Siege Mentality

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Concept description

The Cambridge Dictionary (reference below) defines siege mentality as a feeling that makes you frightened of people around you, and causes you not to trust them.

Writing in the New York Times (reference below) David Brooks suggests “the siege mentality explains most of the dysfunctional group behavior these days, on left and right.”

He writes:

“You see the siege mentality not just among evangelical Christians but also among the campus social justice warriors and the gun lobbyists, in North Korea and Iran, and in the populist movements across Europe.

“The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole “culture” or the whole world is irredeemably hostile.

“From this flows a deep sense of pessimism. Things are bad now. Our enemies are growing stronger. And things are about to get worse. The world our children inherit will be horrific. The siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.

“The odd thing is that the siege mentality feels kind of good to the people who grab on to it. It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world — the noble us versus the powerful them. It gives them a clear sense of group membership and a clear social identity. It offers a ready explanation for the bad things that happen in life.

“Most of all, it gives people a narrative to express their own superiority: We may be losing, but at least we are the holy remnant. We have the innocence of victimhood. We are martyrs in a spiteful world.

Leaders, even sports coaches, try to whip up the siege mentality, because it makes their job easier. After all, this mentality encourages people to conform and follow orders. Resentment can be a great motivator. It’s us against the world!

“The siege mentality also excuses the leader’s bad behavior. When our very existence is on the line we can’t be worrying about things like humility, sexual morality, honesty and basic decency. In times of war all is permissible. Even molesting teenagers can be overlooked because our group’s survival is at stake.

“In the end, though, the siege mentality ends up being self-destructive. Groups smitten with the siege mentality filter out discordant facts and become more extreme versions of themselves, leading to further marginalization. They take mainstream loathing as a badge of honor and wind up taking pleasure in their most unattractive instincts.”

See also Victimhood Culture.


Cambridge Dictionary, siege mentality, at, accessed 14 November 2017.

David Brooks (2017), The Siege Mentality Problem, New York Times, 13 November 2017, at, accessed 14 November 2017..

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Diversity, Identity, and Rights (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 14 November 2017.

Image: ArtStation, Total War Battles, at, accessed 14 November 2017.