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Why We Hate You: The Passions of National Identity and Ethnic Violence


Emotion, the key to human motivation, is an integral part of politics. This paper shows how a consideration of emotions contributes to the existing causal theories of ethnic violence. The author begins with a discussion of identity and nation, examining how the concept of national identity has developed over time into a single unitary identity. While identities are in fact fluid, they are treated in politics are if they are immutable. The author examines the connection between emotion and action, as emotions are preconditions for making reasonable choices or prioritizing preferences. Next, the paper covers the history of emotions in political theory, in particular, how emotion is presented in opposition to rationality. In examining various theories of ethnic conflict, Suny shows how ethnic conflict is ultimately about collective action, though the initiative for violence may be located at the top. He examines two recent works in some detail: Stuart Kaufman’s Modern Hatreds (2001) and Roger D. Petersen’s Understanding Ethnic Violence (2002). Four key emotions--fear, hatred, rage, and resentment--play an important role in ethnic conflict. Suny points our the important distinction between anger and hatred. Groups take collective action when their emotions are mobilized, but emotions also play an important role in sustaining social movements. Finally, Suny uses the concepts of resentment and anxiety to explain the genocide against Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, showing the important role of emotions in explaining mass killing.

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