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9 J. Conflict Resol. 1 (1965)

handle is hein.journals/jcfltr9 and id is 1 raw text is: 












Myth, self-fulfilling prophecy, and


symbolic reassurance in the


East - West conflict




JOHN   H. KAUTSKY
Department of Political Science, Washington University


The myth  must be judged as a means of act-
ing on the present; any attempt to discuss how
far it can be taken literally as future history is
devoid of sense.-GEORGEs SOREL
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning,
a false definition of the situation evoking a
new behavior which makes the originally false
conception come true. The specious validity of
the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign
of error.-ROBERT K. MERTON
Emotional commitment to a symbol is associ-
ated with contentment and quiescence regard-
ing problems that would otherwise arouse con-
cern.-MuRRAY  EDELMAN

  The  purpose  of this essay is to throw
some  new light on the well-known data of
World   Communism and the East-West
conflict through the use of three interrelated
concepts-Georges   Sorel's myth, Robert
K. Merton's self-fulfilling prophecy, and
Murray  Edelman's  symbolic reassurance.
It is not meant to provide any new data on
its subject or to present any full discussion
of the three concepts or their complex re-
lationships.
  Sorel's myth was  a complex  of remote
goals, tense moral moods and  expectations


of apocalyptic  success (Shils, 1961, p.
17). Guided  and inspired by such a myth,
individuals will behave as they would not
in the absence  of the myth.   Hence  the
myth,  however  false, has real behavioral
consequences. To  Sorel, the myth was sig-
nificant in accounting for the behavior and
often the success of a single group vis-A-
vis some opposition. In the following, we
shall deal with a situation where the same
myth  has been accepted  by two  opposing
groups, one  regarding  it positively, the
other negatively. Each  has acted on  the
basis of the myth  and thereby  reinforced
it in the mind of the other.
  It is here that Merton's concept of the
self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play.
But, like Sorel, Merton seems to be chiefly
concerned with accounting for the behavior
of single groups (1957, pp. 421-36),' while

  1 Merton cites numerous examples, particu-
larly of the behavior of ethnic ingroups toward
ethnic outgroups being conditioned by self-
fulfilling prophecies. He does also mention in
passing that, actuated by the conviction that
war  between two nations is inevitable . . .

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