The end of the Cold War and the reorganisation of global politics along less dualistic lines did not create deeply divided societies, although it did facilitate the breakup of once stable states into smaller and smaller polities, often along ethnic and/or religious lines, as peoples began to vie anew for their own right of self-determination. This has opened new challenges for national and global governance; challenges necessitating the development of an authoritative introductory survey of the phenomenon for both students and policy makers. Guelke’s Politics in Deeply Divided Societies is that text.
Guelke opens by delineating the characteristics of deeply divided societies. After all, all societies can be divided upon any number of lines, from class, religion, language, and race/ethnicity to immigrant versus indigenous or urban versus rural divisions, but in deeply divided societies, these cleavages cut across a wide range of issues and inform even ostensibly unrelated matters. Therefore, conflict exists ‘along a well-entrenched fault line that is recurrent and endemic and that contains the potential for violence between the segments’ (p. 30). The potential for widespread violence signifies a deficiency of legitimacy in the polity, not to mention a lack of consensus on how legitimacy might best be achieved, which leads difficulties in enforcing the law without resorting to the kind of force that further delegitimises the government in the eyes of non-dominant communities. Some governments have addressed persistent divisions by instituting forms of legal segregation or, in more extreme cases, carrying out a regime of ethnic cleansing or genocide, given that ‘the attitude that the very existence of the other community constitutes a threat to one’s own is quite commonly to be found in deeply divided societies’ (p. 50)—this is the phenomenon that anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has famously dubbed ‘the fear of small numbers.’
Guelke devotes the second half of his book to examining means of ameliorating the divisions within such societies, tackling first issues of integration, assimilation, and multiculturalism before moving on to partition and population transfer. Of course, one of the problems with partition is that it invariably results in yet new minority populations ‘created in circumstances in which the boundaries may still be disputed,’ thus providing ‘potent conditions for the emergence or reinforcement of deeply divided societies’ (p. 101). Contrary to the regular American insistence upon simple democracy as a palliative for all ills, Guelke observes that if ‘the outcome of elections repeatedly resembles an ethnic census,’ the danger of the government being seen an illegitimate remains high (p. 114), thus warranting some form of consociationalism or the establishment of a federation of relatively autonomous regions. Lastly, the author tackles the tricky issue of external intervention, exhibiting case studies in which such produced worthwhile outcomes even as he cautions that ‘the possibility that major powers might be responsive to the argument that the world should not stand idly by in the face of a humanitarian emergency has provided encouragement to groups challenging the status quo through violence, including separatists seeking to change the boundaries of the state’ (p. 143). In the end, however, simply stopping the violence or negotiating a settlement does not guarantee a genuine peace if the original fault line remains.
Politics in Deeply Divided Societies regularly grounds all analysis of the phenomenon with real-world examples from the Balkans, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Palestine/Israel, and post-invasion Iraq, though Guelke occasionally hearkens back to the breakup of empires with World War I or the Civil War–era United States to show that the emergence of such societies, despite a proliferation in the last few decades, is not unique to the last twenty years. The diversity of real-world examples, paired with the variety of solutions which have been practiced throughout history, emphasises an empirical approach to conflict management, one which takes into account the unique conditions faced by the societies in question rather than prescribing a single, rationalist approach for all. Guelke has produced an authoritative guide for recognising the problems face by deeply divided societies while presenting an array of methods for overcoming these divisions, and Politics in Deeply Divided Societies will likely remain a touchstone text for those working in conflict management or peace studies for many years to come.