America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?

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At first glance, it seems that Huntington was more interested in offering advice to the American political elite, than to contribute to the theoretical understanding of international affairs. The questions that a book such as The Clash of Civilizations asks are indeed of a practical sort. These, I contend, are the elements that still appeal to readers from both the academic world and the general public. I claim that his thought can be seen in continuity with the realist tradition in International Relations and as one of the most prominent and strong critical critiques of utopianism in international political thought.

Realism is indeed one of the most recognizable voices in international political thought and is still holding center stage in the study of contemporary international affairs see the contributions in Orsi, Avgustin, Nurnus Historians of international political thought agree in identifying two sorts of realisms: classical and structural.

The former starts with Thucydides and continues with thinkers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, E. To this end it is worth highlighting some of the main ideas that define the identity of classical realism in the philosophical reflection on international affairs. According to this view, all humans are embedded in changing contexts with no certain guide. This conception is linked to a profound critique of all forms of universalism, according to which it is possible, by the use of reason, to reach universal moral truths. The tragedy of the human condition also lies in its inescapability.

Neither human reason nor universal moral law can come to the rescue of human beings.


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At the same time, human nature is conceived of as self-interested. Human nature shapes the character of any human activity and, most of all, of politics. However, this condition is even worse in international politics. It is indeed in the international realm that the real nature of politics appears in all its force. For example, this fundamental idea is at the center of the political theory of one of the most important realist thinkers of the twentieth century: Hans Morgenthau.

To this end, he applied to the study of politics the ideas of his teacher, the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt. That this is the character of politics is well represented in the description of the state of nature by Hobbes. For Schmitt, there is no distinction between politics and war and indeed politics is the continuation of war by other means Foucault Conflict is a constant feature of human history, and of international history in particular.

As a consequence, as shown by Machiavelli but also by other realist thinkers, the only morality in politics is that identified with expediency and prudence and with the interest of the political community. Good politicians are those who protect their state and increase its power. One of the characters defining this tendency is the aversion against the hope for universal moral truths such as that about the existence of universal rights to be a guide for political action. Moreover, anti-pelagianism fights against the belief that human history displays progress.

Of course anti-pelagianism is not exclusively a character of realist international thought and many liberal theorists, starting with Judith Shklar, share distrust in utopian thinking Rengger , Chapter six. However, it is fair to say that the polemical targets of many classical realist thinkers were the utopian projects of their own times.

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If we look again, as an example, at Hans Morgenthau, we see that he criticized international liberalism in world politics. Its fault is not to acknowledge the centrality of power in politics and the ubiquity of evil in the world To recapitulate, classical realist thinkers ground their argument on a tragic conception of human nature, and on the idea that international politics is essentially characterized by anarchy and war.

Their positions often present a critique of utopianism and of the idea that international politics may be constrained by law or ethical principles, and is animated by a progress towards the best. The historical events following the unexpected dissolution of the Soviet Union were redesigning world history and putting to the test established theories of international relations. A first aspect to clarify is that this does not equate to saying that before the end of the USSR and during the Cold War culture and ideas were irrelevant or did not enter the equation explaining international conflicts.

It rather means that the origin and reasons of war would not be the underlining competition between superpowers — a competition that during the Cold War was not just material, but also ideological — but rather the conflict between incommensurable ways of seeing the world and ways of life, those shaped by civilizations. This character of history was, however, hidden under the more apparent and manifest conflict between the two superpowers and their allies. My contention in this chapter is that this vision of world politics can be better understood when seen in the context of the realist and anti-pelagian tradition in international political thought.

In the civilizational paradigm, states are still important, and power politics is still shaping their actions. However, these should be conceived within certain frames of reference: civilizations. In the post-Cold War era, civilizations, and in particular their religious aspects, are the source of identity and meaning for a growing numbers of individuals and groups.

America and political islam : clash of cultures or clash of interests?

Therefore, they shape the decisions of states and the study of international affairs should take this into account. In a sense, power and interest still guide international agents, but these are defined by cultural framework. There is a priority of culture over interest and power. The fact that agents define their interests through the vocabulary and ideas offered by their civilization is not the only aspect of structural realism that is criticized by Huntington.

These, as well as alliances between states, are more and more shaped by civilizations. The civilizational paradigm is not recognized in the founding documents of the European Union and, in particular, in the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe European Union ratified in Writers of that legal text chose not to cite European religious identity and rather mention other principles such as the rule of law. In sum, Huntington criticized the structural realist paradigm by affirming the priority of culture over interest and power as the core of international politics, and by arguing that, in the new era, states were losing their centrality in favor of alliances and organizations based on shared civilizational values.

The Cold War: Crash Course US History #37

In this view, the world would have been united under one sole way of life and system of values: those inspired by liberal-democracy and by Western ideas. This conception is one of the many universalist political theories inspired by the idea of progress. Given the failure of all systems of ideas alternative to liberalism, history had reached its end Fukuyama Another version of this view is represented by cosmopolitan theories of international politics according to which boundaries and particularist allegiances are morally irrelevant.

From the increasing economic cooperation among states, communities and individuals follows the existence of a universal society in which burdens and benefits should be distributed and in which there are indeed universal human rights that are valid, beyond, and in spite of, all government bodies and legal recognitions of them Pogge , 2. The paradigm advanced by Huntington is opposed to this optimist vision of world politics and advances objection to the view that conflict can be overcome. In general, the very idea of a world in which there is a plurality of civilizations is opposed to the notion that there is one and only one human civilization.

Not only is a universal civilization based on Western values impossible, but the instauration of a global democracy is also doomed to failure Huntington , Liberal universalist projects are, after all, imperialist and overlook cultural differences in the world. There is an irreducible cultural pluralism in the world, an irresolvable disagreement on fundamental values. There is no lingua franca among civilizations, and democracy and human rights are meaningful to the West but not to the rest. What is important is that these differences are also the source of conflict and the reason world unity remains impossible.

Instead of seeing history as a history of progress, with a bright future in which culture merges and peace advances, Huntington sees world politics as determined by the omnipresence of conflict. As in other realist writers, at the ground of this understanding there is a negative vision of human nature.

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As Huntington writes,. It is human to hate. For self-definition and motivation people need enemies: competitors in business, rivals in achievement, opponents in politics. Carnegie Library. Open to the public Book English Griffith University. Griffith University Library. La Trobe University Library. Borchardt Library, Melbourne Bundoora Campus. Macquarie University Library. Monash University Library. Open to the public ; YY Parliamentary Library. Open to the public R N The University of Melbourne Library. University of Queensland Library.

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Five Years After 9/11, The Clash of Civilizations Revisited

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The Clash of Civilizations?

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