Ethnic conflict

“A number of … domestic factors … affect the prospects for ethnic conflict. One problem, as Horowitz and Welsh point out, is the tendency in multi-ethnic societies for political parties to be organized along ethnic lines. When this happens, party affiliations are a reflection of ethnic identity rather than political conviction. Political systems organized along these lines contain few independent voters, individuals who might cast votes for different parties in different elections. Under these circumstances, elections are mere censuses, and minority parties have no chance of winning power. In countries where parties are organized along ethnic lines and where winner-take-all elections are conducted – not uncommon in many parts of the world – democratic forms might be observed, but minorities remain essentially powerless, victims of a ‘tyranny of the majority’.”

Source: Michael E. Brown, “Causes and implications of ethnic conflict”, 87.

So what do Horowitz and Welsh suggest? I bet they would recommend the ever-successful Lebanese “consociational” model. At least the Lebanonese would like to think so!

I wrote on Arend Lijphart’s model of consociational democracy in my research paper on the Lebanese Forces, so I will share:

Entelis points out that consociationalism requires “a high degree of inter-elite cooperation based on the ability to (1) reconcile competing interests and demands of the subcultures, (2) transcend cleavages and cooperate with elites of rival subcultures, (3) accept and work towards the maintenance of the system, and (4) recognize the dangers inherent in a fragmented system.”1 It could be said that none of these four points were realized in the past. The elites of Lebanon 1) failed to reconcile the interests of the sub-cultures, as seen in the fundamental disagreement on the issue of equal representation, as a result they 2) split into two camps, pro-status quo elites and pro-change elites, and 3) effectively brought about the disintegration of the system. Thus the basic elements of Lijphart’s model were violated by the very people who were to be the defenders of the consociational democracy in Lebanon. Hudson summarizes Lijphart’s conditions2 for the successful consociational democracy as follows: 1) Distinct lines of cleavage; 2) A multiple balance of power; 3) Popular attitudes favourable toward a grand coalition; 4) An external threat; 5) Moderate nationalism; 6) Relatively low total load on the system. In fact, these six conditions highlight even more clearly the failure of consociationalism – a failure that is not entirely the fault of the Lebanese zu’ama. Who, or rather, what, is to be blamed for this failure, then? Hudson correctly holds structural changes – and the inability of Lijphart’s model to accommodate these – responsible. For example, support for a grand coalition in the years that led to the build-up of tensions and the eruption of civil war was highly improbable, and views diverged on what constituted an “external threat” and what position and ideology was akin to nationalism, let alone “moderate nationalism”. Moreover, Lebanon is geographically located in a conflict zone, and as such the total load on the system is bound to be high. Lebanon’s cultural and religious diversity has created an identity crisis and stalled the formation of the nation-state, in favour of the consolidation of supra-state identities. Coupled with the consociational model, which is more or less a status quo system of governance and thus unable to deal with the growing pressures of social mobilization and modernization, it has led to immense conflict and much destruction. Arguably, it is also consociationalism that renders the concept of a Lebanese foreign policy and economic and social reform irrelevant, given that these require inter-communal agreement.3


[1] Entelis, John P. Pluralism and Party Transformation in Lebanon: Al-Kata’ib, 1936-1970. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974) 2.

[2] Hudson, Michael C. “The Lebanese Crisis: The Limits of Consociational Democracy,” Journal of Palestine Studies. 5.3/4 (Spring – Summer 1976): 112.

[3] Crow, Ralph E. “Religious Sectarianism in the Lebanese Political System.” The Journal of Politics. 24.3 (August 1962): 513.

It is ironic that the only parties that actually do not fit into the assumptions of Horowitz and Welsh (although admittedly the authors do not absolutely dismiss their existence) [that in multi-ethnic societies political parties are organized along ethnic lines] are – you guessed it – communist and Marxist parties.


4 responses to “Ethnic conflict

  1. Hey are you talking about Shale Horowitz? Cause if you are, I met him past Thursday he came and spoke to a group of us here at school and we talked of ethnic conflicts and Karabakh and Armenia for the longest time and he had some interesting comments. He is a good friend of my prof. Cheers!

  2. Hello Artyom,

    No actually, it is not Shale Horowitz, the one in the article is Donald Horowitz.

    Never heard of a Shale Horowitz. Interesting though. 🙂

  3. He writes on international Human Rights in transitional societies. check him out. interesting guy.

  4. This guy?

    Interesting. I should check out some his works in scholarly journals.

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