Samual P. Huntington, RIP

by Joshua Foust on 12/29/2008 · 3 comments

Samuel Huntington, an incredibly influential scholar who has shaped political discourse since the 1950’s, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 81. His two most well-known books, 1957’s The Soldier and the State, and 1996 The Clash of Civilizations, played enormous roles in popular discussions of both civil-military relations, and the age of post-ideological conflict.

I frequently poked fun at Huntington’s Clash thesis, and many people have. But being wrong doesn’t make it unimportant—any book that is more or less required reading in PoliSci 101 (there are very few) says tremendously good things about its author. I was much more enthralled of his 1991 book The Third Wave about what can best be called “democratization clusters”—which, much like the War on Terror, made a good initial framework for looking at the color revolutions in the former Soviet Union and Lebanon of just a few years ago.

There will be eventual successors of Huntington’s magnitude. But Huntington’s ideas defined an entire era of political thought.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Turgai Sangar December 30, 2008 at 6:17 am

Well, his thesis and his scenario were based on a naïve assumption of continuing Anglo-American and Israëli supremacy and on the existence of an Islamic monolith but not completely wrong either.

We indeed move to a multi-polar world where different poles with various political cultures and mentalities — the Anglo-Americans, a Russian-dominated Eurasia, China- and India-dominated spheres, the continental EU, different players in the Islamic world, … — will compete and clash in ever-switching alliances.

That, more than ‘Al-Qaeda’ or the ‘war on terror’ withh design tomorrow’s global landscape.

rod January 5, 2009 at 3:21 am

Well, his thesis probably wasn’t ‘completely wrong’, but wasn’t completely well thought out and his more recent thoughts are as inconsistent as his arguments.

Take for example page 2 of his interview at;

‘You said in your book, “For 45 years, the Iron Curtain was the central dividing line in Europe. That line has moved several hundred miles east. It is now the line separating the peoples of Western Christianity, on the one hand, from Muslim and Orthodox peoples on the other.” Some scholars have reacted to such an analysis by stating that making such a dichotomous distinction between the West and Islam implies that there is a great uniformity within those two categories. Additionally some argue that such a distinction implies that Islam does not exist within the Western world. I understand that this is a criticism you have often received. In general, how do you react to such an analysis?

H: The implication, which you say some people draw, is totally wrong. I don’t say that the West is united, I don’t suggest that. Obviously there are divisions within the West and divisions within Islam — there are different sects, different communities, different countries. So neither one is homogenous at all. But they do have things in common. People everywhere talk about Islam and the West. Presumably that has some relationship to reality, that these are entities that have some meaning and they do. Of course the core of that reality is differences in religion.’

Good luck trying to work out a cogent argument from that.

His thesis/book was influential in the way that is filled with half-truths that must be debated and at the same time, not to be taken too seriously.

Turgai Sangar January 5, 2009 at 5:14 am

For a variation on what I said above, see this:

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