and how they start in early childhood and escalate from there. A review of Samuel Huntington may be important due to the fact that many other academics and political figures are either adopting his recommendations and policies or some very similar to them. Understanding Samuel Huntington may help understand how and why the USA makes its decisions and its mistakes.

The fundamentals of democracy start with the assumption that the government is by the people, for the people and of the people. The public is supposed to participate in the decision making process and they are supposed to have equal opportunities to look out for their own best interests. In order to do this properly they need to have access to the information they need to make these decisions and they need to have access to an educational system that enables them to learn how to process this information in a manner that is fair for all. Samuel Huntington doesn’t mention these principles at all; instead he simply refers to the USA and the west as the leaders of democracy as a foregone conclusion without checking to see if the facts back that up. At one point he even cites Arthur Schlesinger who seems to think that the idea came from the west and belongs to the west as if one society could have virtual ownership of a fundamental principle.

There is doubt about whether Samuel Huntington even wants a democracy at all; he was a co-author of a paper, “The Crisis of Democracy,” written in the Vietnam era when he expressed concern about an “excess of democracy.” He was apparently in favor of the Vietnam War; according to many reliable sources including the Pentagon Papers the USA was clearly not fighting to protect democracy in Vietnam; quite the opposite they were fighting to suppress the will of the majority of the Vietnam people because they didn’t believe in the Capitalist ideology. The other side wasn’t entirely Communist as the media and the government led the public to believe but they did have much more popular support from their own people while the government that the USA was supporting was a puppet government that they created for their own purposes. Samuel Huntington’s assumption that the USA is the leading supporter of democracy throughout the world wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny in many cases and many of the activities of the USA often blatantly violate the fundamental principles of democracy. In many cases he avoids this by simply not mentioning it or in some cases attempting to discredit his critics without necessarily addressing the issues.

Samuel Huntington also fails to adequately address the potential threat that cult behavior could have to democracy. If there is a large group of voters that blindly trust and believe everything that comes from their cult leader then this cult leader could dictate a distorted version of the truth to his followers and control a large group of votes. If these followers are blindly trusting their leader they don’t have nearly as much free will as they may choose to believe. In order for these followers to truly participate in democracy they have to be able to learn on their own and sort through the details without undue pressure from a cult leader or any other oppressive authority. Ironically this could help him to justify some degree the suppression of the rights of the Muslim extremists that he is opposed to; however if he does this the same argument could be used to justify the suppression of the rights of those that agree with him and his own undue influence. This should include secular coercion like the red scares that were used to suppress ideas that contradicted the best interest of the wealthy capitalists.

Their were legitimate problems with some of these communist and socialist ideas however the way to deal with them should have involved sorting through the details rationally and weeding out only the bad ideas not using coercion and emotional behavior of those that don’t understand the subject. Furthermore the best way to address this would be to educate them in the most effective way possible so that they could participate in democracy properly. There have been many attempts in the past to claim that society needs a “benevolent dictator;” these claims have generally been followed up with oppressive dictators that pretend to be benevolent and use propaganda to back that claim up. They often also use propaganda to promote war so that they can present themselves as the one the public should look to defend them; in fact the Clash of Civilizations is essentially War Propaganda if you look closely at it. “Benevolent dictatorship” can’t be a sincere solution; the real solution has to involve providing an education to the public.

He also declines to address the route causes of violence and how it starts in early childhood. This isn’t generally researched in his field but when it becomes necessary to find out about applicable academic work from other fields good scholars wouldn’t hesitate to check with other academics from those fields. In the sixties and seventies there was some good information about this subject but not nearly as much as was available in the nineties when he wrote this book. At the time of his co-authoring of the “Crises in Democracy” it might have been understandable for him to be unfamiliar with this work but by the nineties he had plenty of time to consult with others many of which have done much better work on the subject including Alice Miller, Philip Greven, James Garbarino and many others. His book came three or four years after a shorter article by the same name so he had plenty of opportunity to make the necessary adjustments if he saw fit for the book. Clash of Civilizations focuses on the clashes between different cultures without making any attempt to find the root causes for these differences. Many of the problems involve prejudices that are taught to children at an early age or violent behavior that is also taught to children at an early age yet this isn’t considered at all in his book. Many books including “Spare the Child” by Philip Greven, “For Your Own Good,” and “Thou Shalt Not be Aware” by Alice Miller describe how abuse at an early age can lead to violent behavior as an adult as well as the development of authoritarian attitudes which Samuel Huntington seems to have. They explain that when children are abused at a young age they tend to grow up much angrier and more prone to violence; and when they have the truth dictated to them in a coercive manner that involves intimidating them if they don’t believe what they’re told they are subject to punishment they are much more inclined to blindly obey orders and follow the crowd much like the Nazis did.

When children are raised in strict disciplinarian manners using escalating violence starting with spanking at an early age they learn that the most powerful person is always right and the way to prove you’re right involves using force to intimidate the opposition. This is the method recommended by many disciplinarians including James Dobson although they are usually subtle about it and justify it as corporal punishment that is necessary to control children. These disciplinarians often fail to consider other methods that are more tolerant of dissent and involve the teaching of compromise especially with things that are less important and do no harm like what kind of clothes the child wears. With a small child they can’t fight back so the “truth” as the parent using this disciplinarian method sees it is often drilled into the head of the child. They often learn to believe only what they’re told from the appropriate authority figure that enforces that authority by force. This force tends to escalate throughout life; it leads to bullying in school; and ultimately it often leads to military people that enforce their beliefs only by the escalating threat of force and the side that has the most weapons or uses their resources in the most effective ways is proven to be “right” not because they have the most rational argument and their beliefs stand up to rational scrutiny but because they can use coercion to force them on others and intimidate the opposition into silence. In other words this leads to a system where might makes right.

For many people, early child rearing may not seem to be the most important thing when it comes to developing democracy and reducing violence; however one of the leading causes of authoritarianism and violence is that fact that the dictators and warmongers were never taught to behave properly as young children. In many cases they start by bullying in the school yard and escalate until they’re fighting one war after another. Many of these tyrants are essentially a bunch of overgrown children that were never taught to behave properly in the first place.

Another fundamental cause of the conflicts he describes is dismissed out of hand without any discussion in the beginning of his book. On page 28 of the Clash of Civilizations he writes, “In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities.”

In social sciences there are almost always multiple contributing causes it any major factors and it is not always easy to find out which is which but to say that one cause is completely out and another cause can explain everything is almost always foolish yet that is what he does here. Clearly the differences between many people that have little or no opportunity to gain an education and make a good living surely must have an impact on these clashes yet he gives it little or no consideration.

He does go on to explain why poor people will have little or no opportunity to challenge the rich on page 33 when he writes, “At a more general level, conflicts between rich and poor are unlikely because, except in special circumstances, the poor countries lack the political unity, economic power, and military capability to challenge the rich countries. Economic development in Asia and Latin America is blurring the simple dichotomy of haves and have-nots. Rich states may fight trade wars with each other; poor states may fight violent wars with each other; but an international class war between the poor South and the wealthy North is almost as far from reality as one happy harmonious world.”
He essentially seems to be saying that since the poor don’t have the resources to fight the rich their concerns shouldn’t be taken into consideration when worrying about wars. Or to put it bluntly the only people who should have rights are those that have the power to enforce them. This is an attitude that can develop in people that are raised in authoritarian ways like those recommended by James Dobson.
This is the first of three parts of my review on the Clash of Civilizations. The second part will consist of excerpts from the book and my comments on them; the third part will include a summation and speculation about whether or not Samuel Huntington is a false prophet or predictor of the future. This will also include a description of how his policies may have influenced the War on terror that escalated with 9/11 and the current uprising in Egypt. This will depend on how the public and the authorities implement policy.

To read second part of review on the Clash of Civilizations click here 

To read conclusion of  review on the Clash of Civilizations click here 

One of Samuel Huntington’s leading critics is Noam Chomsky who has written several books that address the subject; To down load a free on line copy’s or to read my review on two of them see the following two sites:

Necessary Illusions 

Deterring Democracy 

Blog on Educational revolution that will offer alternative ideas to Samuel Huntington’s

For complete copy of “Clash of Civilizations” online click here

(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

I think you do a pretty good analysis of Huntington here. Now, to save me hours of having to do the same, please tackle Robert Dahl, who pretty much also starts with the premise that the great end point of all humankind is democracy, and everything else is a process to get there. The point being: That's the problem with both Huntington and Dahl. They assume right from the start that there's an end goal that consists of humankind seeking democracy, when in reality it could be all sorts of other directions, but because he's a diehard acolyte of that school, we never get to see that exploration take place in any of their work.

Dahl's Polyarchies is very obviously a foundation of Huntington, as much of his later work really falls right into Dahl's camp.

But still, a very decent analysis, and I applaud you for taking it on.

Duane Gundrum February 10, 2011 10:24 AM

flagged for intense study later.....

Lyn LeJeune February 10, 2011 10:51 AM

I meant to say in the post that it is very similar to many other academics and politicians and in the closing one of those I intended to include was Kissinger. I changed the second paragraph slightly to add this. I may take your suggestion about Robert Dahl whom I’m not familiar with…. Eventually, don’t hold your breath though I won’t read much if any before I finish the last two parts over the next few days. The quest for democracy may inevitably be sought by the majority if they realize it is in their own best interest. This may not happen if they are indoctrinated before they get the opportunity to learn how to think for themselves.

Elijah, take your time. BTW one of my entries in the next few weeks will be more on copyright which you might be interested in as an author. It will be about the bureaucracy and how paying the bureaucrats and allowing them to control the laws has become more important than providing incentive for the authors that do the work.

zacherydtaylor February 10, 2011 12:17 PM

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