In Winter 2008-2009, Israel unleashed the full wrath of its military during Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip with the stated purpose of halting Hamas attacks from the occupied territory. Support within Israel for the offensive was virtually unconditional, and Western leaders and opinion makers applauded the assault as an action necessary to discipline a belligerent adversary. Human rights groups, though, condemned the attack on humanitarian grounds. As they methodically documented in the event’s aftermath, ordinary Gazans – not Hamas – appeared to be the frequent and deliberate targets of Israel’s firepower.

This disparity between the official line and the considerable evidence of Israel’s violations of wartime conventions provides the foundation for ‘This Time We Went Too Far’, the new book by controversial Jewish-American historian Norman Finkelstein. In a writing style accessible to a wide audience, Finkelstein asserts that the Gaza operation was launched not to curb Hamas, but to restore Israel’s deterrence capability following its disastrous 2006 incursion into Lebanon.

To construct his argument, Finkelstein juxtaposes the Israeli narrative with post-conflict reports by well-respected human rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Richard Goldstone. For the author, the credibility of claims similar to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s “The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is the by far the most humane military” is irrefutably undermined by findings that the IDF fired white phosphorous on positions known to shelter noncombatants, such as a United Nations building,1 and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza,2 among others.

The groups’ findings are also employed by the author to disprove what are judged to be knowingly false explanations for Gaza’s high civilian death toll, which is estimated at 1,400.3 During the campaign, Israeli officials routinely attributed this “collateral damage” to Hamas’s use of human shields in densely populated centers. Yet, as Finkelstein makes clear, no conclusive evidence has ever been presented to support this claim. In fact, post-conflict reports alleging the use of human shields solely cite official Israeli sources.

While the rights organizations’ conclusions buttress Finkelstein’s position, the most disturbing and damning accounts of officially-sanctioned noncombatant targeting is provided by IDF soldiers. Finkelstein’s selections from their testimony reinforce the contention that Israel misportrayed the realities of the combat. In one of the most memorable quotes, an IDF soldier likens military engagement in Gaza to taking a magnifying glass to an ant hill, ostensibly to emphasize the sheer vulnerability of those in Israel’s crosshairs. Other anecdotes confirm that commanders ordered soldiers to fire on anything that moved.

For Finkelstein, Israel’s lip service to human rights served to pacify the Western public while its actions on the ground were intended to warn its adversaries. Israel’s image of invincibility – once an essential component of the nation’s deterrence capability – was shattered following its defeat to Lebanon’s Hezbollah in 2006. For the first time since Israel’s formation, it was not the clear victor in a military engagement. Seeking to restore Israel’s formidability, leading decision-makers resolved to convey to its regional enemies that Israel’s security would be defended at all costs, even to the point of wantonly disregarding the humanitarian protocols of warfare. To put it more plainly, Finkelstein determines that the Israeli government regarded the lives of people of Gaza as merely pawns in a regional chess match.

Readers well-informed on Middle East politics will find few groundbreaking ideas presented in ‘This Time We Went Too Far’. Criticism of Israel’s conduct in Gaza has received – albeit limited – media exposure and the idea that the assault was a political-military response to Israel’s failure in Lebanon has been proposed by a number of other commentators. But, then again, the book’s intent is to forcefully rebut the narrative repeated ad infinitum by Israel and it’s unquestioning allies. By rehashing the facts of the Gaza siege, Finkelstein reintroduces a conflict that many in the United States and elsewhere in the West have either misunderstood or dismissed as another chapter of violence in the Holy Land. At its core, ‘This Time We Went Too Far’ is more than an attempt to raise awareness of the travesty befallen an occupied people. As addressedin the Foreword, “This book is not just a lament; it also sets forth grounds for hope.” Armed with the righteousness of truth, Finkelstein believes that individuals spurred to protest can “enable everyone, Palestinian and Israeli, to live a dignified life.”4

1Norman Finkelstein, ‘This Time We Went Too Far’ (New York: O/R Books, 2010), 77-78.

2Finkelstein, 60.

3Finkelstein, 76.

4Finkelstein, 14.

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Social scientists have debated the origins and goals of militant Islam for years. Some have adopted variations of Samuel Huntington’s argument that inter-cultural animosity is the result of an inevitable “clash of civilizations” in which ethnically homogenous blocs attempt to preserve their interests in the face of encroaching globalization.1 Others contend that the violence is purely a vengeful response to socio-political indignations caused by Western states.2 Yet, with an intricate and compelling thesis, Faisal Devji’s The Terrorist in Search of Humanity upends these conventional analyses of Islamic militantism. Through a dialectical examination of al-Qaeda and others’ proclamations, Devji contends that Muslim terrorists perversely mime Gandhi by acting out of a moral, non-ideological conviction that aims to create a post-humanist global politics.

The Terrorist in Search of Humanity takes it inspiration from the philosophy of Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, both of whom noted that the atomic age ushered in an era of global politics that, because of the destructive potential of the weapons in the context of the Cold War, introduced humanity as a single entity into the global conscious. Militant Islam, says Devji, envisions itself as a contemporary moral representative of a threatened humanity in which the ummah casts itself the “global victim.” This role is made possible by the extremists’ non-ideology. In opposition to those claiming militant Islam promotes a revolutionary political agenda, the author points out that Muslim extremists, unlike traditional agitators, have yet to detail the future political landscape for which they strive. In militant communiques, the aims are vague and emphasize the suprapolitical, in reference to the establishment of a moral global order.

The non-ideological character of Muslim extremists, however, is ineffective without the pluralism it affords. Devji finds this significant in two respects. First, pluralism refers to the globality of moralism. In other words, the pluralism of al-Qaeda and its spinoffs allows it to take up the banner of the disposed and downtrodden, regardless of their religious orientation. To support this argument, Devji cites multiple examples of fundamentalist Muslims championing Hindu causes and vice versa throughout the twentieth century and extremists’ adoption of environmentalism. Second, pluralism allows militant Islam to appeal to the morality of individuals in Western states. Devji explains that this endogenous pluralism accounts for why ostensibly secular Muslims take up the banner of extremism in their host countries. While this partially explains why fundamental Islam gains adherents, it does not answer the question of: Why violence as a means?

To affect change, Islamic militants believe that they must absolve the West of its previous transgressions by redeeming its morality through a mutual recognition of suffering – an awareness that can be triggered by spectacular violence. It is not, as some political leaders and commentators contend, the aim of these militants to subject the West to a modern Caliphate (the specifics of which, as mentioned earlier, have yet to be outlined). Rather, Islamic militants seek to stimulate the West into a non-religious conversion that accepts and establishes suprapolitical concerns as political. As such, Islamic militants are engaged in a friend/enemy dialectic with their Western foe, an interaction that Devji notes is sustained at the human level through detainee abuse in Western facilities. In this relationship, punishment is an act of love.

The West’s transgressions against humanity, though, are not directly related to economic or physical violence against Muslims and others, but the inability of the West (or, in theory, any other offender) to practice the moral standards it espouses in the global arena. The United States’ hypocrisy of preaching human rights while torturing detainees at the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib detention centers is not lost on the Islamic world. Devji refines this idea further by arguing that liberalism is unsustainable globally because the values of liberalism are restricted to the institutions of the nation state:

Such limits [of liberalism] are evident in the circular definition that has marked liberalism from its founding days: only those will be tolerated who are themselves tolerant. Such a definition deprives tolerance of any moral content by making it completely dependent on the behavior of others. Tolerance therefore becomes a process of exclusion in which it is always the other person who is being judged…the definition is severely limited, because its circularity works only within the bounds of a nation state.3

To Devji, this shortcoming is untenable in the globalized world. To demonstrate, he points to Muslim uproar over the 2005 Mohammad caricatures published by a Dutch newspaper and Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial statements about The Prophet’s supposed endorsement of violence in 2006. The source of the Muslim community’s subsequent furor was not the blasphemy but the mass interpretation of these acts as a calculated insult coupled with the inability of an institution-less Islam to respond. What is needed, then, is for tolerance to be interpreted as a moral, not legal, concept. The establishment of suprapolitical norms would bypass the rigid legality that denies liberalism a global flexibility.

In an interesting juxtaposition interspersed throughout the text, Devji notes that the tactics and goals of Islamic militantism are perversions of Gandhian resistance. Both, for instance, support a politics of sacrifice which, through the act of martyrdom, transforms self-violence from a political expression with worldly ends into an existential statement. Through this self-negation, militants, like Gandhi, mean to symbolically actuate more morally acceptable inter-human relations by withdrawing from the objectionable realpolitik. The spectacle of this rejection allows for the emergence of the new suprapolitics. By employing Gandhi as a foil, Devji explicates the universal duality of the moral. Simultaneously, the moral motivates individuals to deliberate pacifism or violent barbarism. Without this deconstruction, Devji is unable to formulate his conclusion: that the establishment of a global politics premised on suprapolitical concerns is necessary to avoid the conflict endemic to the liberal system.

For all the intellectual weight of Devji’s argument, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity is deficient in some respects. For example, questions linger regarding the intentionality of Muslims extremists when making their pronouncements, on which a bulk of the book’s hypothesis rests. The author appears to waver on whether to take the militants’ words at face value, and the timidity is justified. Considering that direct access to these individuals is scant, his interpretations are impossible to substantiate. Additionally, Devji’s approach avoids analysis of extremist violence perpetrated in the pursuit of national aims, which has been explored by Robert Pape and others4. If news reports are accurate, how can the organized al-Qaeda inspired groups attempting to undermine the Iraqi government on sectarian grounds be labeled globally pluralist, much less concerned with the state of human morality? Certainly, al-Qaeda’s pluralism attracts individuals, but it is these individuals that create networks of resistance – the goals of which are dependent on the context. Devji’s dogged focus on pluralism neglects this aspect of militant Islam.

Despite its shortcomings, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity is a revolutionary piece of literature on the subject of terrorism. By questioning both the Other and the Self (an approach often ignored by positivist social scientists) Devji constructs a cohesive and ahistorical argument that transcends the polemicism indicting either Islam or Western liberalism as the source of militant violence. The true culprit is instead an essential human demand: the ever-present insistence for morality in human actions.

1See Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone, 1996).

2See Michael Mousseau, “Market Civilization and its Clash with Terror,” International Security 27 (2003), 5-29.

3Faisal Devji, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 176.

4See Robert Pape. “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” The American Political Science Review 97 (2003), 1-19.

In the post-World War II world, the practice of politics increasing emphasized effective administration rather than the participation of citizens in governance. Hannah Arendt responded to this trend in On Revolution, which attempts to explore the central role of politics in facilitating and perpetuating a good life and society. According to her book, these two aims can only be achieved if citizens create an atmosphere of public freedom in which they can engage in political activity and inquiry inspired by an originating revolutionary spirit. Harkening back to the republican ideals of Thomas Jefferson, she asserts, “No one could be called happy without his share of public happiness, that no one could be called free without his experience in public freedom, and that no one could be called happy or free without participating, and having a share, in public power.”[1] However, her vague terminology begs important questions. What is public freedom? What is public happiness? How does public happiness resulting from the practice of public freedom create a good life and society? In this examination, my aim is to address these questions in addition to explaining how the three outcomes of public freedom suggested in Arendt’s text form a good life and society. Then, I will conclude with an exploration on the implications of her arguments on the discipline of political science. But, before continuing, a quick summary of her work is in order.

Essentially, Arendt argues that revolutions – that is political upheavals aimed at securing liberty and, more importantly, freedom – foster a revolutionary spirit that energizes the masses into pursuing a pluralistic system of political deliberation and governance. Here, it is important to note the distinction Arendt makes between liberation and freedom as it is essential to her argument. She writes that liberation is merely the freedom from tyranny whereas freedom refers to participation in public affairs via unfettered speech, thought, association, and assembly. This freedom, imbued with the revolutionary spirit, is then applied in the public sphere; thus allowing for the creation of a society in which individuals are active in political life. As a result of the energized political atmosphere, citizens generate public happiness resulting in a good life in a good society. In other words, On Revolution argues that the establishment of a revolutionary inspired form of governance is the primary means through which a good life and society can be attained. One means of achieving this end is the institutionalization of town hall meetings where the revolutionary spirit can be sustained through deliberation. According to Arendt, a good life and society is not significantly influenced by the successful management of what she labels the “private welfare” of individuals. Rather, these two goals can be achieved only when citizens attain a certain level of public happiness via their activity in political life. Additionally, it is important to note that Arendt’s definition of a good life and society is cyclical; this idealized life is both the facilitator and product of public happiness. In order to make sense of the self-determining nature of these terms, an examination of the beneficial outcomes of public freedom must be undertaken.

From On Revolution, I have identified three ends that follow from the existence of political freedom in a society: public equality, public accountability, and a sphere in which private happiness can be attained. Consequently, these products of public freedom are the means though which a society can attain public happiness. The foundational elements of public happiness and public equality are, for Arendt, linked to the social capacity of all individuals to participate in public life. Arendt suggests that pubic equality can overcome the social divisions existing due to the differing socioeconomic conditions private welfare creates among individuals. Referencing the meaning of the term freedom in ancient Greece, she discusses the issue of no-rule, or isonomy, which describes a republic in which there is no distinction between the ruler and the ruled. This component of public happiness is vital to the formulation of her argument. It supposes that citizens are equal self-governing agents that are mutually responsible for the actions of government. Arendt labels this alliance of people for rule by the people the “mutual contract.”[2] Second, the capacity of the public to hold the government accountable for its decisions is crucial to the production of public happiness. While it is commonly assumed that public accountability refers to “representatives,” the Arendtian view of “public” – strongly influenced by the idea of isonomy – is more expansive. Arendt contends: “Corruption of the people themselves – as distinguished from the corruption of their representatives or a ruling class – is possible only under a government that has granted them a share of the public power.”[3] Or, to put it differently, an isonomic society, which promotes the active use of public freedoms, must ensure that the people themselves do not become corrupted by the power inherent in practice of public freedom. The absence of public accountability in the Arendtian sense undermines the evaluative democratic function that citizens perform when participating in the various activities of public life, including political deliberation and the electoral process. Public apathy among citizens produces a space in which certain individuals can utilize the public interest to pursue private means. The remedy to this looming specter, she argues, is the practice of public freedoms. Hence, a dearth of public accountability is indicative of a society that lacks the ability to utilize its public freedom and, as a result, is unable to fulfill the fundamental precepts of public happiness.

While Arendt expresses her suspicion of the threats posed by private interests to the sanctity of the public realm, she concedes that after the people have gained liberty and freedom private interests play an important role in preserving the revolutionary spirit. Hence, the final benefit of public freedom is its ability of citizens to pursue private happiness unimpeded. Even though she writes that “under no conditions can [economic factors] either lead into freedom or constitute a proof of its existence,” Arendt juxtaposes this statement with a contradictory argument.[4] To explain this occurrence, she believes private happiness should never be considered above public happiness, as public happiness is the foundation upon which all other goods are pursued. But, as she puts it, “Wealth and economic well-being are the fruits of freedom” – albeit ones that are subordinate to the real benefits of public freedom.[5] As noted previously, private interests can corrupt the isonomic order. This disruption of no-rule presents an opportunity for freedom to be lost or, in the worst case scenario, the return of tyranny. Yet, a certain level of private contentment must be produced by public freedom to ensure that the revolutionary spirit is maintained. As noted by Arendt, a lack of private happiness invariably introduces the “social question” which asks how to provide for the private welfare of citizens into public discourse. In handling this concern, the importance of public freedom in constructing a good society is marginalized due to the need of administrative functions to produce acceptable private welfare. A further examination of the tensions existing between the advantages and disadvantages posed by private happiness to the achievement of public happiness will be addressed later.

Despite explicating the intricacies of Arendt’s argument, On Revolution fails to submit claims that are empirically assessable or defensible in light of critical observation. Even when attempting to explore her line of reasoning regarding the influence of the three products of public freedom on public happiness, the explanations end with a process of cyclical self-justification. These shortcomings ultimately minimize the applicability of her to work to the discipline of political science.

To begin, Arendt’s use of hazily-defined terms and concepts necessitates some standardization of understanding and, thus, a framework of understanding needs to be formulated. To illustrate, if it were quantifiably possible to rate public happiness on a scale of one to ten, with ten being ultimate public happiness, would a rating of seven or above equate to the presence of a good life and society? Even more, there is the problem as to how the appropriate level of public happiness is determined. In other words, what method would be utilized to measure the abstract level of public happiness or its constituent parts? Arendt’s inferences, while logically valid and beneficial to the study of political science, rely solely on a philosophical understanding of the issues surrounding public freedom, which, unfortunately for interested political scientists, renders empirical testing almost impossible. To borrow Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba’s observations in Designing Social Inquiry, “[Social scientists] should choose observable, rather than unobservable, concepts wherever possible. Abstract, unobserved concepts such as utility, culture, intentions, motivations, identification, intelligence, or the national interest are often used in social science theories. They can play a useful role in theory formulation; but they can be a hindrance to empirical evaluation of theories and hypotheses unless they can be defined in a way such that they, or at least their implications, can be observed and measured.”[6] Instead of providing political science with inferences that are testable, On Revolution forces individuals into a logic-based determination of the practicability of attaining public happiness. Of course, this can only be achieved by examining public freedom via a subjective examination of its ill-defined parts.

Not only are Arendt’s positions almost impossible to test quantitatively or qualitatively, her view of human nature is arguably idealistic. A major criticism of On Revolution addresses her assumption that a great majority of individual citizens will embrace the foundational spirit of public freedom and actively participate in the deliberative processes that are central to her position on public happiness and a good life. This belief is difficult to justify on two accounts. First, its contention that all citizens share the same interests and values is unsubstantiated. Often, individuals such as artists and the devoutly pious derive immense satisfaction when pursuing a life that includes little participation in the public sphere. While some political scientists have attempted to methodologically determine the validity of the claim that value plurality is subservient in the presence of public freedoms, Arendt’s text poorly supports this point. Second, implicit in this reasoning is the belief that the invisible hand of the revolutionary spirit will guide individuals away from pursuing private welfare in order to secure public happiness. Again, Arendt produces little evidence to justify these claims. Rather, in both of these cases she returns to a cyclical style of argumentation, asserting that the participatory elements of public freedom generate a good life and vice versa. Stemming from this vein of analysis, she fails to fully address the reasons why individuals should spurn private interests in deference to public freedom. In fact, an argument can be made supporting the belief that a certain level of private welfare and participation in public freedoms are connected. If, for example, an individual finds it difficult to secure their basic means of existence it is naïve to assume that their priority would be political participation. Conversely, individual’s whose private welfare has achieved a certain level of satisfactoriness and consistency can entertain a plurality of concerns, including public activity. Ultimately, the Arendtian counterpoint that public freedom will provide a sphere in which private welfare concerns can be addressed is too utopian. Individuals will always be in a position in where they must find a suitable equilibrium between activity in the public and private spheres.

In light of the individual’s natural struggle between the pursuit private and public happiness, Arendt’s insistence that the existence of public spheres, such as town halls or soviets, where the people can continue to cultivate the revolutionary spirit in an environment promoting and protecting isonomy in order to achieved public happiness is undermined. Despite recognizing that all individuals are publicly equal, the differences in public welfare among individuals produce inequalities regarding the ability of some citizens to gain access to these public spheres. Without the active participation of all elements of society in the public sphere, public accountability through a deliberative processes imbued by the revolutionary spirit is absent. Consequently, this provides privately privileged individuals with an opportunity to circumvent the isonomic order by pursuing private interests within the public sphere.

As a work of political philosophy, On Revolution attempts to promote the idea that the study of politics is a tool through which public freedom can be achieved because the idea concerns the well being of the community. However, it fails as a work that can be used within the constructs of social science for two grounds. First, Arendt’s use of cyclical argumentation to substantiate concepts that lack any viable method of examination via the standards of the social sciences renders any of application of her ideas impossible. Second, further examination of Arendt’s work becomes difficult due to her idealist interpretation of 18th Century revolutionary history to actual patterns of individual decision-making. For these reasons, it becomes difficult for political scientists to verify her theory through the observation of replicable data. Instead, in many cases it is more likely that any empirical attempt to verify her claims would undermine Arendt’s thesis. This is not to insinuate that On Revolution is without any value to the study of politics. While its ambitious aim of directing the discipline of political science towards molding a more perfect society through the recognition of public participation as life’s central good does not succeed, the book is still a philosophical text that students of politics can explore to build future theories. In sum, On Revolution is simply a text that stimulates political inquiry within the profession.


[1] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 225.

[2] Arendt, 170.

[3] Arendt, 252.

[4] Arendt, 217.

[5] Arendt, 217.

[6] Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 109.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, the question of terrorism and its effects on the primacy of the state in interstate politics has been vigorously debated among international relations theorists. Virtually all analyses of terrorism seek to formulate a response to the tactic through an understanding its origins. It is in the proposed response that scholars of international politics reveal their position on the issue of state centrality as a unit of analysis. Realist and neo-realist scholars, for instance, argue that states are the actors most equipped for combating terrorism via interstate competition. By and large, they believe that terrorism is a strategic tactic employed for political ends; thus placing terrorism in direct conflict with states. The diverse liberal school, on the other hand, attributes terrorism to a wide range of factors, from poor education and poverty to the effects of undemocratic rule and culture. Liberals’ solution to terrorism is often the mobilization of informal and formal international institutions to combat its cultural and/or economic symptoms. In this paper, I contend that the aim of terrorism is the delegitimization of the afflicted state in the domestic sphere for the purpose of achieving specific political goals. Terrorism’s assault on the internal perception of state legitimacy, however, does not undermine the state as the primary actor in international relations since they are the only unit of social organization endowed with a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, to borrow a phrase from sociologist Max Weber. The delegitimization of the state by terrorist violence, in other words, compels states to reaffirm their legitimacy through reassertions of their sovereignty.

To support my argument, I will review the texts of scholars representing the prominent schools’ discussions on terrorism. For this purpose, I have chosen to examine the research of Robert A. Pape, Michael Mousseau, and Donald Puchala. Though the scholars persuasively present their arguments, each approach has significant flaws. With this in mind, I blend the two strongest arguments in order to substantiate my hypothesis.

Terrorism is popularly viewed as the result of the irrational fanaticism of individuals and groups adhering to strictly apolitical cultural or religious dogma. In “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Robert A. Pape rejects this reasoning entirely. Instead, he theorizes that terrorism, and specifically suicide terrorism, is an entirely rational tool for terrorist groups. By examining all publicized suicide terrorist attacks between 1980 and 2001, Pape determines that suicide terrorism has been a historically effective tactic for the achievement of political goals. In most cases, terrorist groups seek the removal of foreign military forces from a homeland or they struggle to secure minority rights. In the article, Pape elucidates the manner in which terrorists rationally time and target their attacks in order to maximize the political effect of violence. If, to use an example from the study, Hamas believes that Israel is not uphold an agreement to remove Israeli Defense Forces units from the West Bank, Hamas will employ suicide terrorism in an effort to coerce the Israeli government to implement the withdrawal. Historically, Israel has capitulated in the face of suicide attacks. Suicide terrorism, in sum, is a strategic political tool. The success rate of terror in political struggles in the past accordingly encourages its use against states by disgruntled groups in the future. Despite documenting the utility of terrorism, Pape predicts that it ultimately fails to be a truly significant political tool because it can only achieve modest aims. States, he says, will endure immeasurable suffering if their core national interests are threatened.

Although Pape persuasively argues that suicide terrorism is a strategic political instrument, I find his conclusion logically problematic. In the body of the article, Pape assumes a pragmatic hierarchy of state interests. Some interests are more important to national interest than others and, if need be, can be abandoned. In the conclusion, however, he basically claims that states have certain concrete and nonnegotiable national interests.[1] If one adopts the position, as he does, that all political actors, whether terrorist organizations or states, are driven by the rational pursuit of their interests, then all interests must be core interests. That is, interests are undifferentiated because political actors only pursue policies that enhance their power. Pape’s argument, which is by-and-large cogent, requires further clarification on this possible contradiction.

In contrast to Pape, Michael Mousseau attributes terrorism to a clash of economic cultures in “Market Civilization and Its Clash with Terror.” In this article, he contends that two types of economies exist in the world, market and client. Borrowing from the work of sociologists, economists, and anthropologists, he claims that each economic structure produces certain traits that are inhered within the populace.[2] As follows, Mousseau identifies client economies as structures that operate on trust-based personal relationships within an in-group. Consequently, an inclusion-exclusion dichotomy underlies social relations of patron-client societies, breeding suspicion – if not enmity – for groups external to the patron-client relationship. Conversely, market economies create societies based on contractual obligations and instill liberal values such as individualism, openness, tolerance, and cooperation within a people. Basically, client economies are exclusive and resistant to external pressures to change whereas market economies are inclusive and welcoming to change. As market economies have expanded through globalization, Mousseau says, the peoples of client-economies have violently responded as conditioned by the client-patron culture. To resolve the conflict between client and market cultures, Mousseau recommends that market states create and work within supranational institutions to facilitate and guide the transformation of client economies in market economies.[3]

While Mousseau’s model is initially compelling, I believe it ultimately falls short on four accounts. First, he depoliticizes terrorism. For him, terrorism is a gut reaction to the disturbance of atavistic socio-cultural relations by the global spread of market conditions and not a political tool as Pape empirically demonstrates. Second, Mousseau overemphasizes institutions’ capacity independent, transformative action. This misidentification leads him to implicitly claim that the sovereignty of client-structured states can be circumvented by institutions. Third, he makes an illogical leap when he writes that market institutions should enact polices that transform client-patron socio-economies into market economies. This assertion is problematic because he identifies market economies as both the source of and solution to terrorism. Would not an attempt at such a conversion create more violence? Finally, and most importantly, his hypothesis is un-testable. Mousseau’s claims are purely speculative since he offers no empirical or quantitative documentation. Instead, his research is an amalgamation of purely theoretical work produced by a variety of social scientists.

In the article “Of Pirates and Terrorists: What Experience and History Teach,” Donald Puchala loosely equates the current struggle against terrorism to that of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though the goals of piracy and terrorists differ (the former seeks economic ends whereas the latter political), he says that the means are similar. Both are cellular entities that operate outside the purview of states and they both attempt to achieve their ends through fear and asymmetrical violence. Moreover, they recruit from the underprivileged classes and operate from a secure location. The most important impediment to combating piracy, he claims, was the inability of the international community to outlaw the practice. While states never negotiated an agreement, the British, as the globe’s dominant power, unilaterally outlawed piracy and, therefore, could legitimately pursue and eliminate pirates irrespective of their nationality. He writes, “Historically speaking, might did in fact repeatedly set things right.”[4] Puchala continues drawing parallels between terrorism and piracy, contending that former can be confronted in a manner similar to the latter. The solution to terrorism, then, is the pro-active pursuit of terrorists by a dominant state. In fact, the threat to the state’s national interests compels it to enhance its capabilities to exert power. At the same time, he says, the fight against terrorism can be bolstered by the negotiation of a universally acceptable definition of terrorism, cooperation, and the maintenance of a stable international system.

Though Puchala relies on some unsubstantiated assumptions concerning the socio-economic origins of terrorism, such as its support from and recruitment of the underprivileged, I believe that he arrives at the most compelling conclusion of the three scholars reviewed here for two related reasons. First, Puchala rightly observes that terrorism, like piracy, will never be eradicated. Instead, it experiences phases of frequency and latency. Second, he makes the key recommendation that states should cooperate if they wish to expeditiously eradicate terrorism when it is prevalent. By synthesizing these two observations, Puchala’s general position concerning the primacy of the state in interstate politics can be abstracted. For him, the state is the dominant actor in the international system because formal or informal international institutions exist at the will of states. That is, institutions do not formulate an institutional logic independent from the interest of states or, more specifically, the dominant states.

In my opinion, none of these scholars, despite their efforts, comprehensively explicate the link between the motivations of terrorism and the appropriate response to terrorism. Yet these studies are not for naught. Although Mousseau presents an entirely speculative theory, Pape and Puchala empirically identify the origins and responses to terrorism, respectively. If the convincing elements of these two articles are combined, a more compelling argument can be produced. With this in mind, I propose the following: Terrorism, as strategic tactic, attempts to delegitimize the state by undermining its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In order to guard against the state’s further delegitimization in the eyes of its polity – and therefore redeem its ability to retain and enhance its national interests – the state, as the primary actor in the national system, is compelled to pursue terrorists unilaterally or through multilateral or international institutions as determined by their best interests. In the current struggle against terrorism, states are still the central actors in the international system. Though institutions may play an active role in the conflict, they only do so at the will of states.


[1] Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” The American Political Science Review 97 (2003): 335.

[2] Michael Mousseau, “Market Civilization and Its Clash with Terror,” International Security 27 (2002-2003): 6.

[3] Ibid, 25-26.

[4] Donald Puchala, “Of Pirates and Terrorists: What Experience and History Teach,” Contemporary Security Policy 26 (2005): 13.

An enduring debate among theorists of international politics concerns the appropriate level of analysis from which to examine interstate relations. Most scholars delineate three levels: the individual, the state, and the systemic. Academics preferring systemic analyses focus on the forces applied by the structure upon the states in the system. Their approach disregards domestic factors entirely. The ordering principle of the system’s structure – whether it is ordered by anarchy or capitalism – determines how states will act. The state is a “black box,” with its various internal components devoid of any agency. The literature originating from the neorealist school is the most well-known application of the structuralist approach. Their model of international relations explains the dynamics of the system with an examination of balance of power politics. The anarchical structure, as the ordering principle of the international system, compels policymakers, consciously or unconsciously, to balance against their competitors in the system. On the other hand, the first two levels of analysis – the individual and the state – acknowledge the effect of domestic factors such as the bureaucracy, “the people”, the leader’s personality, multinational corporations, non-profit interests, and/or culture, on international politics. Liberals are the most egregious employers of individual and/or state approaches, as evidenced by their extensive writings on Democratic Peace and Interdependence theories. I believe, however, that other schools of thought more persuasively argue that international politics should be approached with a focus on domestic factors. Rational-choice models, such as selectorate theory, and cultural models are viable alternatives that integrate domestic concerns into studies of state interactions.

The split between the domestic institutionalists and structuralists is deep but, in reality, the reductionism of each approach distorts examinations of international politics. The divide is not irreconcilable; rather, it can be resolved by integrating the structuralist and domestic modes of analysis. In this paper, I argue that domestic factors influence policymakers’ foreign policy decisions and that the structure of the international system, on occasion, also influences their decisions. Whether the structure’s influence on policymakers is conscious or unconscious is determined by their competency. While policy elites are active agents in the system, I contend that the structure remains the best determinant of the outcome of their decisions. To demonstrate my hypothesis, I will critically review the texts of two well-known proponents of domestic institutionalism: Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The Logic of Political Survival. I chose these books because each acknowledges the influence of domestic factors while avoiding the idealism endemic to liberalism. While I differentiate these scholars’ understanding of core concepts from liberalism, it should be clear that my primary goal is to bridge the gulf between the domestic institutionalist and structuralist approaches.

In The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington contends that the world’s future conflicts will emerge from de facto borders separating the world’s great cultures – which are defined by the dominant religions. Though he is not a liberal theorist, Huntington appropriates the idea of interdependence – a concept often championed as a method of ensuring peace in the system. However, instead of viewing interdependence as a tool for conflict mitigation, he claims that interdependence via globalization produces discontents such as rural-urban migration and the West’s attempt to universalize its values. Adding the fact that “it is human to hate,”[1] globalization produces conflict between great cultures, each of which are attempting to assert their cultural identity globally. Essentially, Huntington argues that globalization intensifies identity politics at the global level which, in turn, fuels recognition of difference and the demonization of the “other”. The increasingly violent schism between culturally differentiated groups is, therefore, a product, of interdependence. The influence of a cultural identity has, in the past, proved to be a strong influence on states approach to international relations. Nazism, to use a worn example, typifies the state’s embodiment of cultural recognition and assertion on the international stage. Identity can be formally or informally manifested in state institutions or the leader’s ideology and is, therefore, a very real force in international relations.

Bueno de Mesquita, on the other hand, constructs an explanatory model of international relations that is indifferent to effects of culture and identity. His model, known as selectorate theory, predicts the outcome of interstate state conflict based on the relationship between national leaders and the group empowered with the ability to choose the leader, known as the selectorate. A sub-group of the selectorate is the winning coalition, which is the faction that supports a leader’s rise to power. In a modern democracy, the selectorate is the entire citizenry whereas in an authoritarian regime it may be restricted to a cadre of generals or an exclusive. The winning coalition in the United States’ most recent presidential election, though, would only be comprised of Democratic voters. According to selectorate theory, the leader, as an individual interested in remaining in power, must allocate public resources to meet the needs and or desires of members of the winning coalition to secure their continued support. If the leader is unable to retain the loyalty of his supporters, a challenger from the selectorate may persuade a sufficient number of the winning coalition to defect to his coalition.

In the realm of international politics, the leader, whose sole desire is to remain in power, pursues policies that allow him to maintain or enhance the level of returns to the winning coalition. According to Bueno de Mesquita, leaders of large coalition systems warring with other states are likely to expend more resources in the war effort because the coalition expects to receive significant returns. Large coalition systems also provide cover for the leader because of the difficulty for challengers to persuade more individuals to their cause than in a small coalition system. Concepts such as loyalty and affinity make attempts to challenge the leader in a large coalition system even more complicated. Therefore, large coalition systems are insulated and can fight for longer durations. Small coalition systems, in contrast, are less likely to exert a maximal effort in a military conflict because there is an enhanced and immediate threat to the leader if he diverts resources from the winning coalition to support the conflict. Thus, authoritarian governments are more likely than democracies to lose wars simply because of effort. The observation that democratic leaders are obliged to aggressively pursue victory also explains the reluctance of democracies to engage in war. This assertion directly refutes liberalism’s account of Democratic Peace Theory, which postulates that democracy cultivates a culture of political civility that influences policy elites and institutionalizes liberal economic policies promoting economic interaction and, ultimately, positive interdependence between states.

While Bueno de Mesquita and Huntington cogently interpret the manner in which domestic factors influence the practice of international politics, their theories are deficient because each discounts the power exerted by the structure upon states. In the opening pages of The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington instills in the reader the belief that cultural conflict is all but inevitable. He fails to acknowledge, however, that certain informal and formal institutions exist within the international system to mediate conflict. Culture may determine how states, or factions within states, view and react towards the global community, but the structure will determine the outcome of those actions. Balance of power politics, which only receives cursory mention in his book, is transcultural. In his discussion of China’s expected rise to hegemony, he unites present day Japan and the United States as balancers. As China becomes more powerful, Huntington assumes that Japan will become culturally aware and join the Sinic sphere; thus, the United States will fail to balance. Huntington’s framework of cultural schisms, though, forces him to discount the possibility of the United States and Russia, as members to two distinct cultures, cooperating in an attempt to balance China in the event that Japan defects. The adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has remained resilient in the face of repeated arguments that ideological, cultural, or religious divides will hinder the ability of differentiated states to cooperate. One need only point to the US-China alliance during the Cold War or the Iran-Israel relationship during the Iran-Iraq conflict for evidence. Moreover, Huntington’s prediction of inter-civilizational conflict ignores the normative acceptance of international law by the units of the system and states emphasis on routine diplomatic contacts. Culture may determine state policies, but the structure of the system will determine the outcome of the unit’s actions. Balance of power politics will quash any attempt for domination and general recognition of international law and diplomacy will impede attempts to engage in active military conflict.

The Logic of Political Survival suffers from a similar inattention to structural factors. Policy elites need not be aware of concepts such as balance of power or international law to be effected by them. The relationship between the leader, winning coalition, and selectorate is a compelling model for explicating state (in)action at the international level but not as a predictor of states’ reactions. The structure strongly influences how other states will respond to the singular state. It may be true that democracies are more victorious in conflicts against authoritarian governments because they are large coalition systems, but their victory can only occur if permitted by the structure’s institutions. In other words, accurate examinations of international relations cannot be achieved through the abstraction of a state from the system. At the present time, the majority of states in the system are large coalition systems and, in accordance with Bueno de Mesquita’s logic, large coalition systems are unlikely to engage in military conflict because they have much to lose if they do not win. If the regime types were more equitably split between large coalition system’s and small coalition systems, the latter can be expected to ally in order to balance against a large coalition system at a reduced cost. Bueno de Mesquita’s hypothesis is empirically valid today but vulnerable if regimes trend away from large coalition systems. Structural examinations are more likely than selectorate theory to provide an enduring model for deciding the outcome of international politics.

In sum, many scholars view the domestic and structural modes of analysis as incongruous and, consequently, fail to grasp the legitimate contributes of each approach. The fact that each approach has utility necessitates a convergence of the two. Domestic factors undoubtedly have a considerable influence on states’ actions in the international system. The final result of international politics, though, is best predicted through a consideration of the system’s structural forces and not domestic policymaking processes.


[1] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 130.