Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States

Dara Kay Cohen, Ford Foundation Associate Professor of Public Policy; Danielle F. Jung, Emory University 

Cover of the book Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak StatesDARA KAY COHEN IS A POLITICAL SCIENTIST whose research has often focused on the causes and consequences of violence during war and in fragile contexts. In her latest book, Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States, Cohen and her coauthor, Danielle F. Jung, examine the practice of lynching as a form of extralegal justice in nations that struggle with poor governance and weak legitimacy in the contemporary world. They argue that the frequency and widespread acceptance of lynching in the modern world is both horrific and puzzling. Using data from countries across the globe, they find high levels of lynching and collective vigilantism—which they define as lethal, extralegal group violence to punish offenses to the community—in 46 countries from 1976 to 2013, and at least some reports of lynching in more than 100 countries during that period. 

Drawing on detailed original survey and focus-group data collected during fieldwork in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Cohen and Jung observe that lynching and other forms of collective vigilantism carried out in the name of justice occurred more frequently when people had little trust in the government’s authority and ability to provide basic social services, such as sanitation. This pattern suggests that there may be spillover effects across different types of weak institutions; weak formal institutions that are unrelated to the rule of law are associated with greater approval of lynching. Lynching and Local Justice sheds important new light on the dynamics of support for collective vigilantism and offers what one expert describes as “a provocative new explanation for why institutional weakness is so difficult to combat.”

JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917–1956 

Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs 

Cover of the book JFK: Coming of Age in the American CenturyREADERS OF FREDRIK LOGEVALL’S JFK get a generous bonus: Beyond an elegant and readable biography of the early life and career of John F. Kennedy is a masterfully written history of American politics and foreign policy in the mid-20th century. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his 2013 history of the roots of the Vietnam War, Logevall this time tackles the early life of the 35th president of the United States (and namesake of Harvard Kennedy School). Over more than 700 pages, he covers the years from Kennedy’s birth and sickly childhood in Brookline, Massachusetts, to his failed bid for the vice-presidential nomination in 1956; a second volume will explore Kennedy’s rise to become the nation’s first Catholic president through to his assassination, in 1963. Logevall, the Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School and a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, says he deliberately set out to weave Kennedy’s personal story into the broader fabric of U.S. ascendance on the global stage during and after World War II. He explains how Kennedy formed his internationalist worldview during his Harvard days, youthful European wanderings, and World War II combat as a navy officer. The book dispels the conventional view that he was driven into politics by his domineering father. Instead, Logevall makes the case that Kennedy, for all his personal failings and infidelities, was imbued with a deep sense of public purpose and service from his childhood. The book also portrays him as a man of relentless intellectual curiosity who broke with his father and his close-knit family on critical choices. “On matters of politics and policy, JFK was his own master,” Logevall writes. 

On Justice: Philosophy, History, Foundations 

Mathias Risse, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy; Director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy 

Cover of the book On Justice: Philosophy, History, Foundations IN HIS NEW BOOK, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Administration Mathias Risse explores big questions in political philosophy, especially as they relate to justice in a globally connected world. On Justice continues themes from his On Global Justice and On Trade Justice: A Philosophical Plea for a New Global Deal. Risse begins by investigating the role of political philosophers and exploring how to think about the global context in which philosophical inquiry occurs. Next, he offers a sweeping historical narrative about how the notion of distributive justice, which identifies a genuinely human concern that arises independent of cultural context, has developed into the model we should adopt now. Finally, he investigates the core terms of this view, including stringency, moral value, grounds, and duties of justice. 

“The proposal I make,” Risse writes, “is that the perennial quest for justice is about making sure each individual has an appropriate place in what our uniquely human capacities permit us to build, produce, and maintain, and that each individual is respected appropriately for their capacities to hold such a place to begin with.” That basic idea has taken numerous forms in varying contexts. Risse writes, “The last 50 years have seen wide-ranging discussions about distributive justice: The topic has been vital to political philosophy in ways it had never been before in any 50-year period. … At the same time, many have resisted the central role justice has assumed in political thought.” Risse’s response to that resistance is to provide for the present age a more plausible conception of distributive justice that learns from its critics. But his key conclusion is that distributive justice remains central for any kind of ideal of society. While On Justice is a continuation of ideas explored in Risse’s earlier works, it is also a thorough and thought-provoking stand-alone examination of distributive justice. 

Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy 

Barbara Kellerman, James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership; Todd Pittinsky, Stony Brook University 

Cover of the book Leaders Who Lust"IN THE MAIN, the leadership industry remains anchored in the supposition that people generally are rational creatures who act in their own, rational, self-interest.” So write leadership expert Barbara Kellerman and her coauthor (and former Kennedy School faculty member), Todd Pittinsky. But leadership as it is, not as we would like it to be, is the focus of their new book, which studies the phenomenon of leadership that is not balanced or moderate but, rather, the opposite: leadership driven by an insatiable hunger—what its authors call lust. Lust is an impulse that “persists and is relentless,” and “leaders who lust continue to lust until the end of their days.” The authors zero in on “leaders who are typical in that they want to lead, but who are atypical in that they want something else—they desperately want something else—in addition. This second want is as relentless as it is fierce—and it is focused.” They single out six types of lust that such leaders are drawn to: lust for power, money, sex, success, legitimacy, and legacy. To avoid the study of lust, the authors argue, is to “avoid the human condition.” For leaders so driven have been evident throughout history—they have shaped the lives of billions. Leaders Who Lust draws our attention to a critical motivator in the exercise of leadership and bestows on it its rightful place in the leadership literature.

The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again 

Robert Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy, Emeritus; Shaylyn Romney Garrett 

Cover of the book The UpswingA WEALTHY COUNTRY, a technologically advanced country, but also a country marked by economic inequality, political division, and social friction. Anyone who is inclined to feel that the current moment is low tide in America, and who might look longingly at a mid-century high-water mark, may be heartened to learn that this description was of the United States in the Gilded Age. In other words, as Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy Robert Putnam so carefully and compellingly lays out in his new book, we’ve been here before and found a way out, and if we are to make of this present moment a hinge point, it is invaluable to understand other moments when the country shifted radically. 

The Upswing offers a unified theory of contemporary American history, fitting from a scholar who has devoted his academic life to studying what holds the country together and who has been called the “national bard of community.” Putnam and his coauthor, Shaylyn Romney Garrett, painstakingly measure and trace the country’s path—economic, political, cultural, and social—from the low point of the late 19th century through six decades of progress and then down again. It’s a phenomenon the authors call the I-we-I curve: “a gradual climb into greater interdependence and cooperation, followed by a steep descent into greater independence and egoism.” They write, “It has been reflected in our experience of equality, our expression of democracy, our stock of social capital, our cultural identity, and our shared understanding of what this nation is all about.” The “we,” the book recognizes and takes great pains to explain, was neither inclusive nor egalitarian, and that was an important cause of the atomization that followed. But perhaps in that point lies a larger one about American national life, summed up in the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “On the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”