Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict


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Some spheres or goals of life are considered so valuable that they would not normally be up for sale or compromise, however costly the pursuit of their realization might be. There are a couple of important concepts here. Most important, both instrumental and value rational behavior are associated with System II. If a society or individual values ethnic purity, its pursuit is just as valuable and rational as the pursuit of economic gains in that it brings utility to the pursuant. Actors will plan and make conscious decisions to pursue that value. Secondly, value rationality can be pursued independently of its prospects for success.

Defending and upholding values is an end in and of itself. The mere act of representing the desired value provides utility to the actor even if it is a foregone conclusion that the end result is failure, or if the act provides little to no material benefits. More specifically, Varshney argues that utility gained from upholding these values is connected to cultural or individual perceptions of dignity and self-respect.

This provides a powerful explanation as to why ethnonationalists may choose self-destructive behavior, such as suicide bombings, or plan to execute violence beyond what is politically advantageous, such as genocide. When deciding how and why a person will uphold or fulfill the moral judgments made by System I, System II relies on value rationality, which is highly insensitive to costs.

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Additionally, the concept of value rationality helps explain how both socially constructed and materially self-interested goals can play a significant role in mobilizing actors to violence. As Varshney further elucidates:.

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For it to be instrumentally used by leaders, ethnicity must exist as a valued good for some. However, ethnic mobilization cannot proceed on value-rational grounds alone. Strategies are necessary; coalitions must be formed; the response of the adversary—the state, the opposed ethnic group, the in-group dissenters—must be anticipated. And many would join such mobilization, when it has acquired some momentum and chance of success, for entirely selfish reasons.

To draw from a previously used example, Mueller was wrong to isolate materialism as the primary motivating force for soldiers in the Rwandan genocide. As was pointed out by Goldhagen, ethnonationalist microfoundations already existed and instrumentalist incentives helped mobilize those foundations. The above section explains the cognitive processes at work in ethnic conflict. But is it possible to determine if an actor or group is prone to System I judgments that will lead to violence?

Doing so requires a method for observing ideologies and moral paradigms. Each dichotomy was identified by linking adaptive challenges frequently cited by evolutionary psychologists and connecting those with virtues commonly found, in some form, across cultures.

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Because these foundations are rooted in evolution, they are assumed to be universal. The interpretation of each foundation and the relative importance placed on it, however, is not universal. The foundations are analogous to moral taste buds. While Conservatives generally refer to notions of chastity and religious purity, Liberals often associate it with nutrition or nature. Haidt employs this matrix to measure differences in moral paradigms among political ideologies in the United States.


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It can also be used to evaluate extremist ideologies around the world, providing a more definitive measurement of what propels individuals toward ethnic partisanship and ultimately violence. In order to test the feasibility of this framework, this paper builds on a methodology used by Haidt in Aiming to measure the ideological differences among liberals and conservatives, the researchers collected text samples of sermons given by churches affiliated with the two ideologies.

They then used the Linguistics Inquiry and Word Count LIWC text analysis software and installed a custom dictionary of words associated with each foundation to count the instances when each group appealed to a certain moral foundation. Using confidence intervals, they looked for any significant differences in the groups.

To represent the ideology of ethnic partisans, American White Nationalists were sampled because of their relatively large member base, accessibility, and the absence of any language barriers.

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Then prominent opinion leaders within the ideology were isolated by identifying names commonly recognized by both consumers and producers of political media; a list of individuals polled is included in Appendix 1. Text samples consisted of essays, opinion editorials, and transcripts from radio and television broadcasts. The process was then repeated for liberals and conservatives. The samples taken from each ideology were drawn from at least 10 different authors, and no single author accounted for more than 10 samples.

With the exception of one particularly influential author, the deceased William Pierce who was one of the most prominent members of the modern white-nationalism movements and is still referenced frequently, all samples are dated within the last 10 years. No preference was given to the subject matter of samples; the only stipulation was that they were political in nature.


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  • Next, the samples were analyzed using the LIWC software and the moral dictionary created by Haidt and his team. Once samples were collected and processed with LIWC, each sample was examined and edited for accuracy. Samples were edited as little as possible in order to maintain the integrity of the text. A few simple rules were followed in order to determine when a word the software picked up would be replaced with another word it would not.

    First, all homonyms that created false positives were replaced. Second, all words in proper names or titles picked up by the software were removed.

    Ethnicity and Nationalism

    This final rule was exercised sparingly. The ideological data collected was used to test the following hypothesis.

    Political Science: Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Development (Leiden)

    First , White Nationalists will appeal to morality in total more frequently than liberals and conservatives. In keeping with the notion that ethnic conflict is based on intuitive, ideological and moral judgments, authors should appeal more frequently to moral intuition than to System II logic. This comes from the assumption that ethnic conflict is a form of identity conflict. The sanctity degradation dichotomy is primarily linked with notions of purity and disgust. This hypothesis stems from the notion that nationalism is based on illusions of homogeneity.

    Notions of sanctity and degradation can also be dissociative and create validation as to who is deserving of harm or care, such as the Hutus referring to Tutsis as cockroaches. To test these hypotheses, LIWC was used to analyzed the text samples and determined the percentage of all words used that were associated with each moral dichotomy. The percentages are listed in the table below. Regression was then used to identify correlations.

    The dependent variable was represented by the percentage of words associated with one of the foundations, or all of them when testing total morality. Dummy variables were introduced for two of the three political ideologies, while leaving one in the intercept. Because some text samples were polled from slightly different mediums, another variable was introduced.

    The Transcript variable represents text samples from a radio or television program, rather than an editorial or essay. The generic model looked like this:. Using robust standard errors, the model was run three times; rotating which ideology was represented by the intercept, for each moral dichotomy and for total morality.

    This was expected because sample collection methods were not truly random. However, F-tests revealed that the heteroskedasticity was largely due to the variance in the nationalist group being significantly larger than that of the conservative and liberal groups. Since the point of the test was to see how the nationalist group differs from liberals and conservatives, this is an observation in and of itself and is discussed below. The regression table below represents the initial model in which the Liberal ideology is represented by the intercept, and the Conservative and Nationalist ideologies are represented by dummy variables.


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    • Additional tables in which the variable represented by the intercept are switched are shown in Appendix 2. These results generally support all three of hypotheses. The Nationalist coefficient associated with total morality is both positive and significant. This supports the assertion that Nationalist opinion leaders are more likely to appeal to morality than Liberals and Conservatives and that White Nationalists support their ideology more frequently with System I, or intuitive, thinking.

      This does not mean that rational cognition does not occur; it merely supports the idea that moral and emotional cognition tend to play a more important role in extremist ideologies than mainstream ones. This quantitatively supports the theory that ethnic partisanship is fundamentally about identity.

      Central to their ideology is their perception of self, and referential others outside of their group. This supports the notion that ethnonationalist ideologies are based on beliefs of ethnic purity.

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