|By Alan Hall
Originally published in the Feb. 2010 Socionomist
Major social-mood declines trigger anger that is expressed in social division, disillusionment with government, civil unrest, and, at large enough degrees, war. Social-mood induced anger has to emerge somewhere, and it can come out in external war, internal secessionism, civil war or both. The size of a war almost always relates to the size of the bear market that produced it, but whether belligerents express their anger internally or externally is less predictable. Much appears due to specific chains of events within the chaos of social interaction. One factor—the availability of a common enemy—seems to be the main determinant. The existence of a common enemy can undercut secessionist impulses. With no external foe, a drawn-out bear market in mood directs anger and division inward, leading to increasingly secessionist expressions and eventually, if conditions are right, civil conflict.
Secessionism springs from the bear-market impulse to polarize and separate. To examine this behavior in light of social mood, we studied the United States, which has stock price data for its entire history and endured one of history’s deadliest civil wars. This report includes a first-ever index of U.S. secessionism and places it in a socionomic context.
Bear Markets Bring Casualties
Figure 1 shows U.S. stock prices adjusted for inflation per the Producer Price Index. The heights of the red rectangles show the percentage of the U.S. population killed and wounded in major U.S. wars. The width of each rectangle indicates the duration of the war.
Negative mood trends build social anger in proportion to their degree. The three largest-degree mood declines—Grand Supercycle wave &, and Supercycle waves (II) and (IV) within wave *—generated the three deadliest wars.
In compatibility with the explanation in Chapter 16 of The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior, the five wars with the largest death tolls occurred within or just after the second decline of each associated bear market. The Vietnam War had the sixth-largest casualty rate and was the result of a smaller mood retrenchment, a Cycle-degree wave IV decline (not labeled). The most lethal conflict by far was the Civil War. The preceding Supercycle bear market lasted 24 years—from 1835 to 1859— and included a period of intense deflation. The process allowed ample time for massive anger to develop. After the second decline, this anger had to vent, and because no external common enemy provided a suitable target, society expressed the rage internally, with devastating results.
Secessionism and Civil War vs. External War
Secessionist sentiment increases in most bear markets but reaches the fever pitch necessary for civil war only under certain conditions. Figure 2 evaluates 234 years of U.S. secessionist activity as it relates to social mood, as reflected by stock market trends. The heavy blue line is our U.S. Secessionism Index, a weighted gauge of 85 secession movements and events that expressed a genuine desire to secede from the U.S. or from a U.S. state. Most of the events in these tallies come from the list developed by James L. Erwin in Declarations of Independence: Encyclopedia of American Autonomous and Secessionist Movements (1974). The thin blue line shows the individual yearly summation of scored secessionist events. The red line shows the total number of deaths per year attributable to secession-related conflict.
As the chart shows, declining social mood is necessary but not sufficient for intense secessionism. Secessionism spiked during the Civil War but was nearly absent during World War II; in fact, the external war, if anything, increased rather than decreased patriotic feeling.
Examples from the past and present show that common enemies often forestall civil wars. War with Carthage redirected ancient Rome’s internal conflict for many years. Once Rome defeated its enemy, civil war intensified and the empire began its famous decline. The Spanish-American War in the decades following the U.S. Civil War provided a common enemy that helped to heal the residual bitterness between North and South. The 1919 Anglo-Afghan War united long-adversarial Pashtun tribes against the British. As Euan Wilson described in the January 2010 Socionomist, the intensity of the Chinese Civil War waned when Japan expanded its incursion from northern China into Manchuria. After Finland lost its common enemy and oppressor, Russia, during the Russo-Japanese war, it promptly erupted in civil war. A prolonged political enmity followed, but it eased when Finns again faced a common enemy in World War II. In 2009, previously hostile Pakistan and Afghan Taliban factions united to oppose the buildup of 17,000 U.S. troops. Recent reports show Taliban groups again bonding as they face the current 30,000 troop American surge.
Thomas Hobbes recognized such changes in aggressive orientation in Leviathan:
When there is no common enemy, [men] make war upon each other for their particular interests…. For though they obtain a victory by their unanimous endeavor against a foreign enemy, yet afterwards, when…they have no common enemy…[they] fall again into a war amongst themselves.
Psychologists have studied similar behavior, most famously in the 1954 Robbers Cave Experiment. The study team sent two groups of 11 twelve-year-old boys of similar backgrounds to an outdoor camp. Each group was initially unaware of the other, but when they made contact, hostilities quickly followed. Then the study team introduced “super-ordinate” goals: problems that can be solved only through cooperation. This reduced hostilities significantly more than other strategies, including increased contact and communication.
Politicians and government propagandists are well aware that the portrayal of a common enemy can rouse emotional solidarity and group identity, which in turn redirects internal dissent and discord. Alexander De Conde’s History of American Foreign Policy says William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, advocated “a policy of hostility or war” against several European nations to “win back the loyalty of the seceded states and avoid civil war.” But Lincoln famously urged “one war at a time” and refused to initiate or respond to foreign provocations during the war.
For the U.S., the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and declarations of war by Germany and Italy were acts forming conspicuous external enemies. As the ancient Arabs and Chinese counseled regarding outside threats, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Following this dictum, Franklin Roosevelt joined Winston Churchill, a vehement anti-communist, in aiding Stalin when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. In response to critics, Churchill said, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
An Overview of U.S. Secessionist Sentiment during American Wars
The specific outcomes of secession movements do not depend upon socionomic trends but on less predictable social conditions. The successful revolt of the American colonies against Britain is an underdog story, wherein the colonists organized around a set of political principles and broke from a great power. This victory temporarily framed secession as a noble undertaking and a gateway to freedom. As North-South enmity festered in the 1850s…
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Most economists, historians and sociologists presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes the opposite: that social mood determines the character of social events. The events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events, macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic theory, see (1) the text, The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 2011, by Robert Prechter; (2) the introductory documentary History's Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his socionomic hypothesis; and (4) the Socionomics Institute’s website, www.socionomics.net. At no time will the Socionomics Institute make specific recommendations about a course of action for any specific person, and at no time may a reader, caller or viewer be justified in inferring that any such advice is intended.