5,0 van 5 sterren
Insightful analysis grounded in both theory and field experience
Beoordeeld in de Verenigde Staten 🇺🇸 op 3 mei 2022
Preventing war and violence, if it’s not the top concern, has to rank among the most important problems facing humanity. As those in the throes of war will tell you, there is no greater freedom than the freedom from violence. Learning how to prevent it, then, or how to elect the leaders who can, should remain a top priority for everyone.
The stakes are high. We can’t afford to get the causes of war wrong because, if we do, the proposed solutions won’t work. And yet that is exactly what happens, time and time again. War, like any complex social phenomenon, resists a simple narrative, and yet if there is anything humans are consistently good at, it’s providing simple narratives. We blame wars on villains, oversimplified scenarios, or just invented conspiracies. But it’s never that simple.
Chris Blattman—an economist and political scientist who studies global conflict, crime, and poverty—resists this tendency towards oversimplification at every turn. Having studied prolonged violent conflicts between groups—whether it be gang violence, civil wars, or wars between nations—he knows how difficult war can be to explain, and to prevent.
Fortunately, for most people, most of the time, peace is the normal state of affairs. As Blattman explains, the costs of violent conflict almost always compel groups to compromise. Successful societies accomplish this all the time. You probably live in one, and you probably don’t spend too much time worrying about war breaking out.
But when war does break out, it is rarely for any single reason—it’s usually the result of complex factors all interacting to collectively decrease the perceived costs of war and increase the incentives to fight. In fact, Blattman identifies five such factors. To the degree that the five factors or causes of war are present, the risk of war increases. The flip side is that, to the degree we can manage the five causes of war, we can likewise mitigate the risks of conflict breaking out (this is obviously much easier said than done).
Normally, war is too costly for either side to pursue, and the incentive is to compromise peacefully, with the weaker side willingly taking less (but achieving more than they would win by fighting). The calculus changes, however, in certain scenarios.
According to Blattman, there are five reasons one side might initiate war, despite the costs: 1) unchecked leaders can benefit from war while being shielded from its costs, 2) ideologies can compel people to fight despite the costs (e.g., religious conflict), 3) uncertainty regarding the relative strength of an opponent can compel one side to test the waters or call a bluff, 4) commitment problems can compel an adversary to attack an enemy before the enemy grows stronger in the future, and 5) misperceptions can distort an adversary’s perceptions of the intentions of an enemy.
War results from a combination of these factors, and Blattman discusses several examples of how various conflicts throughout history can be explained in these terms. The end result is that the reader will be equipped with a much more sophisticated toolkit when assessing the causes of conflict, past and present.
The final part of the book considers the paths to peace, which, unsurprisingly, work to mitigate the five causes of war. Checks and balances on power, rules and enforcement, and democratic institutions and voting top the list, as these procedures collectively reduce the risk of a nation falling victim to an unchecked ruler. As the philosopher Karl Popper said, democracy is the ideal system not because it necessarily selects the best, strongest leaders, but that it provides a mechanism for removing the worst leaders, leaders who would sacrifice the well-being of the population at large for their own personal gain.
The other key to peace is interdependence. Societies that are dependent on each other economically and socially rarely go to war, as the costs would be too high. You don’t attack your enemy when your enemy provides economic benefits for you, just as you don’t demonize and attack the people you work or live with. It’s true that pluralism can create conflict as the result of different worldviews placed in competition with one another, but this rarely turns into violent civil war in integrated democracies.
On a final note, since we want our politicians to create stability and peace, this book not only outlines the causes of war and peace, but also outlines the manner in which we should elect politicians. Following the political philosophy of Karl Popper, Blattman recommends treating politics more like science by trying to improve society in incremental steps that can be tested, rather than by instituting grand sweeping plans that fulfill some utopian vision. We should be wary of any politician that proclaims that they alone can fix complex social problems, and, frankly, if we vote for them anyway, we probably deserve them.
The bottom line: Buy this book to have a deeper understanding of the causes of war and the paths to peace and stability, and to develop a more sophisticated toolkit for the evaluation of political candidates and policy decisions.
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