Book Recommendation

How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F. Walter

The Rise of the Global Alt-Right

Luella Schmidt
10 min readDec 2, 2022

Barbara F. Walter’s book, How Civil Wars Start, is a deeply researched examination of the specific conditions that arise within countries before civil wars. Using robust data sets for analyses, we know that civil wars tend to escalate in predictable ways, and one of the best predictors is whether a country is moving toward or away from democracy.

In reading her book, we can see many indications of danger in the United States, as the Republican Party continues its distressing disintegration and descent into the White Nationalism of the Global Alt-Right.

Note: All quotes are by Barbara F. Walter unless otherwise indicated.

Writer’s Screenshot

Ranking Countries by State of Democracy

For over a decade, countries all over the world have shifted away from Democracy and toward Autocracy. Experts assess the state of democracy by looking at four factors:

  1. How free elections are from government control
  2. How constrained the executive branch is
  3. How open an institutionalized political participation is
  4. How competitive the recruitment process for the presidency is

A Polity Score is used by researchers to rank each country on a 21-point scale between -10 (most autocratic) to +10 (most democratic), with countries in the +6 to +10 range considered “full democracies”.

Of note, researchers looked at income inequality, poverty, ethnic diversity, corruption, and many more variables and the best predictor of instability was the nation’s Polity Score, especially among countries ranked as anocracies (between -5 and +5 on the scale).

Walter explains anocracy: “Citizens receive some elements of democratic rule — perhaps full voting rights — but they also live under leaders with extensive authoritarian powers and few checks and balances”. Turkey under Erdogan is a good example of an anocracy.



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Luella Schmidt

Writer ✱ Creator ✱ Entrepreneur. I write fiction and essays about art, history, politics, and justice. Read more at