(first published June 23, 2016)
by David Pence
Last week we reviewed Samuel Huntington’s paradigm-shifting book on The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. This week we want to redraw his map by asserting his fundamental thesis more aggressively than his Harvard-educated mind would allow him. In his book’s last chapter ('The West, Civilizations, and Civilization') he lays out his concluding two mandates. First, America must reassert itself as a "Western People" (against multiculturalists who do not accept the American Creed, and immigrants who will not assimilate). If America cannot defend the West then there will be no West, he says. He, strangely, does not see the loss of a living allegiance to God as a major problem. "The erosion of Christianity among westerners is likely to be at worst only a very long-term threat to the health of western civilization." He cites the "declining proportions of Europeans who profess religious beliefs, observe religious practices, and participate in religious activities. This depicts not hostility to religion but indifference. Swedes are probably the most un-religious people in Europe, and yet you cannot understand the country unless you see all its practices fundamentally shaped by Lutheran heritage." The Harvard professor approves of a West created by a religion, but maturing away from it. He does see a threat, however.
"A more immediate and dangerous challenge to the American Creed (liberty, democracy, individualism, equality under the law, constitutionalism, and private property)… is the challenge from intellectuals and publicists in the name of multiculturalism." Their assault, he sees, as "substituting the rights of individuals with the rights of groups defined largely in terms of race, ethnicity, sex, and sexual orientation." He argues further that if Americans lose their western identity, the West cannot survive. America is the indispensable core state of the West.
While he circles the western wagons, he warns that the West is NOT a universal civilization and cannot try to be one. "The Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false, it is immoral, and it is dangerous." Other than that, go for it!!
With all respect to the professor he has developed a major blind spot in his thinking. Call it the "atheist cataract." It can be environmentally induced from the air and water of Ivy League colleges. Those colleges themselves are beautiful communal institutions of learning which have betrayed the mother religions which gave them birth. Those once-Christian institutions now perpetuate the theories that Huntington knows are dissolving our national identity. Huntington shows graphs with a straight linear relationship of belief in God and national identity. He incisively depicts the de-nationalization of the elites and their loss of religion. He posited at the beginning of his book on civilizations that the most essential element in civilization is religion… and yet… and yet.
In his world map showing the new paradigm he splits three huge Christian civilizations -- the Orthodox, the Latin, and the West from each other. There are three persons in One God says the Christian, just before the jihadist cuts off his head. But the Harvard professor immersed in the acids of modernity could not profess our baptismal Ummah. He split what is one into three, and if we follow him we will lose them all. The last time we let this happen, the Nazi and Soviet monstrosities were spawned. How very Protestant of him to not see the Latin Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as Christian brothers; how very Harvard-like indeed.
And yet much of the material Huntington highlights in his work is a powerful argument for Christian realism. His blind spot is that he cannot see the full living reality of global Christianity. That same blind spot significantly diminishes his understanding of American identity. He cannot see that our common religion and allegiance to a Living God binds Protestant college professors to the southern immigrant Christians who roof our houses and grow our food. We are Christian brothers and can be American citizens together. The same pinched view of Christianity which blinds Mr. Huntington to our common links with the Russians stops him from seeing that immigration from Latin America makes the United States more Christian not less. Apparently, he does not meet these fellow Christians and future citizens at church on Sundays; and they are outside the building mowing the lawn during faculty meetings.
Huntington is absolutely correct that the West should not seek to universalize itself. For his depiction of the West has lost the transcendent reality which allows universality -- a relationship with a God who created humanity, and Christ who has come to return all the nations to the House of the Father. Christianity is universal and the nations who have grown out of her soil can form deep bonds with one another and peaceful bonds with other nations who come forth from the same Creator. We are not Darwinists plotting a war of all against all. It is deeply woven into the Christian biblical narrative that there will be many nations. That is the wide-radius trust that Christianity engenders. Christianity is the soil of our liberal democracy, but as Eisenhower said in his first inaugural: "Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in the world, we shall never use our strength to try to impress upon another people our own cherished political and economic institutions." God is really very big and he can handle the many political and economic forms which develop among the different nations.
There is a huge blind spot in this great teacher. Let us learn from Mr. Huntington and take his thesis seriously. But we must remind him there is no Western civilization without Christ, and there is no Body of Christ without the baptized nations -- Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Let us take the professor seriously. Let us speak of civilizations and regional powers but let us properly define the civilizations. Among the emerging civilizations, America is built on global Christianity and we are part of a tapestry with many national forms. The "West" is a dying alliance of states without souls who are using their technological advantage against more robust cultures in an expensive and destructive death rattle. Of course, the West shouldn't universalize. The West should dissolve and let the nations of Europe reemerge as Christian nations in consort with the American nations and Russia- that other great regional and national manifestation of Christianity. Global Christianity in many national forms is ready to make peace among the nations whenever possible, and decisive war when necessary. Huntington’s paradigm is very rich indeed. He has that great honor of writing something that so corresponds to the truth that its full import can only be understood when new students discover its most profound implications.