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Malign Versus Benign Motivations

  • William R. ThompsonEmail author
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Part of the World-Systems Evolution and Global Futures book series (WSEGF)

Abstract

The thesis of this chapter is that the recent emphasis on democracy as the transformational key to a more benign world politics reflects the old analytical battle between emphasizing evil versus tragedy. An emphasis on democratization stresses the evil side of the equation and tends to ignore the tragic element. There should be room for both types of perspective. Nothing guarantees that either approach is capable of generating necessary or sufficient conditions for major power warfare. This should be a matter for theory and empirical testing to resolve. It is unlikely to be resolved by remaining entirely within one explanatory realm at the expense of the other. Our hunch is that “evil” takes place within “tragic” contexts. Therefore, we need to draw upon both evil and tragedy in accounting for the vagaries of world politics. Pursuing this point, some interesting convergences in realist and liberal thought about major power warfare are first examined. When put to the indirect test, though, emphases focused primarily on malign autocracies as the root of the great power warfare problem receive less support than one might expect in large part, we contend, because they privilege “evil” over “tragedy.” If one has to choose between the two, structural changes (tragedy) provide a more efficient explanation than actor attributes (autocratic malignness). Historically, certain structural changes have been necessary and autocratic malignness has not. It may be that either one or both are sufficient causes. That is more difficult to evaluate. It is unlikely, however, that these factors are entirely independent of one another. Those same structural changes to which we allude may encourage the emergence of malign foreign policy goals. Similarly, malign foreign policy goals can lead to behavior that encourages the development of the necessary structural changes. We are probably better off, then, combining evil and tragedy than we are when we insist on privileging one over the other. Put another way, there is no compelling reason to emphasize one at the expense of the other.

Keywords

Global war Democracy Autocracy Motivations Foreign policy goals 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

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