Saturday, December 27, 2008

Samuel Huntington RIP

Samuel Huntington is dead at 81. While he wrote a number of books that are highly regarded in the academic world, including the Soldier and the State and Political Order in Changing Societies, he is best known in the public sphere for his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.

After the end of the Cold War, one of the biggest questions in international relations was whether the evolving system would be more or less prone to interstate conflict. Huntington's thesis was that cultural differences among civilization groups would make the coming decades more rather than less conflict prone.

In the public space, one of the principal competing ideas was that a globalizing meta-civilization would be too focused on making money to allow for interstate conflict. The standard bearer for this argument was of course Tom Friedman.

This an argument that can and most likely will go on for decades. Both sides can easily say that we just don't know yet how things will turn out. The economic crisis will likely create new arguments as well. It's the rare big think international relations book that breaks into the public debate, so it is makes Huntington's passing all the more sad that we will not have any more of his provocative ideas.

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