This chapter was prepared for inclusion in Jose V. Ciprut, Editor,
Fears and Foes:
Complex Interactions of Insecurity in an Evolving Global Political Economy.
Please do not cite or quote without permission of the author.
KEY TERMS: anaspora, democratization, diaspora, ethnic cleavage, ethnic diversity, ethnic nation, ethnic plurality, industrial empire, industrialization, migration, modern ethnicity, modern state, modernity, modernization, multi-culturalism, national state, nationalism, state, state nation
A widely accepted myth blinds us to the true nature of contemporary ethnic controversies as an
escalating modern problem -- instead, we tend to be puzzled by the apparent revival of an ancient
non-modern phenomenon that, we thought, would be erased by the processes of modernity. The
reverse scenario is surely more valid: non-modern societies, although culturally mixed, did not
face serious ethnic controversies as such. Instead, viewing multi-cultural contacts in terms of
ethnic relations and nationalism is a modern phenomenon.
A Myth. A recent essay entitled "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict" supports this view. Its author, John R. Bowen, rejects as a myth the notion that contemporary ethnonational conflicts are rooted in age-old inter-ethnic rivalries, that "ethnic groups lie in wait for one another, nourishing age-old hatreds and restrained only by powerful states. Remove the lid, and the caldron boils over" (Bowen, 1996: 3). I agree that this notion needs to be rejected.
However, we also need to understand that modern ethnicity exploits such myths. Bowen recognizes that "global ethnic conflict" is a growing reality, but he attributes it to leaders who are able to mobilize followers to help them cope with contemporary issues. No doubt, there is some truth in this explanation, but we need to see the phenomenon in greater historical depth. Indeed, we must go back several centuries to find a better explanation.
Bowen's use of the term, "ethnic conflict," is also misleading. It suggests that ethnicity causes conflicts. I doubt that is true -- instead, many different kinds of conflict are seen today as "ethnic" when, in fact, they mask other problems, a fact that some other authors have recognized. For example, Stephen Ryan writes: "ethnic conflict...refers to the form the conflict takes, and is not meant to suggest that ethnicity is the cause of the conflict." Among these causes he mentions expulsion from power, a sense of injustice, and fears that one's identity is threatened (Ryan 1990: p.xvii). The term, "ethnic conflict" is also misleading insofar as it implies conflicts between ethnic communities. In the modern context, the most fearsome ethnic conflicts involve clashes between states and ethnonational movements. Actually, Bowen acknowledges that most contemporary inter-ethnic relations are non-violent and many, indeed, are harmonious, but he fails to identify the specific forms of modern ethnicity that lead to the most dangerous conflicts.
Although modern inter-ethnic relations often produce tensions, the most violent and devastating forms arise when members of an ethnic community claim sovereignty on the basis of self-determination, either to reunite a divided nation or to secede from an existing state. Such claims produce tensions in any state, including the most democratic, but their most violent results occur in states that are authoritarian but weak. Strong authoritarian regimes can suppress dissent but weak ones cannot solve the most basic problems of governance, creating large areas of anarchy in which both the motives and the opportunities for violent protests prevail.
These conditions have become particularly widespread in the successor states of the modern industrial empires, i.e. in the "third" and "second" world. However, the "first" world is not immune. Laurie Rhodebeck makes this point in her summation of a book of essays comparing the status and prospects of ethnic minorities in the industrialized democracies. She concludes that, "Ethnic minorities currently participate in economic and/or political markets as disadvantaged actors... the intervention of the state and government in ethnic conflict is not always productive or benign... and such conflict will not significantly abate in the foreseeable future" (Rhodebeck, 1992: p. 279). However, the existence or even the growth of conflicts rooted in ethnic diversity, throughout the world, does not contradict the fact that a great deal of inter-ethnic integration and harmony exists and will increase, especially in the industrialized democracies.
Without exaggerating the importance of the Bowen article, it does usefully highlight some important differences between my understandings of ethnic conflict and his which are widely shared by many current writers, making references to his essay a useful gambit. I emphasize the historical context of modernity as the basis for ethnic nationalism, whereas the most prevalent interpretations view ethnic conflict as a pre-modern phenomenon whose contemporary manifestations have simply become more visible since the end of the Cold War reduced the influence of the superpowers and enabled local conflicts to surface. This is not to claim that no others have recognized the links between modernity and nationalism -- see, for example, works by Ernest Gellner (1983) who did see this connection.
On many points, I should add, Bowen's approach and mine are fully compatible. He points out, for example, that each local controversy has its own distinctive features. When we look at specific situations, like that in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Cyprus, the Basques in Spain and the revolutionary movement centered in Chiapas, Mexico, we can easily see that each of them has its own unique history and configuration.
The uniqueness of each case, however, should not obscure the shared features of many
contemporary situations in which politicized communal groups contend with each other or, more
often, with states. Details can be found in Gurr (1993). He claims that "Nearly three-quarters of
the 127 largest countries in the world had at least one politicized minority in 1990... 233 groups in
1990 had an estimated 915 million members, 17.3 percent of the global population." They are all
listed in his book's appendix where they are classified as: ethnonationalists, indigenous peoples,
ethnoclasses, militant sects, and communal contenders (Gurr, 1993: pp. 10, 326). Gurr uses
ethno-political as a generic term for all these communities -- his updated data can be found on his
Web Page: MAR
THE PARA-MODERN. To explain the rise of ethnonationalist violence we need an understanding of the global forces that have produced, during the last few centuries, our contemporary predicament. They long antedate the "Cold War" but they are distinctively modern -- or para-modern, as I would rather call them. Admittedly, this term is a neologism. I offer it as a convenient way to focus on the negative side-effects of modernity. They are the aspects of modernity that we abhore: they involve all its adverse consequences, including the mounting ethnic cleavages that provoke local violence driven by rising ethnonationalist movements. Anyone who rejects the neologism, may substitute the phrase, negative side-effects of modernity -- it means the same thing. I use the shorter term because it is succinct and highlights the aspects of modernity we would rather ignore or blame on non-modern survivals. The concept is important, not the term which can be replaced by any other that means the same thing.
The point to remember is that contemporary ethnic controversies are truly modern. Since we hate
to recognize the unwanted results of modernization, we would rather attribute them to the past, to
hateful residues of "traditional" or "pre-modern" ways of acting and thinking -- that's why the
myth of primordialism persists. To recognize the negative side-effects of modernity is to confront
a nemesis, to acknowledge the unavoidable consequence of our most vaunted achievements.
Somehow, this threatens us, creating unacceptable self-indictments and despair, a menace to our
self-esteem. In order to understand the modernity of ethnic conflicts, we need to recognize that,
although multi-culturalism is an ancient phenomenon, ethnicity was rarely the focus of conflict in
non-modern environments. Modernity has only recently pushed it to the forefront of our
consciousness and made it a pretext for the increasingly violent conflicts that now plague the
Cultural Mixing. All civilizations, going back for thousands of years, have been multi-cultural in the sense that peoples with different cultural heritages have co-existed and experienced acculturation. No doubt, primordial societies were mono-cultural, as described in many case studies by social anthropologists. However, population movements, and especially trade and urbanization, brought peoples with different cultural practices into contact with each other long ago, generating multi-cultural relationships as the norm in pre-modern civilizations. In these contexts, cultural changes occurred as peoples in contact interacted with and influenced each other, sometimes assimilating and changing their cultures, and often becoming involved in conflicts based on economic, social, political and other differences. However, they did not explain these conflicts in terms of ethnicity, nor would they have sought relief through ethnic nationalism or self-determination movements.
No doubt, as kingdoms and empires arose in traditional civilizations, ethnic differences were exploited by rulers but they rarely became a focus for organized competition and conflicts. When one people conquered another, they sometimes established systems of stratification that produced dominant elites and their subordinates, often followed by conflicts between masters and slaves (subjects). Caste relationships became ritualized as each caste enforced/accepted traditionally legitimized rules of conduct. Those living on the margins of an expanding civilization fled to new lands, retreated to inaccessible safe havens or accepted assimilation, but they did not conceptualize their intercultural relationships in terms of ethnicity. No doubt they often contrasted civilized folks with barbarians, believers with infidels, or settled with nomadic peoples. Paradoxically, ethnicos, in its original Greek usage, identified members of one's own community. Gradually, the word evolved into a term for outsiders: the heathen, infidels, barbarians, or foreigners.
In the mode of hierarchic ascriptive social relations and beliefs in supernatural forces, marginalized communities typically accepted their fate (karma) and made the best of whatever opportunities came their way -- they could not use cultural differences as a pretext for organizing liberation movements or rebellions. Slave revolts were uncommon, but when they did occur, slaves rebelled against oppressive masters, not as a mobilized racial or cultural community -- indeed, most slaves were a mixture of peoples linked by their oppression rather than ethnic identity. The Marxian slogan, "workers of the world, unite!" relied on class, not ethnic, solidarity. Kings often mobilized soldiers to fight for them although they were culturally different from most of their subjects -- sometimes, indeed, they relied on foreigners to support their rule when culturally homogeneous subjects were rebellious. They conceptualized their conflicts with rival rulers in terms of different gods or territorial claims, but not their cultural or national identities.
Multi-culturalism in non-modern environments, therefore, involved social distinctions not based
on ethnic differentiation -- different cultural communities, socio-political strata and economic
classes co-existed or fought each other, but not in order to assimilate minorities or to win their
independence as nation states. The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt might be viewed as an
exception, but even there, we probably just superimpose our own ethnic categories on a
community whose members sought escape from slavery under their religious leaders and faith in
Jehovah. In general, the wars, revolts and conflicts found in non-modern environments involved
rival elites, struggles against tyrants, nomads conquering settled peoples, and other causes but
they were not conceptualized as ethnic struggles, nor were their fault-lines based on cultural
Modernity. By contrast, modernity has elevated ethnic identity and nationalism into a rationale for socio-political protest and action. By modernity I refer to a way of life based on three interactive components: industrialism, democracy and nationalism. Non-modern values and practices persist to the present day in all societies, and many contemporary societies are more non-modern than modern, but modernity has generated widespread ethnic cleavages for reasons to be explained here.
Unfortunately, "modern" is often used to mean "contemporary" but the two concepts need to be clearly distinguished: in a temporal sense, everyone on earth today is a contemporary, but in terms of life style and values, many contemporaries are more non-modern ("traditional") in outlook than they are modern. Of course, no sharp lines can be drawn: every living person has felt the impact of modernity to some degree. This is even true for those who consider themselves quite traditional in a religious sense -- they cling to ancient practices and beliefs rooted in family, organic solidarity and supernatural forces. The most truly traditional religious communities, like the Amish and Orthodox Old Believers are quite non-political insofar as they ask only to be left alone and avoid making use of modern technology.
By contrast, neo-traditional religious communities are strongly influenced by modernity as shown by their use of the mass media, their accumulation of wealth, the organization of political parties and sponsorship of revolutionary protests. Actually, the rise of neo-traditionalist movements (often called "fundamentalist") is a protest against the negative effects of modernity, i.e. the para-modern. Although ethnic nationalism may, in some instances, be associated with neo-traditionalism, more often it promotes fundamental ch allenges against the established order as seen in the Shiah led revolution against the Shah's regime in Iran or the current violence in Algeria. The same forces buttress the current regime in Iran and resurgent militant Islamism in the Sudan. In democratic countries, neo-traditionalism often takes on the forms of non-violent partisan politics or even of interest group extremism. It is surely an error to equate any form of religious neo-traditionalism with ethnic nationalism.
Of course, many ethnonational movements do have a religious dimension, but it is not necessarily traditionalist. Zionism as a movement among diaspora Jews to reconstitute Israel was based on a coalition that included extreme Orthodoxy mingled with all other shades of Jewish faith and even some militant agnostics and atheists. Ethnic nationalism among Sikhs in India links fiercely neo-traditional sentiments with nationalist goals promoted by highly secularized supporters. The Catholicism of Republican activists and the Protestantism of the Unionists in Northern Ireland reflect religious views that are not necessarily traditionalist. Indeed, it is difficult to find a religious community whose neo-traditionalism provides the foundation for an ethnonationalist movement -- Shiah militants in Lebanon might be an exception, but even there, the community is mainly an ethnoclass, more like the Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland or Hispanic Catholics of the American Southwest.
The terms, traditional and modern often mean past and present, but here I use these words only
to contrast life styles or form of organization and technology. In America, the traditionalism of
the Amish is quite contemporary, as is the neo-traditionalism of the Christian Coalition.
Modernity is not necessarily contemporary -- it started several centuries ago (perhaps three, at
least) and its influence today has become global, re-shaping many ancient life ways including, as
noted above, quite traditional religious beliefs and practices. Cultural mixing prevailed in all
ancient cities and civilizations -- in our times, however, it has evolved into the very self-conscious
ethnic identities that are now generating specifically modern forms of political and social conflict.
Modern Ethnicity. Two modern forms of ethnicity -- involving diversity and cleavage -- will be discussed here. They differ significantly from earlier forms of multi-culturalism (ethnic differentiation) and each has a distinctive set of causes and problems. Both forms are predicated on the emergence of the modern state, as it has evolved in the post-Westphalian era, i.e. since the mid-seventeenth century. Modern states stress citizenship for everyone living within their borders, giving rise to notions of national identity and democracy. They were powered by industrialization, a product of growing bourgeois power which enabled capitalists to assure legal protection for their investments and, in some countries, to create industrial empires. Both forms of modern ethnicity are shaped by the relations of individuals to the state:
Ethnic diversity occurs when persons with different cultural traditions wish to become citizens of the state where they live, usually accepting the ideal of a "national state" in which all citizens share a common nationality. This form of ethnicity is civic: although prejudice and violence often mar the relationships typical of civic ethnicity, they can also evolve into congenial co-existence.
Ethnic cleavages, by contrast, involve situations in which one or more ethnic community within a state rejects citizenship and claims separate sovereignty, relying on the principles of "self-determination." Activists seek to mobilize members of their cultural community under the slogans of ethnic nationalism. Although the core members of an ethnic nation often live in an ancient homeland, many are typically scattered outside that domain in diaspora -- some of them even assume leading positions in a struggle to establish (or re-establish) their own national state.
In order to understand the origins of modern ethnicity -- as expressed in diversity, cleavages and
plurality -- we need to consider the three basic forces of modernity: industrialism, democracy
and nationalism. They are like strands in a rope: each has its own history and characteristics.
When twisted together, they create the basis for modern states to evolve. Concurrently, they
generate the context for modern ethnicity. They have evolved almost simultaneously and
reinforced each other -- it makes no sense to ask which came first or caused the others. We could
discuss them in any order, but I will discuss them in the sequence mentioned above.
Industrialization. Historically speaking, capitalism played a fundamental role in the rise of industrialism, but the two phenomena are different. Capitalism has existed for millennia among traders and in market cities throughout the world and it is not specifically modern (Curtin, 1984). However, capitalists made the Industrial Revolution possible after they had gained enough political power to safeguard costly investments which were normally vulnerable to confiscation by greedy tyrants. No doubt this transformation had many causes, but a decisive factor was the ambition of state-building the kings who wanted mercantilist partners in order to finance their inter-state wars after the treaty of Westphalia brought the feudal age to an end. It was, I believe, the political empowerment of capitalists (the bourgeoisie) during the period of mercantilism that permitted industrialism to emerge.
Subsequently, however, industrialism gained a life of its own and it now spreads in modern states with or without capitalism, as state and private enterprise mingle in varying proportions. The technological achievements of modernity, including modern science and university-based research, are products of industrialism that could not have been produced by pre-industrial capitalists. They are universally valued, even in countries that are unable to support industrial production (See Polanyi, 1957; Riggs, 1994).
Traditionally, capitalists were members of ethnic minorities and were politically marginalized -- the phenomenon has often been described but, I believe, its full significance has not been appreciated -- see, for example, Zenner (1991). They were not merchants because of their minority status: rather, their economic priorities marginalized them in societies where power, land and righteousness were more highly prized than acquisitiveness. Those with energy and ambition who lacked the elite values could engage only in low status occupations and these occupations condemned them to an insecure low status. More specifically, traders with external connections and the ability to import precious goods could use this advantage to acquire wealth provided they accepted the non-threatening status of outsiders and were able to flee when rulers oppressed them. No doubt some could and did assimilate, but that usually involved abandoning trade and accepting the values of ruling elites. Those who could not or refused to assimilate, remained politically marginalized as outsiders. The fact that they were culturally different from politically dominant groups was both a cause and a consequence of their commercial activities.
The evolution to modernity involved a fundamental transformation based on the pivotal role of
empowered capitalists able to collaborate with ambitious rulers. When, under the conditions that
evolved in Western Europe after the 17th century, entrepreneurs and inventors gained power and
also remained capitalists, their ethnic particularism gave way to bourgeois nationalism. As a
result, they activated the struggle for democracy and led the Industrial Revolution, two
interdependent processes. To recognize the pivotal role of European merchants, however, is not
to equate capitalism with modernity -- they made industrialization possible, but the product
became much more than the cause, as I have explained in more detail elsewhere (Riggs, 1994).
Industrial Empires. Industrialization not only contributed to democracy and nationalism, but it also drove certain modern states to become empires. Each such empire expanded its industrial base by gaining secure access to larger markets and sources of raw materials. The mass production of consumer goods also enabled non-capitalist elites to acquire more of the treasured products of Asian civilizations -- cotton, silk, chinaware, spices, and a host of other valuables -- that they had hitherto been able to acquire only by paying for them with precious metals (gold and silver) or such raw materials as opium, sandalwood and ginseng. This world-system aspect of the rise of modernity is largely ignored in Eurocentric accounts of the Industrial Revolution yet it was a basic cause of modern imperialism and the rise of ethnic nationalism.
Industrialism not only drove the rise of modern imperialism, however. It also led to growing conflicts between the industrial empires, culminating in the "Cold War" between the two major superpowers who survived the devastation of World Wars I and II. The contemporary world situation can best be understood, I think, as a result of the rise of these modern empires, their prolonged and violent wars, and their final collapse.
The collapse of the empires, of course, did not bring the end of industrialism. Indeed, the successor states that emerged on the ashes of the collapsed industrial empires were determined to secure the benefits of industrialism for themselves, whether or not they had the capacity to sustain modern processes of production. Development and modernity were equated with economic growth as a universal dream. However, many obstacles created by imperialism blocked industrialization in most of the successor states of the collapsed empires.
Among them, consider the ethnic consequences of imperial conquests: many tribes were mixed together in the new states and some ethnic nations were divided between different states. Moreover, weak authoritarianism and anarchy (i.e. rule by despots who cannot control their own domains) in many of these successor states provided incentives and opportunities for rival warlords and criminal gangs to thrive. Ambitious but frustrated leaders could organize resistance movements. Anarchy, therefore, motivates ethno-political revolts and legitimizes growing demands for self-determination and sovereignty, or for the re-unification of peoples divided by imperial conquests.
Such ethnic conflicts have inter-state causes and consequences that are not widely recognized by specialists on international relations. Noting this fact, Stephen Ryan has written that "ethnic conflict can have a major impact on the interstate system..." (1996: p.xv). Much of his book, however, is concerned with the benign role of the international system in resolving ethnic conflicts and protecting minorities (pp. 119-173). Unfortunately, he does not explain how the modern inter-state system, centered on the ambitions of rival empires, created the context in which ethnonational conflicts have now emerged as a salient problem in world affairs. Moreover, he fails to discuss the influence of diaspora communities in world politics, an aspect that deserves much more attention than it has so far received. Unfortunately, this dimension of modernity is complex and important but it cannot be covered here.
Another dimension of industrialism that contributes to the violence of ethnonationalist revolts stems from the goods and services it provides. The mass production and distribution of weapons of deadly violence arms both terrorists and ethnonationalists. Industrialism also created new means of communication, including the INTERNET, that now facilitate the organization of resistance movements and authoritarian regimes. It produced new modes of large-scale organization available to private associations and political parties as well as to states, multi-national corporations and ethnonational movements.
New means of transportation permit the long-distance migration of laborers and entrepreneurs as
well as the transportation of manufactures and raw materials. All of these products of
industrialism reinforce and facilitate the rise and revolts of ethnic nationalists. They are
parameters that made ethnic nationalism possible. By themselves, however, they do not "cause"
or "determine" this outcome. The supply of assault weapons does not compel anyone to use them
-- but their availability enables rebels to use deadly force. A fuller explanation requires that we
now look at the other major dimensions of modernity: democracy and nationalism.
Democracy. The most important rationale for the emergence of modern ethnicity may be the unintended consequence of democratization. When monarchic authoritarianism was replaced by democratic populism, notions of human equality informed electoral practices that empowered citizens. The same transformation also angered subjects who felt betrayed because promises of empowerment had led, instead, to the realities of marginalization and oppression. From its earliest beginnings, the positive achievements of democratization were counterbalanced by the frustrations born of capitalist oppression and imperialist tyranny. Humiliations and hardships that were stoically tolerated under traditional monarchies became intolerable as democratic values spread.
Ideally speaking, democracies promise to accommodate the needs and just demands of all their peoples. No doubt they succeed when elected representatives respond to the needs of enfranchised citizens, but the same democratic values also spur the mobilization of marginalized peoples, including proletarians and peasants as well as increasingly self-conscious cultural and racial minorities.
So long as sovereignty was vested in kings and emperors whose supernatural powers were thought to bring health, wealth and peace to all peoples under their rule, revolts were viewed as sacrilegious provocations more likely to provoke divine retribution than secure worldly benefits. Traditional hierarchic notions legitimized gross inequities among different cultural communities and castes or classes. They offered no rationale or pretext for self-determination and ethnic nationalism. The shift from monarchism to democracy, by contrast, entailed the acceptance of new equalitarian norms such as those proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal..." This revolutionary doctrine has always clashed with actual practice, but it became an inspiration for marginalized peoples -- if equality was "true," then why were they, quite "self-evidently," so unequal?
As universal suffrage and social mobility progressed, so did the mobilization of oppressed minorities, starting with "proletarians," under socialist/communist leadership, and continuing during the past half-century with feminist, ethnic and racial minorities. The leaders of such movements proclaimed democratic values to justify their protests and demands. In America, the Civil Rights movement -- whose most dramatic moment is epitomized by Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963 -- brought a long delayed, though still incomplete, fruition to this aspiration in America. Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" has been celebrated around the world as a call for marginalized peoples to rise up and demand their rights.
To refer again to Bowen's article, he correctly points out that new social groups identified by "ethnic, religious, or regional categories" were recognized by the colonial powers and given preferential treatment, providing a basis for self identification that subsequently enabled them to "...act in concert, as political groups with common interests... These shared interests have been those of political autonomy, access to education and jobs, and control of local resources. Far from reflecting ancient ethnic or tribal loyalties, their cohesion and action are products of the modern state's demand that people make themselves heard..." (p.7).
These facts are true enough but they focus on the effects of imperialism without recognizing that democratic values were inculcated by the imperial authorities. Modern empires did not create cultural differences that already existed among conquered peoples, but the democratic principles available to their own citizens acquired a new meaning among subjects who asked why they could not enjoy the same rights. Such aspirations informed the liberation movements that won independence for dependencies, and they now inspire ethnic minorities who also claim similar rights for themselves. Democracy, therefore, is both a motivator for ethnic conflicts and a mechanism for resolving them -- a more extended discussion of this thesis can be found in Riggs (1995, and 1997).
Insofar as constitutionalism prevails and states are really democratic, newly mobilizing peoples can use non-violent methods to voice their demands through political parties and elections. By contrast, when weak authoritarians -- especially members of a dominant minority -- seize power, marginalized communities have both the opportunity and motives to use violence. The efforts of feeble dictators to suppress dissent -- using terror, genocide, and police mafias to maintain their rule -- generate a whip-lash response that reinforces dissidence.
Exponents of democracy as a road to justice for oppressed peoples need to see that the rhetoric
and values of democracy, when not realized in practice, provide a rationale for protest
movements. To more fully understand modern ethnicity, however, we need to add the strand of
nationalism to those of democracy and industrialism.
Nationalism. The most overt motivator for contemporary ethnonational movements probably involves nationalism. State elites and intellectuals initially promoted nationalism as a motor for assimilation and nation-building. This goal also appeared to be a requisite for the success of both industrialization and democratization. The evolution of modernity was made possible by state nations able to promote the dream of a national state. Democratic leaders recognized that "majority rule" would be acceptable to minorities only when they saw themselves as members of the nation; and industrialists wanted workers and managers to share the common values that would enable them to coordinate their work in large scale enterprises.
When the need for raw materials and markets of the newly empowered capitalist led to the creation of modern empires, it was not long before the dream of national independence also became the engine for liberation movements and the emergence of today's throng of successor states. Moreover, just as democratization in the motherlands reflected the urge to replace royal with popular sovereignty, so anti-imperial liberation movements linked nationalism and equalitarianism in their drive for self-determination.
Ironically, the leaders of national liberation movements were soon transfigured, in many countries, into dominant minorities viewed by their subjects as oppressors. Bowen recognized this fact. "The colonial powers," he wrote, "realized that, given their small numbers in their dominions, they could effectively govern and exploit only by seeking out 'partners' from among local people" (p.6). He claims that, thereby, they created "firmly bounded 'ethnic groups,'" but he might also have noted that such policies also empowered privileged minorities who often became the rulers of these countries after they were liberated. The former liberators came, in turn, to be perceived as oppressors by newly marginalized majorities who found, to their dismay, that they had escaped exotic masters only to be enthralled by endogenous authoritarians.
These ruling minorities have now become the target of second-generation self- determination
movements designed to partition multi-national states and reunite divided nations. Such protests
and revolts foster ethnic cleavages, alienating marginalized communities whose members mobilize
to demand independence. Without democratic and effective governance, the pre-conditions of
ethnic diversity based on a shared sense of solidarity with the new state fail to materialize.
Overlaps. All three strands of the rope of modernity merge to produce modern ethnicity whose main forms also overlap. We cannot draw a sharp line between diversity and cleavages -- they often interact and reinforce each other. For example, the violence generated by ethnic cleavages often generates torrents of refugees fleeing genocide or "ethnic-cleansing". Some refugees settle as immigrants in a hostland where they can become naturalized citizens, eventually blending into a pattern of ethnic diversity. Looking back to their homelands, however, they may also join externally driven movements to politicize and reinforce ethnic revolts in the countries they fled.
Chauvinistic resistance to immigrant refugees can reinforce their inclination to become activists back home. Thus migrants become accelerators: facing nationalist exclusiveness and prejudice in their hostlands, they become more nationalistic in their homelands. By contrast, democratic acceptance of immigrants that encourages cultural integration in a context of ethnic diversity can mitigate the anger of refugees and diminish their homeland activism.
The dispositions of stay-at-homes can also fluctuate. Consider that persons with different cultural backgrounds who have peacefully coexisted for generations in situations of cultural pluralism may now, under modern pressures, become mobilized and polarized by rival ethnic elites, producing cleavages marked by genocidal attacks -- as we have seen most recently in Bosnia and Rwanda. "Ethnic cleansing" became genocide in the hands of Serb militants, and, as Bowen also points out, the new Croatian regime "moved quickly to define Serbs as second-class citizens, fired Serbs from the police and military, and placed the red-and-white 'checkerboard' of the Nazi-era Ustashe flag in the new Croatian banner" (p.9). Thus political transformations, especially those generated by the collapse of modern empires, can transform civic ethnicity into ethnic nationalism. Efforts by ethnic nationalists to create a national state can also lead to violent repression of minorities.
No doubt the reverse process is also possible and, under the terms of the Dayton accord, with international supervision, the fractured community of Bosnians may, eventually, regain the relative harmony it had before rival Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders tore it to shreds. Everyone is familiar with the sorry Palestinian story -- under Ottoman and British rule, Arab and Jewish subjects coexisted in relative harmony, but the creation of Israel and the flight of Palestinians led to intense confrontations and the bitter struggle that continues today in that embattled land. We all hope that, under the terms of the Oslo accords, peace and justice can be restored, but it will certainly take great patience, courage and tolerance to bring this about.
In Cyprus the clash between Greeks and Turks is essentially modern, following that island's independence from British rule in 1960. No doubt inter-communal tensions are old, but they were accelerated, with armed support and nationalist rhetoric coming from Greece and Turkey, as well as from Cypriot activists on both sides. As the internal partition advanced, members of the Turkish minority moved to the northern reaches of the island and were able, by 1975, to establish a de facto (but still unrecognized) republic. Under the auspices of the United Nations and the European Union, efforts are now being made to heal the breach by some kind of federal arrangement that would again permit Greek and Turkish Cypriots to live together in harmony.
There is no need to say more about these processes that are now the familiar stuff of myriads of press reports and television stories. They have led to the creation of innumerable self-determination movements among conquered or displaced peoples seeking justice and economic opportunity as defined by industrialization, the norms of democracy and, above all, by nationalism.
No doubt the leaders of revolts and protest movements continuously speak to those they hope to
recruit as followers by repeating stories of past injustices and future dreams, hoping thereby to
attract new followers to join their revolts and struggles for equality and new opportunities. That
they should use historic myths based on past glories and injustices (whether real or manufactured)
to support their political aims is understandable. That leaders of ethnic minorities should also
employ incidents of persecution and injustice to mobilize political movements demanding justice
with equal opportunity and sovereignty is quite predictable.
Cleavages Versus Diversity. It is important, I think, to distinguish clearly between two forms of modern ethnicity based on attitudes toward citizenship in a domicile, i.e. the place or country where one lives. This distinction is often fuzzed over. As noted above, ethnic diversity involves people who accept their status as citizens (members) of the state in which they live, whereas the ethnic cleavages arise when a community rejects that identity and demands recognition of sovereignty as an independent or autonomous people. Unfortunately, we often use "diversity" broadly to include both conditions. We do, of course, need a more generic term that covers both concepts. I use multi-culturalism to designate any situation in which communities with different cultural heritages co-exist and interact with each other. Traditionally, as noted above, multi-culturalism involved ethnic differentiation with separate status (niches, functions, socio-economic strata) for different cultural communities in hierarchically structured societies where conflicts between rival groups were typically oriented to non-ethnic criteria. They did not use the rhetoric of ethnicity to explain their conflicts.
For emphasis let me repeat the basic distinction. The forces of modernity (industrialism, democracy and nationalism) have re-constituted relations between members of different cultural communities on the basis of ethnicity, using citizenship and the democratic norm of "self-determination" as root criteria. When multi-culturalism involves peoples who are or wish to become citizens of the country in which they are domiciled, we may speak of ethnic diversity. By contrast, when a community rejects citizenship in their domicile country and demands sovereignty, their alienation produces ethnic cleavages.
To explain this difference, we can see that diversity is typically generated by migrations that bring people with diverse cultural backgrounds together in modern cities and democratic states. Undoubtedly, tensions and misunderstandings co-exist with ethnic diversity but they do not normally generate violence. No doubt there are exceptions in the form of pogroms, genocide, and urban riots directed against minorities and their persecutors. However, these conflicts do not involve nationalist claims for sovereignty. Modern democracies can and should do everything possible to overcome the prejudices and conflicts that generate violence. Like traditional forms of multi-culturalism, ethnic diversity need not become the cause or pretext for sustained violence.
By contrast, violence is a likely though not a necessary consequence of ethnic cleavages: Ryan (1990) writes that "Protracted and violent ethnic conflict can be defined as conflicts between ethnic groups which have been going on for some time, which may appear to be insoluble to the parties caught up in them, and which result in a significant loss of life or in a serious denial of basic human rights" (p.xvii). This assertion identifies a mounting problem but it fails to explain it.
Consider the fact that in some countries, especially those in which democratic institutions prevail, ethnic nationalism can be accommodated without violence. A good example can be found in former Czechoslovakia where non-violent means were found to permit the Slovak people to become an independent state by partitioning an existing state. By contrast, when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan, great violence occurred, but since then, peaceful relations have been established. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was accomplished with relatively little violence, though it was a highly traumatic and long-resisted transformation. In some cases de facto partitions have occurred without fo rmal recognition of the separated nations: Cyprus and Somalia provide examples. Similarly , some divided nations have been united -- Germany, for example. , However, this happened following the collapse of the East German regime. A more dangerous scenario confronts the divided Korean and Chinese peoples: when and if they are reunified, will it be by violence or peaceful negotiation?
Autonomy and Revolts. Administrative autonomy within the boundaries of an existing state is an option that can permit different ethnic nations to co-exist within the same boundaries. In 1980 the Catalans and Basques were granted autonomy through the new Spanish parliamentary constitution under which nineteen autonomous regions are now recognized. Although some Basques continue to fight for independence, Spain seems to have found a good accommodation with its Basque and other national minorities. In the United States, many indigenous peoples have virtual autonomy as self-governing nations -- but in other cases, as in Hawaii, the struggle for sovereignty on behalf of the Hawaiian people has intensified in recent years. Tensions between the Maori people and New Zealand also continue, but in a non-violent way.
Comprehensive data on the ethno-political minorities now struggling for independence or autonomy can be found in the data compiled by Ted Gurr (1993). Almost all of the sustained violence and civil wars based on ethnic nationalism are concentrated in countries where ethnic cleavages can be found. Moreover, as noted above, the existence of cleavages does not always generate violence. Perhaps, overall, there are more non-violent than violent cleavages. All ethnic cleavages could erupt into violence but, if appropriate steps are taken to accommodate the needs and sense of injustice that prevails among ethnic nations, much of this threatening violence can assuredly be prevented.
Democracies are more likely to find non-violent ways to cope with their ethnic cleavages than are
authoritarian regimes. However, among the authoritarian states, there is a wide gap between
those that are firmly governed by a single political party, and those in which weak despotic rule
prevails. In the former, police state disciplines can suppress ethnic nationalism and create a facade
of unity. If and when such a state collapses however -- as happened in the Soviet Union and
Yugoslavia -- ethnic cleavages surface in a way that resembles what has also happened in the
successor states of all the collapsed industrial empires.
Conclusion. To return, again, to the Bowen essay which provided the opening motif for this chapter, let me say that its title, "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict," is true but misleading. Primordial rivalries between different communities do not explain the contemporary increase in violence attributable to ethnicity, but myths about them arm the activists promoting modern ethnic nationalism. It is also wrong to imagine that ethnic conflict has always been a world problem. Although multi-culturalism is indeed ancient, the deep cleavages generated by ethnic nationalism are modern and growing -- its contemporary manifestations in the form of ethnic diversity have become increasingly problematic. These problems have complex explanations and ethnicity is more a symptom than a cause. To understand them, we should take the following considerations into account.
First, modern processes of industrialization, democratization and nationalism have created many post-imperial regimes that cannot satisfy the urgent needs of their national minorities. One tragic consequence has been the rise of ethnic nationalism as a violent force in contemporary world politics. The leaders of ethnonationalist movements often invoke ancient symbols and myths to mobilize their followers: these legends do not explain the movements which are rooted in modernity, but they do help their leaders to mobilize followers, creating deep-seated ethnic cleavages that defy peaceful resolution.
Second, the world today is increasingly crowded with peoples having diverse cultural backgrounds and histories who live peacefully together under conditions of ethnic diversity. Although many frictions arise in these contexts, they normally can be overcome without violent confrontations. To the degree that states are democratic and responsive to the just needs of the peoples living within their boundaries they will, I believe, find non-violent solutions for their ethnic problems, including ways to integrate cultural minorities into the main stream of their political-economies.
Nevertheless, many regimes are so inflexible about their boundaries and un-democratic that they cannot satisfy the legitimate needs of ethnic communities under their rule. The rise of ethnic nationalism and terrorism, therefore, results from the policies of recognized states as much as from the claims of angry minorities for national unification (involving boundary changes) or for self determination (made possible only by secession from an existing state or by grants of autonomy within that state) .
Two major topics relevant to the para-modern context of ethnic nationalism should be added to the discussion in this article of the cleavages (based on ethnic nationalism) and the diversity (based on civic ethnicity) that constitute the most salient forms of modern cultural pluralism. The first of these topics concerns communities formed by colonial migrations ("plural societies") in which many minorities continue to experience prejudice and discrimination but cannot, because of their lack of territory and historical myths, make widely acceptable claims either to a separate national identity or to integration as citizens of the country where they live.
The second arises from the rising tide of migrations -- modernity has generated both the motives and the means for increasingly large numbers of people to migrate and live in diasporas. Although most of them integrate within the societies where they settle, many retain sentimental, economic and political ties with their homelands, leading them to become active in world politics, notably as activists involved in the problems of their original homelands.
Finally, it is an error to think of modern ethnic protests and ethnonational movements as a "revival" or "resurgence" of ancient struggles rooted in historic myths: "global ethnic conflict" is real and increasingly jeopardizes world peace. It opens a new chapter in world politics. Conventional theories of international relations focus on conflicts between rival states and empires -- these conflicts have preoccupied the world for two or three centuries during which the modern state (industrial, democratic, and national) came into being and spawned a half-dozen or so globe-girdling empires whose rivalries were a major factor in the great wars of the past century.
The collapse of these empires in the aftermath of World Wars I and II, and the Cold War has radically transformed the global arena, although our continuing preoccupation with military security and the risk of wars between states scarcely recognizes the new realities. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that in our late-modern era, threats to world peace will increasingly take the form of conflicts between ethnic nations and states rather than between rival states. These tensions will typically involve efforts by mobilized ethnonational communities to achieve sovereignty, whether by secession or autonomy within a state, or by changing state boundaries to permit national reunification. They will rarely involve conflicts between states, or between ethnic communities.
Such ethnonational conflicts are fueled by all the forces of modernity: industrialism, democracy and nationalism. They are and will increasingly become a major concern for the world community of states and their leaders, a generator of global tensions and, perhaps, an incubator for new forms of international organization and public policy, including both humanitarian and military interventions in the most troubled zones of conflict (a more extended discussion of this thesis can be found in Riggs (1996). Increasingly, regional and global organizations will assume functions hitherto monopolized by states, and sub- state entities, both public and private, will also, I think, become more active and important. Thus ethnonational conflicts are not only symptomatic of para-modernity, but they will help to re-shape the modern world.
Modernizers often claim that modernization will bring rationality, the rule of law, economic
growth, democracy and peace with justice for all. It is hard for us to understand or accept the
fact that modernization has also transmuted the ancient logic of multi-culturalism, producing
ethnic nationalism and civil wars, genocide, refugees and embittered diasporas. These are the
cruel fruits of modernity, signs of our para-modern syndrome.
Bowen, J. R. 1996. "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict." Journal of Democracy. 7:4, 3-14.
Curtin, P. D., 1984. Cross-Cultural Trade in World History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gellner, Ernest, 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gurr, Ted Robert, 1993. Minorities at Risk: A Global View of
Ethnopolitical Conflicts. Washington, DC: U.S.Institute of Peace
Press. Updated records available on Web Page:
Polanyi, Karl; Conrad M. Arensberg and Harry W. Pearson, 1957. Trade and Markets in Early Empires. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Rhodebeck, Laurie A., 1992. "Conclusion" in Anthony M. Messina, Luis R. Fraga, Laurie A. Rhodebeck, and Frederick D. Wright, eds., Ethnic and Racial Minorities in Advanced Industrial Democracies. New York: Greenwood Press. pp.279-296.
Riggs, Fred W., 1994. "Ethnonationalism, Industrialism and the Modern State." Third World Quarterly. 15:4, pp. 583-611.
----, 1995. "Ethnonational Rebellions and Viable Constitutionalism." International Political Science Review. 16:14, pp. 375-404.
----, 1996. "Turmoil among Nations." Available on World Wide Web at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/6-tan5a.htm
----, 1997. "Coping with Modernity: Constitutional Implications." Paris: UNESCO, MOST Policy Paper. Available on World Wide Web at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/6-mstza.htm
Ryan, Stephen, 1990. Ethnic Conflict and International Relations. Aldershot: Dartmouth
Zenner, Walter P., 1991. Minorities in the Middle: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.