How Civil Wars Start: And How To Stop Them

Crown Jan. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593137789. $27. POL SCI
Political scientist Walter (Sch. of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego; Committing to Peace) has authored a solid contribution to the field of conflict studies. Her book’s central objective is to place the potential for violent civil conflict within the United States into a broad comparative context with other nations in conflict. Traditionally, the basis of violent conflict lies in reinforcing social cleavages, and Walter’s innovative account narrates the cumulative impact of recent developments, such as the rise of social media and its role in spreading misinformation, particularly relating to immigration. The author tells how violence clusters in “anocracies”; that is, in regimes in transition from having been more democratic or more authoritarian. Walter shows convincing evidence of the erosion of democracy in the United States and the resulting potential for violence, including her contention that destabilizing change is aggravated by “ethnic entrepreneurs”—a conflict studies term for those who use social media to mobilize fear and grievance. Walter’s scenario for actual civil war is less convincing, but still deeply sobering. The book accomplishes two major objectives: effectively examining authoritarian themes and strategies practiced by some elements in the Republican Party; and suggesting prescriptive polices to arrest the erosion of American democracy. Walter’s use of data and comparative slant should promote serious debate.
VERDICT Highly recommended.
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