In This Chapter

Bookmark and Share

Chapter Review

  • What is Political Violence?
    • Political violence is violence outside of state control that is politically motivated.
    • Some political scientists see political violence as part of “contentious politics” or collective political struggle, which includes such things as revolutions, civil war, riots and strikes, but also more peaceful protest movements. Crime and warfare share some attributes with political violence, but political scientists do not define them as political violence.
  • Why Political Violence?
    • Scholars who seek to explain political violence use three categories of factors: institutional, ideational, and individual.
    • Institutional explanations for political violence focus on how state, economic, or social systems contribute to political violence.
    • Ideational explanations focus on the effect of political, religious ideas in causing political violence.
    • Individual explanations focus on what motivates individual people to engage in political violence—either because of rational or psychological factors.
  • Comparing Explanations of Political Violence
    • The three approaches to explaining political violence – Institutional, Ideational, and Individual – may be compared on their view of free will versus determinism and on universal versus particularistic approaches.
    • Institutional explanations are more deterministic, while individual explanations tend to afford more free will.  Ideational explanations lie somewhere in between.
    • Institutional explanations are more particularistic, while individual explanations tend to be more universal; again, ideational approaches lie somewhere in the middle.
  • Forms of Political Violence
    • Revolution is a public seizure of the state in order to overturn the existing government and regime. Unlike a coup d’état, where elites overthrow the government, the public plays a key role in a revolution. Revolutions often, but not always, involve violence.
    • Earlier scholars focused on individual explanations for revolutions, such as the relative deprivation model, which argued that revolution occurred when there was a gap between public expectations and actual conditions in a country. Later work focused on institutional explanations, including how competition for power in the international system can lead weaker states to institute reforms that may breed discontent and thus incite revolution. Today, scholars tend to incorporate both arguments in their explanations for revolution.
    • Though revolution can bring new forms of government and economic systems, it can also result in increased state power and dictatorship. One general observation is that the greater the violence associated with bringing down the old regime, the more likely it is that violence will continue under the new one. 
    • Terrorism is the use of violence by non-state actors against civilians in order to achieve a political goal. State-sponsored terrorism is violence (genocide, war crimes, torture) perpetrated by a state as an instrument of foreign policy. In contrast to terrorism, guerrilla war involves violence by non-state actors targeting the state.
    • Drawing from institutional explanations, some scholars point to weak economies and low levels of education as explanations for terrorism; however, many terrorist leaders and followers come from economically advantaged backgrounds. Ideational explanations (blaming a particular ideology or religion) are common but do not sufficiently explain cause and effect. Individual explanations focus on the feeling of injustice or humiliation that, some feel, comes at the hands of oppressors. Some scholars point to nihilistic and apocalyptic viewpoints—beliefs that all values and institutions are meaningless, and that violence can destroy a corrupt world and usher in a new order—as causes of terrorist violence.
    • Though most scholars argue that terrorism has not been successful at achieving its long-term goals, it does have a significant political impact. Terrorism has been successful at disrupting economies and destabilizing politics in some countries and can be a tool to provoke international conflict.  Fighting terrorism may lead to a weakening of democratic institutions and civil rights, which may result in less trust in government and less public control over it. At an extreme, terrorism can help bring down a regime.
  • Political Violence in Context: Faith, Terrorism, and Revolution
    • As ideology has waned, religious fundamentalism has re-emerged in the public realm.
    • There are three main factors that connect religious fundamentalism to political violence: 1) a hostility to modernity, arguing that the institutions of the modern state have stripped the world of greater meaning and caused people to suffer; 2) the belief that modern states actively seek to exterminate and denigrate believers; and 3) messianic, apocalyptic, and utopian beliefs—that despite modernity having the upper hand, the righteous believers will triumph in the end.
    • It is a mistake to confuse fundamentalism with violence. Indeed, many of the above elements can also be found in modern political ideologies, and religiously motivated political violence has many parallels with similar acts carried out by nonreligious groups.
  • Countering Political Violence
    • Some people argue that democratic regimes allow enough political participation to diffuse the possibility of political violence by providing more options for political opposition. However, engaging in regime change may actually increase—not reduce—the threat of political violence, especially if that change is violent.
    • Democracies that are victims of political violence may curtail certain freedoms in order to increase security, creating what some have called a “surveillance state.” However, these moves may erode democracy and contribute to greater political violence by providing further proof that the state is conspiring to destroy its opponents.