Magazine article New Internationalist

Samuel P Huntington [Worldbeaters]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Samuel P Huntington [Worldbeaters]

Article excerpt

Job: Harvard University Professor, former member of the US National Security Council. Author and Consultant to the rich and powerful.

Reputation: Influential purveyor of big ideas and hard truths; an intellectual unafraid of the currents of political correctness; Champion of American 'core values'.

SAM HUNTINGTON is a 'big ideas' kind of guy. From his lofty perch in the Political Science Department of Harvard University he wields influence that helps shape the political ideas of the US policy elite and intelligentsia. He was a key figure in the US foreign policy and security establishment especially when the Democrats were in power. He was a founder and editor of the establishment journal Foreign Policy and has authored over a dozen books.

In the 1970s his first 'big idea' was the notion that there was a 'crisis in democracy' which was due to a 'democratic surge' which was making Western-style democracies ungovernable and endangering authority 'based on hierarchy, expertise and wealth'. The patrician Huntington was disturbed by the demands for popular power and extended economic rights that had grown out of the social movements of the 1960s. His report for the Trilateral Commission rang the alarm bells about this excess of democracy.

The Trilaterals are drawn from the Euro-Asian-North American corporate elite, from such corporations as Fuji Xerox, BP and Goldman Sachs. Other worthies include former ambassadors and wellplaced suits from international development banks and other such institutions. They meet every year to compare their stock portfolios and bemoan the lack of respect for their power and beneficence. They proved a willing sponsor of The Crisis of Democracy (1976), lending eager ears to the clarion call to reassert a 'more authoritative and effective pattern of governmental decision-making'. The Democrat Huntington may not have approved of how this got played out in practice - rollback of the welfare state, the Reaganesque polarization of wealth and poverty, projection of military power abroad to police the empire and the growth of a shadowy security apparatus at home - but once you put a 'big idea' out there you can't expect to control how it gets used.

Huntington's next big idea was 'the Clash of Civilizations'. It followed the usual course: a high-profile 1993 article in the journal Foreign Affairs then, in 1996, by the book (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order), complete with the US flag flapping on the cover and glowing quotes from the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Francis Fukuyama. Huntington's new schtick was the not particularly original idea that the Post-Cold War world was polarizing according to 'the interactions around seven or eight major civilizations'. Neither economic inequality nor domination were the issue, it was culture that defined the faultlines of global politics. To prove this, Huntington produced a schematic history that led the late Edward Said to classify him as 'an ideologist, someone who wants to make "civilizations" and "identities" into what they are not: shutdown, sealed-off entities that have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history'.

Not surprisingly the book focuses on the necessity for the West to maintain its power and vigilance in the face of threats - particularly from those nasty Muslims. Now it may be a long way from the lecture halls of Harvard to Abu Ghraib prison but one has to wonder whether it wasn't some bastardized version of the 'clash of civilizations' that motivated those Marine interrogators. …

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