A proliferating civil war amidst leaking identities Deepanshu Mohan is Assistant Professor of Economics, Assistant Dean (Academic Affairs) and Executive Director for New Economic Studies at the Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University The ambitious liberal philosophers of the Enlightenment era brought forth the idea of a perfectible society - one who’s quest for overall well-being remained rooted in liberal ideas of individualized rationality, the concept of ‘free’ trade and an alluring faith in markets, as self-equilibrating forces. A reflection on the contemporary scene of the global socio-political landscape today, highlights a gradual transcending away from these values under more heavy-handed, authoritarian states that consider it fair to give up constitutionally realized democratic, libertarian values in the hope of promising development for the majority. In India’s own case, from banning cow slaughter; cutting meal portions to size to regulate eating habits of people; pushing for state-wide liquor prohibitions; creating moral policing squads to prevent assault etc. all steps being taken in recent times, allure us to the governing dynamics of a radical transformation in state order. Amidst the dilution of plural value systems, a common global trend1 emerging out of such authoritarian actions of state (also evident in countries like USA, Turkey, France etc.) is a proliferating civil war, under exacerbating insecurities of political, social and economic inequality. The current situation of rising insurgency and militancy in Kashmir (and other parts of India) indicate not only a growing feeling of resentment amongst alienated youth of different communities but a dissolution of faith in the acceptance of pluralistic identities that now stay somehow divided on religious lines, similar to the times of pre-enlightenment era (ie. before late 18th century) in Europe. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, Alex Tocqueville (1840) referred to the French Revolution in a way that resonates well with today’s global war against Islam - as a revolution that “flooded the earth with its soldiers, apostles and martyrs”. The decades preceding the French Revolution constituted as “one of the most religious periods of history”, consecrated by “Pope Voltaire”, a “fanatic of his religion of humanity”. The religion that then took over Europe in the age of enlightenment, was erected with new absolutes of liberalism - “progress, humanity, the republic”. Figure 1 provides a snapshot of proportion of countries with an active civil conflict or civil war (those accounting a minimum of 1,000 deaths in a year). The statistical accounting and recording of deaths due to a civil war and its conceptualization has remained a subject of discussion amongst various political scientists and statisticians. Most statistics on violence (due to non-state actors or in intra-state violence) tends to discount the number of injuries caused from such violence, which is now on the rise. In an earlier research article (Sinha & Mohan 2016), we discussed how the notion of conflict, largely viewed as a dramatic exogenous shock may often lead to a protracted, hidden crisis within a nation state which can periodically produce endogenous shocks to the economy and socio-political landscape. In India’s own case, if conflict is viewed as a continuum, downwards trends in violence do not necessarily imply that the risk of conflict has reduced. Whereas absolute numbers in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Northeast and Naxal affected districts might be decreasing, they do not capture new forms of social unrest, ethnic violence and protests (that fall outside the classical definitions of insurgency). Growing resentment In a world where “the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status and property ownership”, the backlash and discontentment created by globalization today isn’t a new phenomenon. Rather, we can see it as the product of an essentially cyclical, historically inevitable phenomenon (explained here). The widespread emotions of racism, misogyny, rage, nihilistic violence, cynicism, “negative solidarity” (a term coined first by Hannah Arendt), we experience today are reflected in the demagoguery prevalent both in geo-political and day to day discourse visible across public platforms - including digital and social media networks. A global reality, once described by Friedrich Nietzche as “a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts”. Individuals with different identities coming from different socio-cultural backgrounds, today find themselves “herded by capitalism and technology”, where unequal distribution of wealth has created “humiliating new hierarchies” (earlier referred to as negative solidarity) and where redistributive justice, trickle-down economics, minority-rights etc. qualify more as simple rhetoric for “cosmopolitan liberalists”. Earlier shocks of modernity, triggered by techno-capitalistic systems of 19th century Europe were more easily observed by communitarian social structures present across societies and the existing social structures. Today, as Pankaj Mishra argues in his recent book (Age of Anger), many countries (particularly emerging countries), in their quest to industrialize and ‘modernize’ are witnessing on one hand-rising literacy and declining fertility rates, yet on the other, they experience escalating crime, suicide and depression rates. These countries are likely to find themselves at “political and emotional conjunctures” similar to the history of the ‘modernized’ world itself (seen in 18th, 19th century France, Germany, Russia etc.). Leaking Identities and deducing the human being The idea of a modern nation state today remains pillared on four broader attributes with the modern state a) as an institutional formation; b) modern social regulator; c) market oriented (sub-divided into economic and political market) and d) civil society. Somehow the balance between these four pillars has been destroyed with a skewed focus on the market (particularly the economic market), where most state actions and policy considerations are formulated upon. As expressed by Boaventura De Sousa, “global capitalism has become the main principle of social regulation, and the state remains legitimate to the extent that it serves the market”. One of the factors that may explain the emergence of an internal backlash in form of a civil war within rapidly ‘modernizing’ market-oriented states (like India) owes to negative social externalities created under radical majoritarian nationalist agendas pushed by such monolithic, homogeneous states. Agendas that continues to abandon the social acceptance of plural identities in their very organic existential form, now deserting them. In every human case and form of social order, identity always turns out to be porous, inconsistent rather than being fixed or discreet, often being prone to getting confused and lost in the play of mirrors. Radical Islamists or Hindu Nationalists may insist on their ‘cultural distinctiveness’ and ‘moral superiority’ because of how they have lost their religious traditions, and started to resemble their supposed enemies in their pursuit of the latter’s ideologies of individual and collective success. They are being driven by what, Pankaj Mishra calls as the “narcissism of small difference”: where the effect of differences that loom large in the imagination precisely because they are very small. Thus, what we see today is a widespread existential “moral and spiritual vacuum”, filled with “anarchic expressions of individuality, and mad quests for substitute religions and modes of transcendence”, similar to Dostoyevsky’s millennial fantasy of Moscow as the “Third Rome” (in 19th century Europe). There is no simple solution to escape these rising forces of self-destruction, as most of the analytical reasoning used in explaining such forces by social scientists relies heavily on ‘materialist’ theoretical abstractions of homogeneously made references to identity, nation and capital through techniques of statistical inferences. We may do well to go beyond some of the traditional, mainstream analytical methods and consider the “irreducible human being, her/his fears, desires and resentments” as the unit of our analysis. Endnotes 1. In the article I make substantial passing references (mentioned in double quotes) to Pankaj Mishra’s latest book the Age of Anger that is contextualized in explaining the present socio-political situation.
... the backlash and discontentment created by globalization today isn’t a new phenomenon. Rather, we can see it as the product of an essentially cyclical, historically inevitable phenomenon


Figure 1. Proportion of countries with an active civil war or civil conflict, 1960-2006
Source: Extracted from Christopher Blattman and Edward Miguel’s (2010) paper on Civil Wars