By Todd Smith
The current conflict in Ukraine appears to be accelerating a geopolitical paradigm shift of world historical proportions. As many commentators have noted, a multipolar world order is emerging to eclipse the unipolar system of the TransAtlantican West. One such commentator, Russian president Vladimir Putin, recently declared that “European capitals (once) were the center of the universe—but this is already in the past.” Putin might be jumping the gun a bit, but he’s certainly leading the multipolar charge these Ukrainian war days, while the unipolar Leviathan is visibly shaking in all of its overextended tentacles…
That the globalist TransAtlanticans are “all shook up” is shown by their loose-lipped nuclear saber-rattling. To be sure, these champions of Western hegemony are only manifesting their own defensively aggressive mentalities when projecting these nuclear threats on to Russia. Psycho-historically speaking, this Western nuclear threat projection demonstrates that the unipolarists are still stuck in a bipolar mindset, despite the Cold War being 30 years in the rear-view mirror. So today, like an ICBM of Damocles dangling, we find that a credible chance of nuclear annihilation has crept back into the forecast.
During the golden decade of the unipolar moment, the 1990s, the primary specter haunting the Western hegemonic horizon was seen as the rise of China, alongside an ongoing concern over “Islamic fundamentalism” in general, Iran in particular. Both of these purported challenges to the new post-Cold War system are reflected in longtime Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington’s best known work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Published in 1996, and based on his essay “The Clash of Civilizations?” In Foreign Affairs in 1993, Huntington’s Clash was considered both provocative and controversial at the time, not least because it seemed to promote an Islamophobic agenda (Spoiler alert: it does); but also because it cast some skeptical shadows upon the sunny imperium of the newly re-branded Western world order. In Huntington’s own words:
“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. That it is false has been the central thesis of this book. (Clash, 310)
That’s quite the bold statement from “Davos Man” Huntington (he is said to have coined the phrase “Davos Man”), and suggests that the Harvard professor may have rejected his invitation to the post-Cold War victory party. However, before wading further into Huntington’s Clash, let’s reset the triumphalist unipolar stage that he found so apparently problematic.
500 years after the “Discovery of the Americas” by Christopher Columbus, 1992 ushered in a new era now known, miraculously, as the “unipolar world order,” which at the time briefly went under the name “new world order” due to president H.W. Bush’s historically fraught phrase in the wake of the Iraq-Attack-One war. (This awkward “talent” must run in the Bush family, as one decade later, after the events of 9/11, W. Bush—a real “Son-of-a-Bush!”— initially referred to the so-called “War on Terror” as a “crusade,” only to quickly recant that dubious designation.). Indeed, in 1992, the Easternmost “wicked witch of the West” was dead, and nothing but a “yellow brick road” lay ahead for the unfettered West, free to extract wealth from “the Rest” (including Russia) now that that flimsy “iron curtain” had finally fallen. This bright shining moment heralded the birth of Neo-liberalism, or globalism, as we know it. One can point to at least two signs of the unipolar world order’s ascension in 1992: the American election of Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton; and also the publication of Huntington student Francis Fukuyama’s geopolitical minorpiece The End of History and the Last Man (By the way, CNN guy Fareed Zakaria is also a Huntington acolyte, and John Mearsheimer is somewhat linked.)
Clinton’s election reflected a re-brand of the Liberal wing of the one party duopoly in America. There was a “new kid in town,” and from remote Arkansas, no less, who played the saxophone; nevertheless, Clinton was playing the same old tune with a bit of a revamped, or Neo-liberal, look and sound. Not exactly JFK, despite some PR spin to that effect, with a Trilateralist trace of Jimmy Carter (another obscure Southern governor who had been the most recent Democrat to occupy the Oval Office), Clinton professed precisely the updated globalist vision: “We lead, and the rest of y’all follow.”
However, the post-Reagan-Bush Sr. Clinton proved rather more than a mere Neo-liberal avatar. On Halloween, 1998, Bill Clinton presided over the spooky merger of the Neo-liberal and Neo-conservative agendas by signing a document proclaiming “regime change” as the official U.S. policy toward the far off Middle Eastern country of Iraq. With a stroke of the pen, then, was a “War of/on Terror” launched, if only in scaffolding form, merely awaiting a precipitating event that 9/11 soon provided. As Zbigniew Bzrezinski, a Huntington colleague who had helped hoist Carter to the presidential throne in 1976, noted in his pedantically wicked The Grand Chessboard (1997):
“Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstances of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” (Chessboard, 211)
This “threat” appeared, like the slasher in a horror film, in the guise of 9/11. The unipolarists had identified their new villain du jour, “Islamic extremism” (Saddam Hussein, of course, was a secularist, which did not stop card-carrying neo-cons from illogically linking his regime to jihadist forces), and so the globalists rolled on, as Neo-conservative as Neo-liberal in outlook. It can be fairly said that Clinton was the high priest, or at least head altar boy, for this unholy alliance.
Fukuyama’s then-celebrated but now discredited End of History treatise reflects the ideological dimensions of this nascent unipolar moment of 1992. Fukuyama put it this way:
“At the end of history, there are no serious ideological competitors to liberal democracy…But now, outside of the Islamic world, there appears to be a general consensus that accepts liberal democracy’s claims to be the most rational form of government…”(End of History, 211)
In Fukuyama’s fanciful view, the end of the Cold War meant that the West had won the War of Ideas, and this event would usher in an era of liberal Western democracy sweeping the globe; hence, the “end of history.” Apparently, those illiberal Islamist hold-outs weren’t seen as serious contenders on the world stage by Fukuyama in 1992.
All of which brings us back to Huntington’s Clash, and the critical salt it throws on Fukuyama’s Western universalist vision, a vision shared by many elites in the Western ideology business back in the 1990s and, indeed, still floating around like a lost balloon today. To be sure,Huntington’s Clash can be read as an explicit refutation of Fukuyama’s thesis (Fukuyama is cited once in the text, Clash, 31). One wonders: Is this “Davos Man” some kind of neo-isolationist/anti-globalist? A case could be made here, for example:
“Multiculturalism at home threatens the United States and the West; universalism abroad threatens the West and the world. Both deny the uniqueness of Western culture…a non-Western America is not American. A multicultural world is unavoidable because global empire is impossible. The preservation of the United States and the West requires the renewal of Western identity. The security of the world requires the acceptance of global multiculturality.” (Clash, 318)
Perhaps professor Huntington is a kind of Western chauvinist/multipolarist? The above quote certainly provides ample evidence for both conclusions.
However, Huntington’s seemingly anti- (or at least non-) imperialist position is unclear, and even wildly inconsistent with his other professed views. For example: in Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard, the noted Trilateralist pawns off this telling quote from a 1993 Huntington essay (“Why International Primacy Matters,” International Security, Spring, 1993):
“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 economics, and international order in the world” (Chessboard, 31)
Besides sounding more like the “Huntington” that many have come to know and loathe, this passage reads directly out of the Western hegemonic playbook, explicitly stating that a multipolar world, or one without “U.S. primacy,” would descend into chaos, clearly echoing that old and cranky Hobbesian refrain of a “war of all against all.” We can cite further evidence of the Hobbesian Huntington from the Clash itself when he asserts his belief “…in the ubiquity of conflict. It is human to hate.” (Clash, 130)
What to make of Huntington, then, this long-tenured establishment academic from Harvard; perhaps he should have titled his treatise “The Clash of Contradictions,” or “Inconsistencies,” instead? On the one hand, he recognizes that “In the aftermath of the Cold War…the United States can neither dominate nor escape the world” (Clash, 312); while on the other, he envisions global anarchy if the “primacy” of the American Leviathan is not maintained. It could be the case that Huntington is prescribing a “gated community” style future for Western hegemony, a kind of tactical retreat along the lines of the British Empire scaling back its global, geopolitical presence in order to fit more comfortably behind its still far-flung financial walls…
Huntington’s Clash, his seminal work, a testament to pedantry and dust, comes to a most bizarre “climax,” where the professor sketches what a possible, if “highly improbable,” World War 3 scenario might look like from his mid-1990s perch. Without delving into every crazy detail of Huntington’s fantasy (like a nuclear strike on Marseilles, France from a warhead smuggled into Algeria by, presumably, “Islamic radicals”), I think some of his clashy imaginings are revealing, and contrast quite sharply with the world we see today, where the prospect of an actual hot world war is considerably less “improbable.”
“Assume the year is 2010” (Clash, 313), the professor begins. Huntington’s world war simulation pivots on a familiar Western obsession: China. The “rise of China” is correlated to an increased “assertiveness” by China leading to aggression in the South China Sea. Vietnam, and not Taiwan, curiously, is the initial flashpoint of this Chinese “power projection.” Straightaway, one can’t help but note that the “Realist” professor has the Indo-Pacific strategic situation standing squarely on its head. Of course, as should have been widely known then, America has been the most aggressive actor in the Near East, or Indo-Pacific, since the 1940s, with U.S. forces still stationed (or occupying) South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and even a military presence in Taiwan. But here is precisely where the professor projects a series of geopolitical assumptions that conveniently align with his baseline theory that the reduction of American global influence necessarily leads to global anarchy. To wit: in Huntington’s exercise, there are no longer U.S. troops in a re-unified Korea, while far less are stationed in Japan; therefore, an emboldened China takes advantage of the situation, as any rising hegemon would do in this theoretically Hobbesian world (a priori, small Kantian joke).
Yes: According to Huntington’s way of thinking, the diminishing of the unipolar world order, the Leviathan, equals chaos. In his admittedly “wildly implausible fantasy,” his geopolitical fever dream of global conflict, Huntington conjures a nightmare scenario for white Western civilization; truly, the Barbarians have been unleashed (now that they’re off the unipolar leash), and will soon Storm the Gates! Check out this bit of fantastic paranoid nonsense: “The surge of anti-Westernism provoked by Western weakness leads to a massive Arab attack on Israel, which the much-reduced U.S. Sixth Fleet is unable to stop.” (Clash, 314). Which “Arabs” we are not told, although this “massive” attack is decisively linked to the dreaded “Muslim youth bulge” (insert “Battle of the Bulge” joke here ______). Naturally, Europe is devastated by the war, and here is Huntington at his most WASPish: “Africa…has little to offer in the rebuilding of Europe, and instead disgorges hordes of socially mobilized people to prey on the remains.” (Clash, 316). I suppose it’s possible to pack a brief sentence with a greater quantity and tone of brazenly racist tropes, but Huntington really shows his white Western paranoid bona fides in this passage. “Disgorges hordes of socially mobilized people to prey on the remains”: really, you can’t make this stuff up…
Just to round out the full spectrum nuttiness of Huntington’s world war game-boy fantasy, the professor imagines NATO granting Russia (yes, Russia!) fast-tracked membership in order to combat those hegemonically aggressive Chinese. In all fairness, the reconstitution of Russia as a major power outside of the unipolar orbit would have been a wild speculation from a mid-1990s perspective; yet, here we are today, with Russia and China nearly joined at the hip in opposition to the unipolar world order of the Collective West.
Huntington concludes his revealing fantasy of a near future world war thus: “In any event, the center of world politics moves south” (notice the lower case “s” in “south,” as opposed to the upper case “W” in “West” always; however, Huntington does capitalize “South” during a West-East-North-South sentence during this imaginary world war exercise).
As final evidence of the persistence of the hegemonic Western mindset, the fading light of the post-Cold War shining ideological moment, let’s give Huntington’s marginally antipodal student Fukuyama some last words, recently spoken. As the algorithmic gods of YouTube promptlessly willed it, a “Conversations with Bill Kristol” podcast featuring Francis Fukuyama appeared between “cat videos” on my YouTube menu screen. In the video (January 23, 2023), Fukuyama proudly proclaims his neo-con-liberal warmongering credentials. High on Ukraine, he decries the “weakness of strong states” (familiar theme?), meaning his sacred Western bastions of liberal democratic values, while condescendingly accusing the Russians of “stealing toilets from Ukraine,” implying that Putin launched the “Special Military Operation” primarily to steal toilets, as if the Russian people were so backward-ass as not to be privy to such modern appliances.
Finally, flush with a kind of “rules based” imperiousness, Fukuyama goes on to complain, while pitching more weapons for Ukraine (“More catapults for hurling toilets at Russians?” one is tempted to ask at this exasperating juncture…): “We’ve got a lingering problem in Germany…with this pacifism.” Spoken like a true “chicken hawk,” Fukuyama recognizes the fact that the West prefers its Germans more feisty and warlike these days, and, who knows: maybe a little more democratically fascist?
Clearly, Fukuyama’s still stuck in a 1992, unipolar paradigm, mistaking the twilight for the dawn’s light, showcasing his historical illiteracy, on full display. His mentor Huntington’s a bit more clever, recognizing, however reluctantly (and racistly, truth be obvious) the rise of a multipolar world order/disorder on the unipolar horizon and, as far back as the middle 1990s. For the present moment, here in early 2023, we can surmise that Ukraine, if not the coffin of the unipolar world order, will prove to be a decisive nail in that coffin. All signs point to a multipolar tipping point, as even Huntington was pointing out in the not-so-far way-back-when. Indeed, there is a “Great Reset” coming, just not the one being dreamt of by Davos…
1Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); Paperback Edition
2Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1992); Paperback Edition
3 Bzrezinski, Zbigniew, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997); Paperback Edition
Todd Smith lives, writes, and observes the Brave New World Order from St Louis, Missouri. His other scribblings can be found @Dissident Voice website; also his Substack @Alien Expectations (Spoiler alert: No Aliens!)