Samuel Huntington: between the Empire and the Nation

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN04 – Samuel P. Huntington, Chairman, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, USA, captured during the session ‘When Cultures Conflict’ at the Annual Meeting 2004 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2004.
Copyright World Economic Forum ( by Peter Lauth

Samuel Huntington has been one of the most influent thinkers of the past century, his ideas have shaped a generation of politicians and scholars. Yet there is an immense gap between his famous Clash of Civilizations and his less known Who are we?

This Huntingtonian Discord (discorde huntingtonienne) is usually overlooked but its geopolitical consequences are enormous. He gathers the United States, Canada and most of Europe as part of a Western Civilization in his Clash but in his other aforementioned book he writes:

“Would America be the America it is today if in the 17th and 18th centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”

If in one book Huntington defends that Western Civilization is both Protestant and Catholic in another he clearly excludes Catholics by pointing out something that is true, America’s essence is hostile to Catholicism and has very little to do with it. European Civilization and Western Civilization are two different, some would even say irreconcilable, realities. It is not uncommon to see great authors contradict themselves, some write way too much and lose track of what they had written before, others evolve and change their initial ideas. One thing is certain, the struggle between these two contradicting ideas could be seen as the feud between nation and empire.

The chronological aspect shouldn’t be disregarded, Huntington speaks of a western block before he shrinks and goes back to America; as his life slipped away he turned from a view that could be described as America’s role in the world to something that focused on America’s own internal frictions. Clash of Civilizations encompasses the world, Who are we? is an introspection about a nation’s soul and its continuity.

Samuel Huntington feared that while America was out there promoting democracy, americanization and economic freedom the home front would be forgotten. It is possible that he understood that a unipolar world would be multicultural and that to safeguard an homogenous homeland a multipolar world was necessary; this would enshrine the protection of a dominant culture in every single nation, that could not be besieged by minorities.

He goes on saying that Mexican immigration (which is at least culturally Catholic) poses a massive threat to America’s identity. This shocked many people at the time and still does today, they argue that it is un-American, that America was built by immigrants, that America is a melting pot. This idyllic, liberal idea can be seen in other countries, the will to detach a nation from its roots or its autochthonous populations. Those that defend such idea tend to mention that what defines a nation are its values, not its past. Nevertheless they are unable to explain why an American and a Frenchman are not the same thing as many Americans and Frenchmen are attached to the same values. Who wouldn’t be a proponent of world peace? Anyone can subscribe to it but does that make him part of a defined group? Values are abstract and humans are not abstractions, they are incarnations; therefore values are a very limited form of defining who we are.

Recently Yoram Hazony has published The Virtue of Nationalism. Said book is a fundamental passage to all those that wish to understand the strife between Huntington’s two faces, the empire against the nation; the nation against the empire. We won’t dwell upon the possibility of imperial nations here because it would take us elsewhere, but we do alert about it. Hazony in a conference at Yale said that normally these days students have two options:

“Neo-marxist universalism, sometimes called progressivism […] and then you have liberal universalism, liberal empire, we liberals, we know how the world should be run, the entire planet. Those are your two choices, total arrogance, total arrogance. Neither of those points of view allows the space for anybody else to exist but you and your values.”

It is possible that Huntington had already predicted the backlash of the liberal empire and of the will to impose our way of life upon others; Hazony certainly did. Whatever path America takes, liberal universalism or nationalism, will shape our planet decisively.

Hazony, building on what Huntington had done in the beginning of the century, has breached the Academy’s wall, renovating the option of nationalism against universalism. America’s choice will shake the geopolitical stage to its very core, exacerbating the already existing tensions or shifting the entire paradigm that has existed since 1944. 

Alphonse Moura est géopolitologue, maître en Sciences Politiques et Relations Internationales ; spécialiste des rapports de force et fondateur de l’école géopolitique bourguignonne, basée sur la Sainte Trinité du réalisme – Thucydide, Machiavel et Hobbes.

Sa thèse est une analyse géostratégique novatrice sur le règne d’Élisabeth I d’Angleterre (1558/9-1603)

Il a déjà écrit pour le Figaro Vox, Atlantico, l’Incorrect, la Revue des deux Mondes, RT France.

Après le journalisme, le monde du football et le marketing aujourd’hui il travaille dans le domaine de la communication; notamment sur données en plusieurs langues: français, espagnol, portugais, italien et anglais.