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tv   After Words Barbara Walter How Civil Wars Start  CSPAN  January 30, 2022 10:00am-11:01am EST

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unthinkable democratic congressman. jamie raskins reflections of the loss of his son the violence at the capitol on january 6th of 2021 and the second impeachment of former president donald trump. and wrapping up our look at the washington post's best-selling. nonfiction books is novelists and patchett's collection of essays these precious days. some of these authors have appeared on book tv and you can watch their programs anytime at book next on book tv's author interview program afterwards political scientists barbara walter examines the warning signs that often proceed civil wars and discusses. what can be done to stop them. she's interviewed by smith college middle east studies chair steven heydemann. afterwards is a weekly interview program with relevant guest hosts interviewing top nonfiction authors about their latest work. welcome barbara walter. it's a pleasure to have the chance to talk with you today.
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your book has generated an astonishing national debate about where we are as a country today during a moment of. quite extraordinary polarization and division and in the book you advance this this quite controversial claim that the us is closer to civil war. then many of us would like to think or believe and what i thought it would make sense to do is we get launched is to give you a chance to simply lay out what your argument is in broad terms and and then we can we can dig into bits and pieces of it as we as we go along. yeah, so my argument comes from studying civil wars for the last 30 years. i've looked at all regions all countries that have experienced civil wars since the end of world war ii and there have been over 200 of them and one of the things that we've learned is that they tend to they tend to
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break out in similar ways and and the same factors emerge in the in the lead up to these wars no matter where they happen. and then in 2017 i was invited to serve on the us government's task force. they have a task force called the political instability task force and i served on that task force until the end of last year and the goal of that task force was to come up with a predictive model to try to predict where around the world countries would experience instability and political violence. and so there are a bunch of experts on civil wars like myself political scientists. colleges sociologist and then there were a bunch of data analysts who were in charge of the model and the experts on on violence were asked about the factors that they they thought might put countries at greater risk of violence and and we put those factors into this model so
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that included things like poverty it included measures of income inequality measures of how ethnically diverse the country was how big it was how much rough terrain a country had we put over 30 different variables into this model. and to our great surprise only two came out highly predictive. we weren't expecting that. the first was a measure called anocracy and anocracy is just a fancy term for a country whose government is a partial democracy. it's neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. it's something in between so you could think of it as for example a country has free and fair elections. everybody's allowed it allowed to vote a new president is elected, but that president once in office doesn't have many checks and balances on his or
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her power. so you have elements of democracy the free and fair elections and you have elements of sort of authoritarian rule a very powerful president. the second factor was whether a country's citizens were organized politically not around ideology. not the left the right the issues relevant to each of those camps, but around identity racial ethnic or religious identity and whether those parties became predatory their goal was to get an office not to share power but to stay in power. so again, i'm on this task force. we are only looking at countries outside the united states. in fact, we were not allowed to look at the united states talk about the united states and early on it didn't occur to us to even ever think about the united states, but then as time
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is going on. i'm looking at the united states. i'm looking at my own country and i'm realizing that these two factors are in fact emerging here and and they've been emerging. surprisingly fast rate yeah, we have certainly seen and an increase in in violence and political violence in the united states over the past several years and and a lot of the debate around your book seem to surface in particular on the anniversary of the january 6th insurgency here in washington, and that's not a surprise. yeah, you know, there's a lot of of terms that have been applied to actors who engage in violence. it's seen as a form of insurgency. it's seen as a form of terrorism. what do you think talking about these trends in terms of civil war helps us to see that we might not otherwise focus on to the same degree. yeah. yeah, i think one of the reasons why it's so hard for most americans to conceive of a
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second civil war here why this message just took so long to resonate with the american public is because they're thinking about an 1860 version of a civil war. they're thinking about all those images that they have of two armies meeting on a big battlefield. they each have uniforms they're dragging cannons. engaging each other and that's not the type of civil war that's going to happen here. and in fact, that's not really the type of civil modern civil war that you tend to see anymore the modern civil wars that we see especially against governments with militaries that are very strong like the united states or you know, think about the provisional ira fighting the british government and the british military big powerful military or think about hamas fighting the israeli government whose military is also extremely strong. so in those situations the type
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of civil war is more of an insurgency. it tends to be very decentralized and decentralized on purpose fought by multiple different militia groups paramilitary groups, and sometimes they're working together and sometimes they're actually competing with each other the last thing they want to do is engage soldiers and the military if they do that. it's a battle that they cannot win and so they turn to unconventional methods domestic terrorism where they're targeting civilians or they're targeting infrastructure or they're targeting opposition leaders or or judges, perhaps who are who are not sympathetic to their cause or they're using a guerrilla warfare where you have, you know bombs set up set off in particular places hit and run attacks. those are the types of civil wars that we're seeing today and if the united states has a civil war, that's what we're likely to
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see here. now you mentioned that countries that fall into this category of regime type called inocracy this intermediate category neither full democracy nor full autocracy that those are the cases that are most vulnerable to this descent into into violence into this new form of civil war. you've you've described what is it about inocacies that make them so vulnerable. yeah. so the relationship that we see is actually called in an inverted u shape if you if if you look at at full autocracies on on the left side of the axis and full democracies on the right side of the access. both of those types of governments rarely experience civil war all of the civil war happens in the middle. and so it has this inverted u-shape relationship between the type of political regime and the risk of violence. and so the question is why is
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that the case full democracies strong liberal democracies? don't tend to experience civil war because their citizens are generally pretty happy. they don't have a lot of grievances and even if some groups in those democracies have grievances their conventional political ways to address them. they don't have to turn to violence because they have alternate means to try to affect change. if you look at full autocracies, so think about think about north korea. these are the most autocratic countries saudi arabia iran. those tend not to experience civil wars not because the people are happy. they're not it's because they have no opportunity to rebel even if they wanted to try to mobilize for to challenge the government the child those countries tend to be quite good at repressing descent. and so you never see or rarely
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see insurgencies emerge but the governments in the middle these enocracies they they're not fully democratic. so citizens aren't fully satisfied with these regimes they would like to see more democracy. and so, you know, they're they're not they're they're not complacent. that's not the word. you know, they're not super happy with these regimes, but they're also weak regimes. these are often regimes that are in transition leadership is changing more rapidly institutions are breaking down or are being broken down and so the repressive arm of the state in these inocacies in order to repress dissent that would emerge because people are unhappy with elements of the government that doesn't exist to the same extent. so you have both groups who are unhappy with the status quo and
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they also have the opportunity to organize resistance to a government that at that point is often. actively weak. yeah, so you have grievances you have opportunity and you have limited capacity to respond on the part of exact government that may be in flux that may be fluent exactly. it's the case, of course that that some countries that are consolidated autocracies do experience civil war some of the examples in your books area for example is clearly a consolidated autocracy and yet experienced civil war closer to the 1860 variety than the type that you're that you're describing. but but what is it about the united states in particular you've mentioned that there's been a shift in where the us stands on the on the rankings that define whether a country is a democracy anocracy anocracy or autocracy. but but what is it about the united states that puts us in
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that dangerous category? yeah, so same measure that the task force uses to measure anocracy. it's a measure that is. developed by a non-profit organization in virginia called the center for systemic. peace and every year they assign a number to every country related to this anocracy variable and the united states. it's a scale that goes from negative 10 most autocratic type of government to positive 10 most democratic for a very long time. the united states was at positive 10 and in 2016 the center for systemic piece downgraded the united states to positive 8 and it did this in part because international election monitors who were monitoring the 2016 election deemed it free, but not entirely
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fair in in 2019. it downgraded the us the uss democracy score once again to plus seven and it did this as a result. of the executive branch refusing to respond to subpoenas by the legislative branch and here in the united states the biggest check on executive power is is congress and if if the president doesn't respond to this tool of congress to try to keep presidential behavior in line, then that clearly indicates that the president is much more powerful than congress and and that is not how our system was originally designed. we were not supposed to have what arthur schlessinger a few years back called an imperial president, but we now have an executive branch that is significantly more powerful than all the other branches and then by the end of trump's presidency
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the center downgraded the us democracy to plus five negative 5 to plus five is the inocacy zone. and that put the the united states in that zone for the first time since 1800. so here i am. i'm watching us democracy decline. i see it. go towards the middle zone. i understand that that this is not an a neutral situation that the middle zone is where a lot of instability and violence happens and then of course, i'm thinking about that second factor, you know does the us have ethnic factions an ethnic faction? and by the definition that the center for systemic piece uses, do we have parties or a political party that is based predominantly around a ethnic religious or racial identity.
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and is it predatory the answer is yes, we do now have that as late as 2008 white voters were almost equally split between the democratic and the republican party that shifted when obama was elected and that's when white the white working class whose traditional ideological home was in the democratic the republican party and today the republican party is 90% white and not only is a catering almost exclusively to just one racial group and end religious group here in the united states, but but it's intent is is to is to attempt to gain power using almost any means and that is an essence predatory. yeah, that that has some interesting implications that i hope we can come back to later, but i wanted to stick with this
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anocracy theme for a moment and and where the us falls on on that spectrum the data can sometimes be contradictory. there are a number of different indexes of the quality of democracy and you mentioned some of them in the book of freedom house issues one that that's widely used and so does another organization based in europe called vdem neither of those indices have drawn quite as stark a conclusion about the position of the us as as the polity index has and in addition this year i happened to check just this morning the us is back up to plus 8 on the polity index so, you know, i'd be interested in in how you read these these differences. and and at the same time if i can just for a minute longer we we continue to see very very troubling indicators about violence trends in the united states and the potential for
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violence even as the polity score has gone up for example a recent political violence database the ac led database you you may know it just issued a report on on the anniversary of the january 6 uprising that said that protump trump demonstrations continue post presidency and are more likely to be armed and that armed pro-trump demonstrations disproportionately come to legislative grounds. so, you know, we we have so much that we need to take into account and thinking about where we are. how do you make sense of this massive data that you have to sort through? yeah, so i'm going to i'm going to answer the first two questions first, which was you know, we have these different data sets and the us was just upgraded to plus 8 and then if we you know. turn to the question about violence after that. that would be helpful. so there's at least well, i'm going to say there's four major
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data sets that measure democracy. there's the polity data set which comes for the center for systemic. peace. and that's the one that most conflict scholars use. it's been around the longest it looks at the the greatest number of countries. it looks at both autocracies and democracies. it looks at all countries. there's the freedom house data set that you talked about. there's the v-dem data set. that's run out of sweden and that's short for a varieties of democracy data set. there's a data set run by the economist intelligence you unit, and there's actually a fifth data set by the international institute its idea for democrat democracy and electoral assistance. ability something like that. and the way to think about those data sets is that they all measure democracy and slightly
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different ways or another way to look at it is they're all interested in different aspects of democracy. and so that's what they tend to focus on just to give you an example freedom house is really interested in individual rights and freedoms. that's where they they hone in on they're interested in how good is freedom of the press freedom of religion freedom of speech in every country around the world. and so that's what they are measuring and by those measures the us has declined in some elements, but but has actually remained relatively strong the polity data set out of the center for systemic. peace. that's really interested in the institutions of democracy the checks and chances, it looks very carefully at you know, executive constraints. so it's and it kind of comes from a theory that you have for
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what you think is most important in a polity. do you think what's most important is individual rights and freedoms, then that's what you your organization is going to focus on if you think what's most important is is the strength of the institutions. so no matter who comes to power whether it's a strong man or or a true democrat that person will be constrained by the institutions then you focus on institutions and that's what the center for systemic peace with this polity variable focuses on and then you know the other one varieties of democracy. it's really interested in in all the different democ types of democracies we have out there and there's myriad types and it looks to see about which of the features of the many many features of different types of democracies how they're doing across countries. i don't know why the task force use the center for systemic
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pieces and and i wasn't there when when the model was first first crafted. it could be that they included measures from from all of the the data sets that existed at the time on democracy. it could be that they included measures of from freedom house. the measure that came out significant was this polity measure this inocracy variable and so that suggests that it's something about the institutions that that really put a country at risk and and this gets to what i was talking about earlier, you know, we think a democracies are often just a proxy for a week a week unstable government and it's what it's weak because the institutions are weak. it's weak because the institutions are not really constraining the power of the executive and and and that is the measure that that was most
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predictive. yeah, so and then the plus your second question, which was the us was was just upgraded to plus 8 the center for systemic peace updated. it's it's data it does this every year it did it the first week of january this year looking back on 2021 and the us was upgraded from a plus 5 to a plus 8 as a result of the peaceful transfer of power to the biden administration and as a result of the biden administration adhering to the rule of law, so that takes us out of the anocracy zone but again, you know you we've seen how quickly actually we can backslide and and we know for example that trump would very much like to come to power. we we know that the republic many in the republican support him and if not him someone who
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will be very much like him and and of course, you know, his goal is to get back into power and and to make it more difficult for the opposition to to win future elections and make it more difficult for the results of those elections to actually be implemented. so right. well mentioning the the possibility of our return to power of donald trump. i think reminds us that there are multiple pathways that the us could follow toward equally depressing outcomes one of which might involve the kind of escalation and violence that you focus on in the book, but the other could happen through electoral outcomes through the the capture of institutions by a political party whose commitment to democracy is is very very much in question and and in fact some of the pushback that you've
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received about the argument, is that the success that right-wing republicans have had in capturing political institutions at the local and state level in changing the rules of the game around the management and supervision of elections gerrymandering political districts to prevent the opposition from gaining power that this is a pathway. that is far more likely to be the one that could move the us. well out of the democracy range within a polity score, but without the kind of violence that you you've speculated about in the book. what's your sense about these alternative pathways and and why why did you decide to put so much emphasis on the more violent of those pathways? well, it's different types of violence, right? so it is true that if the
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republicans were able to dismantle our democracy if they were able really to create a one-party state where republicans are always in power and there's really no way for the opposition to compete effectively anymore. if we did became become an autocratic regime and we might still hold elections, but it would it really have no effect on the outcome singapore. does that? if that were to happen, we probably wouldn't have a civil war, but we would have minority rule with a majority of the citizens deeply deeply deeply unhappy and like other autocratic regimes that are able to avoid outright civil war the way they do this is with heavy heavy repression. and so there's a different type of state-sponsored violence that
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occurs and again, these countries have are at lower risk of war but when war does happen it is explosive it is it is it is brutal and and you know, that is that is not a better path to go down over the long term. no, i i certainly i certainly agree. with that. in fact, i i wondered at times in reading your book which emphasizes and appropriately i think the role of the right in the united states as a driver of extremism and potential violence actual violence. you do also reference groups on the left that that you see as as playing playing something of a similar role you talk a little bit about antifa you talk a little bit about some other movements that have begun to take up arms on the grounds of self-defense against threats from the right are there
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conditions perhaps conditions in which the right captures institutions and moves the country toward a single party regime in which you could imagine that the reaction of violent reaction would actually originate among those who oppose that kind of system. the absolutely so i guess the way i well when you look at the cases. historically and you especially look at the ethnic civil wars one of the things that we've learned is that the groups that tend to start. these wars are not the weakest groups. they're not the poorest groups. they're not immigrant groups. they're not the most discriminated against the groups that tend to start these wars or the groups that had once been politically dominant but are either on decline or they anticipate that they will lose power in this system in the future. they're the ones who have this deep sense of resentment. they're the ones who will will
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try all sorts of dirty tactics to try to maintain their hold on power one of those dirty tactics would be to dismantle the democracy and put themselves in power. and of course once they do that the goal is to exclude everybody else. and so when we look at at civil wars as well, it is also the politically excluded groups that will eventually organize so so if for example and you see this already today if the republicans lose the 2024 elections, the republican voters are are going to believe that it was stolen again. it will only confirm their belief that the current system is illegitimate and is an is structured against them and it will push more of them into the hands of of violent extremists in their group who have been
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telling them. excuse me who have been telling them. that violence is the only way for them to gain back control. if they are successful at doing that and they then shut up out a majority of americans from power then that the left is going to have incentives to mobilize as well. and and so so but i don't think the left is going to start this in part because time is on their side given the current system. they know that demographically they they will be the majority by 2045. all they have to do is wait and they will have the votes to to dominate the system. and so right now they have no incentives to start a war whereas, you know a segment of the white population who is
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deeply deeply concerned about this demographic transition who sees this as an existential threat time is not on their side. and so that's why i think they would be the ones to initiate war first. yeah. i i i'm i think that that's an important message because we often get what i personally view as false equivalencies drawn between groups that i i think are are small and and not terribly meaningful in terms of their capacity to damage the system groups like antifa, for example, which has become a favorite stalking horse for the right and and far more threatening far more capable and and violent groups on on the right. and and so i i think it is important to accentuate the distinctions between these two camps and in a polarized political system even under polarization not all actors have the same proclivity or incentive to engage to engage in violence,
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and i think that's important to note. you know one of the things that you review in the book that i think is quite interesting beyond the general conditions that that leave us concerned about the prospects or civil war is what some of the specific conditions are what some of the specific triggers might be that could induce this majority of those on the right who who are themselves probably unsettled by what they see as the extremists in their ranks and and who are not prepared to go that extra step and participate in in any kind of organized violence what it would take to reach a tipping point where some kind of cascade could occur that would draw many many more of those who are unhappy with the system from the right into the ranks of those who are willing to use violence and it would be useful to hear
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you talk a bit about what some of those specific triggers might be. yeah. so i have a chapter in the in the book about these triggers and it's called when hope is lost and i think that really gets at the trigger. it countries that are aocracies and that have ethnic factions often are like that for many many years and so having those two underlying conditions doesn't explain the timing of the outbreak of civil war if those conditions exist year after year then why does it happen in 2020, you know 48 and not in 2022 and and again, you know the cases that that you know, the civil wars that have happened historically really tell us about what the triggers tend to be and it tends to be as i said when people lose hope and they tend to lose.
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hope at least in two ways one if they're in a democracy and if they keep losing elections and and really a loss in election is just as hard evidence to your average citizen that can't win their party is shut out of power and and i do think the 2020 elections for example were devastating to the republicans. they they invested heavily in a ground game. they turned out the vote. they did everything they could to get as many republicans to the polls as they could and they still lost by almost eight million votes. this tells them very clearly that they don't have the votes to compete in this system and and again when you start to have republican leaders perpetuate this lie that that the election was stolen from them that that the system is rigged against
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them people will believe that especially if every media outlet that they that they tap into is telling them the same thing they will believe that and of course there's an incentive for their leadership to do that because they want their people to lose hope in this current system because they don't want this current system to continue to exist. so that is and trigger it's a series of losses at an elections and then the second trigger which we haven't seen here yet, but i could see this happening is if that group decides it's going to protest it's going to well. maybe we have seen a little bit of this. it's going to go out in the street and peacefully protest, you know, you could argue that the 2017 charlottesville rally was a peaceful protest by the far right demanding change and
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if those protests have no effect if you don't see any change as a result of those protests if if you don't see, you know, for example, the the charlottesville protesters wanted, you know, they basically want an end to immigration. they wanted the the wall to be built. they're not seeing that their we will not be. ice we will not be replaced and instead what happened is they lost their jobs. their their employers saw videos of them on tv and fired them the fbi began to you know, infiltrate their groups and question them and some of them were arrested. they got deep platformed from social media. so here they were doing what they thought was was working within the system. they're not using violence. they're protesting and it's their right to protest and and not only did nothing happen, but but personally they were they
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were harmed as a result and and these are the types of events that that turn people away from non-violent means and and push them into the hands of the more violent extremists in their group. well, yeah, i guess i'd say that that those who participated in charlottesville and those who suffered the consequences of their actions. crossed the line from what most would view as legitimate protest into something else. and and that they they represent a very very small minority, but you're bigger issue about the 2020 elections as a demonstration to mainstream republicans that despite all of their efforts. they they failed to to re-elect donald trump is is a very interesting example as well because on so many levels republicans succeeded in 2020 and we have this this irony around the big lie in which
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republicans who won their own races are arguing that the elections they participated in were fraudulent and and carried out without integrity. and and so we we have to think in my view at least about how hopelessness is manufactured and reproduced and disseminated and you do talk a bit about social media in the book and and it would be it would be thing i think to reflect a bit on the extent to which this condition of hopelessness which which i agree with you completely can be an extraordinarily powerful motivator to participate in extremist forms of politics. how that that perception is constructed and sustained through social media and through through traditional media as well through television networks that that are so actively engaged in in creating the impression of hopelessness.
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yeah, so i talk in the book about people i that political scientists call ethnic entrepreneurs ethnic entrepreneurs are often times politicians, but they could be media titans. they could be business leaders. these are individuals who recognize that if they could somehow create a sense of threat a create a sense of victimhood amongst an ethnic or a racial group and convince them that they're under threat and need to band together and not just band together, but they need to band together under the leadership of an ethnic entrepreneur that those citizens will follow those ethnic enter entrepreneurs no matter what slobodon milosevic was was a really a perfect example of this. he was a communist during the soviet era in yugoslavia. he was a member of the communist party.
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he was in power as a result and then the soviet union disseminates and you yugoslav's quickly decide that they want to create a democracy in their country and melosovich knows he wants to keep power. he wants to stay in power, but he also knows that yugoslavs don't like communists and they know that he's a communist and if he runs as a communist, they'll never vote for him and he started he's a very savvy he was a very savvy strategic person and he was thinking about you know, how could he get enough votes to get get in power and he realized that serbs were the biggest ethnic group in yugoslavia at the time and he was an ethnic serve and so he started to just disseminate this propaganda on on state radio on state tv. he crafted this this.
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didn't narrative that he just pounded into the heads of serbs that that serbs had to band together if they didn't band together the croats were going to do it and in fact the croods were doing it and if the croats got into power they would throw serbs out of out of their jobs out of government out of the military and in fact, they might go as far as what some of them did in world war ii, which was to slaughter serbs and it was a very very effective strategy in this time of uncertainty when when yugoslavia. was it aocracy when things were changing very quickly when their new government was really quite weak serbs didn't really know who to trust there is a deep element of insecurity and they gathered behind milosovich and and he was catapulted back into into power and so you see that happening where where capturing the media is really really
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important for for elites who want political power. it's really important for them to capture the narrative in order to gain the support of average citizens, and of course, you know five you can do this through traditional television through cable through local news, but social media is is really unbelievably powerful and it's really really powerful. not only because you can place whatever material you want on social media, but more importantly because the recommendation engines the algorithms choose the most incendiary material the most the most the the material that triggers a fight and flight response fear and security hate it takes those pieces of information that content and it magnif it disseminates it wildly
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and the reason it it disproportionately favors that type of content is because the business model for social media companies is to keep people engaged on their cell phones and on their devices as long as possible and they have now figured out that the material that keeps people engaged. the longest is the more incendiary one a type of material. it's that it's the material that triggers the you know, the the, you know, the oldest parts of our our brain the fight and flight response, you know people not only read that at you know, four times more than than calming information, but they share it significantly more than the material. that's that's know more positive. and one of the other things exposure to social media seems to cultivate unfortunately is a
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very deep resistance to the facts and and we see that over and over again. we have this sense of of being threatened of being at risk of vulnerability on the part of of a constituency within the united states at least that continues to hold a dominant share of political economic social and cultural power. and so there's the irony that that social media creates this sort of insular alternative universe in which in which facts about about the the privileged status of those who are being mobilized against our democracy becomes almost impossible to to communicate and and penetrate and and you know that that puts an interesting spin on this question of of the downgrading in social economic status political status of communities that that are the constituencies for these political for these ethnic.
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identity entrepreneurs because it seems as if economic factors the the extent to which these communities have actually in their own view at least slipped on socio-economic grounds in your book you actually tend to discount the importance of economic factors. and and so we have this we have this role of a community a social group that feels it's losing status that it's it's it's position in society is at risk and yet and yet at the same time your sense is and i know it's it's based on the data you use but your sense is that economic factors aren't especially important in shaping those perceptions. why is that? so we don't exactly know early quantitative studies on the causes of civil war found poverty significantly related out.
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of civil war again and again and again so all of us thought well, you know, it's the poor countries that tend to experience civil war and then as we collected more and better data as we included more more nuanced variables in our models, especially related to the quality of governance what we found was that when you put in measures of the rule of law for example, or you know how strong the rule of law is in a country or a measure of how competitive is the political system if you included these measures of good governance, the poverty variable was no longer significant and that was a surprise and we suspect that the reason the poverty variable dropped out was because poverty poor countries often have bad governments and and the governments aren't delivering services.
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there the economy is in flourishing in those countries because the government is poor and there's high levels of corruption. and and so it's it's not poverty per se that's driving people to rebel. it's it's the the quality of the government. that's that's driving people to rebel and and then, you know people have there have been so many studies to try to understand the role of economic variables income inequality. there's there's so many studies and and the results are mixed and in fact in one of the big studies that was done by james fearon who's a professor at stanford. he actually found that there was an inverse relationship between income inequality and and civil war that the the lower the level of income in a country the higher the civil war so so i
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don't talk a lot about the economic variables because either they haven't been significant or we have these mixed results and it's not really clear at this point in time what conclusion to draw from that but what we do know and these are more recent studies. is that if you have a downgraded group so a group that is politically losing power or has lost power and they then suffer an economic crisis that compounds that loss that that makes those groups more likely to organize and turn to violence. so there does seem to be a compounding effect when you add, you know economic loss to the equation. yeah that that narrative fits quite well in the middle east and the protest that broke out in 2011, for example, where we know from interviewing and data that it was not the rural poor who were the early risers in those protests that it was.
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urban middle class which had experienced downward social mobility over the the proceeding decade and and you talk a lot you emphasize very heavily rural urban divides and and the the difference between the outlook the culture the lifestyle the political preferences of those in cosmopolitan cities, which are typically better off and those in the countryside who have fewer economic opportunities fewer opportunities for upward mobility. that's that's a global condition apparently, but does it manifest itself in distinctive ways in the us? oh, that's a good question. does it manifest itself in distinctive ways in some ways what we see here is more troubling. i you know in the in the book i call it i i talk about super factions so factions that are not only based on ethnicity, but are also based on religion and
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are also based on a geographic an urban rural split. so when you have when you have parties really splitting along all three of these lines where one is is white christian predominantly rural and one is is non-white a mix of religions and predominantly urban that that tends to be particularly combustible and and really the mechanism that under underlies. the the radicalization of one of these groups is resentment. it's resentment at declining status. it's it's it's watching, you know, coastal elites in urban areas or or you know, worse yet. you see, you know immigrants coming from from china or india for example, getting very high paying jobs living the american dream that you and your your
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children are not living and and also seeing that you are no longer able to compete in this new economy and and that you have no chance to compete and it creates this deep sense of resentment and anger and and that can translate into into a rejection of the system and and support for more extreme extreme groups. yeah, and it seems to me as well that institutions like the electoral college for example that amplify rural votes and rural constituencies give those kinds of resentments added added leverage within the electoral system too. you know, we have about eight or nine minutes left, and i i wanted to make sure we took the time to to talk with you about some of your thoughts relating to how to stop civil wars. the the book is called how they start but how we can how we can
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how we can keep them from happening. so let's talk a bit about that as well. so the big picture is this on the task force. we know that countries that have these two factors that are anocracies that are partial democracies with ethnic factions are at about a 4% annual risk of civil war. that seems small, but it's not every year that those conditions continue to exist every year that the government doesn't strengthen its democracy every year that that an ethnic faction doubles down on on racial politics the risk increases so that after 30 years the risk of political violence in a country with those two features is over a hundred percent. it's very similar to the risk of smoking. you know, i i can if i started smoking today my risk of dying
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of lung cancer or a related disease would be very small, but if i continue to smoke for 10 years 20 years 30 years 50 years my my risk of dying of something related to smoking would be quite high and so what's i think so valuable about in knowing these two factors is that it gives us time to turn things around it tells us we're you know, we're not on the precipice about to fall over but if we continue in this space if we continue on this path or you know, if we if it actually gets worse then the risk will just continue to increase until eventually it will happen. and so what do you do about it? you know one get the word out which seems simple, but but until recently it was not simple, you know, i've talk so many people who have lived through civil wars in places
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like sarajevo and kiev and in baghdad and they all say the same thing. they say they say that they didn't see it coming. they were just going about their daily business. yeah, there was they would hear about an attack somewhere on the other side of the city or they would hear maybe about, you know, a paramilitary group organizing some way somewhere, you know in a rural area, but they didn't either take it seriously or they thought it was an isolated unimportant fact and and they they just kept going to their jobs and taking care of their families and then suddenly it was too late and war had broken out and so so just getting the word out and making people aware that there is a cancer growing in our midst and and of course the far right expense, especially violent extremist groups. they would they let they want the element of surprise. they they want to be able to
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organize in the shadows. they don't want people to know so that they have time to to plan a strategy and an attack and so getting the word out and having people not only american citizens, but but our politicians aware of it is very important, you know, the second thing is is regulate social media. it's probably the easiest thing we could do and i'm not talking about about regulating content let people put whatever information they want on the web but don't allow the the big social media companies design algorithms that dissem the most divisive the most hate-filled material because it clearly is dividing our society and it's clearly is leading to a rise of ethnic nationalism and extremism and then you know, the third is, you know, strengthened strength
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in our democracy full liberal democracies. don't tend to experience civil wars if we have a strong democracy, which we do not have currently we will not have to worry about this anymore. yeah, there are so many other topics. i'd love to to talk about with you including what that recommendation implies about us democracy promotion policy whether we should be encouraging countries to transition around the world if it means moving through a stage of anocracy what it implies about president biden's agenda to try to strengthen democracy in the united states, but but i wanted to close barbara by by recalling how you ended the book which was with a removing account of a discussion you had with your with your husband. about whether the us had actually arrived at a point that might make it necessary to think about about an alternative about whether it was time to leave the us and when you when you mention the element of surprise and the
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uncertainty about where things might be headed and not really knowing whether we've reached a tipping point. all of those are factors that i think have shaped similar kinds of conversations around a lot of dining room tables you you concluded that you're you're gonna stay you're here and and you're going to stay and i just wonder if if you could you could speak to that for a moment because i found very very compelling. yeah. um, so my parents are immigrants. my husband's an immigrant. my sister-in-law is an immigrant. we are an immigrant family. we have the luxury of having multiple different passports as a result. and you know, i've studied conflict my whole life i've traveled to conflict areas. i'm used to thinking about in the book. i call it plan b. okay, if something bad happens while we're here, what do we do and we started thinking about
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that here after the the 2020 elections when it looked like trump was going to make a push to try to overturn them. and we had a long discussion and i both my husband and i we just couldn't conceive of leaving. i you know, i'm gonna get i'm gonna get here. i we love this country. it is where we want to be. we love its diversity it is it is going to be the first big democracy to go through this transition from white majority rule to white minority rule, but other other white countries are going to follow us and they're going to have to go through it as well. and so the us is going to be a model for how to do this and and you know, we are going to do everything that we can to help with this transition show the world how you can come through it and be better on the other end and and we're just gonna stay and we're going to to fight
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with words and with with research and with data, well the good news barbara is that you're not alone. there are many of us who share those sentiments and and we will be working together toward toward the same end. thank you very very much. it's been wonderful to have this chance to talk with you and to learn a bit more about your book and you're thinking about about where the united states is is headed in the coming years. thank you. very much. thank you. afterwards is available as a podcast to listen visit slash podcasts or search c-span your podcast app. and watch this in all previous afterwards interviews at book just click the afterwards button near the top of the page. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on
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sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. oh you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi enabled lift zones. so students from low-income families can get the tools. they need to be ready for anything. comcast along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service you're watching book tv for a complete television schedule visit book you can also follow along behind the scenes on social media at book tv on twitter instagram and facebook. up next on book tv jess mchugh explores american history through the lens of best-selling books from different eras and then bloomberg investigative journalist peter robison reports on the 2018 and 2019 crashes of
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the boeing 737 max which killed 346 people. and later on our author interview program afterwards political scientists barbara walter examines the warning signs that often precede civil wars and what can be done to stop them. and now jess mchugh so before i introduce our guests, i do want to thank our sponsors like so many of our programs tonight's program is sponsored by the wish you well foundation and by connecticut public wnpr, and it's produced in part with support honoring the legacy of frank lord who was our beloved former trustee who was with us through some really rough times at the museum and had showed great leadership and compassion for the museum. so we're very happy to be able to honor him in this way. and now i want to introduce our guests. peter sokolowski is editor at large for miriam webster, and he's just a delight. we've had an interactions with him before and i know you're


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