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  • Motives and AlignmentsResponse to Kimeldorf’s, Adut’s, and Hall’s Comments on Ruling Oneself Out
  • Ivan Ermakoff (bio)

Drawing on multiple perspectives and different analytic takes, Howard Kimeldorf’s, Ari Adut’s, and John R. Hall’s comments raise three broad issues at the center of the agenda laid out in Ruling Oneself Out. The first issue concerns the motivational underpinnings of decisions reached in conditions of high uncertainty. The second draws the focus on the logic of the argument and its possible connections with models of organizational behaviors. The third points to the explanatory scope of the theory and the indeterminacy of the processes at play. In this article I address these critical remarks and, along the way, stake out claims and implications.

On Motivational Underpinnings

An argument about decisions cannot avoid delving into motivations and subjective perceptions. Several of Ari Adut’s and Howard Kimeldorf’s comments [End Page 97] focus on this issue. Adut draws attention to the possible effects of coercive pressures and pervasive expectations of retaliation in July 1940. In addition, his comments suggest that we should not downplay the significance of opportunism as a motive for endorsement. Kimeldorf for his part calls for a shift in analytic focus: instead of treating fear, misjudgment, and ideological collusion as three separate motives, the relevant matrix is a mixed one that combines all three. These comments raise important empirical and analytic points. I address each in turn.

Pressures and the Prospect of Doom

Is there ground to argue that in July 1940 those who voted no did so because they expected to be punished regardless of their vote, as Adut suggests? And would it help to know how many of these dissenters were arrested subsequently? Both in 1933 and in 1940 actors on the spot were those who had prominence as a result of their past responsibilities. The decision to repress them often reflected political priorities directly geared to the imperative of power consolidation. The Vichy leadership, for instance, decided to intern and prosecute several prominent politicians of the French Third Republic for their alleged responsibility in the military disaster. This measure targeted actors who had not taken part in the vote (Edouard Daladier, Georges Mandel), actors who had abstained (Paul Reynaud), and actors who had opposed the power transfer (Léon Blum, Jules Moch). As for less visible parliamentarians who had dissented in July 1940, they could peacefully live throughout the period without being bothered if state leaders did not perceive them as opponents.1

It is therefore unclear whether subsequent measures of repression can help us assess the motivational significance of coercive pressures at the time of the decision. There can be considerable discrepancy between actors’ beliefs regarding future retaliations and what happens to them subsequently. The focus on subsequent arrests, furthermore, raises a methodological issue: when we invoke ex post events to back up claims about beliefs that hypothetically anticipated these events, implicitly or not, the approach becomes backward-looking and prone to retrospective selection biases prompting the deduction of antecedents from outcomes. In this book I adopt the actors’ standpoint. As a result, the perspective is forward-looking.

Still, could it be that those who voted no did so because “they knew (or [End Page 98] thought) that they would be punished in the new regime regardless of their vote” (Adut)? This claim rests on two assumptions: those who oppose the power transfer are certain to lose—they will be in the minority—or they believe that whatever the outcome of the vote, it will have no impact on the challenger’s political capacity. Both assumptions are problematic. Opponents were not certain to lose until the very end. Furthermore, in July 1940 the universe of subsequent events and their likelihoods depended very much on the vote. Had Pierre Laval been rebuffed, the prospect of a state aligned with Nazi Germany would have lost much of its substance.

Consider the following remark by Léon Blum (1955: 86–87): “Was the risk of being jailed quite real? Was [this threat] any different than a bogeyman for weak hearts? Laval could maybe take his revenge on some isolated dissenters. But could he throw...


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pp. 97-109
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