Peace does not depend on integrated coexistence

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

A recent study looks at the wisdom of the aphorism that good fences make good neighbors:

We consider the conditions of peace and violence among ethnic groups, testing a theory designed to predict the locations of violence and interventions that can promote peace. Characterizing the model’s success in predicting peace requires examples where peace prevails despite diversity. Switzerland is recognized as a country of peace, stability and prosperity. This is surprising because of its linguistic and religious diversity that in other parts of the world lead to conflict and violence.

Here we analyze how peaceful stability is maintained. Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups. Mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas. Political canton and circle (sub-canton) boundaries often separate religious groups. Where such boundaries do not appear to be sufficient, we find that specific aspects of the population distribution either guarantee sufficient separation or sufficient mixing to inhibit intergroup violence according to the quantitative theory of conflict. In exactly one region, a porous mountain range does not adequately separate linguistic groups and violent conflict has led to the recent creation of the canton of Jura.

Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in specific areas where they did coincide. The success of peace in Switzerland may serve as a model to resolve conflict in other ethnically diverse countries and regions of the world.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    To quote Heartiste:

    Diversity + Proximity = War

  2. Isegoria says:

    I didn’t realize that was Heartiste‘s coinage.

  3. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Diversity + Proximity = War

    I wish I could remember who said that.

  4. Graham says:

    There’s also that old chestnut beloved of so many that we could end war by just getting to know one another. Thus sidestepping the widely known human experience that, whether interpersonal or interethnic or international, the most frequent and vicious conflicts are among people who already know one another pretty well.

  5. Kirk says:

    Problem with this idea is that the Swiss are a really poor model for fixing things like the endemic ethnic issues you find surrounding most of Islam. Why? Because the Swiss are mostly sane, and are entirely willing to live and let live. You don’t have the Romansch-speaking Swiss looking over at the French-speaking cantons, and going “Oh, those miserable heretics… I cannot tolerate them, we must kill them all…”. The various Swiss ethnicities mostly get along and respect each other’s space. That’s the key thing–The people who make up the Swiss Federation.

    You can’t take the “lessons” from Switzerland, and try to apply them to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, because at least one of the players there is homicidally insane, and the other is delusional to the extent that they think that peace is even possible. About all that would work, were you to really want to apply Switzerland’s “lessons” to the Middle East would be to exterminate or move the current lot of homicidal maniacs out, and then replace them with the Swiss ethnicities that are so peaceful and civilized in Switzerland.

    I’d have to go digging through the history of Switzerland, again, but if I recall correctly, the Swiss mostly banded together in the face of outsider oppression, and the various ethnicities didn’t really have much to do with each other before they federated. Trying to use them as a model for how to fix the rest of the world is fraught with problems, mostly because the Swiss are quite sane, and you’d be trying to apply sane solutions to people who are fundamentally and unequivocally not sane…

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