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Huntington Reloaded: Thoughts on the German Escape


The matadors of the German election campaign of 2021 come in three bands. In the first tape, they want to save the world from climate death as a German (female) savior (Annalena Baerbock).

In the second band, they want to promote the continued elimination of problems largely left unattended during the Merkel era (Olaf Scholz).

In the third strip, the candidate simply displays an astonishing lack of substance in contemporary German politics (as evidenced by Armin Laschet).

Clash of Civilizations

Meanwhile, a profound change is shaping the world today. Because Germany’s top political candidates haven’t even noticed it, they seem to have no idea what to expect in power.

In 1996, based on an essay published three years earlier in Foreign Affairs, Samuel P. Huntington wrote a book called “Clash of Civilizations”, which was translated into German as “Kampf der Kulturen”.

In the essay and book, he argued that the 20th century defined by the clash of ideologies would be followed by a 21st century defined by the clash of civilizations.

Huntington argued that the end of the Cold War and increasing globalization would lead people to seek an identity, which they found in their culture. Culture, in turn, according to Huntington, is largely determined by religion.

Why did he believe this? Because religion, the shared notion of the afterlife and the meaning of life, was the most powerful binding force of human communities – from tribes to nations to cultural communities.

Nine cultural groups in the world

In a map of the world of cultures, Huntington, then professor of political science at Harvard University, identified nine cultural groups: (1) Westerners, (2) Latin Americans, (3) Africans, (4)

Islamic, (5) Sino (Chinese), (6) Hindu, (7) Orthodox, (8) Buddhist and (9) Japanese.

Similarities and cultural differences would determine the interests, antagonisms and relationships of states.

The main countries of the world are mainly of different cultures. Local conflicts between them would likely lead to major wars.

In the process, power would shift from long dominant Western cultures to non-Western cultures.

False hopes of Western domination

Although he justified it by numerous facts and analyzes, Huntington’s thesis was widely rejected.

In the mid-1990s, there was a firm belief in the global triumph of Western culture, which had just proven its superiority over Soviet communism.

Several American presidents, notably George W. Bush and his neo-conservative entourage, who took office in 2001, believed they could impose democracy and the rule of law on Muslim societies by force of arms.

China was to be transformed by rapprochement with the West and integrated into the world order shaped by the United States after World War II.

Both projects failed. The last beacons of this failure are the Covid pandemic and the loss of Afghanistan.

Beacon of failure: the Covid

Even though the Covid pandemic emanated from China, it ended up strengthening the country’s economic growth and the confidence of the majority of the country’s population in the superiority of Chinese culture.

Before the pandemic (in Q4 2019), China’s GDP (in US dollars) was 66% of that of the United States. During the pandemic, it rose to 78% (in the second quarter of 2021).

There is a widespread belief in China and its culturally linked countries that they are handling the pandemic better than the West.

Afghanistan in a wider context

After more than 20 years of efforts, it was clear that the plan to build a democratically constituted state in Afghanistan on the Western model had failed.

Nonetheless, the collapse of all Afghan institutions, which had been built with significant funds from the West, at the same time as the military withdrawal took place, was a shock.

The defeat did not hit the West as hard as the defeat of the Soviet Union three decades earlier. But that probably ended the West’s claim that it could shape the Islamic world according to its own ideas for a very long time.

Predictions largely fulfilled

Reading Huntington’s book today, one finds many of his prophetic evaluations. In particular, he recognized early on the antagonism of Islamic and Sino cultures towards the West.

His prediction that the United States would enter into a struggle with China for world hegemony and that the Islamic world would form a front against the West is proving correct.

Nor can one indignantly dismiss his statement that “Islam’s borders are bloody, so are its bowels.”

Huntington’s predictions seem outdated at first glance

But we also come across views of Huntington that seem outdated at first glance.

In the West, for example, the search for identity has only partially favored a religious turn.

On the one hand, in European countries under Soviet influence during the Cold War, the Christian faith gained momentum.

In contrast, in Western Europe and the United States, the search for identity first led to the fragmentation of society into identities classified by ethnicity or sexual orientation.

However, it is doubtful whether majority society in the West will long accommodate the demands of well-organized minorities.

Watered down version of Confucianism

In China, Xi Jinping invokes Marx and Mao. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the Chinese leadership is also not pursuing the Marxist ideal of a communist society, in which individuals are supposed to live in freedom.

Nor does he want to go back to the Maoist suppression of all individual initiative and rigid central planning.

Rather, it appears that Xi wants to distance himself from the watered-down version of Confucianism adopted by some of his predecessors.

The purer Confucian heritage of authority, order, hierarchy and primacy of the community over the individual remains essential under Xi.

As an “indispensable ruler” with no limit to his tenure, Xi is more like the Chinese emperors before him than his immediate predecessors.

The “clash” is here

Of the nine cultures identified by Huntington, in accordance with his prediction, the “clash” between Western culture on the one hand and Islamic, Sino and Orthodox cultures on the other is in full swing.

In the middle of the process, there are temporary alliances of convenience between anti-Western cultures, as shown by the partial cooperation of China, Russia and Iran.

And in the context of the Chinese threat, there is also closer cooperation from Japan and loose cooperation of Hindu and Buddhist cultures with the West.

Because of their economic weakness, Latin American and African cultures only play a relevant role for the West in the area of ​​migration.

US Focuses on China

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan shows that US President Biden takes the US challenge to China very seriously.

His tenure and those of his successors will likely be marked by efforts to contain China, just as postwar US presidents were marked by efforts to contain the Soviet Union.

For this, the United States will need all its strength. Hence Biden’s pursuit of key elements of Trump’s foreign policy. Hence the consummation of Trump’s far-reaching withdrawal from the Islamic world.

But political power is always based on economic power. The “hot” World War II and the “cold war” that followed were decided by the economic superiority of the United States.

Europe’s conflict with Islam

What about Europe in the global equation? Europe has fought many wars with the Islamic world over the millennia since the rise of Islam.

The conflicts will continue now, with the difference that Europe can only count on the support of the United States to a very limited extent.

Economically, the Islamic world is significantly inferior to Europe. Militarily, however, economic inferiority can be compensated if the economically weaker party chooses to rely on nuclear weapons and terror.

Nuclear weapons serve as protection against attacks from outside, while terror can be used to attack hostile powers within their own territory, especially if border controls are insufficient to detect terrorists entering as refugees.

Unfortunately, the Islamic world not only has many aspirants to emigrate, but also a considerable pool ready for acts of assassination.

The threat to Europe from immigration

Even without terror, immigration from a foreign culture can disintegrate a society if a large enough number of immigrants refuse to integrate.

This is particularly the case of Muslim immigrants. One cultural reason is that in Islamic culture loyalty is more to the clan and religious community than to a nation or state.

An unconscious Europe

Unlike the United States regarding their Chinese threat, Europe seems to ignore the gravity of its threat from the Islamic world and Russia.

This is more true for the first central state of Europe, Germany, than for its second, France.

Consequently, the peripheral states will eventually have to defend themselves against the threat of their neighbors.

For states on the eastern periphery, like Poland and the Baltic states, this means conventional rearmament and a strengthening of NATO.

For southern peripheral states bordering the Mediterranean, such as Spain, Italy or Greece, this means robust protection of their external borders against migrants (despite manifestations of German outrage).

With the failure of Kemalism and the Islamization of Turkey, military rearmament is likely to become more important in Greece as well.

Europe alone at home

European unification took place under the protective aegis of the United States. This has allowed Europe to pursue costly domestic policies, ranging from an ineffective common agricultural policy to a failing monetary union.

The 21st century, defined by the “clash of civilizations”, will be much harder for Europe.

Without a questioning of past problems, a rapprochement of forces to meet geopolitical challenges and a return to the values ​​of Western culture rooted in Christianity and the Enlightenment, Europe – and, with it, the West as a whole – will fray.


When you line up these challenges with the array of candidates to become Germany’s next Chancellor, it’s painfully obvious how ill-equipped these three matadors are.

Neither the German penchant for saving the world (Baerbock), nor an administrative mentality (Scholz) for old problems, nor a Hans-Stare-in-the-Air (Laschet) political attitude are cut out for the challenges ahead.

Editor’s note: This text is based on the German language version of an essay first published by the Flossbach von Storch Research Institute.


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