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Samuel Huntington Dies
December 27, 2008 5:12 PM   Subscribe

Samuel Phillip Huntington, best known for his work "Clash of Civilizations," died on December 24. Previously on the blue (here, here, here, and here)
posted by Glibpaxman (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sure he was a very nice man, but his ideas laid the intellectual foundation for and defense of state actions that have resulted in massive suffering and death.
posted by Auden at 5:20 PM on December 27, 2008


I don't know anything about him as a person, but when we read Clash of Civilizations in intro political science he struck me as someone terrified that Western civilization might, in fact, be a finite thing - I think he honestly believed that conservatism and some kind of cultural conservation could "protect" the West. Not only that, but the othering of non-European cultures (Islamic, Chinese, etc.) pretty much undercuts the role that globalization has played in shaping (for better or for worse) culture all across the world over the past thousand or so years. That being said, he was without a doubt a very influential figure and will certainly be missed by many.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:40 PM on December 27, 2008


whats important to remember about huntington is that he is, at the core, a liberal. he has progressive values of justice and rule of law and he believes these things are valuable. we might disagree on how to implement those ideals and how these things came about but at least we can all agree that these are good things that need to be protected.

if i had to choose between thinkers who wanted to fight to defend ideals and others (who have no ideals) and use the war machine to enrich their pocketbooks i am going to go with thinkers like huntington. here is somebody i dont always agree with, but at least he has a foundation to his thought other than raw power.
posted by Glibpaxman at 6:12 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


. I don't always agree with his ideas, but the man was brilliant.
posted by youcancallmeal at 6:19 PM on December 27, 2008


"Mexican immigration is leading the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830s and 1840s, mexicanizing them".

This quote comes from:
a) Rush Limbaugh

b) Lou Dobbs

c) Some guy in a white hood

d) Samuel Phillips Huntington, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, Department of Government, Harvard
posted by matteo at 7:36 PM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Clash of Civilizations, as well as End of History, were the books that sent me on my way to a polisci degree. His earlier work during the cold war, however, was much better and truly classic. A very prescient fellow.
posted by loquax at 9:05 PM on December 27, 2008


"Mexican immigration is leading the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830s and 1840s, mexicanizing them".

What exactly is objectionable about this quote? I can imagine Ward Churchill writing it too.
posted by nasreddin at 9:22 PM on December 27, 2008


All I know is, he let me into his class, "American Political Development," in the fall of 1979 when I was a freshman who for some reason thought "survey" courses like Gov 10 were beneath her. He read my (jejune?) papers and provided thoughtful comments, graded my final personally, and gave me a B-minus, which I hope I deserved.

(At the time I was indignant, now I think I should have failed.)

Apropos of nothing, his son was in our class and kept an oh-so-low profile about it. Who wouldn't? Among the Gov 10ers, Samuel P. was known primarily as a hawk, and Harvard was still kind of a liberal bastion back then.

P.S. Mine was the last class to use typewriters on a regular basis, so there!
posted by emhutchinson at 10:30 PM on December 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Clash of Civilisations probably became, to some extent, a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as certain heavy-weight political actors started believing it, and acting on the basis thereof.
posted by Dysk at 11:40 PM on December 27, 2008


.
The lucky theorists never live long enough to see their works completely debunked. Fukuyama was less fortunate and has spent almost a decade issuing apologias and apologies over The End of History. At my alma, most of the faculty had already begun rebelling against The Clash by the mid 2000. Now, sweeping unified theories on international relations almost seem quaint, the oversimplified products of a "simpler" time.
posted by The White Hat at 12:23 AM on December 28, 2008


White Hat, that's interesting- by the end of his career, Huntington struck me as a Fukuyama-like figure. Both achieved high public profiles as the authors of Theories of Everything than were based on clumsy arguments and gross, sweeping generalizations (read Huntington's delineation of "African" and "Islamic" civilizations to get a sense of what I'm referring to) that were already questionable even when the works were first published. And both let a certain set of politics driven by wishful thinking and/or fear affect and distort their judgment. Fukuyama has spent the last 20 years trying to explain how he was actually horribly misunderstood and was right all along. Perhaps we would have seen more of the same from Huntington, had he been younger and in better health.

Don't get me wrong- Huntington was a first-rate political scientist. It's just unfortunate that his most famous work is also his weakest.

And yes, used by ideologues with little grasp of complexity and driven by Manichean ignorance to justify and wage a destructive, ill-conceived and devastating war.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:54 AM on December 28, 2008



"Mexican immigration is leading the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830s and 1840s, mexicanizing them".


What exactly is objectionable about this quote? I can imagine Ward Churchill writing it too

1. It frames immigration as a "reconquista," that is, a military strategy to conquer and dominate another country. This is both inaccurate and reeks of a "Yellow Horde" mentality that depicts immigrants as invaders.

2. In conjunction with #1, the term "mexicanization" presumes and essentialist notion of what constitutes "Mexican," and suggests that like any campaign of force, this phenomenon is both one of conquest and degradation. It isn't much different from terms like "Judaizing." The problem, though, isn't that it's racist, it's that it's wrong. The cultural changes in the American Southwest are better described as a "Mestizo" culture that is an amalgam of the confluence of many different cultures - including Native Americans - over the last few centuries.

Also, Ward Churchill is an idiot, an ethnic scam artist, and a fraud. It's a shame that someone who was generally as smart and as intellectually sophisticated as Huntington produced work that reads like it was written by Churchill.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:03 AM on December 28, 2008


Thanks. I don't know the context of the quote, so I can't tell how much racism or essentialism can really be read into it. To me it reads like a tongue-in-cheek tweaking of the anti-immigrant crowd. (I.e., "You complain about them invading and taking your jobs? Well, you took it by force, and now they're taking it back!"). I do agree that Churchill is a fraud, but he's a left-wing fraud, which distinguishes him from Limbaugh et al--my point was that you could take that in a radical leftist sense as well.
posted by nasreddin at 2:35 AM on December 28, 2008


my point was that you could take that in a radical leftist sense as well.

That's interesting- I didn't think of that. I'd have to re-read the essay to get a better sense of whether SPH is being witty and ironic over a glass of claret in the Harvard Dean's lounge, or being a fear-mongering race-baiter, or something in between!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:38 AM on December 28, 2008


While declaring him to be a "fear-mongering race-baiter" is a bit much (perhaps you too are being tongue in cheek, though), I have to disagree with nasreddin's theory that Huntington was being facetious. Huntington also produced Who Are We, which deals with the "threat" of immigration in more detail, along with other phenomena that Huntington saw as threatening what he considered the essential form of American identity and culture.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:37 AM on December 28, 2008


While declaring him to be a "fear-mongering race-baiter" is a bit much (perhaps you too are being tongue in cheek, though)

Not to worry, very much tongue-in-cheek. I think his arguments are weak and in some respects based on an irrational fear of "non-traditional" Americans and American culture, but that's a different kettle of fish.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:44 AM on December 28, 2008


There's definitely a leftist and/or neutral but non-inflammatory sense to Reconquista. Might be an independent coinage from Huntington though.

This thread is giving me second thoughts about reading the Clash of Civilizations. Oh well, for better or for worse "influence" is certainly a consideration in my reading list.
posted by Wood at 10:14 AM on December 28, 2008


There's definitely a leftist and/or neutral but non-inflammatory sense to Reconquista.

I hadn't know about the popularization by Fuentes etc.- very interesting. In context, I thought Huntington's usage of it was pejorative, since he sees it as a bad thing.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:41 AM on December 28, 2008


Trashing of Civilizations: Identity and War in Gaza
posted by homunculus at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2008


.

Going home to read excerpts from "The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century" tonight.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:02 PM on December 29, 2008


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