Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (Paperback)
The first half of Amy Chua’s look at politics through a tribal lens details how American blindness to tribal politics in our promulgation of democracy and free markets has resulted in many foreign policy disasters. Politicians and policy makers have not understood that political instability and extremism arise through the frustration and humiliation of economically and politically marginalized groups. In such fractious climates, “Vote-seeking demagogues find that the best way to mobilize popular support is not by offering rational policy proposals but by appealing to ethnic identity, stoking historical grievances, and exploiting group fear and anger.” The same logic is applied in the more detailed second half of the book which shows the tribal roots of the divisiveness in current American politics. A concise look at the rise of identity politics on both the left and the right is insightful, as is an analysis of how demographic changes fuel tribalism, but most illuminating is her detailing of the chasm between the “rural/heartland/working-class” and the “urban/coastal” elites.— Andy
The bestselling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua offers a bold new prescription for reversing our foreign policy failures and overcoming our destructive political tribalism at home
Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. In many parts of the world, the group identities that matter most – the ones that people will kill and die for – are ethnic, religious, sectarian, or clan-based. But because America tends to see the world in terms of nation-states engaged in great ideological battles – Capitalism vs. Communism, Democracy vs. Authoritarianism, the “Free World” vs. the “Axis of Evil” – we are often spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics. Time and again this blindness has undermined American foreign policy.
In the Vietnam War, viewing the conflict through Cold War blinders, we never saw that most of Vietnam’s “capitalists” were members of the hated Chinese minority. Every pro-free-market move we made helped turn the Vietnamese people against us. In Iraq, we were stunningly dismissive of the hatred between that country’s Sunnis and Shias. If we want to get our foreign policy right – so as to not be perpetually caught off guard and fighting unwinnable wars – the United States has to come to grips with political tribalism abroad.
Just as Washington’s foreign policy establishment has been blind to the power of tribal politics outside the country, so too have American political elites been oblivious to the group identities that matter most to ordinary Americans – and that are tearing the United States apart. As the stunning rise of Donald Trump laid bare, identity politics have seized both the American left and right in an especially dangerous, racially inflected way. In America today, every group feels threatened: whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, liberals and conservatives, and so on. There is a pervasive sense of collective persecution and discrimination. On the left, this has given rise to increasingly radical and exclusionary rhetoric of privilege and cultural appropriation. On the right, it has fueled a disturbing rise in xenophobia and white nationalism.
In characteristically persuasive style, Amy Chua argues that America must rediscover a national identity that transcends our political tribes. Enough false slogans of unity, which are just another form of divisiveness. It is time for a more difficult unity that acknowledges the reality of group differences and fights the deep inequities that divide us.
About the Author
Amy Chua is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor at Yale Law School. She is a noted expert in the fields of ethnic conflict and globalization, and the author of the bestselling titles World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance -- and Why They Fall, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and her most recent book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, co-written with Jed Rubenfeld. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with her husband and two daughters.
“An important book ...[I] strongly agree with Chua’s argument that America’s liberal elite has contributed to Trump’s rise by failing to acknowledge its own sense of tribalism." — Financial Times
“True to form, Amy Chua presents a provocative prescription to cure our political ills. She challenges us to cross the chasm between groups—not by denying differences, but by celebrating them.”
—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take, Originals, and Option B with Sheryl Sandberg
“Presented with keen clarity and brimming with definitive insights, Chua’s analysis of identity politics is essential reading for understanding policy challenges both at home and abroad.” — Booklist
“Amy Chua’s insightful, provocative and deeply troubling book is the place to begin our long overdue national discussion on how to repair the deep divisions in the American political landscape. Political Tribes is a wakeup call to the dangers of surrendering national unity to a fractured landscape of feuding and narrow interests.”
—Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation
“Brilliant, timeless and timely. Political Tribes concisely explains the forces that made our experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq so maddeningly difficult to comprehend, and brings that same thoughtful analysis to America today. Amy Chua provokes thought – and we need that.”
—General Stan McChrystal, US Army (Ret)
“Political Tribes is a beautifully written, eminently readable, and uniquely important challenge to conventional wisdom. In it, Amy Chua argues that tribalism—and the social dysfunction and violence that comes along with it—is the norm all over the world, but the United States managed to escape its worst impulses thanks to a shared sense of national identity. But there's trouble on the horizon: identity politics on both the left and right threaten to unravel that consensus. Chua's book is a clarion call, encouraging us to reject the primal pull of identitarianism and return to that most radical of ideas, that Americans share something bigger than race or ethnicity or ideology: common citizenship and purpose.”—J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy
“Another wonderful book by Amy Chua! In Political Tribes, she demonstrates once again that she ranks with the keenest observers of the contemporary landscape, establishing convincingly that “Humans are tribal,” and that this reality holds significant implications for America if we truly are to achieve a ‘more perfect union.’” —General David Petraeus, US Army (Ret), former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and former Director of the CIA
“Amy Chua speaks hard truths that no one can ignore. We are, as Chua makes clear, living in denial about the power of tribalism over our domestic and foreign policy -- blinded, it seems, by our own optimism and distaste for essentialism. A page turner and revelation, Political Tribes will change the way you think.”
—Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants and The Master Switch