Theories on the origins of war are often based on the premise that the rational actor is in pursuit of material satisfaction, such as the quest for power or for wealth. These perspectives disregard the need for homo symbolicus – the preservation of a positive self-image for both emotional and instrumental reasons.
A good reputation ensures authority and material resources. Non-recognition can be as much as an explanation of war as that of other explicative 'variables'.
Two empirical studies examining the role of non-recognition in great power conflicts and in international crises will demonstrate the value of this symbolic approach.
'Thomas Lindemann's book explores a central characteristic of contemporary warfare that military strategists and geopoliticians try to minimise because it does not fit with their premises: struggles for recognition may be more important than terrestrial conquest and losing the war, if winning recognition and respect is central in many combats. In a very detailed and subtle analysis, the author succeeds brilliantly in convincing his readers that any scholar interested in war studies needs to recognise the role of the struggle for recognition as well as understanding the meaning of symbolic power.'
Didier Bigo, King's College London & Sciences Po Paris
'Lindemann demonstrates persuasively that the drive for self-esteem is a principal cause of international conflict and war and is not infrequently pursued at the expense of security and material interests. Recognition, other forms of inclusion and positive valuation, can accordingly function as a powerful tool of conflict prevention and management. Theoretically and empirically rich, this book has something important to say to academics and policy makers.'
Richard Ned Lebow, London School of Economics and Political Science
'An excellent book on the neglected topic of recognition in international relations. This solid and historically rich analysis of international violence from an identity-based perspective synthesises work from political science, sociology, and philosophy in French, German, and English in a novel perspective.'
Pierre Allan, University of Geneva
'Wilhelmian Germany yearned for recognition as a Great Power. The Soviet Union sought political recognition by the United States. China aspires to global recognition. Placed in the context of history, symbolic recognition takes on full meaning at the peace treaties following major war. This excellent book explains how the problems of recognition impact world politics, and why.'
Charles Doran, Johns Hopkins University (SAIS)
Review by Tom Hashimoto in the journal European Security, 21:4, published online 3 September 2012
'The causal mechanism of war has long been the centre of attention in many scholarly
fields both in positive and normative analysis. Indeed, if the cause of war is clearly
identified and if the world wants peace, it is theoretically possible to avoid wars by
removing the cause. In this sense, Lindemann is modest of entitling the book in the
plural form – Causes of War. He admits partial explanatory capacity in traditional
understandings of war: eagerness in power and material. Yet, as the subtitle of the
book indicates, he further integrates constructivist understanding of ‘(non) recognition’
as a public motivation to launch armed conflicts.
Throughout the book, Lindemann illustrates and defends his four hypotheses
related to identities and their recognition. First, he states ‘[h]ubristic identities are a
possible cause of war’ (p. 31). He defines the term ‘hubristic identities’ as ‘the
aspiration for recognition [...] of one’s superiority, which is not recognised by other
major international actors’ (p. 31). The author carefully outlines the fascist
and communist regimes from this hypothesis, and further integrates the notion of
‘image’ – for example, monumental works in the capital city – emphasised by the
leaders of such regimes. Logically, such ‘hubristic identities’ require some kind of
proof for both the domestic and foreign audience to strengthen the claim of their
superiority. In such a scenario, winning the war is perhaps the most visible and
credible solution. Thus, the author successfully convinces the readers to distinguish
the ‘hubristic identities’ from the hegemonic identities; it is implied that the latter
does not necessarily cause tensions among major international actors as far as
recognition is concerned.
Second, Lindemann states ‘the propensity for armed aggression between political
actors is higher when there is no positive link between them’ (p. 35). This statement is
the other side of the coin for liberal democracy and its ‘democratic peace’ theory. The
theory claims that two liberal democracies are less likely to engage in war against
each other due to the domestic political mechanism as well as intertwined economic
activities. The Lindemann hypothesis confirms and generalises the theory. In the
recent theoretical trends in International Relations and Political Science, the socalled
International Society Theory and its British School seems to be in line with
this hypothesis. What the author calls ‘collective identities’ are what the British
School scholars such as Bull and Buzan would call ‘culture’ in a broader sense. In the
field of Economics, the scholars of the New Institutional Economics would label
such ‘collective’ or ‘shared’ identities as ‘commonly understood rules of the game’.
As the author states, such ‘identities’, ‘culture’ or ‘rules’ ‘may also be used
‘‘instrumentally’’ by decision makers to prevent war’ (p. 37). In other words,
Lindemann leaves a room for the mass manipulation of public by a small group of
rulers in the decision (not) to go to war.
Third, Lindemann states ‘attacks against accepted standards of a state’s universal
dignity are likely to incite wars’ (p. 37). The first hypothesis is on the claim of
superiority, while this hypothesis deals with the denial of equality. Germany in the
inter-war period is a clear example. Policies of appeasement and containment have
been practised throughout the modern history, which in some extent derived from
Finally, Lindemann states ‘attacks on specific identities such as a state’s political
or cultural references or a lack of empathy are also likely to encourage the outbreak
of armed conflicts’ (p. 40). In his explanation, the author particularly analyses the
post-9/11 exchanges among international actors. The feeling of ‘being offended’ is
perhaps more convincing than violation of international law in explaining the post-9/
11 discourse to justify some armed conflicts. This hypothesis has further explanatory
capacity in the civil wars of multi-cultural or multi-ethnic entities. Then, this
hypothesis becomes intertwined with the second hypothesis: even when specific
identities are denied, armed conflicts can be prevented if there are strong shared
identities. In other words, all four hypotheses are able to co-exist next to each other
in the causal mechanism of war from the recognition point of view.
Following the presentation of these four hypotheses, part II of the book deals
with the case studies. First, Chapter 3 deals with the case where armed conflicts are
intended to gain respect and to avoid shame regardless of the expected outcomes of
the war. Unlike utilitarian approaches, the ‘‘‘symbolic’’ approaches to war’ – the title
of part I – explain even seemingly irrational decisions to engage in armed conflict.
Thus, the second half of part II, Chapter 4, explores the ‘politics of recognition’ that
implies a normative approach to prevent wars by saving one’s face: international
institutions, then, become a recognition mechanism to prevent armed conflicts.
Once again, the author never declares that his analysis is the solo authoritative
understanding of war. He admits various conditions and effects in deciding armed
conflicts. However, clearly identified hypotheses as well as thoroughly well-written
case studies are able to combine a wide range of scholarly thoughts in understanding
modern ideology, culture, diplomacy and war. Regardless of one’s academic and
professional background, the author succeeds to capture the readers’ curiosity and to
defend his four hypotheses. The reviewer hopes Lindemann’s work to be continued,
perhaps using econometric analysis to systematically defend the robustness of his
Review by Allan Dafoe in the Journal of Peace Research, 2011
'Modern social science sometimes has to rediscover key
insights known by older scholarship. One such neglected
insight is the importance of the pursuit of status, reputation,
and identity to the outbreak of war. Lindemann’s
book contributes to our appreciation and understanding
of these motives. Lindemann draws on theory from a
variety of disciplines and national traditions to establish
the importance of recognition to interstate relations. He
hypothesizes that ‘hubristic identities’, the absence of a
‘positive identity link between’ countries, attacks against
‘a state’s universal dignity’, and ‘attacks on specific identities
. . . or a lack of empathy’ promote the outbreak of
war (p. 31–40). Lindemann informally assesses the relationship between variables related to his four hypotheses
(including his creative use of architectural grandiosity as a proxy for hubristic national identity) and system
stability (peace) under four ‘great power systems’. He
then investigates whether the presence of a ‘politics of
recognition’ can account for variation in the outcome
of four interstate crises. In these chapters Lindemann
also provides a historical interpretation of events that
highlights the role of recognition and identity. As a comparative research design, the empirical work suffers from
underpowered and opaque selection of cases, the testing
of a dyadic theory on system level data, and the risk of
the independent variables being too flexibly coded and
proxying for other important processes (e.g. ‘identity’
might proxy for interests). Overall, Lindemann’s book
succeeds in sketching a macro-historical connection
between periods of conflicting identity claims and war,
in illustrating how several crises and relationships could
have been driven by concerns about recognition, and
in bringing together a breadth of scholarship relevant
to the study of recognition and war.'