IR theorists have focused in recent years on how and whether regime type affects conflict, and in particular on whether democracies have advantages over other types of states in either “contests of will” or war-fighting. Despite the remarkable amount of attention paid, the inherent limits of observational data – even with improved methods and newly-developed datasets – have prevented the formation of any consensus. We contend that one missing piece of the puzzle is direct evidence on a key aspect of theories of democratic credibility and success: the beliefs of leaders. To address this, we present evidence from a survey experiment fielded on a unique elite sample: current and former members of the Israeli Knesset. From them, we learn that Israeli leaders’ patterns of beliefs accord with some interpretations of bargaining theory: they see democracies as both more likely to back down in a crisis, but also more likely to emerge victorious should a dispute escalate to war. We also field our study on two representative samples of the Israeli Jewish public, giving us leverage to address the question of how similar leaders are to the public they represent, and the mechanisms through which democracy shapes beliefs about crisis behavior and war outcomes. Here, we find support for the notion that (at least in some cases), experiments on \the average citizen” generalize nicely to elites.
How do messages from political elites interact with individual traits of citizens to spur intergroup aggression? Building on research in social psychology, we expect that in places of protracted conflict, violent rhetoric from elites will be enough to mobilize antagonism toward an outgroup, especially among those who are generally less apt to be hostile toward the outgroup. We present results from two large survey experiments, the first conducted with young Jewish-Israeli adults across Israel and the second with a nationally diverse sample of adults in India. The results show that mild “fighting” words (e.g. “battle,” “fight”), combined with a reference to the outgroup, provoke significantly greater support for policies that harm the outgroup among some citizens. This effect is largest among individuals low in outgroup prejudice and low in aggressive personality traits, people who are usually less inclined to support policies that hurt the outgroup. Effects of violent rhetoric persist even with policies and rhetoric to help the outgroup. This work highlights the importance of considering both individual traits and contextual factors together to understand their full impact in the study of intergroup conflict.
While intellectuals engaged in public advocacy long before the term ‘public intellectual’ was coined, it was largely Emile Zola’s cry ‘J’accuse’ during the Dreyfus Affair in late nineteenth-century France that gave rise to the expectation that intellectuals ‘speak truth to power’. Yet, while many twentieth- and twenty-first-century intellectuals have spoken to power either as critics or as ‘fellow travellers’, their public engagement has always been accompanied by the question of legitimacy: why should their opinions be valued more than those of coachmen, shoemakers or, for that matter, Facebook users? The intention in this article is to partly address this question by investigating the strategies of legitimisation and validation used by public intellectuals in their political argumentation. Focusing on one case study – the long, burdened and erratic relationship between Israel’s writers and scholars, and the country’s prime ministers – I propose three main sources of validation used by public intellectuals: their preoccupation with ideas, their historical knowledge and their reputation. I illustrate these three modes of validation by analysing open letters written by theologian Martin Buber, philosopher Nathan Rotenstreich, historian Jacob Talmon, novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, and others to Israel’s prime ministers from 1948 to the present, showing how the three modes evolved in response to the respective prime ministers’ attitudes towards the political involvement of intellectuals and how they were combined by public intellectuals in need of effective strategies to legitimise their stand in given political situations. I then try to assess the effectiveness of such strategies and conclude by noting the challenges posed to public intellectuals today by new players in the market of ideas, especially bloggers using new sources of validation, such as their closeness to the grassroots, in their political argumentation.