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An Unforgetting Wrath: Dynastic Conflicts, Vendetta Politics, and Civil War Violence

  • Author(s): Gardner, Joseph
  • Advisor(s): Weber, Steven
  • et al.

This dissertation analyzes the impact of dynasticism on contemporary political violence. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, I seek to demonstrate that high levels of dynasticism and kinship-centered politics increase a state’s vulnerability to large-scale outbreaks of civil war violence.

In my first chapter, I briefly review two current strands of political science research: analyses of the causes and contributors of civil wars, and the much smaller literature on the influence of dynasticism on contemporary politics. I then synthesize these research agendas to argue that political systems heavily shaped by kinship and dynasticism may be particularly prone to feuding and vendettas between political elites. I further hypothesize that this feuding culture can in turn increase a heavily dynastic state’s vulnerability to broader civil war conflicts.

In my second chapter, I elaborate on the theoretical mechanisms underlying this hypothesis. I combine insights from research into ethnic violence with a widespread review of kinship literature drawn from other social science fields such as anthropology, sociology, economics, and psychology. I show that the three main theoretical approaches emphasized in the ethnic conflict literature (essentialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism) can also be applied to the smaller scale of kinship-based conflict and explore the potential implications of each theoretical approach.

In my third chapter, I rely on the detailed genealogical and conflict records surrounding the dynastic relations of early modern European monarchies to test the effectiveness of each theoretical lens. Based on a statistical analysis of the correlation between relatedness and the likelihood of wars between monarchs, I argue that wars between monarchs were primarily shaped by social expectations regarding which kin merited loyalty and which constituted untrustworthy inheritance threats. From this, I conclude that a constructivist approach focusing on cultural norms and kin identities is likely to most effectively capture the causes of kinship-based conflict.

In my fourth chapter, I extend my analysis into the present day through a case study of dynastic politics in the Philippines and its relationship with that country’s ongoing civil war conflicts. I statistically analyze the correlation between the prevalence of dynasticism among each Philippine province’s elected officials, on the one hand, with sub-state variation in civil war conflict onsets, on the other. I find a significant positive relationship between increased conflict and the polarization of political offices between competing dynasties in a province. I conclude that this evidence is consistent with the theory that provinces split between competing dynastic elites tend to see this conflict spill over into civil war incidents through competing dynasties’ destabilizing political feuds.

In my fifth chapter, I test whether the relationship between kinship and political conflict can be generalized beyond the Philippines. I use consanguineous marriage, the practice of endogamously marrying cousins or other close relatives, as a proxy for the type of strong kinship-focused traditions associated with dynasticism. Using country-level estimates of consanguineous marriage rates and civil war onset data, I find a positive correlation between higher rates of consanguinity and civil war. After eliminating possible alternative explanations, I conclude that there is evidence supporting the theory that particular kinship practices are associated with heightened civil war in a wide variety of countries today.

In my final chapter, I address the salience and importance of this insight for future research and policy planning. I begin with a qualitative case study of the ongoing Yemeni Crisis. Through this case, I show how kinship politics at the heart of the Saleh regime has exacerbated and promoted the country’s ongoing civil war. Through this case, I demonstrate that the politics of dynasticism can play a central role in provoking a modern civil war. I conclude with a discussion regarding how academics and policymakers might better understand and address the importance of kinship and its complex relationship with political violence today.

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