Capitalism vs. Ethnic Conflict

Ethnicity, as a unit of social aggregation, must be considered among the most base, fundamentally irrational, and anti-intellectual of any to have been devised by man as a standard for association and differentiation. Even the related concept of race, which has been roundly derided throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century as a crude and inexcusable rationale for political action and the use of force, has at least some scientific basis substantiating its metaphysical existence– though its employment as a social identity and as grounds for prejudice are patently irrational. Ethnicity, however, though its advocates and apologists do little to define or argue for it in fully explicit terms, is an epistemologically flawed anti-concept, a “package-deal” of race-plus-tradition: physiology plus language, culture, history, and any incidental feature which its supporters find politically convenient to employ in its promotion.[1] This misintegration of disparate abstractions into a single concept has played to a multiculturalist, politically correct impulse in scholars and the public, relying upon the appearance of something greater than mere racial tribalism to garner undue sympathy or apathy (for an extreme case, see: the vastly different levels of attention and analysis of genocide by Nazism, which explicitly invoked race as its cause for violence, and the Soviet Union, which killed similarly striking numbers of Jews and other minorities through mass slaughter and starvation, with a greater focus on ethnicity).  Due to this same deceptive misintegration, the recognition of ethnic groups as units for political consideration in the design and staffing of a state leads by necessity to irrationality, the non-objective creation and administration of law, the denial of individual rights, and, ironically, the further solidification of the very ethnic divides and conflicts which such systems are designed to mitigate. As a result, a policy of what is popularly known in institutional design as “liberal integrationism”, but could perhaps just as well be termed a policy of “objective neutrality” to ethnic identities, holds exclusive potential for the resolution of ethnic conflict in divided societies.

In modern scholarship on institutional responses to ethnic division, conflict, and post-conflict peacebuilding, the preponderant school of thought– and certainly that featuring some of the most cited and widely revered authors on the topic[2]— is that of accommodationism. As described by McGarry, O’Leary, and Simeon, theories of accommodation “[commend] a legally flexible condominium complex, one that respects historic hybrids, add-ons, multiple architects, and contrarian interior designers, and makes no effort to achieve uniformity in the mansion ensemble.” Accommodation, “promotes dual or multiple public identities, and its proponents advocate equality with institutional respect for differences. They believe that is what is required for the stable management of deep diversity.”[3] Put simply, an accommodationist perspective seeks to endogenize ethnic identities and divisions into the governing structure and framework, whether for the temporal duration of a peacebuilding transition or on a permanent basis. Their rationale for this course of action, as against an integrationist approach: “Where divisions are enduring and deeply divisive accommodationists think attempting integration is likely to be unfair, and likely to fail, especially because it usually means a political choice in favor of one, and usually the largest, community.”[4] Accommodationism possesses three main variants. Though they are often in heated opposition on particulars of design and implementation, they share many of the same ultimate goals and philosophical fundamentals, with specific policy prescriptions and preferred state designs altered to emphasize certain higher-order goals and values prioritized and touted by each: moderation (Centripetalism), preservation of group identity (Multiculturalism), proportionality (Consociationalism), and pluralistic self-determination (Territorial Pluralism). Though each of these variants is flawed and deserving of refutation, to do so is not within the scope of this writing. Rather, by refuting their parent concept– the accommodationist theory– one is able to preempt all subsidiary views, cutting them off prior to fruition.

It is thus necessary to detail precisely what is so deeply flawed in the accommodationist theory itself. As with the concept of ethnicity, which it is designed to address, the problem is fundamentally epistemological. Accommodationism is an avowedly collectivist approach, consisting of treating the ethnic group as the primary political unit of consideration, with its own rights, needs, and desires that are greater than and sometimes divergent from those of its constituent individuals. As with all forms of modern collectivism, it rests upon a Hegelian concept of a greater, intangible social organism, to the exclusion or subjugation of constituent individuals. Considered in this way, it is unsurprising that accommodationism is often seen as inimical to individual rights, as individuals in this framework are fundamentally considered mere pieces of the ethnic whole.

As such philosophical errors invariably presage political calamity, this instance is no different. By endogenizing ethnic groups into the structure of government, accommodationist constitutional designers proverbially remove the blindfold from the statue of Justice, not only solidifying the divides between said groups, but potentially raising the stakes of their conflict, with government serving as a new means to greater control over rivals and of obtaining benefits at their expense.[5] If we recognize the Weberian definition of government as an entity “that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”[6] and we appreciate the centrality of force, explicitly or implicitly, to every function of government, it is made clear that an accommodationist approach cements the ethnic rift by introducing the prize of a claim to legitimized force into what would otherwise (under a liberal integrationist government) be a private, unofficial dispute between parties prohibited by an objective arbiter (the state) from initiating physical force (whether violent or passive, as in the form of discriminatory taxation or statutes) against the other. Ethnic groups introduced into an accommodationist government are not only presented with the opportunity to seek greater power over an institution with the potential to exact concessions from ethnic rivals; they are faced with the knowledge that if they do not engage actively in that competition, they face the prospect of having it wielded against them by their opponents. Individuals will likely, in similar fashion, find that they retain little in the way of political identity and representation outside of the structure of the group and cling ever closer to their ethnic identity in pursuit of the protection and practical benefits that come with it. A system of ethnic accommodation thus has, particularly in the presence of other disruptive factors, the potential to highlight ethnic divisions while herding individuals closer to the ethnic core, as witnessed in the rising claims of underrepresentation and economic disadvantaging of Lebanese Muslims in the lead-up to the Lebanese Civil War and the shift from what some residents described as an indifference to the Christian-Muslim split among the general population to violent divisiveness and a bloody, fifteen-year war. [7]

What of active efforts to gradually dispense with ethnic divisions altogether, as through the methods employed by assimilationists, practiced most notably by France, first in the incorporation of its own regions into a national whole and again during the colonial era, which seek to promote the integration of ethnic groups’ public and private identities? Assimilationists’ view that greater political power, stability, cultural proliferation, and influence can be achieved by the erosion of ethnic identities can be argued with an impressive list of examples throughout history (see: the histories of France, Germany, and Italy, as against neighboring Belgium and Switzerland; Canada as against the United States). However, assimilationism is deficient on two grounds: moral and practical. Morally, assimilationists misconceive of the proper nature of government and, in so doing, advocate the initiation of force by government against its citizens for the achievement of cultural homogeneity. Practically, they fail to recognize the value of competing cultural influences in a liberal culture and its resultant benefit to man. As example, witness the surprise of France in the twentieth century, having always touted French as the “international language”, as English became preeminent in all corners of the globe; meanwhile, the bureaucratic administration of its language by the Academie Francaise has kept the French language limited to roughly 80,000 official words while the laissez-faire English language has long-since soared to well over a million. That the uncontrolled, more adaptive language would grow more diverse is as unsurprising as the fact of its preference as a lingua franca.

Fortunately, the dilemma is not without a solution that is both more effective and more easily administered. By adopting a liberal integrationist model– that is, one that values “the notion of the individual… promote[s] the conditions enabling strong individuals… promote[s] the liberal values of choice and freedom” and  “advocate[s] the idea of careers open to talents, the free market, and political competition to facilitate flourishing individualism”[8], all by pursuing the privatisation of national, ethnic, and cultural differences, constitutional designers need not subject the societies they administer to the sort of contests for power that their accommodationist counterparts would devise. Liberal integrationism rests upon the security of a “liberal public identity”, maintaining a policy of objective neutrality to ethnic or other social groups in public affairs, without indulging in the republican vice of seeking to forcibly eliminate private differences through fusion or acculturation. By retaining the individual as the primary unit of political consideration, the defense of his rights as the sole purpose of government, and objectively written and administered law as the means of achieving it, liberal integrationist framers can progressively neutralize ethnic conflict by refusing to submit the state as both the weapon and the battlefield in what should remain a private cultural and philosophical dispute. Where a state is not imbued with the power to violate the rights of individuals in the name of a collective– whether that of society as a whole, the nation, or an ethnicity– a man’s status as a member of a minority or majority is relegated to the significance of mere cultural trivia.

In order to defend liberal integrationism as an ideal solution to ethnic conflict, one must refute the aforementioned charge that it “is likely to be unfair, and likely to fail, especially because it usually means a political choice in favor of one, and usually the largest, community.” The fundamental error at work in this charge is again on the level of conceptualization, possessing a very limited understanding of the idea of liberalism or, at the very least, applying it inconsistently. True liberalism– that is, a system of governance based upon the defense of individual rights– mandates the full and explicit security of those rights in a formalized and objective Bill of Rights. It views these rights as natural and inherent to individuals, not subject to being voted away by majority will or whim. Practiced consistently, it entails certain implications outside of the strict realm of policy responses to ethnic divisions: the prohibition of the initiation of force by government against its citizens, the defense of the right of individuals to the free expression of political and social views, a full recognition of property rights, and a fundamental separation of government and economics, dispensing with the pressure group contests existent in mixed economies, welfare states, and democratic socialism. That is to say: capitalism.

To be judged rationally, liberal integrationism must be considered within the context of its other philosophically consistent policies. By failing to properly contextualize liberal integrationism within a laissez-faire system of government, what the proponents of this accommodationist objection describe is a hybrid system of liberalism and controls in which the electoral system is ethnically neutral, with parties not explicitly embodying the will of an ethnic group, but in which the state is still empowered with the ability to forcibly redistribute wealth and property “in favor of one, and usually the largest, community.” A capitalist system, however, is not one of pure democracy, but is constrained by an adherence to certain principles of indispensable rights and freedoms. A system that is not so limited is indeed “likely to be unfair, and likely to fail”, but it is also patently illiberal.

Granted: there will be those who simply misconceive in this way of true liberalism and fail to connect liberal integrationism to the corollary policies which would insulate it from the dim fate which they portend for it. However, some of these objections arise on a level of scholarship that should forbid such misjudgments. There will be, among them, those scholars who, viewing it as impractical or immoral, will consider the practice of such consistently liberal politics to be out of the question. Operating on a fundamentally collectivist premise, when they persist in referring to the harm to the “community”, they mean that liberalism prohibits the advantaging of these ethnicities qua ethnicities, qua communities, qua collectives. Where collectivism asserts that a group, by virtue of its aggregation, somehow obtains rights or privileges separate from and greater than that of its constituent individuals, liberalism counters that rights are not additive, but exclusive.  Liberalism disenfranchises the political entity of the group, preventing it from obtaining special privileges by virtue of the fallacy of composition that it perpetrates in forming its collective identity. Though such collectivists would avidly decry it, in terms of both the defense of individual rights and the prevention of interethnic conflict, it is precisely this quality that is the greatest, most moral feature of liberalism and the source of its effectiveness.

Fundamentally, the incorporation of ethnic identities into the structure and practice of the state is incompatible with a respect for and defense of individual rights. To intertwine ethnicity and governance is to bring out the worst potentials in each: to equip a fundamentally irrational social identity predicated upon a tribalist worldview with the dangers of institutionalized force; to subject the one institution wielding a monopoly on the use of force to the non-objectivity of undefined– and indefinable— aggregations of people based solely upon their claim to a grab-bag of genetic and cultural traits. Though moderate accommodationists would likely plead that they mean only to do so in a mild and regulated way, it must be recognized that even mild concessions to irrationality and regulated initiations of force by government against its citizens are incompatible with the principle of individual rights and the requirements of a free and peaceable society.


[1] For a fuller analysis of  “ethnicity” as an epistemologically misintegrated anti-concept, I recommend Rand, Ayn. “Global Balkanization.” 9 Dec. 2012 PDF File. (bit.ly/RoYczJ)

[2] Arend Lijphart (“The Politics of Accommodation”) and Donald Horowitz (“The Architecture of Democracy: Constitutional Design, Conflict Management, and Democracy”), among others.

[3] John McGarry, Brandan O’Leary and Richard Simeon. “Integration or Accommodation? The enduring debate in conflict regulation” in Sujit Choudhry (eds) Constitutional Design for Divided Societies. Oxford University Press. 2008. p. 41

[4] Ibid, p. 53

[5] As examples, see the secessionist violence of 1971 between East and West Pakistan after the enactment of redistributive policies channeling wealth and resources from east to west, as well as secessionist tendencies in Slovenia and Croatia driven by animosities over redistributions being channeled from northern Yugoslavia to the South; for analyses of both, see Eduardo Aleman and Daniel Treisman’s “Fiscal Politics in ‘Ethnically Minded,’ Developing, Federal States: Central Strategies and Secessionist Violence” in Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild (ed) Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy After Civil Wars. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 2005.

[6] Weber, Max. “Politics As A Vocation.” (http://bit.ly/TUzl55)

[7] Malik, Habib C. “Is There Still A Lebanon?” The Middle East Quarterly, Volume IV: Number 4. December 1997. pp. 17-23. (http://www.meforum.org/371/is-there-still-a-lebanon); Kalyvas, Stathis. The Logic of Violence In Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006. pg.

[8] McGarry, O’Leary, and Simeon, p. 47

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3 thoughts on “Capitalism vs. Ethnic Conflict

  1. Would not the classification of taxpayers by income also be considered as an ethnic division? Indeed, that seems to be a major component of the current fiscal cliff spectacle. We need an objectively neutral liberally integrated flat tax.

    1. An ethnic group is characterized by some measure of shared ancestry and culture. To produce public policies with respect to ethnicity, in any fashion, is inherently immorally discriminatory and unquestionably illiberal.

      While the stratification of our tax structure such that it is prejudiced against higher income earners is certainly unjust and ought to be abandoned, it is not related to ethnicity, i.e. race and culture. The Left certainly tries to present it as such, using class as yet another collective identity to exploit while enhancing existing collective divides (e.g. targeting traditionally poorer ethnic groups, and declaring that they are poor because of ethnic/racial discrimination), but the anti-wealth nature of our tax structure is not an ethnic divide.

      The only eventual solution to the inherently immoral nature of taxation is to abolish it, though doing so will be a long process and we must work gradually, and so a flat tax would be more ideal relative to our current one.

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