CREDIT: <a  href="">Gerry Lauzon</a> (<a href="">CC</a>)
CREDIT: Gerry Lauzon (CC)

A World History of Political Violence

Jun 30, 2016

Rachel Kleinfeld discusses with Devin Stewart her research--which took her to five continents over the past three years--and forthcoming book on how violence is perpetuated and curtailed in societies around the world. Kleinfeld discusses the role of political power, corruption, law enforcement, leadership, and grassroots movements.

DEVIN STEWART: I'm Devin Stewart here at Carnegie Council, and I'm speaking with Rachel Kleinfeld from Carnegie Endowment, one of our sister institutions.

Great to have you here, Rachel. Thank you for stopping by.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Terrific to be here, Devin.

DEVIN STEWART: So you're working on a fascinating book about violence in societies around the world. You haven't written the book yet?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: I wish I had written the book, but no. It is due September 1.

DEVIN STEWART: But you finished the research; is that correct?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Yes. A couple of years of traveling to every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. There's not a lot of violence in Antarctica.

DEVIN STEWART: A lot of very interesting findings from your research so far.

You don't have a tentative title, do you?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Right now it's called Back from the Brink. We'll see if that lasts.

DEVIN STEWART: Pretty catchy.


DEVIN STEWART: What are the general findings from your research about violence in society?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: I think the big finding—well, let me take a step back.

I wanted to look at places that had been really violent and got better, because I thought we spend a lot of time studying places that are just really violent and that doesn't tell us a lot about how they get better. So I picked places that had gotten much better from a really low point.

What I found was that there was a common pattern in why they got so violent and that there was a common pattern in how they got better. That's good news both when you're writing a book and when you're trying to make some policy change from it.

DEVIN STEWART: What are some of these findings? You're basically making sort of a humanistic point, that there are commonalities among societies all around the world. Despite cultural differences, despite historical differences, you're seeing some patterns?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: That's right. Each of these societies is unique and each one has its own special problems, of course, and virtues.

But the pattern that I saw was this: when you're looking at compounded violence—and that's what I was looking at—places that have gangs, insurgents, terrorists, organized crime and mafia, state violence against the people, a lot of kinds of violence in one place—so think Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria, your real basket-case countries.

DEVIN STEWART: Is that how you define compounded violence?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Yes, that's compounded violence. It's lots of different people being violent in the same place. That's different than a country that just has a terrorist problem or just has a homicide problem. You've got a country that has all these kinds of violence at the same time.

DEVIN STEWART: Different parts of society are being violent, and probably feeding a feedback loop, feeding into one another?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: You're right, there's a feedback loop. So one thing that happens is you'll have landlords who have private armies, for instance, and then the peasants will form guerrilla groups against the landlord armies, so you'll have feedback loops like that. You'll have state violence and you'll have people fighting back against that.

But what I found was this very common power pattern, which was really important. In these countries with compounded violence, what you had was a state that was built on an elite that had extreme privilege—access to corruption, extreme access to state resources, things like that—and impunities, they were above the law. What happened then was that this elite wanted to keep their access to the state resources, keep their corruption opportunities, and they didn't want to get arrested for it.

So how did they do that? They politicized the security agencies. So you keep your police weak or you keep your police highly political; you give patronage appointees; you make sure that there's no way that they're going to arrest you. The same with the military: you keep them too weak to have a coup or they're on your side or they're a Praetorian Guard that you pay a lot to, and then they protect you and they don't protect the people. So you have this really politicized security agency who is working for you, the elite, not for the people; or sometimes for multiple elites, so different groups working for different elites.

And then what do the people do? Well, the people are now being preyed on by regular criminals because the police aren't doing their job, they're being preyed on by state security agencies that are often pretty brutal because they're not trained to do their job either; they're trained to protect you, the elite. And so the people who are marginalized start turning to gangs, to insurgents, to all sorts of violent groups—mafias—to protect themselves. And then you have this compounded violence that takes hold on society and these retaliatory attack cycles.

DEVIN STEWART: So it's the powerful want to hold power, they want access to corruption; therefore, they sort of weaken and make the police under their own control and advance their own interests. That furthers the violence in society or crime or problems for the public, and the public then turns to their own means to protect themselves. Is that summary accurate?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: That's exactly right. So you see these Robin Hood figures. Pablo Escobar, one of the most brutal crime lords/drug cartel leaders in the world—at his funeral people said that he was a secular saint and that he was going to go straight to heaven and they'd pray at his tomb. Why is that? It's because Pablo Escobar managed to paint himself to the poor as someone who was protecting them in this kind of a society where the privilege gets you the policing.

DEVIN STEWART: Do the people in power realize that they're fostering or perpetuating an unstable, violent state?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: You know, people are pretty good at rationalizing things to themselves. I'll just stick with the Colombia example because it's very clear. So what you got in Colombia was people saying: "Oh my gosh, I'm wealthy, but I'm not a bad person. I'm a wealthy person who sends my kids to private school and lives behind a gated house and want to stay safe. Look at all the crime around me. Look at these drug cartels. Look at these guerrillas. I'd better really protect myself. So I'll hire some private security." They don't necessarily think through the whole process. But they'll give soft support to the paramilitaries that are cleaning up the guerrillas, because the guerrillas are the bad guys, the paramilitaries are the good guys.

And that soft support that leading elites can give is mirrored on the other side. So if the right wing is giving soft support to paramilitary forces and so on, the left wing then starts giving soft support to guerrillas—"Oh, I don't like their violence. But gosh, they're the only people speaking for the poor." So you get that kind of a dialogue going on. And that hardens the political positions and makes it much harder to deal with the violence.

DEVIN STEWART: Another finding that you've mentioned to me before the interview was the sort of "false peace," and also I think you called it a "dirty deal." Can you tell me, is that one of the findings of your research?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It is. I'll tell it maybe through another story.

One of the cases in the book is the United States. Most people think, "What are you doing, comparing the United States to—"

DEVIN STEWART: You have to.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: —"to the country of Georgia or these African countries or whatever?"

But if you look at the Southern United States following the Civil War, you had immense violence; you look at the Western United States during the frontier Gold Rush period, immense violence—I mean violence on the level of Medellin during the drug cartel.

DEVIN STEWART: Can you just describe that type of violence because people might not remember that?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Sure. So you had the Wild West, right? And it really was a Wild West. You had posses running after cattle thieves. You had murderers being strung up and lynched by regular people. You also had a lot of municipal corruption in places like San Francisco, where the politicians had gangs who would use electoral violence to stay in power, and then other citizens would form gangs against those politicians, so you would have political gangs fighting each other in the street, just like in parts of Africa today.

DEVIN STEWART: It sounds like mob justice.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: You had mob justice, exactly, vigilante justice.

DEVIN STEWART: Which is kind of anarchy.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It's kind of anarchy. That was the West, and that's a perfect example.

The South was a different story, and they have two very different trajectories. So in the West very little government, mob justice; the government that you do have is very corrupt, problematic; so you have this anarchy. In the South you don't have anarchy. The South was settled for a long time. It has courts, it has judges, it has police. What you have in the South is what I call "privilege violence," and that's this thing I just explained, this elite privilege and impunity.

So in the South they lost the Civil War. But they don't want African Americans to have voting rights. They don't want to have their slaves be coequal with them. And so what you see are politicians—

DEVIN STEWART: That's because they want to hold on to power, or is it because of racism, or both?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Both. It's racism and it's because they want to hold on to power.

The politicians, with a wink and a nod, do nothing when you start seeing whites putting on sheets and riding around as Night Riders. The Ku Klux Klan was actually a small group at the beginning. There were a whole lot of groups—the White Camellias and the White League. These people perpetrated immense violence throughout the South. They killed over 1,000 people in Louisiana right before the elections, 2,000 in Kansas, and so they turned elections. They were doing violence for racial reasons and for power reasons. But the violence had a very specific point, and it was to reelect what was then the Democratic Party that was the white supremacist party, because Abraham Lincoln was Republican. So this mob justice was meant to put back in power the old Confederate elite. It wasn't just about racism.

The anarchy in the Wild West actually went down really fast. By the time Frederick Jackson Turner declares in the 1890s that the West is closed, too many people have settled, it's no longer a frontier, the violence has just plummeted. It's down to pretty close to normal level—still a little high but pretty close to normal.

In the South at the same time, what you have is a lynching every three days, literally somebody being killed by mob justice every three days. That only stops when they have the Jim Crow laws coming back in that by law disenfranchised the African Americans. As the Jim Crow laws come up the violence goes down.

That's what I call a "dirty deal," because the North accepted it with a wink and nod. The North said: "Okay, you're not killing people in the streets anymore, you're not stringing up African Americans on trees. We know you've disenfranchised them. We know that you've reinserted this white privilege rule with force and the threat of violence is ever present. But there's now peace."

It's a false peace, because of course it's not very safe if you're African American; you know that if you take a wrong step, you could still be harmed by anyone and that no jury is going to convict a white man. But it's a peace.

DEVIN STEWART: So is the United States still in a false peace, given what the Black Lives Matter movement might foreshadow? I know you've talked about Black Lives Matter in your research. What does that mean? What does it say about the United States today?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It's a great question. I think of getting out of this violence as a spiral. It's not a straight line. You get better, you move up—like a spiral staircase—you move up out of the violence, but then it turns back on itself.

So the story of America is basically in the 1960s and the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement, what you start seeing is African Americans and their white friends taking back power. And that's what you see in all these countries: the path toward really ending the violence is through broad-based social movements coming together and taking back power and enforcing it through the laws, through the political establishment, making change that way. So it's not just civil movements and it's not just politicians; it's them coming together. You see that in the 1960s and the 1950s and you see America moving out of that kind of violence in a really significant way. We break the false peace.

But it's like a spiral staircase. It gets better for a while, but then new pathologies come in. As our police in America professionalized, they moved further away from the people and they started to get all this equipment, and especially after 9/11 they start getting all of the equipment left over from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, you start getting SWAT teams in the 1990s with the War on Drugs. So by the time you come to today, that movement toward real peace has turned on itself and you have a violent police force that's trained in paramilitary tactics. That's what we're fighting today.

DEVIN STEWART: So you're saying that the turn in the spiral that turns on itself is the emergence of new pathologies? Is that a general pattern that you've found around the world; and, if so, what causes those new pathologies?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Sure. So everything is kind of a double-edged sword. It's a positive book, it's a very hopeful book, because it's a spiral staircase. Places are getting better. It's not as if we still have slavery in America. It's not as if we still have a lynching every three days. But there's still real violence in the system. And that's what you see in all these countries.

The general path out of this violence is for the citizens to say, "Enough," come together, fight the violence. They organize in broad-based social movements. They pick or work with a politician. Sometimes the politician organizes the movement.

DEVIN STEWART: So you need a champion.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Exactly. You need a champion, and they need to be political but nonpartisan.

DEVIN STEWART: Does the grassroots movement need a leader?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Yes, they need leaders to work with the politicians. Sometimes the politicians are the leaders of the movement, and sometimes the politicians come along later, and sometimes they're kind of working hand in glove. There's different ways. But they can't be so oppositional to government that they're unable to actually take power. Then you get the Arab Spring, then you get your revolution falling apart, because someone else takes power.

So you get your broad-based social movement and you get your political class coming together and saying, "Okay, we're going to take power and make change." You start then seeing, once that politician gets into power, what's known as a recivilization process. Steven Pinker writes about this a little bit in his book about violence. What you start seeing is new public spaces being taken over, libraries being built in old gang areas—all this stuff that sounds really hokey. The mayor is often out there preaching how much better their city is and so on.


RACHEL KLEINFELD: It sounds hokey. But what's happening is people are telling a new story about what the society is about. It changes how people act. It changes what people think is possible and how people think of acts of violence. So you actually see violence going down.

But then there's this other side to the story, which is the executive has to centralize power, because often the violent actors have put what's known as their "roofs," their protection, in the parliament or in the legislature or in the city council because that's where laws are made. So if you're an organized criminal or you're a drug cartel or whatever, you want your person there making the laws on your behalf to maintain your privilege. So you see this centralization of power in the executive cutting out the legislature, where a lot of the bad guys are. But it's also not so democratic.

You start seeing surveillance coming in because you need surveillance to fight violent actors who are going to kill your witnesses. So only surveillance can help put them in jail if the witnesses are getting killed. So you start seeing wiretapping and surveillance technology.

You start seeing jailing activity that can look pretty harsh. In Italy, one of the countries that I'm looking at, you have this thing called 41-bis, which is 24/7 surveillance and a solitary cell for the most hardened of the Mafiosi. They did that because when they didn't have 24/7 surveillance the Mafiosi were still calling hits on people outside of jail and were still running their empires from the jail. But solitary confinement, 24/7 video, I mean think about that—that's when you're on the john—it's pretty harsh.

DEVIN STEWART: Does American mass incarceration fall in that category as well?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: America actually tries to do this but does it incredibly badly. So rather than it being effective—those are effective methods of fighting the violence. It's just that they backfire. If you go too far, you get repressive and autocratic and then you need a new popular movement to fight back.

America sort of tries to do that. But actually what we have is what's known as kind of a "tough on crime" policy. We started it in the 1990s when we had a crime wave. By jailing lots and lots of people, what you actually do is make your jails into universities of crime. The criminals—if you're a petty gang member and you know you're going to go to jail at some point in your career, you'd better cozy up to the big gang member because that's the person who's going to make your life in jail livable, so that you don't get killed in jail, so that you get a few privileges. So it makes the gangs much stronger. That's what we have in America. We've actually created very strong racial gangs and so on that function within jails and actually partially run a lot of our jail systems.

DEVIN STEWART: It sounds like when the staircase turns around it seems like power seeking to get more power, and maybe it kind of goes overboard. On the other hand, the fight toward more justice is that people feel insecure face-to-face with a powerful state. I'm trying to understand what are the inspirations for the grassroots movement coming together with leaders and fighting for more justice. What causes that?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: You've put your finger on something that's really important. Usually, the grassroots is motivated by one of two things. Either the violence has just become way too much, the violence starts hitting the middle class. The poor and the marginalized have always felt the violence. But when the violence goes too far and starts hitting the middle class, then you start seeing people come out on the streets.

You saw that in Colombia in the early 1990s. You saw the students coming out and saying, "Enough is enough. Three presidential candidates have been murdered. We're having bombs going off in shopping malls. We need to take back our society."

But equally frequently what you see is a country stuck in this false peace. It's not actually violent for most people. What it is, is corrupt because the warlords, the militias, the guerrillas have been bought off, they've been brought into a power structure, by being promised that they won't go to jail and they'll have some opportunities for corruption.

DEVIN STEWART: That's fascinating.

Now, when the middle class gets hurt and it demands to take its country back—this sounds very familiar here on the eve of our American elections. It also sounds like something that our colleague Josh Kurlantzick, formerly at Carnegie Endowment and now at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written about.

Francis Fukuyama and others have talked about the future of democracy. The middle class, like the French Revolution, might not say, "Hey, we're getting hurt here; we want everyone to be happy and harmonious," but they might say, "Hey, let's go in the other direction, let's oppress the others who are hurting us."

You're basically describing a fork, in a sense. When the middle class gets hurt, they could either—well, one direction is, like you said earlier, they could be bought off or get into the cozy world of corruption; or they could have this kind of fork, they could say, "Let's take our country back in a bad way or in a violent way or in an unjust way," or they could say, "We need more justice and we need to fight for more equality or more rights." Is that accurate?


In the book I talk about multiple equilibria, although I use better wording that that. But that's the game theory behind it. It's like throwing a die that can come to rest at six different places equally easily. A country can come to an equilibrium, a place of rest, in multiple different scenarios. So that level of corruption, that's one equilibria. A country can stay in that for a long time.

DEVIN STEWART: And you found six?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: No. I found less than six.

But Ghana, which is one of my case studies: Ghana is not violent. It changed power by coup every single time that it changed power from independence through the 1990s. Now, as a democracy, it has changed power legitimately multiple times, which is the definition of a democracy. But it's doing that because there's so much corruption. And it's in a patronage system that goes all the way down to the bottom of society, that as long as each party takes their time at the trough, everyone feels like, "Okay, a little will trickle down to me eventually." So it's an equilibrium. It's not a great equilibrium, but it's an equilibrium. That's the false peace.

Another equilibrium, as you're saying, is the middle class gets angry and they elect a populist who becomes repressive. You see that. In multiple places that I've studied, one way out of violence is my moving toward autocracy. Moving toward autocracy does get you out of violence in the short term.

DEVIN STEWART: So you mean a closed political system?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: A more repressive political system is maybe the best way to put it. So let's fight crime by getting really tough on crime, right? That can work for a short period of time, but it usually backfires over the long period, and long can be just a decade or two.

For instance, when the fascists took over Italy in the 1920s, they fought the mob. The mob went to ground. They went on these round-ups and they just captured everyone they could. So the Mafiosi just sort of laid low. So did the Mafia activity go down under fascism? It did. But they didn't actually get rid of the Mafia; they didn't get rid of any of the underlying political characteristics that created the Mafia. All they did was force the Mafia to lay low for a little while and then, when the fascists lost the war, the Mafia came back and really profited from that post-war economy.


Other equilibria that you've found?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Well, then there's good equilibria, where a country empowers itself. So the Progressive Movement in America was fighting corruption, not violence. But the corruption was closely tied to police who were highly corrupt, who weren't fighting crime, to municipal rings that were in league with violent actors—all the way up through Prohibition actually, but that's a whole other story.

The Progressive Movement in America is kind of your third equilibrium, which was a middle class that said, "Enough's enough, we're taking back our country." They teamed up with politicians. They worked to reelect those politicians and get them into power. And then they did structural changes to the political system in America—open primaries, city managers who were nonpartisan, all sorts of things like that—to take the corruption out of the system and break these machines that had controlled America. They did a pretty darn good job. Most other successful revolutionaries actually copy the Progressive Movement.

DEVIN STEWART: That's fascinating. Francis Fukuyama just wrote about this. I don't know if you saw it. He said that American political or democratic decay can be giving way to renewal because populism doesn't necessarily have to be negative; it can be positive. He cites the Progressive Movement as an example of populism in history that turned out for the better.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Can I just do a two-finger on Frank's point?

DEVIN STEWART: Yes, please.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: I was just at Stanford, and Frank and I talked quite a bit about his last book, Political Order and Political Decay, and my work. We have a lot of meetings of the mind. [Editor's note: For more on Political Order and Political Decay, check out Fukuyama's 2014 Carnegie talk.]

But on this one I would have to disagree with him because the Progressive Movement was not a popular movement. It was a middle class movement, a strong middle class movement. But there was also a populist movement, and that was agrarian, that was farmer-based, and so on. The two didn't necessarily collide very well. The backlash against Progressivism actually came from the lower classes, who felt like these middle-class uppity people were trying to make a world paradise for the middle class, but it didn't allow them to drink, it didn't allow gambling, it didn't allow a lot of the fun that lower-class people enjoyed.


RACHEL KLEINFELD: And so you had a real fight between the classes at the time. In a way, the populist movement was a rural response to that and the rollback of Prohibition was an urban response to that. But I wouldn't call the Progressives populist actually.

DEVIN STEWART: Interesting.

When you get to a more just equilibrium, can we agree that that's temporary?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It's temporary. But—maybe it's just because I am a "glass half full" kind of person—I think it's better. So you never stop. You know, I think of these equilibria like a top spinning on its end, right? You're not really at rest but the top is spinning. It's constantly moving but it's balanced.

DEVIN STEWART: But it will eventually run out of momentum.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It will eventually run out of momentum and you need a new level of renewal.

DEVIN STEWART: What causes that, the running out of gas sort of thing?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Just time. You know, people get tired. There's a "what have you done for me lately?" kind of feeling.

Georgia is one of the countries I look at. Georgia in the early 1990s had a civil war. It had two breakaway statelets. It had multiple warlord militias fighting across the country, it had gangs setting up roadblocks in the streets—incredible levels of political violence, regular violence, and so on. And then, through a lot of these means of buying off warlords and so on, it created peace. Then it got real corrupt, and then people fought against the corruption through the Rose Revolution. So it went through all of these steps—the elite bargain, the false peace, the spiral of liberation that got people into the streets to change things; a politician, Saakashvili, who made changes and then became a little too repressive, and then the people came out in the streets again to fight him.

What you saw was there would always be these periods where people thought, "You know, we used to be real violent, but now we're not worried about that; now we're worried about corruption."

Then they would get used to the fact that Saakashvili really did fight the corruption. At the petty corruption level, it went from Georgia being seen as a society that was so corrupt people said it was part of the Georgian DNA, that it was cultural, that it was really deep, to not being corrupt. It's one of the cleanest countries in Europe—at the petty level; there's some grand corruption still.

But people then got used to that. Then it was, "Well, this is a pretty repressive government; they're putting a lot of people in jail." So then they come out against that.

So people normalize what's going on pretty quickly. When it gets better, they normalize that and they push for something better. So that pushes you up the staircase.

DEVIN STEWART: Is there a period of years that generally sort of describes that? I mean, how long can the equilibrium last?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: You know, I'm not a real believer in quantifying some of these things.

I was talking with Barry Weingast, who wrote a really famous book on violence and social order with Douglass North and John Wallis. When he heard me give this talk, he said, "Oh, you know, what we found"—because in their book they find that corruption buys off violence.

I said, "Barry, I agree with you, corruption does stop the violence. But it's temporary."

He said, "Oh yeah, we found that too. We found that it lasts for nine years."

I said, "Well, nine years, you quantified it to that."

DEVIN STEWART: That's interesting.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: He may be right. I don't know. I haven't looked at his numbers.

DEVIN STEWART: Isn't nine or ten years roughly the financial crisis cycle?


DEVIN STEWART: It could be related.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: It could be related. Although finances and corruption move in funny directions. So what you often see actually is corruption growing when the good times are rolling, so more money is coming out, people aren't paying as much attention, corruption grows. And then, when you get a financial downturn, that's when people start really worrying about corruption and you start seeing a lot more anger about it, which makes sense.

DEVIN STEWART: It makes a lot of sense.

Now we want to cap off the discussion here—I could talk to you probably for five more hours, but I won't do that because I know you have meetings.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Your listeners might not be happy.

DEVIN STEWART: But we should land in an equilibrium on a more positive note. The two ingredients of having a society with the grassroots movement on one hand and the leadership on the other to fight for a more just society—number one, where else in the world has those ingredients? Number two, what can be done to foster those ingredients?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: This is my favorite part of the book because it's agency. This is not saying some places are doomed because of their culture. It's not saying the structural factors of the world make some people doomed. In fact, a lot of the violence gets better after the end of the Cold War. But it's not just that the Soviet Union and America pull back. It's that people see the Eastern Europeans taking back their countries, and you start hearing them say in Colombia and other places, "Hey, we could do that too." So it's the agency.

Now, you can't really give people agency, but you can help people take agency. So in USAID (United States Agency for International Development), our aid agency, in Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom, you see a lot of groups doing work to empower people.

There's a group that I love that's working in Ethiopia, one of the more repressive military dictatorships, that brings women together to save some money and talk about their problems. Then the women get elected at a regional level to go represent themselves, and then at a national level. What that is, is a prototype political party that's operating under a military dictatorship under the guise of a savings scheme. But in fact it's teaching people how to solve their own problems and how to elect leaders and empower themselves.

There's a lot of that going on around the world, in places like Guatemala, that have these mass movements and are really trying to take back some power.

DEVIN STEWART: Are there recent examples around the world that also show this combination of empowered agencies, empowered agents, and a fight toward justice? How about, for example, in Myanmar or other places?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: In some cases I'd have to say time would tell. In Myanmar you certainly had an empowered people and you have a canny political leader. I think Aung San Suu Kyi—you know, she has her problems. A lot of her old friends are pretty angry with her for how she's handling the brutality against the Muslims, for instance.

But what I found was that the leaders that actually get their countries out of violence are not white hats, they're not naïve idealists. They're really politicians, and they're pretty gray, in just the same way that Aung San Suu Kyi is now behaving in a much more gray-hat kind of a way.


RACHEL KLEINFELD: Pragmatic, exactly—in ways that make more ideologically pure people pretty uncomfortable.

DEVIN STEWART: Mandela was a pragmatist.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Mandela was a pragmatist. He probably maintained a little bit more purity. But you're exactly right.

So that's the kind of leader. And I think you're right that Myanmar might be a bright spot. We'll see how things go, and we'll see on the backs of how much violence. You know, pragmatism is making calculations, like is it worth pulling X million people in Burma out of a certain kind of violence at the cost of X amount of violence against these Muslim people that don't deserve it? That's a horrible calculation to make, but that might be the calculation that she's making. And that's what these leaders have to do.

DEVIN STEWART: That's very astute, Rachel.

It's always fun to end these interviews with a kind of "what's in the future; what should we expect?" So, given your research, are there any predictions or things that you anticipate for the future of world politics, or even societal dynamism or societal change?

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature talks about how violence has been on the decline worldwide since the Middle Ages. I think he's right. And so, while we feel right now like we're living in a really violent time—and we are in a spike of violence; it went down for a long time after the end of the Cold War, but now it's coming back up—I actually think that it's a blip in a much longer trajectory. [Editor's note: For more on Pinker and his book, check out his 2012 Carnegie discussion with Robert Kaplan, "Is the World Becoming More Peaceful?"]

Now, I don't think that's inevitable. I think it requires human agency to keep pushing that trajectory down. But I think we're starting to become more and more aware of how bad violence is in our society, and that I think is a global phenomenon. As people are empowered via the Internet, via interrelationships with other people, via an understanding of what could be because they see it on their TV screens, they're going to start, as they did after the end of the Cold War, taking back power for themselves.

So I think we're going to keep seeing violence being pushed further and further down. I know in the age of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) that sounds Pollyanna-ish, but if you look at the big trajectories and the numbers, it's very, very true.

DEVIN STEWART: Fantastic discussion today, Rachel. Thanks so much, and good luck with writing the book, and I'm sure it will be a classic.


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