Category Archives: revolution

Why Men Rebel. An analysis of political violence – Ted Robert Gurr. 

Introduction to the Fortieth Anniversary Paperback Edition

Why Men Rebel was written in the late 1960s when observers in the Western world were deeply concerned about political violence in postcolonial states, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, and mass protest movements, especially against racial discrimination in the United States and military intervention in Vietnam.

Looking backward, the question is how well its arguments help us understand later waves of violent conflict within societies. This introduction reviews and updates some of Why Men Rebel’s arguments and, in a concluding section, applies it to the wave of pro-democracy protests that swept through the Middle East from 2009 in Iran to 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and beyond.

Why Men Rebel was first published in 1970 by Princeton University Press and was awarded the American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Award as the best book of 1970 in political science and international relations. In the next few years it was translated into German, Spanish, and Thai. In the first decade of the twenty-first century it attracted a new Hurry of intellectual interest that led to the appearance of editions in Arabic and Russian. 

In my late twenties, when the Why Men Rebel arguments were first formulated in a New York University dissertation, I thought it was possible to provide a general explanation for political protest and rebellion that could help readers understand not only the violent conflicts of the 1960s but a great many others as well.

I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that to build a more peaceful and secure world, we need to begin by analyzing the minds of men—and women—who oppose bad governments and unpopular policies. But equally we need to know about the societies in which they live, their beliefs and cultural traditions, and the governments they oppose.

The essential argument of the Why Men Rebel model is that to understand protest and rebellion in general, and in specific instances, we should analyze three general factors.

First is popular discontent (relative deprivation), along with an analysis of its sources.

Second are people’s justifications or beliefs about the justifiability and utility of political action.

Third is the balance between discontented peoples capacity to act—that is, the ways in which they are organized—and the government’s capacity to repress or channel their anger.

In the present era, people almost everywhere worry about international terrorism, instability in Africa and the Islamic world, and the risks that political conflict will lead to genocidal massacres of dissidents. Does an analytic framework from 1970 also apply in the second decade of the twenty-first century?

The Why Men Rebel model has been tested by many researchers during the last forty years, including its author.

Comparative analyses have asked how political violence is affected by relative deprivation, group organization, regime repression, and international support, and whether it takes shape as political protest or rebellion. Detailed case studies have applied the model, and modified it, to explain particular events such as the Hungarian revolution of 1957 and the Tiananmen Square uprising in China in 1989.

In the 1990s, Stephen G. Brush, a historian of science, analyzed several hundred publications in the social sciences that addressed the scientific agenda laid out in Why Men Rebel and published his findings in 1996 in the Journal of Conflict Resolution. This is his summary:

“The extent to which theories in the social sciences are accepted or rejected on the basis of empirical tests can be shown only by a detailed analysis of specific cases. [This study] examines the reception in the 1970s and early 1980s of T. R. Gurr’s theory of collective violence based on the concept of relative deprivation.

The history of this theory may be considered an example of definite progress in social science: A hypothesis widely accepted at one time has been tested and rejected, thus making room for the development of alternative hypotheses. But although Gurr and other advocates of the theory have abandoned it in its original form following the mostly negative results of empirical tests, many social scientists (especially psychologists) have continued to cite it favorably. Slightly less than half of the unfavorable citations have been supported by references to empirical evidence. He points out that less than half of the unfavorable citations were supported by references to empirical evidence—in other words, negative judgments had other bases, such as a preference for different approaches to explanation.”

Brush adds that a shift toward more favorable citations in the American social science literature was evident by the early 1990s. The argument prompted strong theoretical critiques. Prominent scholars such as Charles Tilly, Theda Skocpol, and Sidney Tarrow argued that we should begin explanations by examining social and political structures (Skocpol), political mobilization (Tilly), and mass social movements (Tarrow).

Mark Irving Lichbach showed that the anger-grievance-rebellion sequence could be explained within a rational choice framework.

In light of forty years of research and reflection, I think the core of the Why Men Rebel model remains valid but is incomplete. First, I continue to think that people, with all their diverse identities, desires, and beliefs, should be central to our analyses of conflict. This means using individuals as the prism through which to examine the effects of social structures, beliefs, and the possibilities for mobilization and political action. Is “relative deprivation” the best concept for doing so? In my own later research, I have used the words grievances and sense of injustice to capture tile essence of the state of mind that motivates people to political action. Whichever phrase is used, the essential first step in analysis is to understand what people’s grievances are and where they come from.

This brings me to my second point, which is that to understand grievances, we must first examine where people stand in society and what goods and bads they experience from governments. It is not enough to point to big economic and social structures as the “explanation.” We need to understand how people interpret the situations in which they find themselves. Protestors against the effects of globalization, for example, are mainly young people in advanced industrial societies who, objectively, benefit from globalization. Why do they protest, and not the poor of the global South?

Some young men in the Islamic world are attracted to militant movements like the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and elsewhere in the Middle East that justify political violence by appealing to a perversion of Islamic doctrine. Some seek opportunities in the modern world in cities, in the Gulf States, and in Europe and North America. And tens of thousands of young people have led a virtual tsunami of protests against autocratic rulers in North Africa and the Middle East.

Why do they respond in such different ways to political appeals and opportunities?

My third point is that Why Men Rebel does not analyze carefully enough the sources of people’s beliefs about justice and injustice. The phrase “relative deprivation” implies that they feel unjustly treated by comparison with other groups, but explanation does not stop there. The content of ideologies and revolutionary or militant Islamist doctrines also help shape their expectations.

Group identity is even more important; To understand grievances we need to understand peoples clan, ethnic, religious, and political identities. With what people do they feel kindred, what networks of social interaction and communication connect them? The politics of identity are central to understanding people’s reference groups, their sense of collective injustice, and their susceptibility to appeals for political action.

In my more recent writings about the sources of protest and rebellion by ethnic groups, summarized in Peoples versus States (2000), the theoretical beginning point is analysis of group identity, The question is:

With whom do people identify and in what circumstances does a particular identity become more or less salient for them?

This approach does not abandon the essential “understand people first” principle of Why Men Rebel. But it recognizes that in most of the world, including the West despite its emphasis on the individual, group context and identity shape people’s hopes and grievances.

My fourth point concerns group mobilization. Empirical analyses of the causes of political protest and rebellion mostly confirm the late Charles Tilly’s contention in From Mobilization to Revolution (1978) that whether and how people are organized is the immediate source of political action. The greater the extent of mobilization in a group, a city, or a country, the greater the extent of political protest and rebellion.

The Why Men Rebel model also looks at the extent and structures of group organization, in chapter 8, but does not provide a full account of the processes by which they become organized. Tilly gives much more attention to process, but with one major omission: He does not analyze carefully how a group’s grievances and beliefs shape the mobilization process. Therefore, a full analysis of group mobilization and ensuing political action requires a synthesis of a Why Men Rebel analysis of grievances and beliefs with Tilly’s analysis of mobilization as a process.

In summary, to understand when and how people are politically mobilized, and which kinds of people are prepared to take risky political action, we need to begin with group identities and shared grievances.

Fifth, we need to examine the ways in which communication of ideas and personal mobility are transforming political action in the twenty-first century. When Why Men Rebel was written, most protest and revolutionary movements were specific to one country, or even one region within a country. The Internet and social networking make for much and more rapid communication of ideas, air travel gives organizers greater mobility. It is much easier now than it was forty years ago to establish a transnational movement in support of indigenous rights, or environmental protection, or democratic governance. It also is easier to create a transnational network of revolutionaries using a strategy of terrorism.

In other words, political action no longer stops at national borders.

To understand why and how this occurs, it remains useful to begin with some of the Why Men Rebel arguments, which include an analysis (in chapter 4) of the role of the communication media in spreading political ideas. We understand the mechanisms. What we do not understand as well is how skillful communicators can create a sense of identity and common purpose that transcends national boundaries and then use it to mobilize people in many different places for coordinated political action. Sidney Tarrow’s work provides a good starting point for analyzing the formation and effects of social movements.

Next are some observations about the rationality of political action. Why Men Rebel was written on the psychological assumption that non-rational responses to frustration help motivate episodes of political violence. An effort was made in chapter 6 to incorporate elements of rational-choice analysis, showing how cost-benefit calculations are used—especially by leaders—to put anger to strategic political purposes.

In retrospect, I think it was a mistake to suggest that people who react violently to their sense of injustice are non-rational. It is true that the consequences of violent political action are more often destructive than constructive and can lead to great suffering for those who take the step to violence. An important complement to Why Men Rebel is Mark Irving Lichbach’s The Rebel’s Dilemma (1995), which shows that elements of rational calculation permeate the entire process of political conflict.

I do not now think it makes sense to assume a priori that conflict behavior is either rational or irrational. Instead, one should focus on the identities, grievances, and objectives of people who initiate political action and ask, critically, whether and how their actions contribute to the attainment of their goals.

Let me turn next to the role of governments in the process of conflict. Why Men Rebel points out, in chapter 5, that the legitimacy of governments is a major determinant of whether people’s anger is directed against authorities or channeled into other kinds of action. This argument has been verified in many subsequent studies: legitimate governments are Seldom targets of rebellion. But the model also simplifies reality by making a linear argument that people rebel and governments respond. This seems to imply that rebels are the problem and government the solution. A more careful reading shows that governments are implicated in creating the conditions for conflict at every step in the process.

Government-imposed inequalities are a major source of grievances, repressive policies increase anger and resistance, denial of the right to use conventional politics and protest pushes activists underground and spawns terrorist and revolutionary resistance.

But this leads to a big set of questions that Why Men Rebel does not attempt to answer. Why do some governments rule by repression, thus reproducing the conditions of future rebellion, while others govern with policies and concessions that contribute to social peace? No specific explanations are proposed in Why Men Rebel or in this new introduction about why and how governments respond to political action or the grievances from which it springs, but here are a few suggestions.

Democracies generally do better because their leaders have to face reelection and therefore are encouraged to compromise. Nonetheless some democracies suppress minorities and some autocratic leaders carry out long-term programs of social reform, so democratic governance is not the only factor.

Equally important are the beliefs or ideology of political leaders. Some have fundamental commitments to protecting all citizens’ rights and well-being; others are ideologically committed to objectives such as radical nationalism or religious purification. Exclusionary ideologies like the latter can be used to justify discrimination, repression, and in extreme cases the physical annihilation of offending minorities, as Barbara Harff has shown in her analysis of the causes of genocide and political mass murder.

We need also to recognize that all leaders, in whatever kind of political system, have strong survival instincts and, if their and their supporters’ security is seriously and repeatedly threatened, they will resort to almost any means to defeat challengers.

Lastly, governments and political movements alike are increasingly exposed to international influences. One of the good consequences of globalization is that most governments now are dependent on international trade, investment, and external political support. Therefore they face political pressures to respect human rights, to rely on reform rather than repression to contain discontent, and to open up their political systems to popular participation and power sharing. Failure to do so is risky because it often leads to international criticism, diplomatic pressures, reduced trade and investment, and in response to the worst abuses, international intervention.

Why Men Rebel continues to be recognized as a classic because it helped lead the way to a systematic, people-based understanding of the causes of political protest and rebellion. The book itself and forty years of critical analysis also point to additional questions. I encourage readers in the contemporary world to keep these guidelines in mind when seeking to understand and to respond to popular discontents:

Begin by examining the group identities and grievances of disadvantaged people, including the poor, underemployed urban youth, and members of ethnic, national, and religious minorities. Understand the sources of people’s grievances by examining their status and their treatment by governments and by other groups. Listen to what people say, not just what others say about them. Ask why group identities and disadvantages make their members susceptible to different kinds of political appeals and ideologies that justify protest or rebellion. Analyze the motives and strategies of leaders who seek to build political movements among aggrieved people.

Study the motives and strategies of governments in dealing with disadvantaged groups. Are governments open to political participation by such groups? Do government policies increase or reduce the potential for disruptive conflict?

Look for evidence about international factors—transnational movements, ideologies, examples of successful political action—that affect group grievances, mobilization, and choices among different political strategies. Analyze the international pressures and constraints that influence the way governments respond to political action. Consider how political action and government responses affect the groups involved. How much does a group gain or lose? Do governmental policies restore public order or do they provoke further resistance?

Let me sketch an analysis of pro-democracy protests in the contemporary Middle East that helps illustrate many of these points. The analysis should begin in Iran in mid-June 2009, with eight weeks of massive protests (reaching a peak of nearly two million on July 17) in the streets of Tehran and other cities against the fraud-tainted national election that returned President Ahmadinejad to power for a second term. Security forces and most senior clergy supported him and the campaign of repression that followed.

Censorship, scapegoating protestors as Western stooges in the government-controlled media, random shootings, arrests, and show trials won the day and Ahmadinejad was sworn in on August 7.

There was a very different outcome of protests in Tunisia, where urban protests by young men began in December 2010 against economic conditions and corruption in the government of President Ben Ali. In power for twentythree years, Ben Ali soon lost the support of the military and went into exile in January 2011. Protests escalated until a caretaker regime was purged of his close associates.

Anti-government protests followed in almost every Middle Eastern country. In Egypt President Mubarak, in power for forty-two years, was prompted to resign by the military establishment. In Yemen urban protest against President Saleh’s long-standing autocratic rule worsened the stresses of long-standing regional and sectarian conflicts. In Bahrain the disadvantaged Shi’a majority challenged the ruling Al Khalifa family in demonstrations that mobilized as many as 100,000 people. In Libya urban protest escalated into east-west civil war. Protests in Syria against the repressive government of Basilar al-Assad began in the southern city of Daraa and, in reaction to the regime’s deadly responses, spread to cities throughout the country.

There Were other echoes of anti-government protest in almost every country in the region, from Morocco to Iran, with governments seeking to preempt them with a mix of concessions and arrests.

The outcomes of this wave of protest will be uncertain for some time, even in Tunisia and Egypt, where military officers are overseeing transitions to more participatory and reformist governments. From an analytic perspective, the primal cause of virtually all protests has been the cumulation of economic and political grievances, especially among the rapidly growing population of city-dwelling youth, against corrupt and repressive regimes and their sclerotic leaders.

Decades of research aimed at testing the Why Men Rebel arguments about the primacy of relative deprivation have foundered on the lack of reliable means of assessing the depth and content of grievances across diverse populations, especially in tightly controlled autocracies. Yet no close observer or distant analyst doubts the depth of smoldering anger and resentment among young people in Middle Eastern societies. It was the perceptions of aggrieved populations in the Middle East that changed in early 2011, not their objective situations. The power of the ideal of participatory democracy, spread through the global media and personal contacts with friends abroad, had gradually eroded the legitimacy of autocratic regimes. Government violence against protestors intensified anger and eroded the last shreds of legitimacy.

The trigger for Muslim youth was the demonstration effect of successful political action elsewhere—not Iran 2009, where protest failed, but Tunisia and Egypt, where it helped push entrenched leaders from power.

Mobilization, that is, the capacity of the pro-democracy forces to turn out tens and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, developed very rapidly in response to external cues.

Newborn civil society organizations in most Middle Eastern societies had long been suppressed by autocratic rulers. Those that survived did so clandestinely, or, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, were constrained by harassment and sharp restrictions on their political activities. Political networks, facilitated by Internet-based means of social communication, provided an alternative basis for mass mobilization.

Max Rodenbeck reports that in Cairo an antigovernment protest group called April 6 had organized small, ineffective antigovernment demonstrations in 2009 and 2010. In January 2011 it linked up with a Facebook-based group of some 300,000 established the previous summer to protest the killing of a young businessman. Members of April 6, activists from the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing, and a mix of socialists and secularists called a protest for January 25 using the social media to spread the word. Between their planning session and January 25, protests in Tunisia led Ben Ali to resign. Rally turnouts were unexpectedly large—25,000 in Cairo, 20,000 in Alexandria. And they snowballed from there.

Once detailed accounts emerge from other countries in the region, we can expect similar accounts—the very rapid emergence of mass protest from informal networks that rely on social networking rather than formal organization.

The Cairo example also suggests the importance of new communication networks in shaping ideologies of resistance and persuading people of the feasibility of political action—the subjects of chapter 7 in Why Men Rebel.

Grievances about acts of regime violence are reinforced, successes elsewhere are publicized, scenarios for action are planned. Once mass demonstrations begin they become self-sustaining: they build solidarity and provide the protection of numbers, unless and until the regime responds with massive and deadly force. Solidarity provides normative satisfactions, numbers increase utilities—individuals feel safer about participation and more hopeful about winning.

The outcomes of pro-democracy protest are shaped by what are called “the coercive balance” between regimes and dissidents and their “balance of institutional support” (Why Men Rebel, chapters 8 and 9).

Protestors’ only significant coercive power is to paralyze cities, a short-term tactic that ultimately hurts them economically. But their symbolic power is enormous, an issue not much discussed in Why Men Rebel. They attract international media attention and generate political pressures on regimes, giving dramatic evidence that regimes lack the capacity to satisfy their subjects or to maintain public order. These pressures often reveal, or create, fissures in elite support for the regime. The loyalty of the military and security forces are critical: If they defect, or pressure autocrats to step down, the pro-democracy forces have won half the game.

A general autocratic fatigue effect also may be at work. The longer a Ben Ali, Mubarak, or Qaddafi is in power, the less effective he becomes and the more likely to be challenged by restless and ambitious members of his inner circle. Public protest thus can be a pretext for ousting him.

Iran in 2009 gives challenged autocrats in the Middle East one alternative scenario. The Ahmadinejad government, much younger than that of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or Yemen, orchestrated a campaign of intimidation and repression that kept it securely in power. By contrast, Jordan’s King Abdullah II responded to the first evidence of protests in early 2011 by dismissing his cabinet and promising further reforms. Protests gradually diminished.

The countries that escaped serious protest in the first quarter of 2011 included Oman, led by a rapidly modernizing monarch; the prosperous Emirates of the Gulf; and Saudi Arabia.

Repression was the principal strategy of regimes in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, sometimes accompanied by proposals for reform. The risk is that concessions often signal regime weakness and embolden dissidents. Repression failed in Libya when the rebels violently ousted the Qaddafi regime in August 2011. The outcomes in the other three countries remain to be seen.

Why Men Rebel gives little attention to the effects of international intervention on the balance of coercion and institutional support between regimes and dissidents, or how it can shape outcomes. In the late 1960s there was little relevant scholarship or evidence on the issue, though it was commonly thought in U.S. and British policy circles that Communist-led rebellions could and should be defeated by military assistance to the regimes they attacked. Later empirical research, done in the context of the Cold War, suggested that military intervention on behalf of one party to an internal war was more likely to prompt reciprocal support for the opposing party and thus to lead to an escalating proxy war rather than a decisive outcome.

The post-Cold War experience is very diverse, and complicated greatly by international advocacy, and occasional practice, of “humanitarian intervention” justified by a normative responsibility to protect civilians.

It is far too soon to analyze or assess the effects of international responses to anti-government protests in the Middle East. When they began, most Western democracies gave them cautious symbolic support. When the Qaddafi regime responded with indiscriminate violence against civilians, international sanctions were imposed, followed by the UN-authorized imposition of a no-fly zone to shield civilians in eastern Libya. Western military intervention in support of the rebels was widely criticized as war without an exit strategy, but in fact it decisively tipped the coercive balance. It enabled the rebels to reorganize, arm, and mount a winning offensive.

Less attention has been given to the international response in Bahrain, site of a major U.S. naval base. The United States reportedly has encouraged the Al-Khalifa regime to make significant concessions. Some members of the ruling family favored this approach but they were overruled by hard-liners. The Saudis, fearing a new center of Iran-backed Shi’a influence in the Gulf, has sent troops to help maintain public order. In Bahrain, as in Syria, there is no basis for predicting outcomes.

Most conflict researchers cited here, including the author, try to be objective in their analyses. The ultimate normative purpose of this kind of conflict analysis, the objective that attracted most scholars to the subject, is to help all of us—political activists, policy makers, and scholars—understand how to build more just and peaceful societies. The Middle East example shows that protest movements, like internal wars, are now subject to major international influences at every level analyzed in Why Men Rebel. Analysis thus has become more complex and the goal of giving research-based guidance to those who would make peace is ever more challenging.

Ted Robert Gurr

Distinguished University Professor, Emeritus Founding Director, Minorities at Risk Project Center for International Development and Conflict Management University of Maryland

***

Introduction 1970

Do we really know so little about the causes of riot and rebellion that we must invoke contemporary exorcisms like “aggressive instincts” or “conspiracy” to explain them?

I think not.

Men have rebelled against their rulers for millennia, and during those millennia many perceptive observers have offered careful explanations of why they did so, in particular instances and in general. In a way we know too much about our inclination to violence. The accumulation of monographs and reports and data about this revolution and that, this theory and that, tends to obscure our view of some basic mental and social uniformities.

This study tries to identify and order some of those uniformities. Are men inherently aggressive, or aggressive only in response to specific social conditions? We will examine psychological evidence that suggests that men have a capacity but not a need for aggression, and other evidence about the patterns of social circumstance in which men exercise that capacity collectively.

Do some men learn to use violence? The answer is obviously yes; what is less obvious is why and how some groups adopt while others eschew violence. Certainly the use of public force to counter private violence, and the nature of human organization, make a difference in the shape and extent of violence. Here again we will discern patterns in much of the reporting and rhetoric; certain uses of force and some kinds of association among people have generally foreseeable effects on political violence.

This book is an exercise in simplification of the kind known as theory-building. I will try to point out the more important uniformities in the causes of violence in politics, drawing from the work of all the human sciences. I will attempt to be precise in describing and defining these uniformities, even at the risk of elaborating some truisms, on grounds that a precisely stated principle is a better tool for understanding than a dull analogy.

The uniformities are also documented with a sample of the evidence for them: the laboratory work of experimental psychologists, the speculation of grand and lesser theorists, the case studies of rebellions, the comparative evidence of those who count demands and deaths, and a measure of logical deduction.

The tentative explanations that emerge from this process are still complex, not simple. Violence, like those who use it, is complex, but it is not indecipherable. At least that is what I hope this book will demonstrate. A general explanation of political violence can become a guide to action as well as comprehension, even if it is not ideally precise. It can be used to evaluate, for policy purposes, the “revolutionary potential” of specific nations, and to estimate the effects of various actions on that potential.

This theory is not devised for these applications, but many of the characteristics that make it suitable for scholarly inquiry similarly suit it to policy purposes. Social theory can be put to unethical as well as ethical ends, and an author has little control over the use of his work short of refusing to publish. But I am persuaded that insofar as this study has policy uses, it should contribute more to the alleviation of human misery than its perpetuation. There is more than conceit in this concern.

The study’s impact can at most be marginal, but the world is large and “marginal” impacts can affect thousands of lives. This book is as likely to be read by rebels as by rulers and suggests as many courses of effective action for one as the other. Rebels should read it, for I think it implies means for the attainment of human aspirations that are more effective and less destructive to themselves and others than some of the tactics they now use.

The study will surely be read by men seeking means for the preservation of public order. They will find in it a number of implications for strategies to that end, but they will find little justification for reliance on tactics of repressive control. There is a wealth of evidence and principle that repressive policies defeat their purposes, in the long run if not necessarily in the short run.

The public order is most effectively maintained—it can only be maintained—when means are provided within it for men to work toward the attainment of their aspirations.

This is not an ethical judgment, or rather not just an ethical judgment. It approaches the status of a scientific law of social organization. Some kinds of force maybe necessary if revolutionaries or ruling elites are to create and maintain social order in time of crisis, so that constructive means can be established.

But exclusive reliance on force eventually raises up the forces that destroy it.

This study is in any case not designed for policy ends but for explanation, and that at a general level. If it clarifies the reasons for and consequences of men’s violent actions, it will have served its purpose.

The uses of illustrative materials in this study may require a note of explanation.

Many of the general relationships to be examined operate in the genesis of each occurrence of violent political conflict. No case of political violence is comprehensively described or analyzed, however. Particular aspects of many specific events, and comparative generalizations about sets of them, are cited to support or illustrate specific hypotheses. None of these references are complete descriptions of the events cited or, unless so specified, are they evidence that the aspects cited are more important than others.

For example, a phase of the French Revolution maybe summarized in one or two sentences without reference to the fact that it is only one of its facets. The study can justly be criticized according to whether such characterizations are true in the narrow sense. If it is criticized on grounds that specific events are misrepresented because only partly analyzed, the object of the study is misunderstood.

I am indebted to a number of scholars for their advice and criticism in the development of this study. My work on the subject began with my doctoral dissertation, “The Genesis of Violence: A Multivariate Theory of Civil Strife,” Department of Government and International Relations, New York University, 1965, work in which I was encouraged and guided by Alfred de Grazia and Thomas Adam.

My greatest obligation during the intervening years in which this study was written is to Harry Eckstein, who has been a consistent source of moral support and intellectual sustenance, and who provided detailed criticisms of a draft of the manuscript.

A number of other scholars at the Center of International Studies and elsewhere also provided thoughtful and useful commentaries, including Leonard Berkowitz, Mohammed Guessous, Chalmers Johnson, John T. McAlister, Jr., Mancur L. Olson, Jr., J. David Singer, Bryant Wedge, and David Williams. William J. McClung of the University Press gave especially helpful and competent editorial guidance.

Responsibility for inadequacies of fact, interpretation, judgment, and logic is of course my own, and in a study of this scope they will no doubt be found in some measure.

I also wish to thank June Traube and Mary Merrick of the staff of the Center of International Studies, who spent many laborious hours preparing the manuscript, and James Bledsoe and Mary Fosler, who helped prepare the bibliography.

Initial theoretical work was supported by an award from a National Science Foundation institutional grant to New York University. Empirical work, which contributed to some of the revisions in the theoretical framework, was supported by the Center for Research on Social Systems (formerly SORO) of American University.

Writing of the final manuscript was made possible by support of the Center of International Studies and by a basic research grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. Support from the last source implies neither that agency’s acceptance of this study and its conclusions nor my approval of policies of the U.S. government toward political violence.

*** 

WHY MEN REBEL

1. Explanations of Political Violence Conflict … is a theme that has occupied the thinking of man more than any other, save only God and love. Anatol Rapoport, Fights, Games, and Debates

THE INSTITUTIONS, persons, and policies of rulers have inspired the violent wrath of their nominal subjects throughout the history of organized political life. A survey of the histories of European states and empires, spanning twenty-four centuries, shows that they averaged only four peaceful years for each year of violent disturbances.

Modern nations have no better record: between 1961 and 1968 some form of violent civil conflict reportedly occurred in 114 of the world’s 121 larger nations and colonies. 

Most acts of group violence have negligible effects on political life; but some have been enormously destructive of human life and corrosive of political institutions. Ten of the world’s thirteen most deadly conflicts in the past 160 years have been civil wars and rebellions; 3 since 1945, violent attempts to overthrow governments have been more common than national elections.

The counterpoise to this grim record is the fact that political violence has sometimes led to the creation of new and more satisfying political communities. The consequences of the American, Turkish, Mexican, and Russian revolutions testify in different ways to the occasional beneficence of violence.

In this study political violence refers to all collective attacks within a political community against the political regime, its actors —including competing political groups as well as incumbents —or its policies. The concept represents a set of events, a common property of which is the actual or threatened use of violence, but the explanation is not limited to that property.

The concept subsumes revolution, ordinarily defined as fundamental sociopolitical change accomplished through violence. It also includes guerrilla wars, coups d’état, rebellions, and riots. Political violence is in turn subsumed under “force,” the use or threat of violence by any party or institution to attain ends within or outside the political order.

The definition is not based on a prejudgment that political violence is undesirable. Like the uses of violence qua force by the state, specific acts of political violence can be good, bad, or neutral according to the viewpoint of the observer. Participants in political violence may value it as a means of expressing political demands or opposing undesirable policies.

Limited violence also can be useful for rulers and for a political system generally, especially as an expression of social malaise when other means for making demands are inadequate.

Ethical judgments are held in abeyance in this study to avoid dictating its conclusions. But it does not require an ethical judgment to observe that intense violence is destructive: even if some political violence is valued by both citizens and rulers, the greater its magnitude the less efficiently a political system fulfills its other functions. Violence generally consumes men and goods, it seldom enhances them.

Despite the frequency and social impact of political violence, it is not now a conventional category of social analysis. Yet some common properties of political violence encourage attention to it rather than more general or more specific concepts. Theoretically, all such acts pose a threat to the political system in two senses: they challenge the monopoly of force imputed to the state in political theory; and, in functional terms, they are likely to interfere with and, if severe, to destroy normal political processes.

Empirical justification for selecting political violence as a universe for analysis is provided by statistical evidence that political violence comprises events distinct from other measured characteristics of nations, and homogeneous enough to justify analysis of their common characteristics and causes. For example, countries experiencing extensive political violence of one kind—whether riots, terrorism, coups d’etat, or guerrilla war—are rather likely to experience other kinds of political violence, but are neither more or less likely to be engaged in foreign conflict. 

The properties and processes that distinguish a riot from a revolution are substantively and theoretically interesting, and are examined at length in this study, but at a general level of analysis they seem to be differences of degree, not kind.

The search for general causes and processes of political violence is further encouraged by the convergence of recent case, comparative, and theoretical studies. One striking feature of these studies is the similarity of many of the causal factors and propositions they identify, whether they deal with revolution, urban rioting, or other forms of political violence. This similarity suggests that some of their findings can be synthesized in a more efficient set of testable generalizations.

However good the prospects seem for a general analysis of political violence, research on it has been quite uneven, both in substance and in disciplinary approach. There is considerable European historical scholarship on segments of the subject, notably the peasant rebellions of the twelfth through nineteenth centuries and the great revolutions of England, France, and Russia. American and European scholars, most of them also historians, have in recent years contributed a modest case-study literature. American policy scientists have written a small flood of treatises on the causes and prophylaxis of subversive warfare, most of which seem to have had neither academic nor policyimpact.

The lapses of attention are striking by comparison. Of all the riotous mobs that have clamoured through the streets of history, only the revolutionary crowds of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe and the ghetto rioters of twentieth-century America have attracted much scholarly attention. There are relatively few case studies of political violence in the non-Western world, and fewer systematic comparative studies or attempts at empirical theory. Experimental studies dealing with social-psychological mechanisms of collective violence can be counted on one hand.

Among social scientists the historians have been by far the most active; American political scientists have until recently neglected the subject. Of 2,828 articles that appeared in the American Political Science Review from its establishment in 1906 through 1968, only twenty-nine appear from their titles to be concerned with political disorder or violence. Moreover twelve of the twenty-nine were concerned specifically with revolution, and fifteen appeared after 1961.

Political scientists might be expected to have a greater concern with political violence than others. Authoritative coercion in the service of the state is a crucial concept in political theory and an issue of continuing dispute.

Some have identified the distinctive characteristic of the state as its monopoly of physical coercion. Max Weber, for example, wrote that violence is a “means specific” to the state and that “the right of physical violence is assigned to all other associations or individuals only to the extent permitted by the state; it is supposed to be the exclusive source of the ‘right’ to use violence.” 

Thomas Hobbes, dismayed by the brutish anarchy of men living outside the restraint of commonwealths, conceived the sovereign’s control of coercion to be the foundation of the state and the social condition.  Schattschneider sees conflict, which subsumes violence, as the central concept of political science.

Nieberg emphasizes the positive functions of non-authoritative violence and its threatened use as an instrument of social change.

From any of these perspectives the occurrence of collective, nonauthoritative violence appears to pose two fundamental questions for political science: From what sources and by what processes does it arise, and how does it affect the political and social order?

What Is to Be Explained?

This study proposes some general answers to three basic questions about our occasional disposition to disrupt violently the order we otherwise work so hard to maintain:

What are the psychological and social sources of the potential for collective violence?

What determines the extent to which that potential is focused on the political system?

And what societal conditions affect the magnitude and form, and hence the consequences, of violence?

The study has four primary objects of analysis. Two are intervening variables: the potential for collective violence and the potential for political violence. Propositionally, potential for collective violence is a function of the extent and intensity of shared discontents among members of a society; the potential for political violence is a function of the degree to which such discontents are blamed on the political system and its agents.

The remaining objects of analysis are dependent variables: the magnitude of political violence and the forms of political violence, both of which are discussed below.

Theories of revolution are usually concerned with specifying a relationship between some set of preconditions and the occurrence of revolution. Political violence, however, is a pervasive phenomenon, as was suggested above: few contemporary or historical societies have been free of it for long. It may be useful for microanalysis to specify whether political violence is likely in a given society at a particular point in time.

For macroanalysis, however, the more interesting questions are the determinants of the extent of violence and of the forms in which it is manifested. If one’s interest is the effects of political violence on the political system, the questions of its magnitude and kind are both highly relevant. And if one is concerned in an ethical way with political violence, then almost certainly one wants to assess its human and material costs, and consequently the determinants of its magnitude.

Various measures of the relative extent of political violence have been used in recent comparative studies. Sorokin combined measures of the proportion of a nation affected (social area), proportion of population actively involved, duration, intensity, and severity of effects of violence in assessing the magnitude of internal disturbances. Tilly and Rule make use of man-days of participation. Rummel and Tanter have used counts of numbers of events. The Feierabends have developed a scaling procedure that takes account of both number of events and a priori judgments about the severity of events of various types.

Some researchers have used the grisly calculus of number of deaths resulting from violence.

The proposed relation between perceived deprivation and the frustration concept in frustration-anger-aggression theory, to be discussed in chapter 2, provides a rationale for a more general definition of magnitude of violence and a more precise specification of what it comprises. The basic frustration-aggression proposition is that the greater the frustration, the greater the quantity of aggression against the source of frustration. This postulate provides the motivational base for an initial proposition about political violence: the greater the intensity of deprivation, the greater the magnitude of violence. (Other perceptural and motivational factors are also relevant to political violence, but many of them can be subsumed by the deprivation concept, as is suggested in chapter 2.)

Intense frustration can motivate men either to intense, short-term attacks or to more prolonged, less severe attacks on their frustrators. Which tactic is chosen is probably a function of anticipated gain, opportunity, and fear of retribution, which in political violence are situationally determined. Hence the severity of deprivation affects both the intensity of violence, i.e. in the extent of human and physical damage incurred, and its duration. Moreover there are evidently individual differences—presumably normally distributed—in the intensity of frustration needed to precipitate overt aggression.

Extension of this principle to the deprivation-violence relationship suggests that the proportion of a population that participates in violence ought to vary with the average intensity of perceived deprivation. Mild deprivation will motivate few to violence, moderate deprivation will push more across the threshold, very intense deprivation is likely to galvanize large segments of a political community into action.

This argument suggests that magnitude of political violence has three component variables that ought to be taken into account in systematic analysis: the extent of participation within the political unit being studied (scope), the destructiveness of action (intensity), and the length of time violence persists (duration).

Sorokin’s empirical work takes all three aspects into account; so does mine.

The intensity and scope of relative deprivation and magnitude of violence are unidimensional variables. Theoretically, and empirically, one can conceive of degrees or quantities of each in any polity.

The forms of violence, however, are attributes that do not form a simple dimension. A society may experience riots but not revolution, revolution but not coups d’état, coups d’état but not riots. Hypotheses about forms of violence as dependent variables thus are necessarily different from those about deprivation and magnitude of violence. They are expressed in terms of probabilities (the greater x, the more likely y) rather than strict concomitance.

The question is how many forms of political violence ought to be accounted for in a general theory. The principle of parsimony, which should apply to dependent as well as independent variables, suggests using a typology with a small number of categories, events in each of which are fairly numerous. Conventional taxonomies, of which there are many, provide little help. Some, like that of Lasswell and Kaplan, provide simple typologies for revolutions but not for political violence generally.

Eckstein proposes a composite typology comprising unorganized, spontaneous violence (riots), intraelite conflicts (coups), two varieties of revolution, and wars of independence.

Perhaps the most complex typology is Rummel’s list of twenty-five types of domestic conflict, the analysis of which provides an empirical solution to the problem of a parsimonious typology. In Rummel’s analysis, and in a number of subsequent studies, data on the incidence and characteristics of various types of political violence were collected and tabulated by country and the “country scores” (number of riots, assassinations, coups, mutinies, guerrilla wars, and so on, in a given time period) were factor analyzed.

Whatever the typology employed, the period of reference, or the set of countries, essentially the same results were reported. A strong turmoil dimension is characterized by largely spontaneous strife such as riots and demonstrations. It is quite distinct both statistically and substantively from what can be called a revolutionary dimension, characterized by more organized and intense strife.

This revolutionary dimension has two components that appear in some analyses as separate dimensions: internal war, typically including civil war, guerrilla war, and some coups; and conspiracy, typically including plots, mutinies, and most coups.

These types are not absolutely distinct. The analyses mentioned on pp. 4-5 indicate that, at a more general level of analysis, political violence is a relatively homogenous universe. Within that universe, however, some kinds of violence tend to occur together, and the occurrence of some types tends to preclude the occurrence of other types.

The principal distinction between turmoil and revolution is the degree of organization and focus of violence, a distinction also made by Eckstein in his composite typology.

A major difference between the internal war and conspiracy components of the revolutionary dimension is one of scale. General definitions of the three forms of political violence examined in this analysis are as follows:

Turmoil: Relatively spontaneous, unorganized political violence with substantial popular participation, including violent political strikes, riots, political clashes, and localized rebellions.

Conspiracy: Highly organized political violence with limited participation, including organized political assassinations, small-scale terrorism, small-scale guerrilla wars, coups d’etat, and mutinies.

Internal war: Highly organized political violence with widespread popular participation, designed to overthrow the regime or dissolve the state and accompanied by extensive violence, including large-scale terrorism and guerrilla wars, civil wars, and revolutions.

In summary, this study is an attempt to analyze, and develop testable general hypotheses about, three aspects of political violence: its sources, magnitude, and forms. The processes by which the potential for violence develops and the kinds of conditions and events that channel its outcome are examined as part of this analysis.

Two topics often examined in theories of revolution are examined here only in passing: the immediate precipitants of violence, about which most generalizations appear trivial; and the long-run outcomes of various kinds of political violence, about which there is little empirical evidence or detailed theoretical speculation.

Toward an Integrated Theory of Political Violence The basic model of the conditions leading to political violence used in this study incorporates both psychological and societal variables. The initial stages of analysis are actor-oriented in the sense that many of the hypotheses about the potential for collective action are related to, and in some instances deduced from, information about the dynamics of human motivation. The approach is not wholly or primarily psychological, however, and it would be a misinterpretation of the arguments and evidence presented here to categorize it so.

Most of the relationships and evidence examined in subsequent stages of analysis are those that are proposed or observed to hold between societal conditions and political violence. The psychological materials are used to help provide causal linkages between and among societal variables and the dependent variables specified above: the potential for collective and political violence; the magnitude of political violence; and the likelihood that political violence will take the form of turmoil, conspiracy, or internal war.

Use of psychological evidence in this way makes certain kinds of social uniformities more clearly apparent and comprehensible, and contributes to the simplification of theory. At the same time the analysis of societal relationships is crucial for identifying the sources of some common psychological properties of violence-prone men and for generalizing about the many facets of political violence that have no parallels in psychological dynamics.

The goal of this analysis, at best only partly realized, was proposed by Inkeles in the context of a discussion of social structure and personality: “What is required … is an integration or coordination of two basic sets of data in a larger explanatory scheme—not a reduction of either mode of analysis to the allegedly more fundamental mode of the other.”

The outlines of the theory can now be sketched briefly.

The primary causal sequence in political violence is first the development of discontent, second the politicization of that discontent, and finally its actualization in violent action against political objects and actors.

Discontent arising from the perception of relative deprivation is the basic, instigating condition for participants in collective violence. The linked concepts of discontent and deprivation comprise most of the psychological states implicit or explicit in such theoretical notions about the causes of violence as frustration, alienation, drive and goal conflicts, exigency, and strain (discussed in chapter 2).

Relative deprivation is defined as a perceived discrepancy between men’s value expectations and their value capabilities.

Value expectations are the goods and conditions of life to which people believe they are rightfully entitled.

Value capabilities are the goods and conditions they think they are capable of attaining or maintaining, given the social means available to them.

Societal conditions that increase the average level or intensity of expectations without increasing capabilities increase the intensity of discontent.

Among the general conditions that have such effects are the value gains of other groups and the promise of new opportunities (chapter 4). Societal conditions that decrease men’s average value position without decreasing their value expectations similarly increase deprivation, hence the intensity of discontent.

The inflexibility of value stocks in a society, short-term deterioration in a group’s conditions of life, and limitations of its structural opportunities have such effects (chapter 5).

Deprivation-induced discontent is a general spur to action. Psychological theory and group conflict theory both suggest that the greater the intensity of discontent, the more likely is violence. The specificity of this impulse to action is determined by men’s beliefs about the sources of deprivation, and about the normative and utilitarian justifiability of violent action directed at the agents responsible for it.

Societal variables that affect the focusing of discontent on political objects include the extent of cultural and subcultural sanctions for overt aggression, the extent and degree of success of past political violence, the articulation and dissemination of symbolic appeals justifying violence, the legitimacy of the political system, and the kinds of responses it makes and has made to relative deprivation (chapters 6 and 7).

The belief that violence has utility in obtaining scarce values can be an independent source of political violence, but within political communities it is most likely to provide a secondary, rationalizing, rather than primary, motivation. Widespread discontent provides a general impetus to collective violence.

However, the great majority of acts of collective violence in recent decades have had at least some political objects, and the more intense those violent acts are, the more likely they are to be focused primarily or exclusively on the political system. Intense discontent is quite likely to be politicized; the primary effect of normative and utilitarian attitudes toward violence is to focus that potential.

The magnitude of political violence in a system, and the forms it takes, are partly determined by the scope and intensity of politicized discontent. Politicized discontent is a necessary condition for the resort to violence in politics. But however intense and focused the impetus to violence is, its actualization is strongly influenced by the patterns of coercive control and institutional support in the political community.

Political violence is of greatest magnitude, and most likely to take the form of internal war, if regimes and those who oppose them exercise approximately equal degrees of coercive control, and command similar and relatively high degrees of institutional support in the society. The coercive capacities of a regime and the uses to which they are put are crucial variables, affecting the forms and extent of political violence in both the short and long run. There is much evidence, some of it summarized in chapters 8 and 10, that some patterns of regime coercive control increase rather than decrease the intensity of discontent, and can facilitate the transformation of turmoil into full-scale revolutionary movements.

Dissidents, by contrast, use whatever degree of coercive capacities they acquire principally for group defense and for assaults on the regime. The degree of institutional support for dissidents and for regimes is a function of the relative proportions of a nation’s population their organizations mobilize, the complexity and cohesiveness of those organizations, their resources, and the extent to which they provide regularized procedures for value attainment, conflict resolution, and channeling hostility (chapter 9).

The growth of dissident organization may in the short run facilitate political violence, but it also is likely to provide the discontented with many of the means to alleviate deprivation in the long run, thus minimizing violence.

The preceding paragraphs are an outline of the framework in which the hypotheses and definitions of this study are developed, and a summary of some of its generalizations. The hypotheses and their interrelationships are summarized more fully and systematically in chapter 10.

The Appendix lists all hypotheses developed, categorized according to their dependent variables, and the chapters in which they are proposed. The three stages in the process of political violence—those in which discontent is generated, politicized, and actualized in political violence—are each dependent on the preceding one, as the outline indicates.

It is likely but not necessarily the case that there is a temporal relationship among the three stages, whereby a sharp increase in the intensity of discontent precedes the articulation of doctrines that justify politically violent action, with shifts in the balances of coercive control and institutional adherence occuring subsequently.

The conditions can be simultaneously operative, however, as the outbreak of the Vendee counterrevolution in 1793 demonstrates: implementation of procedures for military conscription intensified the discontent of workers and peasants already sharply hostile to the bourgeoisie and the government it ruled. Mass action against the bourgeoisie began in a matter of days; the social context for dissident action was provided in part by preexisting communal and political organization, action that was facilitated by the concurrent weakness of government forces and institutions in the region.

The point is that many of the attitudes and societal conditions that facilitate political violence may be present and relatively unchanging in a society over a long period; they become relevant to or operative in the genesis of violence only when relative deprivation increases in scope and intensity.

Intense politicized discontent also can be widespread and persistent over a long period without overt manifestation because a regime monopolizes coercive control and institutional support. A weakening of regime control or the development of dissident organization in such situations is highly likely to lead to massive violence, as it did in Hungary in 1956 and China in 1966-68, and as is likely at some future date in South Africa.

The concepts, hypotheses, and models of causes and processes developed in the following chapters are not intended as ends in themselves. Intellectually pleasing filters through which to view and categorize the phenomena of a disorderly world are not knowledge. Systematic knowledge requires us to propose and test and reformulate and retest statements about how and why things happen. We know enough, and know it well enough, only when we can say with some certitude not just why things happened yesterday, but how our actions today will affect what happens tomorrow, something we can always hope to know better, though never perfectly.

This analysis may demonstrate that too little is known about the violence men do one another, and that it is known too weakly and imprecisely. It is designed to facilitate the processes by which that knowledge can be increased. 

*

from

Why Men Rebel

by

Ted Robert Gurr. 

get it from Amazon.com

‘We were just a normal family’: Che Guevara’s daughter remembers her father – Sophie Haydock. 

On the right is my father, cigar in hand, talking to his lifelong friend Fidel Castro, a fellow communist revolutionary. 

The angle makes it look like my father is holding out his cigar to me, but that’s not the case. It was unusual that he’d smoke around me. I don’t remember this picture being taken, or by whom; I was too young. I’d have been around three at the time. I was born in November 1960, and I’ve since been told it was 1964 in Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

I am the eldest of Che’s four children with my mother. Papi was known around the world as the Argentine revolutionary, a guerrilla leader and major figure of the Cuban revolution, but we were just a normal family. I never felt special as his daughter. Where I did feel special was as the child of a couple who loved each other dearly.

As children, we enjoyed Papi very little. I was only six when he was executed in Bolivia 50 years ago, on 9 October, 1967. Our mother formed our values and kept him alive in our memory long after he died. She never used him as a way to tell us off or threaten us. Papi was always the good guy.

We never enjoyed any privileges: my father was opposed to that, and my mother maintained the line. When she became a widow with four small children, my father’s friends wanted to help. They couldn’t replace the affection that had been lost, so tried to give us material things. My mother wouldn’t permit anything at all. She told us, “You must have your feet firmly on the ground, and let pass everything you haven’t earned yourselves.” That was an important lesson.

We went through difficult periods. In my teenage years, she’d make trousers for my brothers with material from her old blouses. But we were happy: we’d play, we’d laugh. We grew up like Cuban children, alongside the people in our community.

I was close to Fidel and comfortable with him. I have very fond memories – I would call him “mi tío”, which means “my uncle”. I maintained a relationship with him right up until the end of his last year. 

He’s holding me and I’m relaxed, smiling. My father and Fidel were always happy and joking together; there was much mutual respect and confidence there.

Fidel wanted to break the news to us children when Papi died, but my mother insisted it was her duty. But he told us that Papi had written a letter saying that if one day he fell in combat, we were not to cry for him: when a man dies trying to achieve what he wants to achieve, one doesn’t need to. The next day, I was called in to see my mother, who was in tears. She sat me on the bed and pulled out the farewell letter from Papi.

“When you see this letter,” it said, “you will know that I am no longer with you.” I started crying, too. The letter was very short. It ended with the words: “Here is a big kiss from Dad.” I understood I no longer had a father.

I still live and work in Havana, as a paediatrician, and feel hopeful for the future of Cuba. Do I have hope for humanity? None of us has a crystal ball, but if we want a different world, we need to work to achieve it. We can’t wait for it to fall out of the sky. We have a duty to forge that future ourselves.

The Guardian 

There’s a link between teenagers and revolution – Sam Harris. 

We don’t have enough teenagers for a revolution.

When I was an officer in the Air Force, I was a data scientist and at one point we were tasked with determining what level of violence in Iraq could be considered “normal” so that we could declare victory and leave with dignity. Obviously, the base level of violence in Iraq would be higher than in Sweden, but precisely how much higher and why? These were the questions.

We did analysis on hundreds of factors across centuries worth of data from hundreds of countries to determine what drove the levels of violence in a society. The worst violence levels are obviously during civil wars and government collapse. We looked at wealth inequality, famine, disease, number of children per woman, infant mortality, median GDP, average GDP… literally hundreds of factors and their cross-dependencies that numbered in the quadrillions—think average GDP combined with median life expectancy combined with infant mortality combined with… you get the idea.

What we found was that the most significant factor was the number of individuals aged 13–19 relative to the number of individuals aged over 35. If the teenage group ever exceeded the over 35 group, violence increased to the point there was a very high chance of civil war. Furthermore, the opposite was true. If the 35+ yr olds outnumbered the teenagers, there was no chance of civil war.

Look at Democratic Republic of the Congo:

They have lots of teenagers relative to 35+ yr olds.

Now look at the United States:

Teenagers are drastically outnumbered by the 35+ yr olds in 2016. This was not the case in 1860, by the way. The US population pyramid looked a lot more like DRC at the start of our civil war.

These steep pyramids are caused by a combination of factors: high infant mortality, low life expectancy, and low female education. These factors combine to prevent women from using birth control and they “hedge” their losses of children by having a lot of them (too many actually even accounting for early deaths). These numerous children then receive less attention, less affection, and less education. They don’t have productive means of employment, and when they get hit with the wave of hormones we all experienced during our teenage years, they aren’t in school, don’t have a job, and don’t have a mother to give them the love they need. All it takes is some charismatic leader to rally them behind a populist cause and boom the powder keg explodes.

The craziest part of my story was that we did this research in 2007. At the time, there were several countries that had the same population pyramid with tons of teenagers but low violence and no civil war: Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iran (Tunisia wasn’t as bad, actually). The “bosses” said this was a real problem with our theory, and we tried to explain it away by saying maybe in the 21st century where dictators have access to fighter jets and tanks that they can hold the teenagers back from starting a civil war. Little did we know we had accidentally predicted the Arab Spring by nearly three years!

I love data. It lends measurability to beliefs. And the data says there is no way we are overthrowing our government in the United States through violence. There just aren’t enough teenagers.

Additionally:

(1) Things really aren’t that bad in the US.

I would like to add an anecdote about how we tend to respond to people we disagree with: Right now, most people say nothing and just go about their day. A large minority go to the trouble of writing things on Facebook or Twitter in ALL CAPS. Still fewer actually go to the trouble of standing outside and holding a sign. And fewer still get into screaming matches. Even less than that will go so far as to physically hit someone they disagree with, and even less than that will actually kill those they disagree with.

In order to reach the levels of violence we saw during the US Civil War, at current population levels, there would have to be over 4,000 politically-motivated killings per day. And in order to reach the levels of violence seen during the DRC Civil War, at current US population levels, it would have to be nearly 25,000 politically-motivated deaths per day. So “there is no way we are overthrowing our government in the United States through violence.”

(2) I didn’t really answer the question.

To be fair I didn’t really answer the original question. The question was “Is the United States on the brink of a political revolution?” I talked about violence, how violence can be high during political revolution, and how violence is correlated to the teenagers-to-over-35 ratio. But that doesn’t address the possibility of a political revolution without violence or a civil war that doesn’t kill a huge amount of people.

Thank you, Kareem Elahmawy for pointing out all of these peaceful revolutions:

1968 Prague Spring 1989 Velvet Revolution 1989 Peaceful Revolution (Germany) 1989 Bulgaria 1991 Soviet Coup D’état 1974 Carnation Revolution 1979 Iranian Revolution 1986 Yellow Revolution 1990 Mongolian Revolution 2000 Bulldozer Revolution 2003 Rose Revolution 2004 Orange Revolution 2005 Cedar Revolution 2001 EDSA Revolution 2005 Ecuador Revolution

Lots of people are asking me about Ukraine’s civil war with a population pyramid that doesn’t have a lot of teenagers:

My response would be that the death toll is about 4,000 out of 45 million which is around 0.009%. For comparison, 2% of Americans died in our Civil War and 12% died in DRC. Ukraine is not having a very violent civil war by comparison, and many people from the Ukraine have told me it is not really a civil war at all but rather an invasion made to look like a civil war. I don’t know enough about Ukrainian/Russian politics to have an opinion on the subject. However, the correlation between violence and teenagers still holds true for this example.

The most fascinating counter-example was actually Iran in 2005. They had a huge bulge in teenage population at that time but a very low murder rate. Their teenage population has since stabilized, and was already significantly lower when the Arab Spring began in 2011.

(3) Knowing what you don’t know is knowledge.

The question I actually answered was: What causes huge levels of violence? My answer was: Having too many teenagers.

People have been asking me all manner of related questions such as: “So since you didn’t answer the original question, what are the causes of political revolutions?”

“Is the violence caused by teenagers or just correlated to large teenage populations and a symptom of the other conditions that caused those large teenage populations in the first place?”

“X country has a lot of violence, why is there no revolution?”

“What can we do to fix this in the countries that are suffering or at risk?”

“Do high levels of teenagers lead to terrorism?”

“Are you sure it’s the lack of a mother’s love and not the lack of a father’s role model that causes the violence?”

“What are the trends for age of population in more peaceful revolutions?”

My answer to these and dozens of others is: I don’t know.

Knowing what you don’t know is knowledge.

One of the things you learn as a data scientist is that most of the things we think we know are actually illusions. You start with a hypothesis—a gut instinct about what you think is happening in the data—but then you try your hardest to prove that your gut instinct is wrong. If you “fail to reject” that hypothesis with more than 95% confidence, then you can feel confident that know something about that one specific question. The second someone asks you a related but not identical question, you have to start over from scratch and do it all again.

These answers are very expensive. This was the work of a dozen well-paid men and women working off and on for months. It’s not like I figured it out on my own one afternoon, so unfortunately, I can’t easily answer all of your other questions.

I think this whole process will get much faster and much cheaper once machine learning algorithms become more ubiquitous. You can, for example, drag and drop workflows in Azure Machine Learning Studio and let the computer do the hard work. Things that used to take several people weeks to do can now be done in seconds. I encourage all of you who are curious to check it out. They have beginner videos—you don’t have to be a professional data scientist to use the models. That is what so amazing about where this technology is going!

By Sam Harris, former Data Scientist, U.S. Air Force

Raw Story