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Title: Mythic Nationalism A Neoclassical Realist Theory & Least-Similar Case Study of 19th-Century America and Modern-Day China
Authors: Chang, Benjamin
Advisors: Christensen, Thomas
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2014
Abstract: What drives overly aggressive or passive deviations in state behavior from the realist model? This thesis argues that in domestically insecure states with culturally dominant national myths, mythic consonance and dissonance predict, respectively, unexpectedly aggressive and passive choices in territorial disputes. By “national myth,” I mean those historical beliefs shared in collective cultural memory which define the present character and purpose of a nation. They do not usually exactly correspond to actual history. By “culturally dominant,” I mean states which exhibit national myths whose actual correspondence to history is a point of consensus in the society in question. As such, a nation with a culturally dominant national myth is one in which there is also a culturally constructed consensus on world affairs. By “mythic consonance” and “mythic dissonance,” I mean a public consensus on attributes of aggressive choices in given disputes as being either consonant or dissonant with national myth. A choice has “mythic salience” if it exhibits either mythic consonance or dissonance; if neither, it is mythically neutral. This thesis then proceeds in two major parts. First, an extended theoretical section examines the above research question from a neoclassical realist standpoint, then adapts neoclassical realism to constructivist and neorealist critiques by means of a “ladder of ontology.” It is argued that this is a superior view of theory, as it integrates constructivist understandings of identity while retaining neorealism’s ability to empirically explain a broad swath of international relations outcomes. Second, a least-similar case study is conducted in order to validate the causal pathway proposed above. In particular, states which exhibit both culturally dominant national myth and domestic insecurity I sort into the novel subtype “mythic nationalism.” The research objective of this part of the study is a plausibility probe of a novel middle-range theory which then describes the primary causal pathway of this new subtype of nationalism, and the research design of this study, then, is the use of within-case congruence testing and process-tracing in order to establish the existence of the mythic nationalist causal pathway in both the 19th-century American and modern-day Chinese cases. That these are “least similar” states provides evidence for the possible generalizability of the identified causal pathway. In particular, in the American instance I examine the Mexican-American War, the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, and the Spanish-American War. In the Chinese instance, I examine the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, the disputes in the South China Seas, and recent Sino-Russian relations. I primarily compare the mythic nationalist explanation to a standard neorealist one. By way of conclusion, the results of this analysis suggest the fruitfulness of such a “ladder of ontology” approach to neoclassical realist theory, and provide both warnings and possibilities for the ongoing management by US policymakers of the Chinese rise.
Extent: 122 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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