Monday, December 29, 2008

remembering Samuel Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington, one of the most influential and important American political scientists in the field of international development studies, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 81. Huntington embodied the contradictions of the U.S. intelligensia towards international development: a lifelong Democrat, with ideas that many of his friends and colleagues considered quite liberal, and an ability to move between the academic and the political world, he nonetheless throughout his life articulated a set of ideas that apologized for the powerful and accommodated authoritarianism.

Huntington's first book, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, published in 1957, was still required reading when I was an undergraduate. In it, Huntington argued that the U.S. had to protect conservative military institutions and individuals because they in turn protected the U.S. from the foibles of human nature: 'irrationality, weakness and evil'. The argument was developed in relation to the U.S., but it was one that could be used more broadly, in both developed and developing societies. However, it was, in effect, an ideological apology for what Eisenhower had called 'the military-industrial complex': the economic fractions that dominated U.S.--and hence global--capital and shaped a set of hegemonic ideas that sustained their own power.

These ideas were further crystalized in Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies, published in 1969. In this hugely important book, Huntington argued that international development had not taken place in the South because of a lack of political 'order'. 'Order' mattered, and not the character of the political governance: and thus, for the good of 'development', the U.S. could support authoritarian dictatorships such as those in South Vietnam, Zaire, Iraq and beyond because they brought 'order', which was more important than 'democracy' (however defined). These were the ideas that had allowed Huntington to advise the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968, a campaign that was, in part, based upon ensuring that the Vietnam War was continued until military victory was ensured--and 'order' established.

Huntington will, however, be best remembered for 1996's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which argued, well before the September 11 attacks, that differences in history, tradition, language and religion would be the cause of wars to come. Huntington asserted that these differences were particularly evident in the 'continuing and deeply conflictual relationship between Islam and Christianity'. He also asserted that these differences would produce essentially unresolvable conflicts that would continue until one side had secured victory. In essence, Huntington was arguing that as a consequence of this 'clash of civilizations' one side would have to impose order on the other. He was thus providing the intellectual justification for the invasion of Afghanistan and, before the mistruths of the Bush Administration were revealed, the invasion of Iraq.

Samuel Huntington was extremely influential in the world, even if few have heard of him. He provided the intellectual justification for the imperial misadventures of the early 21st century, just as he provided the intellectual justification for the imperial misadventures of the 1960s and 1970s. He was, in the sense of Antonio Gramsci, an organic intellectual of the ruling class: an individual who propogated a set of ideas that shaped the way people think and facilitated their willingness to accede to the deployment of class power, no matter how much it was not in their interest and no matter how relentless it might be.

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