Submitted to the Post-Crescent January 1, 2009. Published January 10, earning me my fourth Silver Pen Award:
2008 has concluded, and with its twilight came the passing of one of Harvard’s leading intellectuals, Samuel Huntington. Huntington was praised by The New York Times as a prescient scholar who conceived of the post-9/11 world years in advance, but those paying attention to his writing will find many points of contention with his “liberal” views.
Some of his words may sound radically un-American. For example, 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.” These views become more understandable when viewed in their wider context, one where Protestant men are seen as the proper world custodians. Despite having acknowledged Europe and America’s bloody history, Arabs are seen as the savages. “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards,” says Huntington. “The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam.” Never mind that terrorism’s source is not religion, but political oppression — Islam is merely a political conduit of the Arab world.
Huntington’s pro-Western chauvinism blossomed in his earliest writings. He considered it a “crisis” rather than progress when minorities began to enter the political arena during the 1960s. “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Preferred silent groups are “blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women”, but not the unchecked ruling class in power for two centuries. Who are blacks and women to proclaim a say in their own fates?
Losing a great thinker, liberal or conservative, creates a cultural void. In this case, the world may be better off if Huntington’s ideas followed him faithfully to the grave. Let us learn not only from this man’s achievements but also his shortcomings.
Noam Chomsky’s response (January 10)
“What he wrote over the years is indeed appalling.”