Reflections on the Late Samuel Huntington, 1927-2008

Huntington Samuel Huntington died on Christmas Eve. Lee Siegel in the NYT:

Mr. Huntington seemed to have calibrated his responses to a particular moment — to history as it was happening. As events changed, so did his interpretations. This was to be expected. The adaptation of theory to reality is the essence of the power thinker’s métier.

It was not always so. In the classical age, when wars lasted for many years, even decades, and technology evolved at a snail’s pace, historians like Thucydides and Polybius took a longer view. To them, no single historical event mattered more than any other. All unfolded within endlessly recurring cycles dominated by the deep currents of human nature. This view might seem archaic — yet its lessons remain relevant. Bernard Madoff is accused of bilking an estimated $50 billion from investors by executing the same scheme Charles Ponzi used in 1921. Wall Street’s financial “instruments” have undergone a revolution in the last nine decades, but people are driven by the same appetites — envy, greed, fear.

It was in the modern era, with its belief in human progress, that thinkers began to interpret the world in a different way — not as a record of human folly but rather as an enactment of changing or evolving historical forces.

The 18th-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico argued that all civilizations pass through three stages: the age of the gods, in which divinities directly ruled humankind; the age of aristocratic heroes, in which superior individuals reigned over lesser individuals; and finally the age of ordinary humans, in which men and women govern themselves in the spirit of equality. This last phase eventually gives way to decadence and disintegration characterized by brutish manners (see: reality television). At that point, the gods return (Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Dark Knight), and the three-part cycle starts again.