Samuel Huntington was a highly controversial conservative political commentator who died in 2008. He wrote many thought provoking, outrageous-but-true observations, here is a bullet collection of some of the prescient observations that he wrote:
- 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.
- The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 51.
- Hypocrisy, double standards, and “but nots” are the price of universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 184.
- In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous . . . Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 310.
- In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations, from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders
- Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power — Huntington’s 1998 text The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.
- Cultural America is under siege. And as the Soviet experience illustrates, ideology is a weak glue to hold together people otherwise lacking racial, ethnic, and cultural sources of community — Who Are We? America’s Great Debate, p. 12.
- The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups. — Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission
- A government which lacks authority will have little ability short of cataclysmic crisis to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be necessary… We have come to recognize that there are potential desirable limits to economic growth. There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.
- Such a transformation would not only revolutionize the United States, but it would also have serious consequences for Hispanics, who will be in the United States but not of it. Sosa ends his book, The Americano Dream, with encouragement for aspiring Hispanic entrepreneurs. “The Americano dream?” he asks. “It exists, it is realistic, and it is there for all of us to share.” Sosa is wrong. There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English. — “The Hispanic Challenge” from Foreign Policy, p. 45.
- A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world. — “Why International Primacy Matters,” International Security (Spring 1993):83.
- The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate. — American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, p. 75.
- In Western Europe, anti-Semitism directed against Arabs has largely replaced Anti-Semitism against Jews, p. 200.
The following is a reader’s juxtaposition of two WSJ articles, the first a remembrance of the late Pope John Paul II by his biographer George Weigel and the second a recollection in an article by Brett Stephens of a brilliant Harvard political scientist who posed one of those “unthinkable thoughts” on the eve of the West’s greatest triumphs, the end of the Cold War in 1991. I close with some thoughts by Peggy Noonan.
The unthinkable thought on the eve of the triumph of the Reagan/Bush ending the Cold War was: “What would happen, if the American model no longer embodied strength and success, no longer seemed to be the winning model?” The question, posed by Samuel Huntington, was farfetched then, but now 23 years later in the shadow of Barack Obama’s weakness as a leader and an economy that after five years continues to stagger under the weight of two entitlements which at their current rates of existence we can no longer afford or manage: Social Security and MediCare. ObamaCare has complicated the latter and not solved anything.
“The Cold War was won, the Soviet Union was about to vanish. History was at an end. All over the world, people seemed to want the same things in the same way: democracy, capitalism, free trade, free speech, freedom of conscience, freedom for women. “The day of the dictator is over,” George H.W. Bush had said in his 1989 inaugural address. “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right.”
But Huntington warned: “Sustained inability to provide welfare, prosperity, equity, justice, domestic order, or external security could over time undermine the legitimacy of even democratic governments. … As the memories of authoritarian failures fade, irritation with democratic failures is likely to increase.” The passage quoted there comes from “The Third Wave,” the book Huntington wrote just before his famous essay on the clash of civilizations:
“The “wave” was a reference to the 30 or so authoritarian states that, between 1974 and 1990, adopted democratic institutions. The two previous waves referred to the rise of mass-suffrage democracy in the 1830s and the post-Wilsonian wave of the 1920s. In each previous case, revolution succumbed to reaction; Weimar gave way to Hitler.
Huntington knew that the third wave, too, would crest, crash and recede. It’s happening now. The real question is how hard it will crash, on whom, for how long.
A West that prefers debt-subsidized welfarism over economic growth will not offer much in the way of an attractive model for countries in a hurry to modernize. A West that consistently sacrifices efficiency on the altars of regulation, litigation and political consensus will lose the dynamism that makes the risks inherent in free societies seem worthwhile. A West that shrinks from maintaining global order because doing so is difficult or discomfiting will invite challenges from nimble adversaries willing to take geopolitical gambles.”
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations
At some point, Stephens reminds us, the momentum will shift back: “That, too, is inevitable. The dictators will err; their corruption will become excessive; their cynicism will become transparent to their own rank-and-file. A new democratic wave will begin to build. Whether that takes five years or 50 depends on what the West does now. Five years is a blip. Fifty is the tragedy of a lifetime.”
Not so much on what the West does, but the visions of its leaders and here is the juxtaposition I found so jarring. It is the 9th anniversary of John Paul II’s death and he will be canonized this April 27. John Paul was a leader who discerned possibilities when others saw only barriers:
“John Paul II embodied the human drama of the second half of the 20th century in a singular way, and whose witness to the truth of humanity’s noblest aspirations bent the curve of history toward freedom, can only be understood from inside out. Or, if you prefer, soul first. His was a many-textured soul. Some of its multiple facets help explain his extraordinary accomplishments in the Catholic Church and on the world stage.”
Contrast the familiar bio of the community organizer who seized the moment and 18 months from his time as an Illinois state senator was chosen to run for the Senate and then began his campaign for the presidency. Granted it’s an amazing story but the product that has emerged is a man totally unsuited for office if not overwhelmed by the office itself, something that never happened with John Paul II. Who was John Paul II? Why was he not overwhelmed by his office?
“He had a Polish soul, formed by a distinctive experience of history. Vivisected in the Third Polish Partition of 1795, his country was not restored to the map of Europe until 1918. But during those 123 years of political humiliation, the Polish nation survived the demise of the Polish state through its language, its literature and its faith, with the Catholic Church acting as the safe-deposit box of national identity.
Learning about that hard experience as a boy, Karol Wojtyla was permanently inoculated against the twin heresies that had beset the West for centuries: the Jacobin heresy that the political quest for power runs history, and the Marxist heresy that history is simply the exhaust fumes of economic processes.
Knowing in his Polish soul that culture, not politics or economics, drives history over the long haul, John Paul II could ignite a revolution of conscience during his first papal visit to Poland in 1979. He summoned his people to live the truth about themselves, to reject the communist culture of the lie, and to find in that restored national identity irresistible tools of resistance to oppression.
This son of Poland was, at the same time, a man of global vision with a deeply humanistic soul, forged by what he regarded as the crisis of modernity: a crisis in the very idea of the human person. That crisis, he believed, was not confined to communism’s materialist reduction of the human condition, which he tenaciously fought as a university chaplain, a professor of ethics, a charismatic priest and a dynamic bishop. The crisis could also be found in those Western systems that were tempted to measure men and women by their commercial utility rather than by the innate and inalienable dignity that was their birthright.”
And what of Barack’s philosophy of life that he brought with him to office? His foul acceptance of abortion at any cost? His progressive view of the world where we are all just folks: “Everyone is just like me,” he seems to say — what Charles Krauthammer called a “plural solecism.” How’s that working out for the “folks” in Eastern Ukraine or in Syria one wonders).
And how does that contrast with the recently canonized Saint of the son of Poland? What did he fight for? Why was his fight the fight for the human person above all others?
John Paul II’s conviction, biblically rooted and philosophically refined, was that every human life is of infinite value, at every stage and in every condition. This was the basis of his priestly ministry for almost six decades it was the conviction that forged his unique moral analysis of world politics; and it was the ground from which he could inspire men and women from a staggering variety of cultures.
He could also touch those lives because of his dramatic soul. As a young man, he confessed in a memoir later in life, he was “obsessed” with the theater. And while he took some useful skills from those experiences on stage — John Gielgud once commented on John Paul II’s “perfect” sense of timing, as Alec Guinness marveled at the resonance of his voice — he also developed a dramatic view of the human condition. We all live, he believed, in a quotidian, yet deeply consequential, moral drama. Every day of our lives is lived in the dramatic tension between who we are and who we should be.
John Paul II intuited this on stage; he refined that intuition as a philosopher. And it was deepened by his Christian conviction that the drama of every human life is playing within a cosmic drama in which the God of the Bible is producer, director, scriptwriter and protagonist. That Christian conviction, in turn, was what allowed him to say, a year after he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, “In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences.”
A man whose soul is formed by the conviction that “coincidence” is merely a facet of providence that he has not yet grasped is a man impervious to the tyranny of the possible. And here, too, the soul of John Paul II helps explain his accomplishment.
When he was elected pope in 1978, some observers, fixated on what they imagined to be possible, saw in the Catholic Church only contention and possible ruin. He saw seeds of reform and renewal, leading to what he would call a “New Evangelization,” a new missionary dynamic in Catholicism that would offer the divine mercy to a broken and wounded humanity. Others, fixated on what seemed settled in world affairs, believed that the Yalta division of Europe after World War II was permanent. But after June 1979 and the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, he saw possibilities for dramatic cultural, social and eventually political change in Eastern Europe — and then helped effect them.
We may have failed in his new evangelization, we may not have followed through on his promises. But we sit on a cusp now, one that will lead us either to a fifty year trough of broken lives for a generation or a five year dip that will keep us primed for the next rise in our Catholic faithful’s march toward a new evangelization and fulfilling our promises to our Lord in another springtime of the human spirit; a refusal to fall to the tyranny of the secular state’s diminished expectations, both personal and political that embodies the leadership of a Barack Obama. May the Lord bless us and keep us.
Great leaders are clear, honest, suffer for their stands and are brave. They conduct a constant dialogue. At the end, when they are gone, the crowd declares what they heard. When John Paul died, they issued their judgment: He was a saint.
Popes aren’t presidents, and presidents aren’t saints. Both operate within wildly different realities and have wholly different obligations, so to compare the two isn’t quite just. And yet I couldn’t help think the past week of President Obama, whom I started to think of as poor Obama — whose failings as a leader are now so apparent, and seem so irremediable, partly because they spring from not only his nature and personality but his misunderstanding of what leaders do.
Does he stand for something? I suppose he stands for many things, but you can’t quite narrow it down and sum it up. A problem with his leadership is that there’s always the sense that he’s not quite telling you his core and motivating beliefs. There are a lot of rounded banalities. There are sentiments and impulses. But he isn’t stark, doesn’t vividly cut through. There’s a sense he’s telling people as much as he feels he can within the parameters of political safety, and no more.
As for speaking truthfully, well, he speaks, in many venues and sometimes at great length. But rather than persuade the other side, he knocks down a lot of straw men and deploys no affection or regard for those who disagree with him. He says the great signature program of his presidency will do one thing and it turns out to do another. He is evasive about Benghazi and the other scandals. He winds up with polls showing Americans do not see him as a truth teller. That’s treacherous for a leader. People give politicians a lot of leeway because they think so little of them. But they don’t like it when they’re being played.
Peggy Noonan, Apathy in the Executive