What is the stance of the Church on the "Clash of Civilizations" thesis?

The clash of civilizations seems to have captured the public’s imagination, and is shaping political discourse and policy-making. Religion is a fundamental aspect of the thesis; it is the principal basis for the distinctions.

Although I may be mistaken on the matter, I believe it allows people to rationalise bigotry and new forms of racism, and cast a huge “civilization umbrella” over individuals. By turning a group of individuals into an amorphous, soulless, threatening category we no longer owe them the charity we would to an individual person (so the rationalisation goes). I see this as an anti-Christian perception of the other.

I wonder if the Church has made any comment on the COC thesis and its effect on the modern world.

I’m very familiar with Huntington’s CoC theory, and by and large I agree with it. Obviously, it’s easy to see this played out all over the world. But even here in the west, we are seeing deep cultural and religious rifts threatening to pull nations apart like we haven’t seen before. (I dont want to be unfairly cynical though, there are also many integrative forces at work globally, and there is a lot of evidence that they’re working. i.e reduction in poverty, drop in armed conflict, ever increasing number of IGOs, etc)

But I don’t think that it enables racism. The theory is a prediction based on observation, not an instruction manual. It doesn’t tell (or even inspire) people or nation-states to behave cruelly. And don’t worry, it’s over 2 decades old, so any sort of knee jerk policy created in response to this would have come and gone already.

I would highly doubt that the church has made a statement about this. It isn’t a moral teaching or idea, it’s just an observation. The church would have to disagree with the observation and come up with a new prediction. And as much as I would love to hear the Pope’s predictions about the future of foreign affairs and global governance, I’m just not sure that’s the best use of his time right now.

I lecture political theory and I keep trying to work this in, but there’s really no way. It’s more appropriate for an international relations course. But I’m really into discussing things like this, so if you ever stumble across something that you want to talk about or even fiercely debate, feel free to send me a PM.

By turning a group of individuals into an amorphous, soulless, threatening category we no longer owe them the charity we would to an individual person (so the rationalisation goes).


I do agree with what you are saying. Perhaps it is more dangerous as a slogan than as a theory. Most people are only aware of the slogan.

You are right about it being mostly descriptive. Huntington has been unfairly vilified for it on occasion, with claims that it is an irresponsible thesis or that it is written as if by a Pentagon planner rather than a social scientist. But Huntington does not justify or condone violence. Of course, that does not mean that it cannot be used to justify violence. Perhaps it doesn’t make people racist, but it can camouflage racist discourse. The real danger is if we accept conflicts as an inevitability. That changes everything.

I would also say that part of its appeal is that it is two decades old: it has had two decades of accurate prediction (unlike Fukuyama’s “end of history”), and consequently It has gained credibility as a theory on which to base foreign policy.

From a philosophical point of view it would be interesting to examine the moral implications of the CoC - if not in itself, then as the concept it has become. At the very least I would say it is not ecumenical.

Thank you for the offer - you are also welcome to pm me .

I disagree with this. Conflict between people of the same culture/religion/civilization/geo-ethnicity are inevitable, just not as frequent as when the subject includes multiple ethnicity with multiple religions,cultures and civilizations. There is no danger in being pragmatic about the reality of conflicts arising. The danger is in how we agree as a society/culture/society/religion decide to approach those conflicts. The danger is in if we are peacemakers or violent “responders”, however, that is an issue outside of the scope of the original topic. Because of that, I won’t linger on it, simply point to it as the basis of my objection to the statement.

In other-words, my point is that accepting theories such as CoC, which have a basis in observation of human tenancies, as highly probable (even to the point of near perfect accuracy in predictions) and to be factored into the information required for long term planing is not in and of itself dangerous. The danger is instead found in us, as human beings, in how we approach such information and then the actions we decide upon because of our approach and intentions.

I think Huntington made the correct observation but came to the wrong conclusion. There is a clash, but it not between east and west (which I think is what he said), but between conservatives in every country and the rest of us who want to live and let live (and remain in peace minding ones own business and getting on with life).

In every country, conservatives are hopping mad about something or the other and they want to attack everyone else who is not like them. So conservatives in the Muslim world are not only attacking the West, but they are also attacking Muslims unlike themselves (Sufis, Bahai, Ahmadis). Conservative Hindus In India are attacking liberal Hindus and Muslims as well as Christians. Conservative Buddhists (even monks) in Myanmar are attacking Muslims. Buddhists and Muslims can hardly be more unlike each other - definitely not the same ‘civilization’.

Conservatives everywhere are all mad because they think (actually just imagine) that those unlike them are somehow infringing on their rights (when in fact those different people just want to be left alone and do their own thing).

Conservatives in the US are also mad because other people are getting married or using contraceptives or watching pornography or whatever (luckily they are not violent like those in the rest of the world)

The clash is not between civilizations, but between conservatives in every country and the rest us - I don’t know if you can call it a cultural clash, but they all seem very, very angry about something.

My own belief is that “Clash of Civilizations” as a slogan or way of viewing people who think differently is very dangerous.

Human beings are extremely subject to a falling into tribalistic thinking, and emphasizing that conflict with others is inevitable becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we learn how to respect those of different beliefs (instead of viewing them as cardboard-cutout villains) in most cases we can find accommodation and compromise instead of conflict and violence.

But it begins with viewing others with respect and giving them the benefit of the doubt, and not making sweeping claims that particular groups of people are violent, misled, and intractable as a whole.

One can point at examples like Adolph Hitler and the Nazis and say that proves that some groups simply ARE unable to be accomodated with. But of course that ignores how and why Hitler came to power - as a reaction to the humiliation Germany was subjected to after World War I.

I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization.

I see conservatives doing this as you noted, and I also see liberals who are just as intolerant of other viewpoints, insistent that they are right, and just as subject to knee-jerk tribalism as conservatives are.

The biggest part of the problem is that we as human beings are prone to view people as either “with my side” or “stupid, wrong, and evil”. It’s that approach to viewing and treating those with different perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs that we will have to leave behind in order to live in a peaceful world.

Actually I was not talking about conservatives and liberals - there is nothing wrong with saying ‘my side’ is right and you are wrong. Liberals are just as adamant that they are right as conservatives. The difference is that liberals don’t usually care what you do in your own home or own community.

I am talking about conservatives who want to stop you doing whatever it is you are doing in your own home or community or place of business. This clash is between conservatives and those who are unlike them (liberals as well as all others).

The conservative Buddhist monks in Myanmar are not angry at Muslims because they are liberal (they are not) or because they are western (they are not) - they are just angry because they feel threatened by Muslims who are sitting in their homes minding their own business.

It goes far beyond that, into hatred and bigotry, at least in my country.

Liberals are just as adamant that they are right as conservatives. The difference is that liberals don’t usually care what you do in your own home or own community.

I have not found that to be the case. I have seen great intolerance from both liberals and conservatives for those who disagree with them.

Again you are talking about verbal intolerance and the assumption that you are side is right - liberals do that all the time.

Do you have any example of liberal Muslims throwing bombs? Do you have examples of liberals physically attacking and burning houses anywhere in the world? (A link would be nice).

Actually I should say ultra conservatives, not just ordinary conservatives who are clashing with the rest of society everywhere in world.

You left out abortion from your list of things those pesky conservatives are “mad” about.

I left that out because some very reasonable people are also upset about it (like the Pope for instance - but he is probably not angry just saddened)

One easy way to identify these people is to ask them what they think of immigrants - it does not matter what country they are in or what religion they are, they are very angry at immigrants.

The clash is between these angry ultra conservatives and usually some group that has not harmed them personally at all.

But surely to believe that conflicts are inevitable is to basically deny free will (and affirm invincible concupiscence).

I think we are saying the same thing in different ways. I agree that there is nothing wrong in being pragmatic - but what matters is the situation we are being pragmatic about. If we accept a world where peace is impossible, the content of our pragmatic reasoning is going to be very different. Peace won’t even factor as a desirable goal., and every day relations between neighbours will become like the cold war.

It is just as you say: the danger is in us. Social sciences don’t yield results in the same way as natural sciences. A theory such as CoC cannot be true in the same way as 2+2=4. Does it give us enough grounds to shift our perspective and deny the possibility of peaceful coexistence, even if it takes effort?

Hmmm. The fascist movements in Europe were liberal. They didn’t stand for traditional values in the ordinary sense, they wanted to romanticise their past but create futuristic societies. They were definitely not in favour of traditional, de-centralised, throne-and-altar politics.

There have also been anarchist terrorist, and the ideology of many Islamic fundamentalist groups owes much more to anarchism than they do to Islam. Sayyid Qutb could be describes as an Islamic-Anarchist.

If Islamic terrorism is a modern phenomenon, how can we blame it on the conservatives? Historically, Islamic nations have competed with European and Asian ones, but that is not the same as terrorism. It is ordinary inter-state rivalry. But this modern notion or revolutionary action is totally different. People who throw bombs are no more conservative than Trotsky or Mao were.

But I do see your point about liberalism. In fact there are two liberalisms: classic and progressive. Classic liberalism is more of a live and let live philosophy, whereas progressive liberalism believes it is the only form of political organisation ratified by human reason. I believe the latter leads to a cult-mentality that is deeply intolerant.

Fascinating! I learn new stuff every day.


What I mean is that fascism arose from the liberal camp, not that liberals are closet fascists or Nazis. The relation between liberalism and fascism can be clearly seen in the French Revolution.

There is a great book on the subject called “Liberal Fascism” by Jonah Goldberg.

‘fascism arose from the liberal camp’ - very interesting conclusion!

Mussolini and Hitler know doubt had deep ‘liberal’ roots! Did they perhaps conspire with Roosevelt to come up with Social Security, Medicare and the ‘New Deal’? :slight_smile:

I am sure a towering intellectual like Jonah Goldberg knows what is talking about.

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