Reductionism, Huntington, and Mimetic Theory

Huntington’s clash of civilizations as a method to view the world seems inherently flawed. Many criticize the article for its reductionist view of the world, but I think this is a secondary consideration to what I believe is a greater misstep by Huntington. Huntington assumes that people fight because they are different, that the inherent differences between these “civilizations” will drive them to conflict. I believe that this is completely false.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.”  Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes.

People do not fight because they are different, rather we fight because we want the same things. Girard outlines a theory of desire, called mimetic desire that can explain why there is so violence between individuals (or the states they create)  exists.  We want things, inherently because other people want them. We see someone desiring an object, and we in turn are driven to desire the object. Girard terms this Mimetic Desire, or that desire is all driven by imitation.

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This desire drives conflict, because humans are driven to want envy. We want our position to be desirable, so that people desire us. I propose that this is why states fight. They fight because they are the same, because they want the same things.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.” – Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes

I believe the great sin of Huntington’s theory is not its reductionism, but that it reflects a common misconception about the human condition.

 

One thought on “Reductionism, Huntington, and Mimetic Theory

  1. Hi, William,

    Nice counter to Huntington’s argument–that difference breeds conflict. I hadn’t considered flipping it and considering mimetic desire as the root of such violence. It’s brought up a few questions for me…

    If we conclude (as you suggest) that envy is the impetus for “civilization”-on-“civilization” violence, how do we account for imperial violence? What do socially, politically, economically oppressed “civilizations” have that those “civilizations” in power want? Should we just assume imperial violence is always reactionary? Do “the great powers” have to protect their greatness/power/control/dominance over these “lesser” civilizations because they’re perceived as threats? Does the very act of perceiving oppressed “civilizations” as “threats” afford these non-hegemonic “civilizations” agency? I certainly don’t have all of this fleshed out but I am thinking about it thanks to your post.

    Note: this post is very scare quote heavy, as it should be.

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