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Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State: A Comparative Analysis of Italy and Germany.

Christian Davenport, University of Colorado-Boulder

Each of the books reviewed attempts to explain why, amid numerous options, violence is selected by different political actors. Della Porta principally examines dissidents, while O'Kane and Horowitz deal with states. Although the actors considered vary, all the books basically address the same fundamental question, employ similar methods, and reach similar conclusions. In fact, the three fit so well together that, read cumulatively, the understanding of political violence is advanced significantly.

What makes these varied examinations important is that they each place the issue of violence at the center of their discussions. Violence is not marginalized, as it has been within the social sciences generally and within political science in particular, seen as some deviant act undertaken by crazy, demented, or "evil" people. Rather, violence is placed into the realm of possible alternatives consistently available to diverse political actors within nation-states, and it is examined (rightfully, I believe) as something that exists at the center of political life itself. While unified on this basic theme, however, the differences within the books both clarify our understanding of violence and also highlight the difficulty in studying it. This will become clearer below.

Della Porta investigates the most narrowly focused research question of the three books considered: She seeks to understand why specific groups were likely to use political violence within Italy and Germany from 1960-90. Fundamentally, she suggests that violence is selected and used by dissidents with increased frequency because of a particular sequence of actions, which result in the isolation and desperation of these political actors. The theory developed intricately weaves together variables from micro, meso, and macro levels.

As outlined, those challenging existing political-economic relations begin their activities within a larger movement "family" (a group of social movement organizations that emerge at one time). These families adopt a relatively wide repertoire of strategies - both violent and nonviolent. Over time, some strategies fall to the wayside (because of concessions given to dissidents, repression, and/or the exhaustion of dissident members themselves), while others become more prominent (because of effectiveness or other dynamics, discussed below).

Violence emerges as a dominant political strategy within the repertoire employed by dissidents because specific organizations become marginalized (by their objectives and actions) as well as radicalized (again by their objectives but also by interactions with repressive agents). Simply, isolated because of the decreased activity of the movement family (with nothing left to do) and angered by being treated in a generally hostile manner (receiving even more repressive behavior than before), some dissidents employ violent political strategies as a means of furthering their objectives (some combination of political influence, survival, and personal meaning). The strategy itself becomes further reinforced by various internal dynamics to dissident organizations (e.g., the ability to draw upon those unsatisfied with other groups) as well as personal dynamics among different members themselves. Initial choices, principally guided by macro- and mesolevel factors, thus yield to certain pathologies, which are principally guided by meso- and microlevel factors. These in turn become extremely hard to stop.

O'Kane also provides a relatively focused investigation of why states employ violence (terror) in the governance of their populace. Similar to Della Porta, O'Kane argues that violence is functionally related to a specific sequence of actions which result in the isolation and desperation of these political actors. From her perspective, "dislocation" (a breakdown of "traditional networks," identification of scapegoats, and an economic crisis) provides the initial impetus for violent political strategies. Within this context, the desire to (re)establish order and to pursue specific political-economic objectives becomes increasingly important. In fact, it comes to overwhelm all other objectives.

Generally lacking support within the populace for proposed objectives, states employ violence as a means toward bringing them about. This practice is facilitated by propaganda as well as an unresponsive ("infallible") leader who pushes the agenda despite negative feedback from the society/business community about the actual effectiveness of the political-economic policies undertaken. The violent strategy begins to develop its own self-reinforcing dynamic; specifically, violence (terror) is applied because it is believed that it will achieve certain objectives and because no other means exist for information about its ineffectiveness to influence subsequent decisions. Again, initial choices yield to certain pathologies that become extremely difficult to stop once underway; indeed, according to O'Kane, collapse of the regime is the most likely (and perhaps only) way out.

Horowitz takes a somewhat different approach. He principally addresses the specific question of why states use violence (genocide). He also asks broader questions of why it is important to study violence, how one should study it, and what interferes with systematic investigation. For this review, I will basically concern myself with the first point (although each of the others is worthy of attention in its own right).

Like Della Porta and O'Kane, Horowitz sees the political strategy of violence as related to isolation, but he moves away from suggesting that the isolation (i.e., dissident organizations from social movement families in the case of Della Porta or states from citizens in the case of O'Kane) is important to an argument that the isolation of all actors within society contributes to violence being selected by states. Horowitz views two factors as important: (1) a diminished respect for individuals with an accompanying neglect of certain obligations to other citizens and (2) a diminished sense of "biblical" justice: punishment for individual transgression of particular laws. Both contribute to a society that is generally uncaring about individual citizens and is more concerned with the "collective will" or "collective conscience." Indeed, within Horowitz's argument it is the subservience of individual citizens as well as the state to the altar of collectivism that proves to be the most important determinant of state violence (fueled by the increased capacity of states to enforce their will through technological advances).

All three studies are important for studying violent behavior undertaken by different political actors, for each highlights the significance of developing generalizable theories about the subject. Della Porta and O'Kane take a more traditional approach and apply their theories to two cases extensively (Italy and Germany as well as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, respectively), later extending them to other cases (Della Porta to the civil rights and student movements, although the black liberation/nationalist movement would have suited her argument better, and O'Kane to the Cambodian case). By contrast, Horowitz seems to develop certain theoretical arguments without extensively applying them to specific cases. More abstract in intent and approach, his effort tackles some of the categorical, philosophical, practical, and personal difficulties confronted when studying political violence.

In addition, all three studies are important because they apply distinct bodies of research (Della Porta draws upon social movement literature, O'Kane draws upon work on power and "closed" political systems, and Horowitz employs the work on terror and genocide). Each also incorporates different levels of concern for use of empirical data (Della Porta spends a great deal of time on operationalization/ measurement issues, O'Kane employs none, and Horowitz uses none himself but clearly highlights the importance of these efforts). These points are relevant, since the different areas of research guide the authors in directions unique to that particular tradition, and the manner in which the empirical issue is handled directly facilitates/impedes other scholars who may wish to investigate rigorously the theoretical arguments presented.

Such diversity in approach leads to the obvious suggestion that more integrative efforts should be pursued in the future. For example, Della Porta clearly and appropriately uses the work on social movements (based in sociology) but is basically silent on the "state's side" of the interaction (based in political science). This is unfortunate, for she suggests in several sections of the book that protest "policing" is extremely important in bringing about dissident political violence. I would even go so far as to say that this variable is the most important factor identified. But, this having been said, the literature on state repression, human rights violations, and state terror is not brought into the discussion.

By contrast, O'Kane and Horowitz, while clearly and appropriately using work on power as well as state terror/violence, are basically silent on the "dissident/citizen side" of the interaction. The importance of this omission is significant because one element within all three books is that violence is a by-product of a specific interaction between states and their citizens, principally around the subject of control/influence over domestic politics. In fact, this appears to be the underlying element that starts both dissidents and states on the path of violence in the first place.

On this point, Della Porta comes closest to suggesting that violence is an outcome of competition between states and dissidents/citizens for the control of the polity. Horowitz also comes close to this point when he comments that genocide is war. He neglects, however, to identify/discuss the nonstate combatants. Despite these efforts, neither author takes the step to suggest that violence is intricately connected with a quest for intrastate domination. This point, while perhaps sounding extreme, seems to lie at the core of an explanation for state violence.

This desire to stay away from what ! will call a Marxian or Libertarian conception of state-societal relations (as but two well-understood examples of perspectives that might emphasize such a conflictual interaction) follows directly from all three authors' belief that greater amounts of democracy will reduce violent political strategies. Admittedly, there is some diversity here, as different aspects of democracy are highlighted: Della Porta seems to stress accommodation or less repressive responses to dissidents; O'Kane seems to stress greater feedback between states and societies; and Horowitz seems to stress greater respect for individual rights. Regardless of the particular operationalization, however, all aspects are found within the basic tenets of the democracy literature, and one is left with the resounding conclusion that democratization reduces violence (directly in line with the work of R.J. Rummel).

The democracy-as-solution position is important because it tends to lead the authors away from the starting point: Violence lies within the parameters of normal political existence. In a sense, each author explains political violence by revealing how dissidents and states come to move away from nonviolence, without returning to the point of how easy it is to begin on this path. Moreover, the hopefulness of democracy-as-solution tends to ignore the problem of how political systems move toward or truly reach democracy after political violence has taken place. Would violence not decrease citizens' willingness to participate in political or social life (as illustrated in Corradi et al., Fear at the Edge: State Terror and Resistance in Latin America)? Would violence not change individual perceptions of efficacy and trust in government, damaging any prospects for healthy democratic practices? Do not repressive legacies exist long after the last person has been killed, influencing the capacity of society/ government to function? Simply, the larger aftereffects of the pathologies and behaviors identified within the three books need to be addressed as well as their enduring influence in order to provide better potential resolutions to the problem.

I do not fault the authors of the three books reviewed on this last point, for it was not what they intended to do. Indeed, each provides useful insights into violence. One cannot help but conclude, however, that if we are to further our understanding of political violence and perhaps even attempt to decrease it (if at all possible), then taking on the questions left unanswered by these books should be pursued with the utmost seriousness and diligence.
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Author:Davenport, Christian
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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