H-Diplo/ISSF Teaching Roundtable 11-6 on The Clash of Civilizations in the IR Classroom

George Fujii Discussion

H-Diplo is pleased to launch the first of a series of ‘Teaching Roundtables’ that will feature commissioned essays by a range of scholars on how to approach certain topics in the classroom, how to introduce methodological and historiographical debates to students, and more.

Andrew Szarejko, H-Diplo’s new Teaching Editor, is the founding and commissioning editor. We anticipate a lively series of discussions that will be of great use to all of those who teach in the field.

Please contact Andrew <andrewszarejko@gmail.com> if you have a topic to suggest.

Our first Teaching Roundtable, “Clash of Civilizations in the IR Classroom,” appears below.

With best regards,
Diane Labrosse, H-Diplo managing editor

H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable XI-6
A Teaching Roundtable


The Clash of Civilizations in the IR Classroom

6 November 2019 | https://issforum.org/to/ir11-6
Editors: Andrew Szarejko and Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii



Introduction by Paul Musgrave, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” is the most important contemporary political science thesis in U.S. higher education.

That is not an opinion, and it is certainly not an endorsement. It is a plain statement of fact. The best available source of evidence on how often professors assign readings, the Open Syllabus Project, records that Huntington’s “Clash” appears on syllabi 4,317 times—the 28th most frequently assigned text in all disciplines.[1] That places it ahead of Hamlet (4,283 appearances) and not far off from Plato’s Republic, Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, or Aristotle, Hobbes, and Machiavelli.

This is surprising. Neither Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?” (the 1993 Foreign Affairs essay) nor his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (the 1996 book) are much esteemed by scholars.[2] The book and article (which I will refer to jointly as “Clash”) contend that conflict in the post-Cold War world will take place among “civilizational” lines, between “Western civilization,” “Islam civilization,” and “Chinese civilization” rather than between states divided by traditional rivalries over ideology, economics, and power. “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics,” Huntington wrote on the first page of the 1993 essay. “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” That idea enjoys great cachet among the sort of policymaker who enjoys name-dropping Sun Tzu, but few specialists in international relations rely on it or even cite it approvingly. Bluntly, Clash has not proven to be a useful or accurate guide to understanding the world.

Social scientists are trained to look for puzzles. The discrepancy between the esteem in which academics hold it and the frequency with which it is assigned poses a puzzle of the first order. Clash appears in scholarly bibliographies only to be trashed, and yet it is ubiquitous in our classrooms. Why do scholars assign a text that they do not believe?

In this symposium, four scholars of international relations take up that question and others related to the subject of what, exactly, professors should do with a text like Clash. The four contributors discuss how they have assigned it or why they do not.

The contours of this debate prove somewhat unusual. Generally, debates about how or what to teach have strong advocates on both sides who disagree on the merits. Yet in this debate, none of the scholars contributing to this symposium believe that Clash deserves space on our syllabi because it tells us anything useful about the world. The best that anyone can say for it is that it is usefully wrong. The worst anyone can say about it, by contrast, is dire: that it is racist, harmful to students, misguided as scholarship, and a terrible basis for policy.

In this introduction, I review the contributors’ arguments about Clash and then lay out some of my own. Throughout, I try to answer the puzzle that I have posed, and I show that the reasons scholars have adduced for assigning Clash do not amount to persuasive explanations for using it as a text in introductory courses. Moreover, often these defenses belie what appears to be a systematic misreading of Clash to the extent of erasing its actual ambitions—which Huntington himself described as not social science.

I am not a neutral observer. And I recognize that the ostensible question driving this symposium—“Should we assign ‘The Clash of Civilizations’?”—that political scientists and international relations scholars have already, resoundingly answered in the affirmative, given their practice. As I have made clear elsewhere, I think this is regrettable.[3] Whatever the merits of Huntington’s other works, and whatever value the text may have had in its immediate context, I believe that the text no longer has a place in introductory classrooms. Certainly it should not be a mainstay of them. And it should not be the most-assigned international-relations text, full stop.

Overview of the Symposium

What do the contributors to this symposium say? In general, they view Clash as worth teaching despite its flaws, about which they are in the main perceptive.

Stephen Pampinella offers a defense of teaching Clash grounded in his experience as a university instructor. He argues that we must talk about Clash, but in a way that offers students “the tools that dismantle it.” Clash, for Pampinella, offers a teachable moment that can let instructors guide their students to the realization that “identity is fluid and often subject to political manipulation.” Pampinella, then, approaches Clash as a work to be deconstructed as part of his introductory course’s approach to teaching social constructivism. Notably, Pampinella situates this approach within a long series of lectures and readings designed to help students appreciate the socio-cultural context of exclusionary rhetorics like Clash, rather than using it as a one-off exemplar of a particular approach to the reading.

Charity Butcher defends teaching Clash on two grounds. Like Pampinella, Butcher sees it as a useful teaching tool for introducing students how to critique definitions and applications of concepts like “identity” and “civilization.” Butcher’s primary defense of using Clash in the classroom, however, is that it is policy relevant—indeed, perhaps “one of the few works in political science that students are likely to encounter in other classes and even outside of the classroom.” Like many other observers, Butcher notes that thinking like that espoused by Clash has played a major role in the Trump administration’s public justifications of its foreign policy.

Tobias Lemke takes the position that few in political science engage with Huntington and observes that neither he nor his colleagues were exposed to it in introductory coursework. Lemke praises Clash as offering “a useful reference point for students engaging with global politics in an introductory IR course” and “a valuable learning opportunity,” and argues that the liberal bias of constructivist scholars has left them unable to cope with a “resurgence of identity politics the world order”—a resurgence that looks a lot like what Huntington predicted in Clash. Lemke critiques Clash on its theoretical commitments—particularly that it espouses a substantialist, not a relational, account of civilizational identity.

Anjali Dayal criticizes the thoughtless use of Clash in the classroom in urgent terms. Recognizing the enduring appeal of the thesis beyond the academy, she grapples with the question that motivates the entire symposium: “how do we teach students about influential theories we know are wrong?” Like Lemke, she engages with its reductive and essentialist nature, but as she observes, such fallacies are rife in policy-relevant arguments, from the journalist Robert Kaplan (who does, it must be said, at least try to get things right) to the consigliere Steve Bannon; there is no reason to single out Huntington for special treatment in this regard. For Dayal, dismembering Clash is so trivial that one wonders whether there is any value in engaging it. If a house of cards collapses at the first touch, it poses no challenge to students learning how to dismantle sturdier edifices. Dayal does not endorse teaching the text, but if one must, she argues, then an approach like that of Butcher’s or Pampinella’s is essential.

Summarizing these points, then, we arrive at the conclusion that the value of Clash for international relations professors is that it is wrong in a way that lets instructors introduce students to other concepts. Nobody offers a defense of Clash as providing value on its own terms; the argument offered by its three endorsers instead is that by grappling with Clash students can be exposed to other viewpoints or to methodological or theoretical perspectives that offer a useful example of how (not) to think about world politics.

Clash of Incoherence

What’s wrong with Clash? The contributors offer many points that hit on this issue. I summarize them and add some of my own points here.

The first is the thesis’s simple inaccuracy. It’s important to note that Clash has never been sold by Huntington as anything but speculation about the future course of events, rather than a carefully deduced argument based on historical precedents. Huntington offered Clash as a hypothesis about what would explain conflict in the post-Cold War era. Since its inception, Clash has been sold in the subjunctive. This, as an aside, means that many ‘debunkings’ of Clash actually miss their mark; during the 1990s, a number of quantitative or historical studies aimed to show that Clash was wrong on the evidence that twentieth-century conflict did not follow civilizational lines. As Huntington rightly argued, such rebuttals missed Huntington’s point, however, which was that future conflict would be akin to global recapitulation of the ‘ancient hatreds’ to which many contemporaneous observers attributed conflict in places like Yugoslavia.[4]

In an era in which the end of the Cold War left American foreign policy without its lodestar, this new paradigm seemed to offer a handy way for policymakers to tie together disparate and seemingly unfamiliar conflicts from Kosovo to Chechnya. Ironically, the same dislocation led many policymakers—indeed, many of the same policymakers—to also endorse the optimistic Hegelianism of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History that liberal democracy was the telos of political development.[5] (Surprising events can lead to such scrambles for interpretive schemes; witness how the Democrats in the United States responded to the 2016 elections by trying to interpret Trumpism’s rise through the simultaneous embrace of Russian perfidy, rural dissatisfaction, and near-mystical incantations about the power of social media).

As the Clinton era became noted for the triumphs of globalization more than the spread of civilizational conflict, Clash steadily receded, replaced in prominence by such luminaries as The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and books like The Lexus and the Olive Tree.[6] Clash got a second wind after September 11, 2001. Americans’ search for a grand unifying theory about why al-Qaeda would attack New York City and Washington, D.C., led them to discount factors like the role of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East or, far more important, the political program that al-Qaeda itself aspired to enact. Instead, many Americans—especially in and around the Bush administration—turned to the idea that somehow ‘Islam’ itself explained ‘why the terrorists hate us.’[7] This clumsy thesis led to the widespread readoption of Clash, with its notorious attribution of revanchist violence to Islamic civilization—“Islam has bloody borders.”[8] 

A natural propensity toward confirmation bias led many Western observers to fixate on data points that seemed to confirm Huntington’s theory. Western media reports inflamed these perceptions. Erin Kearns, Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux find that U.S. media sources covered terrorist attacks by Muslim perpetrators at a rate 357 percent higher than the attention given to attacks by non-Muslims.[9] Similarly, even though terrorism kills almost no Americans, terrorism received more than 35 percent of New York Times coverage of events leading to death.[10] Thus, even though the vast majority of those killed by Islamist terrorists are Muslim, not Westerners, Western and American audiences extrapolate from unrepresentative examples, like 9/11 or the Beslan shootings, to the idea that ‘Islam’ is at war ‘with us.’

More than 25 years after the publication of Clash, however, we finally have enough evidence to test Huntington’s argument on his own terms. It fails. Statistical tests of the post-Cold War era find no support for Clash.[11] The signature conflicts of the post-Cold War era have not followed Clash’s predictions. American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not followed ‘civilizational’ logics—if anything, the early ambitions of the Bush administration’s war aims to democratize those societies represented a rejection of Clash’s fundamental arguments, inasmuch as they were predicated on the notions that regimes could be surgically removed and replaced. Similarly, conflicts like Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, the civil war in Syria, and the like have taken place within, not among, Huntington’s civilizational lines. Indeed, the signature fact of the post-Cold War world remains the long-term decline in interstate war and the rise in civil wars.[12] Even the tedious diplomatic conflict of Brexit is smack dab within the bounds of a civilization.

The second reason to object to teaching Huntington is that his argument is problematic. Here, I do not mean the term in its ‘cancel culture’ connotation of ‘being a little racist’ but rather to politely describe its literal incoherence. Huntington sold Clash as a tectonic shift in international relations literally akin to that wrought by the French Revolution: “With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its centerpiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations.”[13] Clash represented (as Lemke astutely notes) the dark interpretation of globalization—as conflict moved to a global stage, the nation-states of the Westphalian system would recede in importance next to civilizational units that could compete on this scale. But its ambitions outstripped either its evidence or its internal argument.

So for Huntington what are civilizations? In the 1993 essay, he writes that civilizations are cultural entities—the largest such that cannot be encompassed by any other grouping: “The civilization to which [a person] belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he intensely identifies.” They are defined “both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people.” Civilizations clash because their differences—over “the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, … the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy”—are “the product of centuries” that “are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes.”[14] Globalization means that members of different civilizations are now more aware of each other, and simultaneously less attached to local, mediating identities relative to these civilizational labels.

For Clash, all of this means that conflict over territory, resources, immigration, economics, and so on will increasingly be yoked to civilizational labels. Since civilizational identities represent core commitments which cannot be easily changed, compromise will be impossible. And although Huntington cautions that “Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence,” he undercuts that cavil in the next sentence: “differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.” One notes that rationalist instructors of international relations could easily explain Huntington’s engine of conflict here as resulting from an inability to compromise, a classic rationalist explanation for war.[15]

But note that none of this makes any sense. Huntington both wants civilizations to be primordial and unchanging but also recognizes that “Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge.” He praises Mexican leaders for (in his words) “trying to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country.” And he even lays out a process by which a country can “redefine its civilization identity” by combining elite enthusiasm, public acceptance, and a willingness to accept the convert by the welcoming civilization. By this measure, he argues, Mexico might be able to “Westernize” but Turkey and Russia seem less likely. But if civilizations can change so readily, then there is no need for us to speak of a ‘clash’ of civilizations—civilizational identity is merely a political project like any other. Just as states changed sides during the Cold War, so too could states change sides during any clash of civilizations—no warfare necessary.

Huntington explains the barrier to this conversion as a result of “the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values, and power.” The idea that a “Confucian-Islamic connection” exists will come as a surprise to Uighurs and other Chinese Muslims; this has aged about as well as Huntington’s assumption that common culture would facilitate greater closeness between the People’s Republic and Hong Kong and Taiwan. One might object that Huntington had in mind an interstate pact. And it is true that he cites Chinese arms exports to Libya and Iraq and North Korean nuclear hookups with Pakistan as evidence of such an inter-civilizational linkage. But here again Huntington’s hypothesis runs afoul of the evidence. Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang would recognize the other as pursuing a shared civilizational (or even ideological!) project, nor would Riyadh and Tehran so readily assent to describing their separately motivated deals with Asian powers as part of shared Islamic political goals. Rather, as the statistical evidence demonstrates, powerful rulers and states continue to be mobilized by local differences rather than gradually subsuming their interests into a common civilizational pool. Even the world’s only two Wahhabist states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have grown far more apart during the period in which Huntington would have predicted they should have come closer together.

Defending The Clash

On these bases, and on the basis of the critiques levied in the contributors’ works, we can readily conclude that Clash is both inaccurate and incoherent. The question is whether those conditions render it unfit for use in the classroom.

One does not express opinions like “Clash is bad and we should not teach it” to make friends. Huntington’s legacy in political science looms large. As a longtime professor at Harvard, Huntington had many opportunities to cultivate allies who defend his reputation and relevance seemingly at every turn—even when it comes to his later works, which are viewed with some embarrassment. Those students will continue to shape the discipline for decades. In an industry like academia in which reputational factors matter greatly in allocating scarce jobs and promotions, the presence of this legion of disciples represents an unspoken deterrent against criticizing Clash openly, lest it lead to some unseen retribution.

Yet Huntington’s influence is not hegemonic. The other sort of defense that is offered against the suggestion that we should stop teaching Clash has more to do with contemporary academic politics. A prominent vein of critiques and descriptions of ‘campus politics’ depict U.S. universities as spaces in which faculty are either cowed by or are leading leftist student activists who are, if not quite as fanatical as Red Guards, nevertheless committed to similar sorts of radicalism in the service of politically correct ideology. Familiar skirmishes over ‘cancel culture’ and related phenomena (trigger warnings, safe spaces, deplatforming, and so on) often pit defenders of ‘free speech’ against these imagined hordes, even if, on close examination, few instances invoked as examples of the putative trend actually live up to their billing.

Yet narratives shape our perceptions, and this narrative offers a powerful script to defend incumbent canons against critiques that hold that some texts reflect prejudices rather than reason. Certainly, much of the feedback I have gotten from supporters of teaching Clash tends to follow a script in which Clash’s defenders see themselves as vanguards of free speech against some imagined political correctness.

Such defenses often follow three specific lines. The first holds that Clash is important because it is so widely taught and therefore not teaching it would leave students’ education imbalanced.  The second is that students will encounter these arguments in the real world and therefore they should be exposed to them. And the third is that Clash is just an idea and can therefore be taught critically in a way that helps students. None of these arguments, however, convincingly defends Clash against the actual criticisms levied against it.

I will note that the first is simply circular. Teaching Clash because Clash is taught serves as a wonderful example of a toxic focal point. We could all simply decide not to teach Clash. If anything, I suspect this argument serves as a convenient, even unwitting, cover for the fact that teaching Clash is easier than teaching something new. Most of us have our lecture notes on Clash finished; we know what we will say when it is brought up; we have ready responses for students’ questions. Teaching something new means having to redo lecture notes. As scholars of path-dependence have long shown, even relatively low switching costs can be a barrier to changing.[16]

Are the costs worth the effort? It is here that the second and third objections take center stage. They both argue that the benefits of teaching Clash outweigh the advantages. And yet this line—which is where most of the contributors end up—seems unconvincing to me. One reason I am not convinced is that these objections consider the costs and benefits of teaching Clash in isolation. Are there really no other readings that could accomplish the same goals? Is it possible to teach students how to think and analyze sources critically by assigning them good readings—readings that aren’t incoherent and inaccurate—instead of bad ones?

One reaction I return to every time I am asked to write about Clash is simple exhaustion. In the 1990s, Clash was important because nobody knew how the post-Cold War world would turn out. In the 2000s, it was important to engage with because it kind of talked about something that, if you squinted, maybe looked like the war on terror. And in the 2010s, it is important because Donald Trump occasionally evinces prejudices about Muslims, immigrants, and African countries that sound like the ‘identity politics’ Clash embodies.[17] At every turn, Clash has been inaccurate and incoherent, and yet there seems to be no way to dislodge it from syllabi. Is there a clearer example of shifting goal posts to defend a canonical work?

Keeping Clash on syllabi, moreover, carries substantial opportunity costs. We know that the discipline of international relations has systematically sidelined the contributions of women and scholars of color.[18] And yet Clash, in all its wrongness, occupies class time, reproducing the same pattern of marginalization even though the only reason that it is now assigned is that it is wrong. An old canard holds that minorities have to be twice as good to succeed as their dominant-group peers; the standard must be substantially higher if Clash can stay on syllabi because it is wrong while interesting and correct work cannot reach the classroom. (Dayal and her co-authors have written about how to diversify syllabi for The Duck of Minerva.[19])

Harmful in Itself

Beyond these points, there is the question of whether works that endorse noxious views should be required readings. Dayal raises a key point: how Clash is received by our raced and gendered students, especially those who encounter the argument not as an interesting thought experiment but as a potential basis for excluding them from our classrooms—or our country. As Dayal notes, “our students of color do not need to encounter another powerful voice calling Islam inherently bloody, or questioning the equal weight of African identities, to know these ideas have consequences in the world.”

Some defend this practice on the grounds that students need to be challenged. Yet a double standard appears to prevail. Curiously, scholars who assign Huntington rarely assign works that denigrate Western or White group identities in the same way. (Who would assign a text that states ‘Christianity has bloody borders’?) And if the argument for assigning Huntington rests on a combination of relevance-to-policymakers and need-for-refutation, then why should IR scholars not make a habit of assigning other relevant texts that need to be refuted, like Camp of the Saints, Mein Kampf or the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao?

The answer cannot be that Clash is social science and those other works are not. As Huntington writes in the book, Clash “is not intended to be a work of social science.”[20] Reading the book in light of that admonition explains why it fits so poorly into the “paradigms” of realism or constructivism that instructors might use it to illuminate. Instead, the book reveals that Huntington has a specific political agenda in mind: resisting U.S. foreign policy entanglement abroad and “multiculturalism” at home. In passages that IR scholars have mostly ignored (but which reviewers at the time focused on), Huntington scourges “multiculturalism”—by which he means efforts to promote civil rights—as “encourag[ing] a clash of civilizations within the United States.” Huntington makes clear that he believes that multiculturalism is an existential threat to the United States.

This is not a one-off side comment. Although the similarity of his “map of civilizations”[21] to the racist Lothrop Stoddard’s map[22] in his treatise on international relations has often been observed, fewer have noted that Huntington also included a county-level map of ethnic diversity in the United States. On the facing page, Huntington writes “While Muslims pose the immediate problem in Europe, Mexicans pose the problem for the United States.” The map of the United States, shaded darker for counties based upon their percentage of non-white residents, illustrates—literally—Huntington’s contention that immigration will soon tear the United States apart, inasmuch as “Mexican immigration…differs in potentially important ways from other immigrations…Mexicans walk across a border or wade across the river.” The consequences could include the dismemberment of the United States: “In due course, the results of American military expansion in the nineteenth century could be threatened and possibly reversed by Mexican demographic expansion in the twenty-first century.”[23]

To add to this, Huntington favorably footnotes the French novel Camp of the Saints to support the urgency of fears like the French politicians Pierre Lellouche’s prediction that Europe would soon be no longer Judeo-Christian nor white.[24] (The future Lellouche—and pretty clearly Huntington—fear, a future in which “Europe and America will become cleft societies encompassing two distinct and largely separate communities,” can be avoided, Huntington argues—if the numbers of immigrants are reduced.) On the same page, he refers to the “problem of Muslim demographic invasion” giving way as “the threat to Europe of ‘Islamization’ will be succeeded by that of ‘Africanization’,” although that will be “significantly influenced by the degree to which African populations are reduced by AIDS.” Such asides pervade Clash the Book and are plentiful in Clash the Essay as well.

Ignoring these in our reading or teaching of Clash means that we miss the point that Huntington was sincerely and obviously trying to put forward. And yet one can read sober analyses of Clash, such as Richard Rosecrance’s review in the American Political Science Review, that do not mention these bits of his argument at all, droning on instead about “methodological problems” and “microanalytic forces” even as it ponders the implication of how ‘Islam’s’ “birthrate is higher than that of other civilizations.”[25] The continual erasure of Huntington’s actual words to replace them with a much cleaner, neutral, more tolerant argument produces something akin to a discipline-wide gaslighting.

For people who have only skimmed either, a major question in interpreting Clash is whether Huntington had become a nativist only in writing Who Are We?[26] Such comments in Clash reveal that the answer is clear. In case anyone missed the memo, in the book’s concluding section, Huntington describes what a civilizational war would look like, and predicts that “Hispanic leaders [would] come to power” in the post-war devastated United States “buttressed by the promise of extensive Marshall Plan-type aid from the booming Latin American countries.” As lagniappe, Huntington predicts that “Africa…has little to offer to the rebuilding of Europe and instead disgorges hordes of socially mobilized people to prey on the remains.”

These passages—and I stress again how plentiful they are, and how naturally they flow from the argument—suggest that even assigning the text to refute it, as some of the contributors urge, carries costs. Such recommendations rest on a sophisticated ability to separate out selected theoretical or methodological critiques from what the text is actually arguing. Anyone who reads the text without the benefit of a Ph.D. and the disadvantage of already knowing what Clash is “supposed” to say will encounter a tract that resembles less, say, Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics [27]and more an identitarian tract that comes very close to predicting what, in another era, scholars would have recognized as a ‘race war.’[28]

It is those fears and urges that motivate Clash. And it is those images and concepts that students who actually do the reading will be exposed to. Some will, no doubt, come away strengthened in their disdain for such concepts. But what is the acceptable number of students who should be offended—or persuaded—by a text that has nothing of value to offer them?


My guess is that most people who teach Clash haven’t read it with new eyes in a long time. Some texts become familiar with repetition to the point that we can no longer see what is in front of us. Just as many political science instructors teach ‘the tragedy of the commons’ by assigning a forthrightly eugencist tract by Garrett Hardin, re-reading Huntington and actually paying attention to all of what he says reveals that this is not an essay fit for canonization.[29] Teach Clash in advanced courses, but consider carefully exactly how much time and effort one would have to invest to make dealing with the text and argument worthwhile in introductory courses. Better, by far, to find alternative readings. If there really are no better alternatives to Huntington that we can use to illuminate the subjects that he is assigned for, then we must write them. Immediately.


Paul Musgrave is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He studies U.S. foreign policy, international relations theory, and how oil and politics mix. His research has appeared in International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, Security Studies, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Comparative Political Studies, and he has written for The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and other outlets.

Charity Butcher is an Associate Professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Kennesaw State University and is currently on the Editorial Team for the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development. Her research interests include the role of ethnicity and religion in conflict, the relationship between terrorism and civil war, international human rights advocacy, and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). She is the author of The Handbook of Cross-border Ethnic and Religious Affinities (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), co-editor of Understanding International Conflict Management (Routledge, forthcoming), and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in journals including Journal of Human Rights, International Studies Perspectives, Terrorism and Political Violence, Democratization, European Political Science, and International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society.  

Anjali Dayal is an assistant professor of international politics at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Her research interests include peacekeeping, peace processes, the UN Security Council, and human rights. Her research and writing have appeared or are forthcoming in venues including the journals International Organization, Global Governance and Peace Review, and online at The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, and the On Being Project.

Tobias Lemke is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. His research examines the emergence and diffusion of nationalist movements and their impact on foreign policy and international order. In his dissertation, titled Claiming the Nation: Social Change, Coalition Networks and Nationalist Mobilization in the Short Nineteenth Century, 1830-56, he examines how changes in the configuration of social ties among elite groups can increase the likelihood that some parties resort to nationalist claim making to gain a political advantage vis-à-vis their competitors. He has also written about the role of collective identity, strategic narratives, and digital communication networks in both historical and contemporary international relations and he is currently working on several projects that examine the role of Russia-linked news outlets in the distribution of disinformation campaigns on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Recent publications include: “Limits of Cooperation: The German Confederation and Austro-Prussian Rivalry after 1815,” in The Two Worlds of Nineteenth Century International Relations: A Bifurcated Century, edited by Daniel Green (London: Routledge, 2018); and “A Master-Institution of World Society? Digital Communications Networks and the Changing Dynamics of Transnational Contention,” International Relations 32:3 (2018): 296-320, co-authored with Michael Habegger.

Stephen Pampinella is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the State University of New York at New Paltz. His current research interests include state building interventions, relational constructivism, postcolonialism, practice theory, small state diplomacy, and the prospects for a pluralist U.S. grand strategy.



Essay by Charity Butcher, Kennesaw State University

Teaching Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations: Deconstruction the Concept of Civilizations and Critically Evaluating Identities

Since it was first published, Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ argument has been the focus of many empirical works.[30]The fact that most studies have found little or no support for Huntington’s thesis[31] might suggest that it should not be included in undergraduate international relations curriculum. I would argue, however, that this is not the case, though not because Huntington’s ideas are particularly insightful.

One significant reason for including a discussion of Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis in undergraduate international relations courses is that it is one of the few works in political science that students are likely to encounter in other classes and even outside of the classroom. While many policy-makers and U.S. presidents have eschewed the idea that there is a clash between civilizations, we have seen members of the Trump administration, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump himself, use language that promotes the idea of innate clashes between ethnic or religious groups. Most recently, following Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria, he stated that Kurds and Turks were “natural enemies.”[32] Such language reinforces the idea of ethnic identities as ‘primordial’ and unchanging—and that such differences lead to natural and inevitable conflicts between groups. This perception is one that runs throughout Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations argument. The promotion of this idea by government officials and the media provides a key reason for discussing Huntington’s thesis.

In addition, a consideration of Huntington’s concept of civilizations provides a useful case study for students to more fully consider issues related to identity. One of the clear problems with Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations argument is in the methodology—and in particular how he categorizes “civilizations.” Huntington’s view of civilizations is a useful starting point for delving more deeply into theoretical discussions of ethnic and religious identities, including primordialist, constructivist, and instrumental views of these identities. Deconstructing Huntington’s idea of civilizations, and analyzing the realities of these identities, not only helps students to understand identity politics and formation, but to also to think more critically about how concepts are constructed and presented in political science.

Deconstruction the Concept of Civilizations

Huntington wrote in the early to mid-1990s, following the end of the Cold War and during an era where many were attempting to predict what the future of international relations would look like. Huntington argued that conflicts would no longer be about ideology or economics. Rather, he suggested that the primary driver of conflict would be cultural—and specifically that divisions between civilizations would be the fault lines of future conflict. While, as mentioned, many scholars have empirically tested this proposition (and have found little support for a clash of civilizations), Huntington’s discussion of civilizations as an identity marker provides an important area for teaching about identity—particularly identity focused around ethnicity or religion.

For Huntington, civilizations are “the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of what distinguishes humans from other species.”[33] Civilizations, according to Huntington, are cultural by nature, and include factors such as language, history, religion, customs, and institutions. At the same time, Huntington argues that people self-identify into civilizations, and that this is part of how scholars define civilizations. Huntington identifies seven or eight major civilizations: Western, Confucian/Sinic, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and “possibly” African.

Given the many potential flaws with Huntington’s augment, focusing on the idea of civilizations and identity is one way to provide students a focal point for discussions. For example, professors might as students how well we can define ‘civilizations,’ what the key components are that comprise a civilization, and how these are different from other forms of identity, particularly ethnic and religious group identities. Further, students could be asked to discuss how identities are formed, according to Huntington, whether or not they can change, and if they can change, what the cause of such changes might be. Further, students can be challenged to evaluate whether civilizational identities are a useful way to think about identities, whether these are identities that people readily hold, and whether they strong and salient identities. Finally, students can assess whether the civilizational identities presented by Huntington represent cohesive civilizations and cohesive identities. Each question allows students to consider various elements of how we define and think about civilizations and identity more broadly.

Defining Civilizations

First of all, it is important to deconstruct the idea of civilizations as an identity in the first place. This means really thinking about the characteristics of a civilization, as discussed by Huntington, and how civilizations might be different from other forms of identity. In particular, how civilizational identity is different from ethnic identity and religious identity needs to be explored. Such a discussion is particularly interesting as we consider the way in which Huntington labels his civilizations since most of his civilizations are based on very broad perceptions of religion. In fact, Huntington states that religion is the most important factor distinguishing civilizations from one another. At the same time, while Huntington does define civilizations as the broadest form of identity, his actual discussion of civilizations is often much narrower than this broad focus.

There are many examples of Huntington discussing conflicts between sub-civilizations or ethnic and religious groups within countries as a proxy for his idea of civilizations. For example, he describes Arab nationalism and connects this to Islamic fundamentalism, and then relates both to a clash between Islam and the West. This proxy of ‘Arab’ for ‘Islam’ overlooks many aspects of each of these identities while also providing shallow support for the idea of a civilizational conflict. Similarly, Huntington discusses conflicts between ethnic and religious groups as examples of civilizational conflict. Examples of conflict between Ossetians and Ingush, Armenians and Azeris, Serbs and Albanians, Bulgarians and Turkish minorities, etc., are used to suggest the importance of civilizational identities. In all of these cases, however, we do not see a connection to civilizational identity, but rather see one to ethnic, and perhaps religious, identities. Extrapolating from these examples to some sense of a civilizational identity is misguided and not fully supported by the evidence. Overall, Huntington’s definition and discussion of civilizational identities is not clearly distinguishable from other types of identities, even though his argument centers on the importance of civilizations.

Formation of Identities

In thinking about the formation of identities, Huntington’s discussion of civilizational identities is also quite confusing at times. If we consider the various theories of identity and identity formation—including primordialism, constructivism, and instrumentalism, we see inconsistencies in Huntington’s approach. He begins by suggesting a more constructivist understanding of civilizational identity, saying that “[p]eople can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and boundaries of civilizations change.”[34] He also states that part of a civilizational identity is subjective and that it relies on people self-identifying as part of the identity. These ideas suggest a perception of identities as socially constructed and changing over time.

However, Huntington’s view of identities becomes much more consistent with primordialism as he continues through his argument, particularly when he discusses why these cultural differences are likely to lead to conflict. Huntington states that “cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones.” He goes on to say that when it comes to civilizational identities, these are “a given that cannot be changed.”[35] Further, he suggests that ethnic and religious identities are often seen in “us” versus “them” terms, which can lead to conflict. In particular, he discusses how “traditional ethnic identities and animosities” are often present and that, when brought to the forefront, can lead to conflict.[36] This perception is consistent with the idea of ‘ancient hatreds’ where conflict is inevitable is highly deterministic and has little to no remaining support within the academic community.

In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Huntington spends a little more time discussing how colonialism may have impacted identities, including civilizational identities, in places like Latin America and Africa. The suggestion that colonialism impacted civilizational identity is more in line with a constructivist view of identities. However, what is missing is a discussion of how identities might have been instrumentally manipulated in many of these (and other) situations. The fact that colonialism has had a major impact on conflicts in much of the world, including throughout the African continent, is missing from Huntington’s discussion. Though not explicitly discussed by Huntington, there are clear opportunities for students to consider how identities may have been manipulated to increase the likelihood of conflict in many places.

Salience of Civilizational Identities

Beyond defining civilizations and thinking about how such identities might be formed, it is also important for students to consider how useful a civilizational identity is for understanding the world. Do people actually self-select into these civilizational identities? Are these identities strongly held by the populations that ascribe to them? Huntington admits that people have multiple levels of identity and that we might expect people to identify most closely with a “civilizational” identity when they are outside of their home country and where lower-level ethnic identities may be less understood by others and may be less relevant to the situation. At the same time, if civilizational identities are likely to be strongest when people are furthest from their homes, how salient are these identities? One could argue that the most salient identity is one that is important in one’s everyday life, and civilizational identities are much less likely to hold salience for people in their day-to-day activities, particularly in their home states. Having students reflect on their own identities, levels of identity, and the times at which these might be most salient is a useful task in helping to evaluate Huntington’s discussion of civilizations.

Cohesiveness of Civilizations

Another area where students generally excel in evaluating Huntington is in a consideration of how he constructs his civilizations and whether these civilizations represent cohesive, monolithic, identities. As is often pointed out, there are many divisions within the civilizations identified by Huntington; in fact, there tends to be more conflict within civilizations than between civilizations. Islamic extremism has been a source of conflict around the world, but the majority of attacks by Islamic extremists affect other Muslims, not people from different civilizations.[37] The recent protests in Hong Kong, largely instigated by a concern about Chinese influence, indicate the potential internal clashes within civilizations. Similarly, identity in Taiwan is quite complex, with divisions between those who identify more as Chinese and those that identify more with Taiwan. It would be difficult say that China and Taiwan have a completely connected civilizational identity. Africa and Latin America present additional internal inconsistencies in relation to a broader civilizational identity. Overall, it is hard to make a strong case that the civilizations presented by Huntington are cohesive and monolithic. This is an argument that students readily make when evaluating and analyzing Huntington’s civilizations.

Concluding Remarks

Though Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis has been largely demonstrated to be an inaccurate depiction of conflict, the concept of civilizations can be a useful case study to help students evaluate the formation and importance of identities. In particular, this essay has focused on encouraging students to consider how civilizations are defined, how this concept differs from other forms of identity, how identities may be formed and changed, whether civilizational identities are a useful in understanding identities, whether they are salient identities, and whether civilizations represent cohesive identities. Through deconstructing the concept of civilizations, students are encouraged to think more critically about identity and identity formation, but also about how concepts are constructed and applied in political science more broadly.



Essay by Anjali Dayal, Fordham University

Bad ideas about the world abound, and teachers choose which to discard and which to engage. Some bad ideas are consequential, and these ideas seem to require confrontation in the classroom—not just rebuttal, but ritual dismemberment. Samuel Huntington's “Clash of Civilizations” has repeatedly been demonstrated as false, and it encourages a reductive, dangerous, and ultimately racist view of others—and yet its essentialist argument about a world riven into war by identity politics remains influential beyond academia.[38] Many students encounter the argument outside the classroom, and many educators teaching Introduction to International Relations believe assigning and teaching the argument is the best way to rebut it. But how should we teach it? What’s gained and what’s lost by framing Huntington’s argument as authoritative enough to rebut? Put another way: how do we teach students about influential theories we know are wrong?

The question is vital: dangerous, incorrect ideas about international relations have real salience, reach, and consequence in the world, and powerful actors with faith in these ideas can behave in ways that summon the world they anticipate into being.[39] I argue that “Clash of Civilizations” may best serve instructors in introductory classes as an important illustration of how ideas shape international relations; rather than teach it as an authoritative text to be debunked, educators teaching introductory classes can present it alongside other ideas that meaningfully demonstrate how constructivist theories can help us explain political outcomes. Relegating it to the status of example rather than valid argument enables educators to contextualize it with other essentialist but influential ideas about political conflict without presenting its racist ideas as themselves authoritative; to engage with the self-fulfilling nature of some ideas about international politics using both current and historical examples; and to offer a meaningful counterweight to the more hopeful illustrations of constructivist logic that students often reach for.

There’s no shortage of scholarship across disciplines that refutes Huntington’s core claims—distinguished scholars with varied ideological commitments and varied goals have considered Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” arguments and found them deeply wanting. [40] Huntington outlines civilizations like gunpowder lines on a map, each just waiting for a match, but it takes nearly no effort to find scholarship that subverts his central premise. From Benedict Anderson, Elie Kedourie, Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith, and Eric Hobsbawm’s work on nationalism[41] to dominant swathes of anthropology and sociology through to historical scholarship of any kind that even fleetingly examines how people understand the world around them, scholars demonstrate that no immutable, affective identity tied to “civilizations” as Huntington frames them is meaningful across time and space.

Indeed, college freshmen on their first pass through the Foreign Affairs piece that lays out Huntington’s argument also can (and do) point to a number of questionable assertions in the text. Take, for example, the nearly offhand assertion that Africa “possibly” comprises a civilization, in the essay’s first pages: “Civilization identity,” Huntington writes, “will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization.”[42] Some concept of “civilization” is the basic building block of Huntington’s theory, but his freewheeling list of “civilizations” reads less like the outcome of a rigorous research endeavor and more like Borges’ famous classification of animals (“(a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs…(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher…”).[43] Even a precocious middle schooler with a flair for pattern identification and a personal history watching Sesame Street might note the units being compared are dramatically unalike. [44] College students arrive at “and possibly African civilization,” and ask whether the concept of civilization is too heterogeneous to mean anything (what things are being compared when we stack “African” and “Islamic” next to each other, for example?), or too capacious to mean anything (what, after all, could “civilization” possibly mean when pitched out across the scale and diversity of the African continent?), or whether “and possibly African civilization” is the first tell that lays bare Huntington’s full, racist hand (what attributes of African identity make its “civilization”  questionable?).

Learning to deconstruct arguments in this way is certainly an important skill for college students to acquire. And for some scholars deeply steeped in political science, the argument is worth engaging in the classroom because of Huntington’s stature. His foundational contributions to comparative politics and international relations—Political Order in Changing Societies, which rejects optimistic strains of modernization theory with the insight that the degree of governance may be as important as the kind of government; The Third Wave, with its influential theory of democratic contagion—allow his reputation to burnish his worst work,[45] even as his worst work tarnishes the legacy he built with these core texts.[46] Clash of Civilizations is authoritative in this sense because Huntington was a key figure in the discipline’s development. Moreover, his racism isn’t even unusual within the field.  Clash of Civilizations advances its theory of Western superiority in more explicit terms than most contemporary international relations scholarship—but racism and imperial control over black and brown populations were core tenets of early international relations theory, and deeply racist texts are foundational to the discipline’s intellectual evolution.[47]

But in purely academic terms, Huntington’s core thesis is ultimately, quite frankly, silly; there exist far more intriguing texts, with far less explicit racism, on which students can hone their knife skills; and teaching “Clash of Civilizations” as a core text of international relations in classrooms today grants its supremacist ideas authority in a way that can be hard to shake for students encountering international relations theories for the first time. As Paul Musgrave writes, the Clash of Civilizations book and Foreign Affairs article appear frequently on college syllabi; “almost universally, however, they are assigned to teach students how to tear this paper-thin argument apart.”[48] But what, precisely, are students tearing apart, when Huntington’s argument disintegrates at nearly first blush? Why not discard the text altogether? If we disregard Huntington’s status in the field, then what independent authority does the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis have in the world, and how should we grapple with that independent authority in the classroom without elevating the ideas in the text itself?

To some extent, the arguments for and against teaching it are the same. On the one hand, it is worth engaging because, however demonstrably false it may be, the idea has real legs in the world; belief in its core tenets shapes some policymakers’ decisions. On the other hand, it is a fraught thesis to teach for precisely the same reason: however demonstrably false it may be, it remains popular in influential quarters, with an intuitive appeal naturalizing categories of identity for which some readers may have deep affinity; teaching it as an authoritative idea from a credentialed, influential thinker can grant it cachet it may not have when students encounter similar arguments in other venues.

In this respect, “Clash of Civilizations” isn’t unique—a host of essentialist arguments make similar ahistorical claims about immutable identities and inevitable conflicts, with similar effect in the world. Famously, for example, President Bill Clinton drew policy ideas from Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History, which “portrayed a region in which eternal hatreds and immutable national characters are as vicious as they are permanent, a world in which battles of the fourteenth century are still waged at the end of the twentieth and will doubtless rage in the twenty-first.”[49] Similarly, the Trump administration’s policy rhetoric on both the Middle East and China calls back to essentialist logics of civilizational conflict. Arguments from President Donald Trump’s advisors Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, and John Bolton hang on the same broad scaffold as Huntington’s argument: that people of different races or faiths are fundamentally unalike and fundamentally incompatible, and that difference breeds violence. [50] Trump himself sometimes combines this framing with “ancient hatreds” arguments that recall Kaplan’s work. Justifying his decision to withdraw American troops from Kurdish regions of Syria amidst Turkish operations, for example, Trump offered up both “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” and “American combat troops should not be at the center of ancient sectarian conflicts all over the world.”[51]

These ideas offer a primordial vision of identity, society, and conflict—a clear blade with which to slice through the complex world. But our students are already saturated in these bromides—they do not specifically need Huntington’s explication of neat, reductionist falsehoods to observe the arguments in play; certainly, our students of color do not need to encounter another powerful voice calling Islam inherently bloody, or questioning the equal weight of African identities, to know these ideas have consequence in the world. Instead, we owe all students the tools to identify, dismantle, and question arguments like Huntington’s when they encounter them.  

Accordingly, one straightforward way to handle Huntington in the classroom is to place “Clash of Civilizations” in context alongside other essentialist arguments, and then to present them as examples of how ideas shape the conduct of international relations. They are powerful illustrations of how individuals and institutions crystallize belief into behavior and policy. As illustrations, they enable students to interrogate logics of mutual co-constitution, intersubjectivity, and ideas of the appropriate without instructors having to frame essentialist theories as legitimate ideas about international relations themselves.

Indeed, they may serve a doubly important role in this capacity—for introductory students in particular, the easiest examples of normative change and ideas that change the world tend to be positive and progressive. The system-reshaping power of movements for women’s suffrage, or abolition, or human rights is easier and more intuitive to grasp than, say, more remote ideas about transformed practices vis-à-vis sovereign debt. Once we lived in a world where most women did not vote; today we no longer live in that world; once we had a global economy built on trading enslaved people as commodities; we no longer consider that practice within the realm of possible economic processes; and these transformations were made possible by people who contested and actively reframed the moral consensus of their times: constructivist logics are easily accessible when explained in these ways.[52] But this early emphasis on progressive activism can paint a brighter, simpler picture of the social and ideational dimensions of international politics than scholarship supports. Essentialist ideas about civilizational clash balance these narratives with darker questions—does believing the US is locked in a civilizational struggle with China, for example, make it more or less likely? How? How does framing contemporary political struggles as ancient and immutable shape our conduct and our policy? What modes of politics become more or less possible in light of these visions? What kinds of behaviors seem appropriate when backed by these conceptions of the good and the right and the true?

Here, Huntington and his henchmen serve an important purpose: we can see their ideas in action around us, and their implications can help us lay bare the mechanics of political interaction. We need not explicitly teach the text in order to do so, but if we do, the context of other such arguments enables students to grapple with ideas about civilizational clash without, perhaps, giving them the sense that these ideas might be fixed truths about their world.



Essay by Tobias Lemke, University of Delaware

Few texts inspire as much controversy among International Relations (IR) scholars as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations.[53] Indeed, his portrayal of a multi-civilizational world locked into perpetual conflict was quick to garner widespread skepticism and even outright scorn following its publication in the early 1990s.[54] More importantly, his thesis contented directly with one of the most powerful counter narratives of the post-Cold War era: the so-called “End of History” and with it the expected triumph of Western style democracy in global politics.[55] For many at the time, the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed more like a gateway into an increasingly cooperative and peaceful world order, not the harbinger of growing international conflict and civilizational tribalism that Huntington depicted in his essay.

Even today, some two and a half decades since its publications, the Clash of Civilizations continues to be the subject of both scrutiny and debate among academics and beyond.[56] But the notoriety of Huntington’s work is made even more conspicuous by what appears to be a commonplace absence from many standard IR introductory courses. I did not have the privilege of reading Huntington as part of my undergraduate or graduate course work and an unscientific sample drawn from friends and colleagues reveals similar experiences. Few people, so it seems, have engaged the Clash of Civilizations as part of their formal disciplinary training and even fewer appear willing to integrate it into their own teaching going forward. In this sense, the ‘ghost’ of Huntington’s work occupies a somewhat outsized space in the mind of many IR scholars. We know it. Many of us take issue with or hold strong opinions about it. But few of us seem to teach it or actively engage with it as part of our academic practice.

However, this lack of formal engagement, coupled with the generally negative perception many of us harbor against Huntington’s argument, presents a dilemma: can we justify our reluctance to teach the Clash of Civilizations without giving our students the opportunity to critically explore both the strength and weaknesses of Huntington’s argument in the context of their liberal arts education? Put differently, if we refuse to engage with his work directly, might our students fall prey to the temptation of an argument that offers a seemingly compelling and easy-to-digest explanation for understanding global conflict in today’s world, and especially at a time when tribalism and out-group hatred seem to be on the rise everywhere?

To answer that question, we ought first to examine the case that can be made against teaching Huntington. Here two possible points of attack stand out to me. First, there may be those among the IR community, who view the Clash of Civilizations a mischaracterization of what appropriate social constructivist research should look like—that is, work that focuses on the constitutive role of ideas and identities in world politics. More specifically, they may charge that Huntington’s depiction of (civilizational) culture as a source of conflict runs counter to the normative underpinnings of a constructivist research program that seeks to highlight the importance of diversity and cultural contingency in international affairs.[57] In this way, the Clash of Civilizations nullifies many of the important ontological and epistemological gains made by constructivists since the 1990s and inadvertently supports a key realist assumption in that inter-group competition, conflict, and violence reign supreme in global politics. Worse, it does so by drawing support directly from the social constructivist toolkit: not anarchy but cultural identity and out-group hostility are to blame for the war of all against all.

A second possible critique may suggest that Huntington’s focus on the antagonistic relationship between several world civilizations is an oversimplification of the complex global politics of the late twentieth century; or worse, a fraught and potentially dangerous exercise in linking political agency to the existence of several supposedly primordial and stable mega identities.[58] Again, Huntington is depicted here as a realist in constructivist guise, as one who disseminates a vision of the world locked into permanent and unchanging conflict. This runs the risk of offending the constructivist sensibility, since explaining continuity and change in global politics is arguably one of the primary advantages of constructivist methodologies. After all, “anarchy is what states make of it.”[59]

However, buried within this second charge is a third potential criticism that suggests an even more sinister motive behind the central thesis of the Clash of Civilizations: its potential to play directly into Eurocentric, xenophobic, or even racist arguments used to perpetuate inequality, exploitation and domination in global politics. Accordingly, European imperialists of the nineteenth century propagated the idea of a “Standard of Civilization” to justify the systematic conquest, exploitation, and eradication of non-European peoples.[60] Correspondingly, the thesis of a clash of civilizations can be used by contemporaries as a pretext for defending a predominantly Anglo-American world order against outside threats, including the rise of non-Western Powers like China and India. In this context, the Clash’s thesis can be appropriated as a rhetorical move to protect centuries old Western imperialism.[61]

I suggest that both critiques alone, while raising valid concerns, do not present sufficient grounds for excluding Huntington’s work from our course syllabi. Our political preferences should not dictate how we evaluate the analytical usefulness of scholarly research, let alone what makes it onto our readings lists and what does not. For example, much of the constructivist research agenda in the 1990s and 2000s was focused exclusively on the diffusion of liberal norms, including democratic accountability and the international promotion of human rights.[62] And while many of us might agree with this line of research on normative grounds, constructivists across the board should have a personal stake in understanding the dynamics of all forms of identity politics, be they liberal, illiberal, etc. After all, it is the hermeneutical sensitivity and foundational appreciation for difference and diversity that is said to make social constructivist methods a worthwhile scientific enterprise.[63]

Approaching the second critique involves more nuance. I am not entirely convinced there is enough supporting evidence for the ‘dog whistle’ charge, especially if we focus strictly on the main argument of Huntington’s early work. Yes, our liberal sensibilities might find his essentializing move crude, uncomfortable, and unpersuasive. And yes, Huntington carelessly brushes aside a growing literature of global history that has shown the degree to which cultures do not fall neatly along civilizational fault lines but are deeply interwoven to the point that a clear distinction between this civilization and that is often moot. However, I do not believe that there is anything inherently sinister about his point that culturally distinct groups are likely to compete in a world of limited resources and scarce security. In fact, evidence in social psychology provides plenty of support for this type of argument.[64] More importantly, one ought to give Huntington credit for engaging seriously with the idea of a multicultural world at a time when many pundits believed it to be on a fast track to cultural homogenization and liberal-democratic Gleichschaltung. Moreover, Huntington is explicit in his affirmation that the historical dominance of Western civilization over the past 250 years did not rest on any type of inherent cultural superiority but rather was based on a superiority in applying organized violence (1996, 51). Based on this, Huntington does not exactly come across as an apologist for Western dominance and hegemony. The same, however, cannot be said when considering Huntington’s other work in which he expressed an acute alarm that the decline of what he considered American Anglo-Protestant “identity” in the face of rising rates of Hispanic immigrants and an endorsement of multiculturalism posed a direct threat to America’s standing in the world.[65] Some have argued that this move should be seen as an endorsement on Huntington’s part of the type of “white nativism” and “nationalism” that has gained currency on the American right in recent years.[66]

What about the charge that Huntington mischaracterized or misunderstood the complexity of global politics following the end of the Cold War? It is here that the Clash of Civilizations may deserve more credit than it usually receives from IR scholars. It might have been easy to dismiss Huntington’s thesis during the liberal triumphalism of the 1990s and early 2000s, but since then global developments have taken a turn. Especially from the vantage point of our current global political climate, it seems that Huntington was perhaps more right than wrong in focusing on the prospects of a world dominated by a growing concern for identity politics and culture wars, including the rise of an aggressive and atavistic populist-nationalism across many Western style democracies but also in other parts of the world. In this context, Huntington’s framework of a contested multi-cultural world order can be a useful reference point for students engaging with global politics in an introductory IR course.

This is especially the case considering the absence of useful heuristic alternatives. Outside of scholarship that focus on ethnic conflict, our discipline still lacks many of the theoretical and conceptual tools necessary to adequately explain the resurgence of identity politics the world over. Why is that? The rise of the globalization paradigm in the late 1990s had certainly much to do with a renewed reluctance on behalf of many social scientists to seriously (re)engage with questions of cultural, national, and civilizational identity. Over the past two decades, more than a handful of scholars have declared the end of the nation state as a useful category for studying international politics.[67] In this way, a growing concern for the forces of cosmopolitanism and globalism in the twenty-first century continues to exude a strong disciplining effect over our discipline.

And by no means is that a new phenomenon. Following the Second World War, the only consensus among scholars was the need to contain or dilute the forces of tribalism and nationalism. The fact that identity politics could easily be appropriated by those who seek to challenge established states and regimes only added to this view in the wake of the Cold War. Unsurprisingly then, both realists and liberals have often tried to cope with the problem of identity by confining it to the realm of domestic and internal politics. For better or worse, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis drags the messiness and complexity of identity-driven politics into the open light of international politics. This is a learning opportunity from which students and scholars should not shy away.

However, this does not mean Huntington’s work is without issues, nor that we should automatically make it a staple of our IR curriculum. In fact, the Clash suffers from one particularly debilitating analytical shortcoming: it depicts social identity in substantialist terms. According to the substantialist world view, social inquiry should focus on the identification of “ontological primitives” in the form of the substances, essences, and characteristics that give entities their particular identity.[68] This includes the essential attributes that shape individuals and social groups, including civilizations. Once we identify the primitive essence of an actor, the substantialist approach suggest, we can infer how said actor is likely to behave and interact in their social environment. In short, everything else is “downstream” from the essential identity category of an actor. Coincidentally, this is exactly how Huntington theorizes the essential attributes of his five major civilizational groups (e.g. 1996, 68-72).

And it is here, I suggest, that a more direct engagement with Huntington’s Clash provides a valuable learning opportunity, one by which we can expose our students to the analytical pitfalls associated with essentializing identity as an unambiguous and measurable variable used to predict social action. National cultures, let alone civilizational ones, are far from internally homogenous and rarely fall neatly into distinct categorical containers. Instead, cultures are messy, often changing, and frequently beset by ongoing conflicts over the very meaning of collective identity.

Again, hindsight is the proverbial “20/20” in this case. While it is true that contemporary global politics have become subsumed by conflicts over and between identity categories, the fault lines are clearly not civilizational, or at least these are not the only noteworthy fault lines. Indeed, far from seeing the world harden around a set number of distinct civilizational identities, we are currently experiencing a fragmentation of identities, especially in what he would refer to as the ‘West.’ Arguments over national identity and belonging are tearing at the fabric of the Atlantic community and are threatening to undermine the values and institutions of the liberal international order.

Thus, rather than assuming that identities are pre-social and static, we can encourage our students to develop a more nuanced and relational understanding of identity in global politics, one that focuses less on the substantive character of actors and their attributes, but on the social and relational contexts in which political and cultural action unfolds. This relational world view—as opposed to the substantialist wager outlined above—asserts that it is the recurrent sociocultural interactions between actors that constitute the building blocks of social analysis.[69] In turn, actors derive their meaning, significance, and identity from the functional roles they play within these transactions. This reciprocal relationship, seen as a dynamic and unfolding process, is how actors, including civilizations, negotiate their identity and determine their preferences. It follows that it is also this constitutive reciprocity that shapes the terms whereby civilizations, or any social group for that matter, cooperate and compete with one another. Thus, rather than thinking of a “clash” of civilizations as the guiding metaphor for global politics in the twenty-first century, we should focus on the recurrent forging, breaking, and reforming of social ties (within, between and across civilizations) that shapes the politics of civilizations. This is not a bad learning outcome for discussing Huntington’s work in your Intro to IR course.



Essay by Stephen Pampinella, State University of New York at New Paltz

When international relations instructors compose their syllabi, they inevitably must reckon with Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations.[70] Once seen as a seductive yet fringe analysis of world politics, the cultural essentialism of The Clash of Civilizations has a newfound prominence among far-right ethnonationalists, none more influential than U.S. President Donald Trump. Whether discussing immigration or great-power competition with China,[71] both Trump and U.S. foreign policy officials have echoed many of the same culturally exclusionary arguments made possible by Huntington. For IR scholars who broadly share a foundational commitment to democratic values (however interpreted), this turn of events creates a quandary: should we teach The Clash of Civilizations and expose our students to an empirically wrong and morally abhorrent fantasy of race war,[72] or simply ignore it?

I argue that the contemporary political moment demands that we talk about The Clash of Civilizations with our students while giving them the tools to dismantle it and conceptualize novel political forms that respect difference. One way to do so involves teaching The Clash of Civilizations after already introducing constructivist theories of identity formation, postcolonial accounts of racial and civilizational discourses, and exclusionary accounts of nationalism. These concepts and frameworks enable our students to recognize that identity is fluid and often subject to political manipulation in ways that erases difference. If we present Huntington’s work in this sociological context, we enable our students to recognize The Clash of Civilizations as an intellectual tool of the far-right rather than legitimate social science. It also prepares our students to imagine alternative relationships between peoples of different identities that generate possibilities for peaceful coexistence based on democratic pluralism. Given the increasing diversity of our society and classrooms, this approach can affirm the place of every student in the university and provide them with an intellectual foundation for citizenship despite our growing societal divisions.

Before I begin, a couple caveats: what follows is based on my own experiences in the classroom over the past six years teaching an Intro to IR class for undergraduates at a public university in upstate New York. My proposed pedagogy regarding The Clash of Civilizations is informed by these experiences. I recognize that time constraints may prevent instructors from employing the same ordering of basic IR concepts and readings suggested below. More generally, my approach toward teaching the The Clash of Civilizations has emerged in the broader context of the Trump presidency and the mainstreaming of racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism in the United States (and in particular, along the southern border with Mexico). I hope that my students leave the classroom having had an opportunity to think deeply about what it means to live in an authentic democracy composed of citizens with a multiplicity of cultural backgrounds. I believe our discussion of The Clash of Civilizations should be oriented toward this objective.

In Search of Theoretical Alternatives to ‘The Clash of Civilizations’

IR instructors offer a range of solutions for dealing with The Clash of Civilizations. Stephen Saideman once described The Clash of Civilizations as a “zombie virus” infecting Intro to IR courses.[73] Despite its pseudoscientific claims regarding identity and conflict, it is an idea that never seems to die. Since it is bad theory, Saideman suggests that we simply ignore it. W.K. Winecoff has offered another perspective: teach The Clash of Civilizations because our students will be exposed to it in other disciplines (which also seek to disprove it), but provide the critical thinking tools which enable students to empirically realize it is wrong (conflicts within civilizations are common, and conflict often does not play out across civilizational boundaries).[74]

I am sympathetic to both of these arguments, especially Winecoff’s, since I was first exposed to The Clash of Civilizations in this way. However, Saideman’s reasons for avoiding The Clash of Civilizations resonates strongly. No matter how often we empirically disprove The Clash of Civilizations, its overly simplistic analysis will resonate with someone.

How to square this circle? If students (and the broader public) can fall prey to The Clash of Civilizations, then we need to go beyond merely disproving it and provide an alternative theoretical framework with which we can think about identity. A social constructivist framework that incorporates theories of postcolonialism and nationalism can serve this purpose. Since many Intro classes already discuss these concepts and frameworks, we can introduce them to our students in specific ways that provides a better lens through which to view the world. Once they understand the exclusionary process of national identity formation and the historic silencing of subaltern voices, they can articulate a critique of The Clash of Civilizations that emphasizes the fluidity of communal boundaries and the importance of respecting others’ self-representations.

A Theoretical Foundation

To lay the theoretical groundwork for an alternative to the The Clash of Civilizations, I start with social constructivism and the process of identity formation. Constructivism is usually taught in the context of IR theory and as an idealist-interpretivist alternative to more materialist IR theories like neorealism, neoliberalism, and Marxism. I maintain that same ordering in my syllabi, but put it to a slightly different use. Teaching social constructivism allows me to introduce identity as a process shaped by social interactions, relationships, and experiences. This understanding becomes students’ first exposure to identity rather than the essentializing one assumed by The Clash of Civilizations. If we teach our students that state identities are subject to change, they will recognize the primordial assumptions about identity used by Huntington as theoretically problematic. I rely on Alexander Wendt’s “Anarchy is What States Make it” for this purpose.[75]

A second step involves teaching postcolonialism, a long ignored but always salient way of understanding identity in world politics. Postcolonial scholars argue that Westerners have defined themselves as a homogenous and superior cultural entity compared to the East, and doing so both subordinates and silences subaltern voices. For the purposes of an Intro class, discussing postcolonialism allows us to introduce discourse as a form of power and then connect it to identity formation processes. It further provides instructors with an opening into discussions about race and international relations, a topic which scholars have become increasingly deliberate in confronting. Students should be aware about IR’s origins in theories about the superiority of Eurocentric civilization in comparison to the “barbaric” or “savage” East. Not only do these perspectives demonstrate how representations of the West as a distinct cultural entity have made possible hierarchy and imperialism, but they also set the stage for comparisons between The Clash of Civilizations and racialized accounts of world politics. Selections from Said’s Orientalism or Chowdhry and Nair’s Power, Postcolonialism, and International Relations can provide good introductions to postcolonialism, while selections from Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda, and Robbie Shilliam’s Race and Racism in International Relations can spark more specific discussions about race.[76]

The final step is to connect notions of social construction and discursive power to nationalism, something covered in every Intro to IR class. However, I introduce nationalism in a way that puts identity formation processes and racial discourses into motion by illustrating how they can be mobilized by political elites. Anthony Marx’s concept of exclusionary nationalism provides the basis for doing so. By illustrating how nationalizing elites homogenize an otherwise fragmented polity and unite it in opposition to an excluded Other, we can introduce political agency into discussions of the nation in a way that can be easily understood by students with only a basic sense of history. For example, the perpetuation of racial hierarchy in the post-Civil War United States can demonstrate how racial discourses can be reinscribed on a polity while reconstituting national homogeneity and thereby legitimizing political authority. All of this can be discussed by using Anthony Marx’s “The Nation-State and Its Exclusions.”[77]

Putting Huntington in Context of Contemporary Politics

These concepts—the social construction of identity, postcolonialism and racism in IR, and exclusionary nationalism—enable students to pick apart Huntington’s arguments and understand their political implications. In particular, they allow students to compare Huntington’s primordial understanding of a civilization alongside a constructivist one and critically understand his theory as one that reproduces exclusionary nationalism. Civilizational identity itself can thus be seen as a construct produced by policymakers who legitimize various foreign policy projects. From this perspective, students can look at Huntington’s civilizational map and begin to question its borders by referring to historical events or narratives of which they have some awareness. In effect, we can demonstrate how Huntington provides an ethnonationalist map of the world and invite challenges to it.

Huntington’s subsequent work, Who Are We? invites deliberation over the U.S.-Mexico border as the boundary between Western and Latin American civilization.[78] Students have already been exposed to ethnonationalist political discourses that evoke Huntington’s description of Latinos as culturally incompatible with and inferior to Anglo-Americans. By introducing these representations in the context of constructivist and postcolonial theories, students can recognize how such discourses justify racism and xenophobia in pursuit of national homogeneity rather than reflecting the ‘true’ nature of either Anglo or Latin Americans. We can also explore the construction of national borders as a process constituted by the same essentialist representations of identity. Both Manifest Destiny and the Mexican-American War, which effectively projected U.S. authority to the Rio Grande, were historical products of discourses of civilizational difference and Anglo-American racial superiority. Within the classroom, this historical link can be made by comparing Trump’s own statements about Latin Americans with those of antebellum U.S. intellectuals found in Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny (rather than assign another reading, I just project a selection from Horsman alongside Trump’s own rhetoric).[79] When presented in this way, these historical moments can serve as illustrations of how socially constructed boundaries emerge over time and become taken for granted.

Giving Students Space to Think About Pluralism

Teaching The Clash of Civilizations from a constructivist perspective gives our students a comprehensive theoretical framework to launch critiques and not merely prove the book wrong. But more importantly, it allows students to think about their own agency in producing cultural forms and defining the boundaries of the polity. Since identities are social constructions, we can ask our students about what kind of national and civilizational identities might be invented that serve as alternatives to homogeneity and racial purity. If a constructivist-postcolonial approach suggests that our identities are fluid and multifaceted, then the kinds of national or civilizational identities we construct should reflect this diversity and refrain from essentialist exclusions. The logical result, then, is a polity organized based on pluralism, or coexistence among peoples with a variety of identities.

Chantal Mouffe’s agnostic pluralism provides a useful guide for instructors interested in fostering this discussion.[80] Mouffe proposes a radically agnostic interpretation of democracy in which all citizens have a fundamental right to liberty and equality, although they may differ in terms of how to combine or prioritize those values. In other words, Mouffe permits us think about the freedoms and obligations embodied in democratic citizenship. Primarily, this includes a right to express oneself based on one’s own communal values while respecting the right of every other person to do the same. To be clear: one does not need to assign Mouffe to open up discussions with students about the question of cultural difference and democracy. So long as they share a general commitment toward democracy and human rights, moving from a constructivist-postcolonial critique of The Clash of Civilizations to a broader discussion of democracy in a diverse polity is feasible.

Once again, the question of the U.S.-Mexico border and The West’s supposed southern boundary with Latin America can serve as a jumping off point to this discussion. Once our students realize that national borders and civilizational boundaries are political projects undertaken at the expense of non-whites, the prospect of opening up both U.S. and Western identities to “the Other” becomes an imagined possibility. From this perspective, undocumented Latin American immigrants traveling to the United States are traversing an artificial border whose origins lie in exclusionary nationalism.

For students of Latino descent, this discussion can enable reflections on how they possess multiple identities and affinities. Rather than be forced to choose whether they are ‘American’ or ‘Latino,’ a constructivist-postcolonial analysis of identity can suggest that these identities are not incompatible. Both nations and civilizations can be heterogenous collectives. Not only can we define the United States as a multiracial democracy, but we can also define it as part of ‘The West’ and ‘Latin America,’ with one foot in a transatlantic civilizational identity and another in a hemispheric one.


In this short essay, I have attempted to explore how we can address The Clash of Civilizations in a proactive way that gives our students a theoretically sound and ethically viable way to think about identity. By presenting The Clash of Civilizations in opposition to constructivist and postcolonial frameworks, we make its faulty assumptions about nations and civilizations apparent to our students. At the same time, we also enable them to consider how we might live in society organized around fluid and permeable boundaries. Such a perspective is likely to be intuitively appealing to our students because it can help to resolve questions about the multidimensional nature of their own identities. We can give them the intellectual tools to embrace pluralism, difference, and democracy in spite of the exclusionary rhetoric of nationalists and Huntington’s own racial imaginary.



[1] “Open Syllabus Project,” accessed 31 October 2019, https://opensyllabus.org/.

[2] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72:3 (Summer 1993): 22-49; Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[3] Paul Musgrave, “John Bolton Is Warning of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ with China. Here Are the Five Things You Need to Know,” The Washington Post, 18 July 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/18/john-bolton-is-warning-clash-civilizations-with-china-here-are-five-things-you-need-know/; Paul Musgrave, “The Slip That Revealed the Real Trump Doctrine–Foreign Policy,” https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/02/the-slip-that-revealed-the-real-trump-doctrine/, accessed 31 October 2019; Paul Musgrave, “The Grim Fantasia of a Civilizational War | Cato Unbound,” https://www.cato-unbound.org/2017/02/08/paul-musgrave/grim-fantasia-civilizational-war, accessed 31 October 2019.

[4] Samuel P. Huntington, “Try Again: A Reply to Russett, Oneal & Cox,” Journal of Peace Research 37:5 (2000): 609-610.

[5] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).

[6] Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).

[7] Fareed Zakaria, “The Politics Of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?,” https://www.newsweek.com/politics-rage-why-do-they-hate-us-154345, accessed 31 October 2019.

[8] Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” 35.

[9] Erin M. Kearns, Allison E. Betus, and Anthony F. Lemieux, “Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention than Others?,” Justice Quarterly 36:6 (2019): 1-24.

[10] Hannah Ritchie, “Does the News Reflect What We Die From?,” Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/does-the-news-reflect-what-we-die-from, accessed 30 October 2019.

[11] Afa’anwi M. Che, “The Clash of Civilizations? Statistical Evidence from Armed Conflicts, 1989-2015,” 2019.

[12] Max Roser, “War and Peace,” Our World in Data, 13 December 2016, https://ourworldindata.org/war-and-peace.

[13] Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” 23.

[14] Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” 23-24.

[15] James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations For War,” International Organization 49:3 (Summer 1995): 379-414.

[16] Paul Pierson, “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics,” American Political Science Review 94:2 (2000): 251-267, https://doi.org/10.2307/2586011.

[17] Washington Post Staff, “Full Text: Donald Trump Announces a Presidential Bid,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/06/16/full-text-donald-trump-announces-a-presidential-bid/, accessed 31 October 2019; Ibram X. Kendi, “The Day ‘Shithole’ Entered the Presidential Lexicon,” The Atlantic, 13 January 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/shithole-countries/580054/; Carla Herreria, “Trump Rips Rep. Ilhan Omar As ‘Fraud’ And ‘Disgrace’ During Rally In Her District,” HuffPost, 02:03 400AD, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-ilhan-omar-disgrace_n_5d9fdec4e4b06ddfc51730a2.

[18] Errol A. Henderson, “The Revolution Will Not Be Theorised: Du Bois, Locke, and the Howard School’s Challenge to White Supremacist IR Theory,” Millennium 45:3 (2017): 492-510; Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics : The Birth of American International Relations, n.d.; Patricia Owens, “Women and the History of International Thought,” International Studies Quarterly 62:3 (September 2018): 467-481, https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqy027.

[19] “Writing Women Back In–Duck of Minerva,” https://duckofminerva.com/2017/05/writing-women-back-in.html, accessed 30 October 2019.

[20] Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 13.

[21] See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clash_of_Civilizations_mapn2.png by users Kyle Cronan and Olahus, last accessed 31 October 2019.

[22] See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stoddard_race_map_1920.jpg, from Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1920).

[23] Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 206.

[24] Huntington, 203-206; Jean Raspail, The Camp of the Saints (Scribner New York, 1975); Judith Miller, “Strangers at the Gate,” The New York Times, 15 September 1991, sec. Magazine, https://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/15/magazine/strangers-at-the-gate.html.

[25] Richard Rosecrance, Richard, “Review: The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” American Political Science Review 92:4 (December 1998): 979-980.

[26] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).

[27] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGrawHill, 1979).

[28] Alexander D. Barder, “Scientific Racism, Race War and the Global Racial Imaginary,” Third World Quarterly 40:2 (2019): 207-223.

[29] Matto Mildenberger, “The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons,” Scientific American Blog Network, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-tragedy-of-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/, accessed 30 October 2019.

[30] Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72:3 (1993): 22-49; Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); Errol A. Henderson, “Culture or Contiguity: Ethnic Conflict, the Similarity of States, and the Onset of War, 1820-1989,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 41:5 (1997): 649-668; Henderson and Richard Tucker, “Clear and Present Strangers: The Clash of Civilizations and International Conflict,” International Studies Quarterly 45:2 (2001): 317-338; Bruce M. Russett, John R. Oneal, and Michaelene Cox, “Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Deja vu? Some Evidence,” Journal of Peace Research 37:5 (2000): 583-608.

[31] Henderson, “Culture or Conflict”; Henderson and Tucker, “Clear and Present Strangers”; Russett, Oneal, and Cox, “Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Déjà vu?”

[32] Aaron Blake. “‘They Didn’t Help us with Normandy’: Trump Abandons the Kurds—Rhetorically if not Literally,” The Washington Post, 9 October 2019,.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/09/trump-has-abandoned-kurds-least-rhetorically/.

[33] Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” 24.

[34] Ibid., 24.

[35] Ibid., 27.

[36] Ibid., 9.

[37] Deepshikha Shahi. “The Clash of Civilizations Thesis: A Critical Appraisal,” E-International Relations, 2 April 2017, https://www.e-ir.info/2017/04/02/the-clash-of-civilizations-thesis-a-critical-appraisal/#_ftnref21.

[38] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996).

[39] Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

[40] Everyone from Edward Said to Amartya Sen has refuted the logic of Huntington’s theory. Paul Poast runs through many of the quantitative studies that refute Huntington on empirical grounds here: https://twitter.com/ProfPaulPoast/status/1123959166551326722

[41] Elie Kedourie, Nationalism (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1960); Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Malden: Blackwell, 1983); Anthony Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006); Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

[42] Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72:3 (Summer 1993): 22-49.

[43] Jorge Luis Borges, “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez, https://ccrma.stanford.edu/courses/155/assignment/ex1/Borges.pdf.

[44] “One of These Kids Is Colder Than the Others,” Sesame Street/Children’s Television Workshop, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbTSQOvt2Ho.

[45] Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968); Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

[46] Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).

[47] Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017).

[48] Paul Musgrave, “The Grim Fantasia of a Civilizational War,” Cato Unbound: A Journal of Debate, 7 February 2018, https://www.cato-unbound.org/2017/02/08/paul-musgrave/grim-fantasia-civilizational-war#_edn2.

[49] David Remnick, “The Back Page,” The New Yorker, 6 June 1999, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1999/06/14/the-back-page-4.

[50] Emma Ashford, “What We Get Wrong About the Clash of Civilizations.” Cato Unbound: A Journal of Debate, 7 February 2018, https://www.cato-unbound.org/print-issue/2185; Paul Musgrave,  “John Bolton is Warning of a “Clash of Civilizations” with China. Here Are the Five Things You Need to Know,” The Washington Post, 18 July 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/18/john-bolton-is-warning-clash-civilizations-with-china-here-are-five-things-you-need-know/.

[51] Anne Gearan, “Trump Tries to Rebrand Syria Withdrawal as a Political Promise Kept: Let Someone Else Be the World’s Policeman.” The Washington Post, 23 October 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-tries-to-rebrand-syria-withdrawal-as-a-political-promise-kept-let-someone-else-be-the-worlds-policeman/2019/10/23/fea563ec-f5bb-11e9-8cf0-4cc99f74d127_story.html.

[52] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, “International Norms and Political Change.” International Organization 52:4 (1998): 887-917; Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).

[53] Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72:3 (1993): 186-194; Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[54] Fouad Ajami, “The Summoning,” Foreign Affairs 72:4 (1993): 2-9.

[55] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992.

[56] Jeffrey Haynes. “Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ Today: Responses and Developments”, E-International Relations, 1 May 2018, https://www.e-ir.info/2018/04/30/from-styria-to-syria-a-return-of-a-thirty-years-war/; Carlos Lozada, “Samuel Huntington, a prophet of the Trump era,” The Washington Post, 18 July 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/07/18/samuel-huntington-a-prophet-for-the-trump-era/.

[57] See for example: Fabio Petito, “The Global Political Discourse of Dialogue among Civilizations: Mohammad Khatami and Vaclav Havel,” Global Change, Peace & Security 19:2 (2007): 103-125.

[58] Lisa Wedeen, “Beyond the crusades: Why Huntington, and bin Laden, are wrong,” Middle East Policy 10:2 (2003): 54-61.

[59] Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics,” International Organization 46:2 (1992): 391-425.

[60] Gerry Gong, The Standard of 'Civilization' in International Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).

[61] John Hobson, “Deconstructing the Eurocentric clash of civilizations: De-Westernizing the West by acknowledging the dialogue of civilizations,” Civilizational Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 149-165).

[62] Thomas Risse, “International Norms and Domestic Change: Arguing and Communicative Behavior in the Human Rights Area,” Politics & Society 27:4 (1999): 529-559.

[63] Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney, International Relations and the Problem of Difference. (London: Routledge, 2004).

[64] Henri Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

[65] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to American National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).

[66] Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World. (New York: Vintage Books, 2018).

[67] Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Kjell Goldman, “Internationalisation and the Nation-state: Four Issues and Three Non-issues,” European Journal of Political Research 41:3 (2002): 281-305.

[68] Patrick Jackson and Daniel Nexon, “Relations Before States: Substance, Process and the Study of World Politics,” European Journal of International Relations 5:3 (1999): 291-332.

[69] Charles Tilly, “Social Movements and (All Sorts of) Other Political Interactions – Local, National, and International–Including Identities,” Theory and Society 27:4 (1998): 453-480.

[70] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72:3 (1993): 22-49; Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

[71] Carolina A. Miranda, “Targeted in El Paso, vilified by Trump. Why the Latino culture vacuum is dangerous,” The Los Angeles Times, 15 August, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-08-15/el-paso-mass-shooting-trump-vilified-latinos-culture-vacuum. Steven Ward, “Because China isn’t ‘Caucasian,’ the U.S. is planning for a ‘clash of civilizations.’ That could be dangerous.” The Washington Post, 4 May 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/04/because-china-isnt-caucasian-us-is-planning-clash-civilizations-that-could-be-dangerous/.

[72] Emma Ashford, “What We Get Wrong About the Clash of Civilizations,” CATO Unbound, The CATO Institute, February 2017, https://www.cato-unbound.org/print-issue/2185. Paul Musgrave, “The Grim Fantasia of a Civilizational War,” CATO Unbound, The CATO Institute, February 2017, https://www.cato-unbound.org/print-issue/2185.

[73] Stephen Saideman, “Zombie or Immortal” (blog), 22 September 2014, http://saideman.blogspot.com/2014/09/zombie-or-immortal.html. See also Phil Area, “What’s Wrong with Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations?” (blog), September 17, 2012, http://fparena.blogspot.com/2012/09/whats-wrong-with-huntingtons-clash-of.html.

[74] Kindred Winecoff, “Why Teach ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’” 17 September 2012, http://ipeatunc.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-teach-clash-of-civilizations.html.

[75] Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics,” International Organization 46:2 (1992): 391-425.

[76] Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978). Geeta Chowdry and Sheila Nair, Power, Postcolonialism and International Relations: Reading race, gender and class (New York: Routledge, 2004). Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda, and Robbie Shilliam, eds., Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line (New York: Routledge, 2014).

[77] Anthony Marx, “The Nation-State and Its Exclusions,” Political Science Quarterly 117:1 (2002): 103-126.

[78] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005).

[79] Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986).

[80] Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (New York: Verso, 2000). Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (New York: Verso, 2013).

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Professor Stephen Pampinella has informed us of a factual inaccuracy in his essay.

He writes:

"In discussing the perspectives of other IR scholars regarding The Clash of Civilizations, I misstated the position of Prof. Stephen Saideman of Carleton University. In the piece, I cite a blog post by him discussing The Clash in which he argues that instructors should "inoculate" students against it. However, I wrongly claimed that it should not be taught at all. This is a clear error on my part and I want to offer my sincerest apologies for submitting a piece to H-Diplo with this inaccuracy. Prof. Saideman graciously accepted my apology after noting the error on Twitter."

We have corrected the online and PDF H-Diplo/ISSF versions, https://issforum.org/to/ir11-6. A typographical correction has also been made to footnote 73 ["Area" to "Arena."]

With best regards,
Diane Labrosse
H-Diplo managing editor