‘How Civil Wars Start’ and are we headed for one

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(photo credit Deborah Cartwright)

(photo credit Deborah Cartwright)

The attack on the Capitol, the attempted kidnapping of Michigan’s governor by a far-right militia, the former President and his allies denying the 2020 election results. Increasingly our democracy seems in peril. We are even being warned that the United States could be headed toward civil war. Is this hyperbole or is the alarm justified?

Professor BARBARA WALTER has studied civil wars around the world, in Northern Ireland, Syria, Ivory Coast, and Yugoslavia, and has seen how quickly citizens can turn against one another. Walter argues in a new book, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them, that there are certain pre-conditions to national violence — weakened political institutions, once dominant groups resentful of losing power, politicians who exploit those resentments, and extremist groups willing to resort to violence. She explains that those conditions are now present in the United States. We’ll talk with Walter about the precursors to civil war, the current threat in America, and how we can counter it before it’s too late.


Barbara Walter, Rohr Professor of International Relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them. @bfwalter

Recommended reading

The Guardian, How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F Walter review – sounding the alarm

The New York Times, Is Civil War Looming, or Should We Calm Down?

The Washington Post, Some say the U.S. is headed toward civil war. History suggests something else.

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