The Clash of Civilizations and Universal Human Values

Publication Date: 
February 2002
Journal of Futures Studies 6 (3) (February 2002): 1-20

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The terrorist acts of September 11 raise the question of the relevance of Samuel P Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilizations, which says that broad cultural differences are becoming the most central and dangerous dimension of emerging global politics.  In this paper, I show that it is misleading.  Huntington exaggerates both the cultural diversity that exists in the world and the contribution that cultural differences make to violent conflicts.  There is no clash of civilizations.  In fact, there are many universal human values, from the respect for life itself to treating others as we wish them to treat us.  Yet deadly human conflicts continue.  Differences among people, however, may be less the cause of such conflicts than similarities.  For example, all humans everywhere share the capacity of loyalty to their group and a willingness to sacrifice, sometimes to kill, for its survival.  I propose three principles that may contribute to the creation of a peaceful world community.  The first is inclusion, which states that each of us ought to include all people in our widest circle of concern, treating everyone with dignity and working to raise minimum levels of living for the least well-off people in the world.  The second is skepticism, which states that each of us ought to question our own views and to consider opposing views, keeping in mind that certainty is the enemy of decency.  And the third is social control, which states that each of us ought to exercise restraint to minimize our own nasty or violent acts against others and that each of us ought to support global institutions of civil and criminal justice, both international courts and global peacekeeping troops dedicated to preventing violence. When future terrorist acts do occur, they can be treated not as acts of war but as the immoral and criminal acts that they are.