Extremism, Suicide Terror, and Authoritarism

ICER Working Paper No. 8/2006

43 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2006

Date Written: 2006


This paper studies extremist behaviour, and its connection to authoritarianism. I divide extremists into two groups, leaders, who demand extremist acts such as assassinations, suicide terror or other forms of political violence from followers, who supply them. I assume that both the leaders of extremist groups and their followers are rational. The paper looks at three examples: Communism, Nationalism and Islamic Fundamentalism. I show that leaders with extreme ideologies also tend to adopt violent methods when there is an indivisibility between the intermediate goal of the group and its ultimate goal. Turning to followers, the most important innovation of the paper is a simple model which explains how it is possible for a person to rationally commit suicide to further the goals of a group.

The most important policy implications of the paper are, firstly, that one should look at the goals of extremist group in order to understand their actions. If one can unbundle the goal or make the indivisible divisible, then there may be ways to provide these goals in a way which satisfies some of the potential supporters of the group and thus dries up support for the grander ambitions of the leaders of extremist groups. Secondly, the provision of programs which foster social cohesion tends to dry up an important motive for extremist activity: the desire for solidarity. Thirdly, policy towards terrorists should should combine the use of "carrot" and "stick". Finally, I argue that authoritarian regimes rather than democracies or totalitarian regimes are the most likely sources of suicide terror. So democracy is indeed part of the solution to the problem of suicide terrorism.

Keywords: Terrorism, extremist ideologies, extremist groups, authoritarian regimes, suicide terrorists

Suggested Citation

Wintrobe, Ronald, Extremism, Suicide Terror, and Authoritarism (2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=932055 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.932055

Ronald Wintrobe (Contact Author)

University of Western Ontario ( email )

1151 Richmond Street
Suite 2
London, Ontario N6A 5B8

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