Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Rise of Political Sectarianism

Actually, this is just new and even more dramatic terminology for our growing domestic cold war and political polarization.

It's Thomas Edsall, a tried-and-true leftist, at NYT, "America, We Have a Problem":

Viewing recent events through a Trump prism may be too restrictive to capture the economic, social and cultural turmoil that has grown more corrosive in recent years.

On Oct. 30, a group of 15 eminent scholars (several of whom I also got a chance to talk to) published an essay — “Political Sectarianism in America” — arguing that the antagonism between left and right has become so intense that words and phrases like “affective polarization” and “tribalism” were no longer sufficient to capture the level of partisan hostility.

“The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement,” the authors write, requiring the development of “a superordinate construct, political sectarianism — the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.”

Political sectarianism, they argue,
consists of three core ingredients: othering — the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion — the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization — the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.
There are multiple adverse outcomes that result from political sectarianism, according to the authors. It “incentivizes politicians to adopt antidemocratic tactics when pursuing electoral or political victories” since their supporters will justify such norm violation because “the consequences of having the vile opposition win the election are catastrophic.”

Political sectarianism also legitimates
a willingness to inflict collateral damage in pursuit of political goals and to view copartisans who compromise as apostates. As political sectarianism has surged in recent years, so too has support for violent tactics.
In a parallel line of analysis, Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and Peter Turchin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, contend that a combination of economic and demographic trends point to growing political upheaval. Events of the last six weeks have lent credibility to their research: On Sept. 10, they published an essay, “Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties,’” making the case that the United States is “heading toward the highest level of vulnerability to political crisis seen in this country in over a hundred years.” There is, they wrote, “plenty of dangerous tinder piled up, and any spark could generate an inferno.”

Goldstone and Turchin do not believe that doomsday is inevitable. They cite previous examples of countries reversing downward trends, including the United States during the Great Depression:
To be sure, the path back to a strong, united and inclusive America will not be easy or short. But a clear pathway does exist, involving a shift of leadership, a focus on compromise and responding to the world as it is, rather than trying desperately to hang on to or restore a bygone era.
The Goldstone-Turchin argument is based on a measure called a “political stress indicator,” developed by Goldstone in his 1991 book, “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World.” According to Goldstone, the measure “predicted the 1640s Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.”

Goldstone wrote that
popular mobilization is more likely when the population is experiencing declining material conditions, plus urbanization and youth; when social competition for elite positions become heightened, political polarization and factionalism will be more likely as groups struggle for power and positions; and when state expenses fall behind revenues, as states become less capable of meeting expected demands and thus less legitimate, as well as more likely to enter conflicts with elites over taxation. And I argued that only when all of these factors coincide does a state face rising risks of major upheavals.
Turchin, in a 2017 book, “Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History,” graphed political stress in this country, showing that from 1970 to 2012 it shot up sharply, increasing fortyfold. In the eight years since then, stress has continued to surge, Goldstone wrote, “as income inequality, political polarization and state debt have all risen further.”

While the United States is particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval, Turchin argues, a disaster “is not foreordained. On the contrary, we may be the first society that is capable of perceiving, if dimly, the deep structural forces pushing us to the brink.”
There's still more at top, but here are links to a couple of those research pieces, "Political Sectarianism in America," and "Welcome to the 'Turbulent Twenties'."