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Political Tribes

Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

By Amy Chua
13-minute read
Audio available
Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua

Political Tribes (2018) is an insightful study of one of today’s most pressing issues: tribalism. From postwar Iraq to Chavez’s Venezuela and Trump’s America, political life has become increasingly polarized. That’s a problem. Once people stop trying to understand each other and retreat into the safety of their own tribes, conflict becomes inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Amy Chua argues that foreign and domestic policy can defuse tensions as long as those policies are based on a sound understanding of tribalism.

  • Anyone who’s wondered what exactly went wrong in Iraq
  • Citizens tired of endless political partisanship
  • Fans of penetrating social analysis

Amy Chua is a writer, lawyer and professor at Yale Law School. Her previous books include World on Fire.

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Political Tribes

Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

By Amy Chua
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua
Synopsis

Political Tribes (2018) is an insightful study of one of today’s most pressing issues: tribalism. From postwar Iraq to Chavez’s Venezuela and Trump’s America, political life has become increasingly polarized. That’s a problem. Once people stop trying to understand each other and retreat into the safety of their own tribes, conflict becomes inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Amy Chua argues that foreign and domestic policy can defuse tensions as long as those policies are based on a sound understanding of tribalism.

Key idea 1 of 8

Humans are tribal creatures, but tribalism is an instinct that’s often forgotten.

Why do teams, clubs and other types of groups inspire such strong emotions? Well, humans are tribal creatures by instinct. We have a strong sense of group identity. We want to share our feeling of belonging with others who are like us.

Tribes can be centered around any number of things. But they’re not just about having something in common with others. Often, they’re just as much about exclusion as they are about inclusion.

So how do they work?

In the first place, they’re based on a shared bond. That can be ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, mutual interests or other commonalities.

Secondly, tribes change the way their members think about the world. Individuals’ identities often become closely linked to that of the tribe, which makes them willing to do things for the benefit of their group that they wouldn’t do as individuals.

Tribalism – the act of separating ourselves into tribes – is often overlooked when it comes to foreign policy. That’s a mistake. In fact, tribalism is key to understanding how to deal with countries.

American foreign policy in particular is frequently shaped by the view that nations are homogenous. Subgroups or tribes within particular countries simply aren’t taken into account.

That’s partly because America is a “supergroup.” It’s a country made up of many tribes united by a shared national identity. American policymakers assume that other countries also have a strong bond that overrides the tribal loyalties of their citizens.

But, in many cases, that just isn’t true. Tribal identities frequently trump allegiance to nation-states.  

And, as we’ll see in the following blinks, foreign policy that neglects tribalism can have devastating long-term consequences.

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