Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence

Alex Rutherford et al., PLOS ONE, May 21, 2014


We consider the conditions of peace and violence among ethnic groups, testing a theory designed to predict the locations of violence and interventions that can promote peace. Characterizing the model’s success in predicting peace requires examples where peace prevails despite diversity. Switzerland is recognized as a country of peace, stability and prosperity. This is surprising because of its linguistic and religious diversity that in other parts of the world lead to conflict and violence. Here we analyze how peaceful stability is maintained. Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups, allowing for partial autonomy within a single country. In Switzerland, mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas. Political canton and circle (sub-canton) boundaries often separate religious groups. Where such boundaries do not appear to be sufficient, we find that specific aspects of the population distribution guarantee either sufficient separation or sufficient mixing to inhibit intergroup violence according to the quantitative theory of conflict. In exactly one region, a porous mountain range does not adequately separate linguistic groups and that region has experienced significant violent conflict, leading to the recent creation of the canton of Jura. Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in specific areas where they did coincide. The success of peace in Switzerland may serve as a model to resolve conflict in other ethnically diverse countries and regions of the world.

[Editor’s Note: The full article is available here.]

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  • propagandaoftruth

    Good fences indeed. The bonds of blood are not to be tampered with without repercussion. I like my enemies much better over there.

    • Zaporizhian Sich

      Indeed, I would rather them be over there than over here, because for some of them the alternative is death at our hands.

      • propagandaoftruth

        Ultimately if not the opposite.

      • M.Magog

        America may have to engage in ethnic cleansing that would even shock a NAZI

  • TruthBeTold

    Switzerland is recognized as a country of peace, stability and
    prosperity. This is surprising because of its linguistic and religious
    diversity that in other parts of the world lead to conflict and

    What other parts of the world is the author referring to? Areas in which the diversity is that of non-whites and non-Christians?

    Maybe whites simple get along better than other groups.

    • M.Magog

      No, they don’t . It is amazing that people are claiming this after two world wars and the ethnic conflicts that have occurred all throughout Europe. Immigrants to America WILLINGLY, VOLUNTARILY, assimilated into a dominant , WASP, founding culture. Those immigrants left their homelands behind. Their exodus and conversion to Americans did not automatically threaten the survival of their homelands. Switching to a Slovak name and speaking slovak, in the Hungarian areas within Slovakia is a direct threat to the survival of those areas as Hungarian areas.Whites in the US have forged a NEW white ethnic identity- “White American”. IN Europe, it is not a matter of voluntarily submitting to a dominant culture. One’s family and nation are not left behind for those who live in Europe. To abandon one’s language and cultural identity is to betray one’s people.

      • Sloppo

        We certainly don’t always get along, but before we make too many assumptions about how much us white people hate each other, I think it might be good to do a little research about how we got suckered into fighting our brothers in WW1 and WW2. I recommend the Youtube video entitled “all wars are bankers wars”.

  • It should be noted that in the Swiss context, “diversity” isn’t the same as that of an international airport or southern California. Swiss diversity means three major sorts of WHITE people: French, German, Italian.

    • propagandaoftruth

      I love White diversity.

      • JSS

        It truly is remarkable how much diversity there is with in The White race, every group from Northern Europeans to Slavs are unique. On the other hand Asians, browns and blacks are so uniformly similar in appearance and the society’s they build that losing anyone one black brown or Asian ethnicity would be no big loss. The same can’t be said of any White ethnic group.

        • propagandaoftruth

          Unfortunately the vigor of the American White genetic mélange has been over-applied to include groups which only drag down and degrade.

        • M.Magog

          You say this as an outsider. Tribal differences in africa mean a lot. To YOU they may be the same, but one tribe will kill another tribe. Asians are also not uniform ally similar. Vietnamese do not mix with Chinese nor do Chines mix well with Japanese. Each of these groups has a very strong preference for their own and a very strong dislike of outsiders.

          • JSS

            I am aware that there is tribal conflict in africa. Can you point out any significant differences between the societies and lack of cultures they build? Is there any variation in their lack of civilization? I am also aware that Asians are xenophobic. That doesn’t mean they are radically different. North Asians are more disciplined and industrious then Southern Asians and unlike Africans it isn’t hard tell Chinese, Koreans and Japanese apart. On the other hand if your implying that there is as much diversity between Asian ethnicities as there is Whites I would like to know what your basing that on. On a cultural level what makes Koreans, Chinese and Japanese as different as Italians and the Brits? As far as I can tell North Asian cultures all revolve around status, conformity and work. They don’t seem to value anything else no matter what group.

    • M.Magog

      Even so, group differences amongst white groups have historically lead to troubles and violence. There is not a great deal of difference between a Pole and a Ukrainian, at least not to anyone who is not one of those groups. At the end of WWII though, they were slaughtering each other in what is now Northwestern Ukraine.

  • dd121

    “Diversity” in Switzerland consists of slightly different pockets of Germans, et al. But is the author saying that diversity may NOT be our greatest strength?

    • M.Magog


  • kjh64

    It depends upon what is meant by “diversity”. If different groups of peoples are of the same race, same religion or at least their religions are compatible, speak the same language and have the same general cultural values and beliefs on how a government should be run, they can get along. The farther you stray from the above, the less this is possible.

  • Frank_DeScushin

    Good fences make good neighbors. In an ideal world the United States would call their eastern fence the Atlantic Ocean and their western fence the Pacific.

    • mobilebay

      We could use a really good one on a little river here in Texas – the Rio Grande.

  • IstvanIN

    This article seems to make the case for segregation, even in a single nation.

  • MBlanc46

    I’ve been compiling a record of the results of ethnic and religious diversity in various countries of the world. The usual suspects, Ireland, Belgium, the former Yugoslavia, Canada, just about every country in sub-Saharan Africa. The only example I’ve been able to come up with in which diversity has not resulted in conflict and killing is Switzerland. Perhaps now I know why.

  • none of your business

    All the Swiss are German. They were all Catholics until 450 years ago when French Protestants took over Geneva. The differences are only linguistic. The peace and quiet of Switzerland is not just some God given natural genetic thing. Switzerland actually is a very strict police state with few civil liberties. Over the years the Swiss have conformed to the strict zero tolerance laws because the Swiss see the benefits of living in a society where every one is law abiding and conforms to the same standards of behavior.
    Calvin’s takeover of Geneva was as bad as any of the wars of religion in the rest of Europe, but like the other religious wars, it ended hundreds of years ago.
    There actually 4 languages, the 4th is Romanesch.