Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations


by Amy Chua, 2018

A Review: Nuanced Observations on Misleading American Usage

This was a challenging read, given that for global audiences, the author’s use of political terminology is deeply vested not in English as understood internationally, but in what Oxford dictionaries refer to as the American language; see The Oxford American Dictionary (OAD). With that in mind, and with a strong proviso that Professor Chua’s usage of political terminology places her otherwise-significant findings outside of the interests of the 40% of Americans who identify with positions all too familiar to the global-political left, be nevertheless prepared for an otherwise informative read.

Prof. Chua also provides useful analysis of lack of comprehension by U.S. foreign-policy professionals in crises since World War II. All these fit into both international and domestic-U.S. exemplars of political tribalism. International readers will find her attorney’s crafting of argument alien to standard political terms. So, translating the most narrow American pop-political terminology into broadly accepted usage by political scientists is left to the reader. It is worth the effort.

Another area of difficulty are her otherwise useful observations about Occupy Wall Street, OWS. I was among the key members of Occupy Media, a coalition of media professionals in Los Indignados, the Arab Spring, and, yes, the Occupy Movement, and later worked with Yo Soy throughout Latin America. Together, we collaborated to provide context and bring pressure to transform the global and domestic-U.S. dialogues about inclusiveness and popular resistance to elite domination of society. In the process, civic dialogues transformed around the world.

As Chua observes, participants in OWS moved onto other work engaging economics and essential needs in the new millennium. The pattern reflected similar effects throughout the world. These broader perspectives and involvement of the wide-ranging global coalitions are beyond her scope, but including them helps to place her observations into more accurate context.

All those limitations aside, this Yale University professor of law argues her case for viewing Political Tribes as significant players to understand and resolve much of the divisiveness gripping political awareness in the USA and around our world. Reading through Political Tribes is, as noted above, well worth the effort. My hope here is to clarify the misleading popular use of pop-terminology for large numbers of Americans and interested people globally so they have better understanding of Chua’s brilliant, if often clouded, analyses.

What should have been five stars is greatly reduced, but rounds up to a worthy 3 Stars ***. 

Find Political Tribes here.


  • president and International coordinating editor, Democracy Watch News; Pacific Northwest coordinating editor, International Collaborative Media Alliance.

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