A Natural History of Ethnic Violence
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2017, 256 pages
Book Review published on: March 2, 2018
Matthew Lange, a professor of sociology at McGill University, has authored numerous books, chapters, and articles concerning state building, nationalism, and ethnic violence. Killing Others is his latest effort on the study of ethnic violence. Lange examines and recommends some approaches that may be useful to countries facing ethnic violence in the future.
While he believes rights-based democracies with abundant wealth have a lower level of ethnic violence, he also suggests that the basic nation-state model in use today globally exacerbates ethnic violence through identifying “us” (citizens) from “them” (citizens of other nation states). He suggests changes to the global international structure through multiculturalism, federalism, or consociationalism approaches. These approaches ultimately shift the power-sharing structure of the current nation-state to a more ethnic-focused one. Additionally, he suggests the use of education to overcome perceptions and notions passed from older generations to younger ones. Finally, he believes international bodies can influence nation states, organizations, and individuals implicated in ethnic violence through sanctions imposed to penalize such behavior.
His significant references are multidisciplinary and include those related to social science, history, political science, education, sociology, psychiatry, anthropology, economics, religion, medicine, and behavioral sciences. He combines these disciplines in a logical building-block approach that examines ethnic violence.
The topics discussed include nature versus nurture; early and late modernizer states; impact of modernity on ethnic violence; ethnic consciousness; pluralism; emotional prejudice; ethnic obligations; and states and ethnic violence. The author also includes a projection of the future of ethnic violence. While these are broad topics, they are effectively discussed. His building-block approach leaves one with a better understanding of the causes and drivers of ethnic violence.
He defines many terms, though I would have expected him to include his definition of modernity since it is a large portion of his discussion. Lange seeks to identify the issues concerning why ethnic violence occurs. His conclusion postulates about future of ethnic violence. Lange suggests that, at least for the next decade, ethnic violence will continue. He suggests that in North America and Europe there may be slight increases in ethnic violence, but in the rest of the world, much of which does not have rights-based democracies nor abundant wealth, the risk will remain relatively high.
Killing Others is written at a master’s level and assumes the reader has substantial prior knowledge of the social sciences. It is well researched though not free of difficult language and concepts. I would recommend Killing Others to military professionals and interagency partners for them to gain a better background understanding of the root causes and impacts of some of the social undercurrents above and below the surface in future stability and support operations in which our forces may be involved. Ethnic violence is far more probable when things are going wrong for a society than when things are going well, and military forces are not employed in stability activities when things are going well.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Terrance M. Portman, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas