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Huntington began his thinking by surveying the diverse theories about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. Some theorists and writers argued that human rights, liberal democracy and capitalist free market economy had become the only remaining ideological alternative for nations in the post-Cold War world. Specifically, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the ‘end of history‘ in a Hegelian sense.
Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future would be along cultural and religious lines.
As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.
In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:
- It is my hypothesis that 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. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
Huntington seems to fall in the primordialist school, believing that culturally defined groups are ancient and natural, however his early work would suggest he is a Structural Functionalist. His view that nation states would remain the most powerful actors is in line with realism. Finally, his warning that the Western civilization may decline is inspired by Arnold J. Toynbee, Carroll Quigley, and Oswald Spengler.
Due to an enormous response and the solidification of his views, Huntington later expanded the thesis in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.