Hassner's Bad Bad Review

Hassner's Bad Bad Review

Mini Teaser: Pierre Hassner's review of my book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, is highly unfavorable, which is his right to be. But it is also a mixture of disingenuousness, inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and calumny.

by Author(s): Samuel P. Huntington

The terms "good" and "bad" when applied to reviews have two very different meanings. Meaning One refers to the judgment of the review, whether it is favorable or unfavorable to the object reviewed. Meaning Two refers to the quality of the review, that is, whether the review is reasoned, accurate, informed with respect to the object reviewed, or whether it is simpleminded, superficial, irrelevant, or inaccurate. A good, that is, favorable, review may be a bad review in terms of quality, and a bad, that is, unfavorable, review may be a good review in terms of quality.

In the last issue of The National Interest, Pierre Hassner wrote a doubly bad review of my book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In terms of Meaning One, it is highly unfavorable, which is his right to be. It is also outrageously bad in the Meaning Two sense because it is a mixture of disingenuousness, inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and calumny.

The review raises serious issues concerning Hassner's professional standards. In December 1995 Hassner presented a paper, "Conflit des civilisations ou dialectique de la modernite?", to a conference in Paris. This paper was then published in the April 1996 issue of the French journal Defense Nationale. Hassner's review of my book in the Winter 1996/97 issue of The National Interest is an extension of that 1995 paper. Paragraphs, sentences, and even references (for example, to Weber's "disenchantment of the world", Freud's "narcissism of small differences") in the paper reappear verbatim in the review. Most importantly, the review also reproduces all the major arguments of the paper and Hassner himself has privately called it an "elaboration" of what he had written previously. This duplication raises two problems.

First, self-plagiarization is a recognized phenomenon in scholarly writing. We all have written pieces that incorporate text we have published previously. The general principle concerning this practice is that an author should inform the publisher of the duplicated material, who may have a moral or legal obligation to secure permission from the original publisher, and inform his readers, who have a right to know that he uses text that has been available elsewhere earlier. Hassner, however, informed neither the editors nor the readers of The National Interest that he was reprinting material which was part of another paper prepared for another occasion and published in another journal. Second, by not informing anyone what he was up to, Hassner, of course, avoided awkward questions about the authenticity of his review. His paper was written in December 1995; I finished writing The Clash in July 1996. Hassner thus formed his judgment of my book and then presented to the readers of The National Interest as a review of my book text and arguments he had formulated before he had read the book.

Having pre-formed his opinions of The Clash, it is not surprising that Hassner's review is replete with factual inaccuracies. His errors are not limited to his comments on this book. He also discusses some of my previous writings, as he did in his 1995 paper, and he is no more accurate about them than he is about The Clash.

Referring to my 1968 book, Political Order in Changing Societies, Hassner says that my analysis "led" me "to predict a bright future for Leninist parties--as opposed to individual dictatorships--in the Middle East." This is a totally false statement. Nowhere in the book is that argument made. The section on "Leninism and Political Development" contains no mention of the Middle East. Individual Middle Eastern regimes are discussed elsewhere in the book, but always either as examples of military-based praetorian regimes or to illustrate the problems faced by "modernizing monarchs" who by attempting to develop their country undermine their own legitimacy (a fate suffered by the Libyan and Iranian monarchies in the decade after the book was published).

Similarly, he refers to an argument that I advanced in 1983 (he says it was "in the 1970s"--he is again careless about facts) in favor of a NATO strategy combining defenses against nuclear attack with the threat of conventional retaliation into Eastern Europe if the Soviets invaded Western Europe. He says these proposals "could never be taken seriously due to their lack of economic and psychological realism." He is very wrong. The development of strategic defenses was, of course, taken very seriously by the Reagan and Bush administrations and was a key component of their defense program. Movement to a conventional offensive strategy was reflected in the U.S. Army's "Air/Land Battle" doctrine, the U.S. Navy's Maritime Strategy, and in the declarations of American and European defense officials on the need, in the event of war, to launch prompt offensive action against Warsaw Pact territory. And what does Hassner mean when he says such a strategy would lack "economic and psychological realism?" War games showed, and U.S. military officials concluded, that a conventional offensive strategy would probably be less expensive than a linear defensive strategy. And if Hassner's psychological reference is to the East Europeans, surely the events of 1989 demonstrated that NATO tanks in the streets of Leipzig, Prague, and Warsaw would have been welcomed exactly as Parisians welcomed Allied tanks in 1944. Hassner may or may not have liked this strategy in the 1980s and may not like it now, but it certainly did not lack "realism."

Hassner also refers in derogatory fashion to my 1968 article on "The Bases of Accommodation" in Vietnam as being "about the urbanizing, and hence modernizing, effects of the U.S. bombing and strategic hamlets policies in the Vietnam War." The strategic hamlets policy, however, had nothing to do with urbanization; the bombing, the shelling, and the war-generated prosperity of the cities did. While in Vietnam in 1967 on a study mission for the State Department, I collected the facts on urbanization and made them public for the first time in this article. Hassner, however, apparently believes this was the wrong thing to do.

Hassner is equally inaccurate with respect to the book he is reviewing. "Germans are said", he alleges, "to welcome Polish immigrants but not Muslims." No such statement appears anywhere in the book. Because I argue that Russia should be responsible for maintaining order within the Orthodox world, Hassner says I favor "leaving it [Russia] in control of the Balkans." False again. The Balkans, as the book emphasizes and as should be obvious to Hassner, contain several civilizations and, as I make clear, are a prime example of an area where the conditions of order must be negotiated among the core states of those civilizations.

Hassner quotes The Clash ten times in his review. Five of his alleged quotations are misquotations--the text in the review does not correspond with the text in the book. Some of these misquotations are serious, some are not; all reflect Hassner's rather cavalier disdain for accuracy. Again, we all may occasionally inadvertently misquote a source. But to do this fifty percent of the time? That is a bit much. In one egregious case, Hassner quotes me as saying: "Multiculturalism at home threatens the United States and the West; internationalism abroad threatens the West and the world." The actual statement is: "Multiculturalism at home threatens the United States and the West; universalism abroad threatens the West and the world" (The Clash, p. 318). Hassner's replacement of "universalism" with "internationalism" totally changes the meaning of this passage.

Hassner not only has great trouble getting his facts right, he also objects when I get mine right. He labels as "incredibly one-sided and inflammatory" the following alleged three quotations from the book:
"The West's problem is not Islamism but Islam."

"People in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia and the subcontinent slaughter each other because they believe in different gods."

"Islam's bloody borders."

The first passage quoted above actually reads in full as follows:

"The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. These are the basic ingredients that fuel conflict between Islam and the West [pp. 217-18]."

The second text he quotes actually reads:

"To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world's great religions; and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other, as happened in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Subcontinent [p. 42]."

It is hard to see what is inflammatory or one-sided about either of these statements. The off and on-again conflict between Islam and the West has existed for centuries, and surely religion has been at the root of much violence throughout human history, and, as Hassner points out, still is in Northern Ireland.

Similarly, the phrase "Islam's bloody borders" refers to a political and sociological fact fully supported in the book by statistical data from several impartial sources. The data also show that Islam's interior is bloody: In today's world Muslims fight each other more often than people in other civilizations fight each other. Instead of denouncing these unchallengeable facts as "one-sided and inflammatory", Hassner might have reviewed and evaluated my analysis of the possible reasons for this contemporary propensity to violence among Muslims. But he is not interested in that. Hassner appears to believe that scholars should veil or sugarcoat the truth, and if facts may be unpleasant to some people, they should be messaged and sanitized into politically correct form.

Hassner also regularly misrepresents arguments advanced in The Clash. He repeatedly says, for instance, that I assume "the closed and conflictual character" of civilizations and believe them to be "permanent." Wrong again. Witness The Clash:

"Civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries and no precise beginnings and endings. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and shapes of civilizations change over time. The cultures of peoples interact and overlap. The extent to which the cultures of civilizations resemble or differ from each other also varies considerably. . . . While civilizations endure, they also evolve. They are dynamic; they rise and fall; they merge and divide; and as any student of history knows, they also disappear and are buried in the sands of time [p. 43-4]."

Hassner attempts to criticize my concern with intercivilizational clashes by citing the ongoing conflicts within civilizations. Yet I explicitly state that "Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilizations" (p. 28), and present data demonstrating their increasing frequency (p. 254-5). This point is not at all in conflict with my argument stressing the escalation potential of intercivilizational conflicts compared to intracivilizational ones. Hassner totally fails to note that I adopt the arguments of most scholars of civilizations that they evolve through "times of troubles" and periods of "warring states" into a "universal state" for that civilization and then may repeat that process. Islam is clearly in a warring states phase, its last even semi-universal state having disappeared with the Ottoman Empire. The West, on the other hand, went through a long warring states period but now has evolved into two semi-universal states in Europe and North America, with war between Western states virtually unthinkable.

Hassner accuses me of "cultural determinism", argues that my "new enthusiasm for the cultural dimension" leads me "to underestimate and underplay its continuing interaction with the economic and political aspects", and claims that "technological, economic, and social change" are "strangely absent" from the book. Obviously a major point of The Clash is the importance of culture in shaping international affinities and antagonisms. I would like to think that one of the book's contributions to the study of international relations is to call attention to the importance of the cultural variable. But cultural determinism? Neglect of social, economic, and political variables? Hardly. As Wang Gungwu points out in his National Interest review of The Clash, I deal with a "complex array of variables" in analyzing "the new world of civilizational conflict." Hassner himself admits that one of "two pillars" of The Clash is that, in his words, "China's economic power and the demographic growth of Muslim peoples together create a formidable challenge to the existing international system." This hardly squares with his charge that I neglect economic and social change.

A major theme of the book (epitomized in a diagram on p. 76) is that social and economic modernization is enhancing the power of non-Western societies and generating alienation and identity crises among their peoples, which, in turn, lead to the resurgence of indigenous cultures and religions:
"The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global religious resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic, and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the twentieth century [p. 97]."

Nor are politics and power neglected. "The distribution of cultures in the world reflects the distribution of power. Trade may or may not follow the flag, but culture almost always follows power" (p. 91). Are those the words of a "cultural determinist"? Similarly, twice in the book (pp. 129-30, 208) I emphasize that conflicts in a world of civilizations will continue to have their origins in those factors "which have always generated conflict between groups: control of people, territory, wealth, and resources, and relative power" (p. 129).

"Huntington", Hassner argues, "has imagined a revised 'billiard ball' model of international relations based on civilizations instead of nations, with civilizations . . . having, evidently, as little as possible to do with each other." What total nonsense. The central argument of The Clash is that we are moving into a multipolar, multicivilizational world of "intense, sustained, and multidirectional interactions among all civilizations" (p. 53). Or again:

"In today's world, improvements in transportation and communication have produced more frequent, more intense, more symmetrical, and more inclusive interactions among people of different civilizations. As a result, their civilizational identities become increasingly salient [p. 129]."

When Hassner does not misrepresent my arguments by ignoring them or caricaturing them, he misrepresents them by paraphrasing them, that is, by setting forth as criticisms propositions I advance in the book.

"But what is most characteristic of the search for identity and community is the multiplicity of its levels: the family, the tribe, the nation, and the sect are at least as lively and conflictual as the great religions, let alone the great civilizations that they have spawned."

That's Hassner criticizing Huntington.

"People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations. . . . People have levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a Westerner."

That's Huntington (pp. 21, 43).

Again, Hassner seems to think he is criticizing the book when he says that "Fundamentalism is an essentially modern and reactive phenomenon directed against the West. . . . a reaction to secularization." That, however, is precisely the argument set forth in chapters three and four.

"The movements for religious revival are antisecular, antiuniversal, and, except in their Christian manifestations, anti-Western. . . . By and large they do not reject urbanization, industrialization, development, capitalism, science, and technology, and what these imply for the organization of society [p. 100]."

Also in a critical vein, he says: "Trade conflicts between the United States and Japan are signs of a clash of civilizations--but what are those between the United States and the European Community?" If he would look at pp. 221-9, he would find an extensive discussion of why U.S. trade conflicts with Japan are rooted in cultural and social differences, not just economic ones as with Europe, and hence have not been resolvable in the way U.S.-European trade conflicts have been.

Finally, let me address two comments Hassner makes about me personally.

First, he alleges that somehow I have shifted my views and that while previously I supported the expansion of democracy and human rights to other societies I now do not. Again he has got it wrong. The two organizations in the United States that have as their central mission the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world are Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy. I am a director and contributor to the former and have been and currently am actively participating in the work of the latter. I believe the United States and the West should attempt to promote human rights and democracy in other societies, but I do not think it is desirable to do this by military force and I do believe it is essential to recognize the difficulties of promoting democracy in poor societies with cultures very different from that of the West.

Second, toward the close of his review Hassner descends to personal vilification through the tactic of suggesting something by denying it. Following a reference to "inhumane and unrealistic ethnic cleansing", he says: "Nobody would accuse Huntington of being a friend of, or an apologist for, Slobodan Milosevic or Jean-Marie Le Pen." Of course, nobody would do that, but Hassner cannot resist suggesting the possibility of doing so. This is a particularly slimy form of personal attack.

Hassner ends his review with the same words with which he ended his 1995 paper, the cute admonition: "Play it again, Sam!" The lack of candor, inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and, in the end, calumny in his review demand a serious response: next time, "Play it straight, Pierre!"

Essay Types: Book Review