Vicious Cycles: Endogenous Political Extremism and Political Violence
36 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2008
Date Written: October 2000
Why do terrorists terrorize? Many explanations have been posited to answer this question. A common view, particularly in the popular press, is that terrorism and terrorists are irrational. A recent New York Times editorial attributed the violence experienced in Northern Ireland to 'hard-bitten loyalties and single minded devotion' which 'attracts psychopathic people' (New York Times, August 18, 1998: A23). Livingston (1978: 224-239) concurs that terrorists suffer from irrationalities and potentially even psychiatric illnesses. While such a view would make a rational account of terrorist activity seemingly impossible, in this paper, we argue that such an account is both possible and useful. Even in the event that terrorists suffer from such 'irrationalities,' a number of scholars have commented on the goal-directedness of those undertaking such terrorist campaigns. And insofar as the pursuit of such goals is relevant, the kernel of a rational choice understanding of terrorism is possible.
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