A Theory of Cultural Conflict

By Parliamentarian

IN the early 1990s, noted political scientist and Harvard professor Samuel P Huntington introduced the theory known as “The Clash of Civilizations.” Initially presented in a 1993 article in the magazine Foreign Affairs and later expanded into the book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” published in 1996, Huntington’s thesis argued that global conflicts in the post-Cold War era would predominantly stem from cultural and civilizational differences rather than ideological or economic disparities.

He contended that conflicts would arise due to distinctions in civilizations, primarily propelled by cultural and religious identities. Huntington identified world’s major civilizations – (i) Western, (ii) Latin American, (iii) Islamic, (iv) Sinic (Chinese), (v) Hindu, (vi) Orthodox, (vii) Japanese, and (viii) African – positing that these cultural entities would be the primary sources of conflict due to disparities in values, beliefs, and historical experiences.

Huntington’s theory prompted significant debate. Some praised its anticipation of the emerging conflicts following the Cold War, especially citing tensions between the Western and Islamic worlds. However, others criticised the theory for oversimplifying complex global dynamics and potentially exacerbating divisions between different cultures and religions.

The Thucydides Trap is a term used to describe a situation in international relations where a rising power threatens to displace an established power, leading to conflict between the two. The term derives from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who chronicled the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens. Thucydides observed that the cause of this conflict was the rise of Athens and the fear it instilled in Sparta, which made war between the two inevitable.

Harvard professor Graham Allison popularised the concept in his book “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” published in 2017. The central idea is that when a rising power threatens the position of a dominant power, the resulting fear and insecurity can lead to competition and conflict, which may, in turn, result in war.

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