Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington has produced one of the seminal works on the concept that culture will be the principal factor that divides the world in the future. In the article entitled, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” which was later expanded into a full book, Huntington writes:
“…The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.” (Huntington, 1993)
Huntington defines a civilization as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have…. It is defined by both common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people.” In doing so, he divides the world into major cultural groups including Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and African civilization.
At the core of his thesis is the notion that, with the end of global competition over economic ideology, the fault lines of world conflict now almost all lie along rifts between these great cultures of the world. Huntington sees these notions of cultural identity as so primal that he believes they ultimately will take precedence over the secular, unifying forces of economic globalization.
Author Benjamin Barber has written another of the most significant recent works on the way cultures clash, titled “Jihad vs. McWorld.” However, unlike Huntington, who sees the world splitting along cultural lines, Barber defines the battle as one between traditional values, which is the source of what he terms Jihad, on the one hand (although the term originates in Islam, Barber applies it to any tradition-centered, anti-globalizing movement); and the forces of globalization, or McWorld, on the other.
According to Barber, McWorld is characterized by the “anti-politics of globalism.” That is, it is “bureaucratic, technocratic, and meritocratic, focused on the administration of things—with people, however, among the chief things to be administered.” But there are positive aspects to this rather sterile market approach. Markets do reinforce the “quest for international peace and stability…. Markets are enemies of parochialism, isolation, fractiousness, war.”
In this world of supreme economic choice, however, traditions and cultural values are diminished as “shopping has little tolerance for blue laws, whether dictated by pub-closing British paternalism, Sabbath-observing Jewish Orthodox fundamentalism, or no-Sunday-liquor-sales Massachusetts Puritanism.”
Jihad is Barber’s antithesis of McWorld, emphasizing local identity, sense of community, and solidarity among neighbors and countrymen. The downside of Jihad is that it is intensely nationalist, parochial, and exclusionary.
Barber is deeply skeptical of reform efforts that merely tinker at the margins of globalization. Many governments and academics are inclined to try to ameliorate problems on a case-by-case basis. As an alternative, Barber speculates,
“The most attractive democratic ideal in the face of the brutal realities of Jihad and the dull realities of McWorld will be a confederal union of semi-autonomous communities smaller than nation-states, tied together into regional economic associations and markets larger than nation-states…. The Green movement adage “Think globally, act locally” would actually come to describe the conduct of politics.”
Thomas Friedman in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree makes similar observations about the “anti-politics of globalism.” He notes that globalization has the effect of a “golden straitjacket” on government, in which economic questions take precedence over all others. In this world, when a country puts on the golden straitjacket, “its economy expands and its politics shrink.”