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Snyder: From voting to violence

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Snyder. 2000. From voting to violence.

In Brief

Research question:

Why does democratization sometimes cause nationalist conflict, and sometimes not? What do we need to do to make democratization less dangerous?

Main Argument

Basically, he looks at this chain of events that can happen during democratization: (1) Conditions that structure elites' decision of whether to promote nationalism; (2) Conditions that structure whether the masses are persuaded by these appeals; (3) Conditions that structure what type of nationalism will emerge; (4) Each type of nationalism has different consequences for war and peace (page 89).

  • See notes on Chapter 2 for a quick overview of Snyder's theory.

Types of nationalism

He creates a typology of nationalisms: Civic, Ethnic, Revolutionary, Counterrevolutionary, which are delineated by strength of national political institutions, and adaptability of nationalist elites' interests.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Overview

  • Takes an avowedly non-primordialist view of ethnic conflict (18).
  • Though he doesn't use the term, he's basically saying that an abrubt end of "control" led to nationalist conflict. Elites (especially those with interests that were threatened by democratization) could use new freedom of speech and press to hijack debate for illiberal ends around nationalist claims. Painful economic transition similarly allowed these groups to claim that they could do better (pg 19).
  • "Nationalism" is different from ethnicity. It is "the doctrine that a people who see themselves as distinct in their culture, history, institutions, or principles should rule themselves in a political system that expresses and protects those distinctive characteristics. A nation is, therefore, a group of people who see themselves as distinct in these terms AND who aspire to self-rule" (pg 23). [Ethnicity excludes the concept of self-rule.] As he explains, this is a significant refinement of the usual conception of nationalism (Gellner's) that nationalism is a "doctrine that the political unit (the state) and the cultural unit (the nation) should be congruent" (22).
  • "Democratizing" states: He tries to draw a line between democratizing and consolidated states, but doesn't do so very clearly. He is very much using the transition paradigm: if a state has adopted some democratic reforms, it is democratizing; if it has adopted all of them, it is not. [He's in the transition paradigm because he doesn't give any way to differentiate states that started democratizing and stalled/backpedalled from those that are still progressing.]
  • Democratization increases the risk of nationalist conflict. There are two views as two why. One assumes predemocratic popular rivalries (and primordial ethnic tensions)--the "popular-rivalries" view (33). The other (Snyder's) assumes instrumental use of ethnic tensions for political ends--the "elite-persuasion" view (36).
    • "Elite-persuasion" view: "Nationalism, a doctrine of rule in the name of the people but not necessarily by the people, provided a way for elites to be popular without being fully democratic" (36). They could justify excluding some parts of society, and therefore limiting democracy and expanding their personal power, based on nationalist appeals. Whether the elites use nationalism depends on elite motivation [how threatened they feel by democratization] and elite opportunity [how much the character of the democratizing state would allow for it]. Exclusionary nationalism is especially likely in conditoins of poverty.
    • Elites pursue one of four types of nationalism, depending on whether their interests are adaptable to democracy and on the strength of existing democratic institutions (table on page 39). Three of these are likely to lead to violence against "others;" the fourth (civic nationalism) is not.
  • Snyder shows (40-41) how starkly the prescriptions deriving from his theory differ from most recommendations by both policy and theory people. In particular, we should probably not rush to tell authoritarian states to hold free elections or give press freedoms.

Chapter 2: Snyder's Theory

This chapter outlines the theory of elite persuasion. Basically, he looks at this chain of events that can happen during democratization: (1) Conditions that structure elites' decision of whether to promote nationalism; (2) Conditions that structure whether the masses are persuaded by these appeals; (3) Conditions that structure what type of nationalism (of the four types on page 39) will emerge; (4) Each type of nationalism has different consequences for war and peace. (page 89)

(1) Conditions that structure elites' decision of whether to promote nationalism:

There are two factors here: opportunity and motivation.

  • Motivation: (a) elites feel threatened by arrival of full democracy or (b) governing institutions are so weak that elites need some way of mobilizing popular support. Nationalism is a nice solution because it solves the dual problem elites face: (1) mobilizing popular support (2) without having to allow for popular control of government. Elites can claim to rule "in the name of" the people without allowing rule "by" the people.
  • Opportunity: How easy it will be to persuade (in other words, elite perceptions steps (2) and (3--the strength of institutions part) determine their estimation of whether nationalism will work). More details below:

(2) Conditions that structure whether the masses are persuaded:

Having weak media institutions really helps. Specifically, Snyder identifies three conditions related to the structure of the "marketplace of ideas":

  • Control of supply of information: early democratization often means the state no longer has a monopoly on information, but supply is also not fully free. Elites still have considerable sway on the supply of information.
    • However, this partial monopoly on media/information might be worse than a full state-controlled monopoly: When media are entirely state controlled, people take it with a grain of salt. But when there is minimal media competition, people start to believe it more without recognizing the extent of distortions.
  • Market segmentation (Control of demand for information): if the population is easily divided for targeted information, then even if an elite only controls 50% of the supply of information, he might control all the sources of information in large sections of the country. Hitler came to power partly because a major nationalist supporter had a near-monopoly on the media in 50% of Germany--the same 50% that supported Hitler.
  • Journalistic institutions: journalistic profesionalism, independence, professional think tanks, Congressional Budget Office, and other institutions force debate to revolve around facts; without them, nobody is doing reliable fact checking, and debate can be far from enlightening. It's possible for complete lies to be reported without anybody pointing out the media's faults. There is no public debate in the media, just misinformation.

How nationalist persuasion causes violent conflict

  • because excluding groups provokes enmity (they don't like you if you claim that they are evil)
  • because other nations are portrayed as more threatening than they are, creating feelings of insecurity at home
    • and simultaneously, they are portrayed as weaker than they are, making a military solution to this insecurity attractive.
  • because many narrow-interest nationalist veto groups form a logroll (e.g. "marriage of iron and rye"), incurring high societal costs in order to get their narrow self-interested benefits
  • because nationalists may get into bidding wars, trying to one-up the others. Even liberals may be forced to prove that they are the strongest defenders of the nation.

(3) Conditions that structure what type of nationalism will emerge:

Three main variables here: level/timing of social and economic development (draws heavily on Przeworski et al), adaptibility of elite interests to democracy, and strength of institutions

  • Development: Rich countries are probably okay, because rich countries generally make their democratic transitions quickly. Nationalism is most likely in stalled or slow transitions.
    • Poor countires might have nationalist appeals, but collective action is hard to sustain, thus lower risk of sustained nationalist movements.
    • Intermediate levels are in danger of the two worst types (revolutionary or counterrevolutionary nationalism). The reason: A democratic opposition movement might successfully remove the old elite, but then find that the middle-class and working-class bases of support are too weak to sustain it. Thus, revolutionary or counterrevolutionary nationalism follows.
  • Adaptability of elite interests: this matters because it affected step 1, elite motivations. Can elites continue to get what they want in democracy, or do they need to limit democracy?
    • E.g. in Britain, democracy would actually serve to protect the assets of the wealthy elites. Thus, their interests were "adaptable" to democracy. But interests might be unadaptable if elites fear that democracy will rob them of their status, power, or riches.
  • Strength of existing political institutions: also part of step 1. When there are only weak institutions for running the state, then it becomes tempting to use nationalism as a means of mobilizing the population to act collectively (revolutionary nationalism).
    • Strong representative and strong administrative institutions discourage nationalism, since they create a check on nationalist appeals and provide alternative means of mobilizing the people to act collectively. Strong administrative but weak representative institutions encourage exclusionary nationalism to mobilize support. Weak institutions all around present a strong temptation to mobilize people around nationalist ideas, since there is no other way to mobilize collective action.
  • The four types of nationalism: see table on page 39--it shows which combinations of the above variables lead to which types. Three of these (revolutionary, ethnic, counterrevolutionary) are likely to lead to violence against "others;" the fourth (civic nationalism; basically US-style patriotism) is not, since it is inclusive.
    • Strong institutions, adaptable interests --> Civic nationalism
    • Weak institutions, adaptable interests --> Revolutionary nationalism (to mobilize people to build the state)
    • Strong institutions, unadaptable interests --> Counterrevolutionary nationalism (to mobilize people against the institutions)
    • Weak institutions, unadaptable interests --> Ethnic nationalism


Chapter 3: How Democratization Sparked Counterrevolutionary German Nationalism

Why Elites Promoted Nationalism Pre-WWI

  • Germany's late, rapid industrialization (in the late 1800s) quickly put the economic livelihoods of German aristocrats (large landholders producing grains) at risk. They needed the power of the state to protect their social and economic status, for industrialization was making agriculture far less profitable.
  • Industrialization also created a class of industrialists. However, democracy threatened to empower the working classes, and a social democracy would threaten the industrialists' economic interests.
  • Thus, there was a "marriage of iron and rye," as the industrialists allied with the the aristocrats against democracy and the working class. Their best shot at protecting their interests would be to win the middle classes over to their side (against the working classes). However, this would be difficult, since the middle classes wanted democratization. The solution was to promote nationalist myths: Stain the workers, Catholics, and Poles as enemies of the German people. These nationalist doctines, combined with minimal democratization (elections and universal male suffrage, but ministers selected by the Kaiser) worked well, though they did contribute to all of Germany's late-century wars and to its entry into WWI.

Why Weimar Germany was Especially Vulnerable

  • These same elites (industry and aristocratici landholders) were further threatened by the establishment of Weimar democracy after WWI. As before, their interests were incompatible with democracy. To undermine democracy, then, they sought to propagate two nationalist myths. First, that WWI wasn't Germany's fault, but war was instead thrust upon Germany by hostile neighbors. And second, that Germany would have won the war if domestic pacifists and socialists hadn't allied with Russian and undermined the war effort from within. These myths fell on fertile ground among the middle classes, since the middle classes were already comfortable with many of the nationalist ideas developed before WWI.
  • Using these nationalist myths, Weimar elites attracted "mass allies [middle classes] to a program that would be popular but not democratic." This was counterrevolutionary nationalism, since it was an effort to undo democracy.
  • Hugenberg owned 50% of Germany's news outlets, especially those that appealed to classes sympathetic to national appeals. Himself a nationalist, Hugenberg used his network to spread nationalist ideas. Soon, however, Hitler's Nazis arose with a much more extreme form of nationalism. They forced a bidding war, establishing themselves as the true nationalists. Hugenberg soon found his followers [he led a political party] abandoning him for Hitler, which he himself did in 1933.
  • Although there were islands of liberal, professionalized journalism, especially in the larger cities, the market's segmentation prevented any real debate or contact between nationalists, socialists, Catholics, and so on. Thus, a free press served to promote nationalism, not prevent it.
  • Civil society organized around nationalist ideas. Several civil society organizations supported a militant foreign policy and strong nationalist ideals.
  • Thus, strange as it may seem, a vibrant civil society, free elections, and a free press can actually foster aggressive nationalism in a new democracy rather than stifling it.