War and the Fate of Democracy: Battlefield Lessons and the Politics of the Exceptional

Professor Ron Krebs (University of Minnesota)



Liberal-democratic institutions suffer amidst insecurity and violence: executive authority grows while checks on the executive wither, rights of due process are set aside, free expression fades, the rule of law is undermined. But the long-run impact of violent conflict on contestation is both more important and less well understood. In contrast to unidirectional arguments—that war sparks a backlash against executive overstepping, or that it casts a long shadow as emergency measures become the “new normal”—I aver that violence and warfare do not produce uniform effects on political institutions and practices and should not feature as the unvarying subjects of a simplistic morality play: sometimes they bolster and sometimes they weaken contestation. Whereas many believe that only high-intensity, long-lasting wars have lasting consequences, I maintain that even limited threats and military campaigns can leave a deep imprint on domestic politics. I argue instead that violence’s effects hinge on narratives of identity and how they collide with or are reinforced by the nation’s experiences on the field of battle. When battlefield experience reinforces narratives of superiority, contestation suffers at home; when it undermines those narratives, contestation is invigorated. I also show that how wars are framed—as total, transformative, or restorative—shapes the terrain of contestation. To illustrate these dynamics, I draw on cross-national evidence, but focus especially on Israel in the half-century since the 1967 war. 


About the speaker: 

Ron Krebs is Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts and Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is the author most recently of Narrative and the Making of US National Security (Cambridge UP, 2015), which received the 2016 Robert L. Jervis and Paul W. Schroeder Best Book Award in International History and Politics and the 2016 Giovanni Sartori Book Award, for the best book developing or applying qualitative methods, from the American Political Science Association. Ron Krebs is co-editor of “Rhetoric & Grand Strategy,” a special issue of Security Studies (2015), co-editor of In War's Wake: International Conflict and the Fate of Liberal Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2010), and author of Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2006). He currently sits on the editorial boards of Security Studies and the Journal of Global Security Studies.

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