Huntington’s Legacy

Samuel Huntington has died, though it took a few days for the news to reach the media. Huntington, a Harvard professor of political science, was the author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. When someone dies, the custom is to praise him. I’d like to honor custom, but Huntington’s most famous book was a pernicious work that has seems to have served as ideological underpinning for America’s failed foreign policy under George W. Bush.

Soon after 9/11, when everyone was talking Huntington, I wrote a riff on the book and my concern that it would create unneeded battle lines. I’m sorry to say that my worries were justified. Here’s part of what I wrote then:

…as some ideas do, this one seeped into popular culture, ready to be quoted when the need arose even by people who couldn’t quite recall the source. September 11 created the need. Say “civilization,” and instead of a battle against an invisible enemy with an opaque ideology, you have a war of the West against Islam. The problem is that Huntington’s thesis is intellectually fuzzy, factually incorrect – and likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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