VOL. 2, NO. 6, PGS. 1–7


Why Do Regimes Resort to Political Violence?
A conversation with Paul Hollander

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Paul Hollander is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Center Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. His most recent book is From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship.

What is political violence? What forms can it take?

I have written a great deal about political violence in connection with political systems, but I had never tried to come up with a definition of political violence. I thought it was fairly obvious. It is violence that has political roots, motives or justifications. You know what violence is. Then the question is what makes it political. That is a more interesting question. Usually, there are political motives, which are not kept secret, and there is some kind of ideological or propagandistic justification. I suppose the term political lends itself more to disputes on what it means. For example, the new feminists could say that it is a political matter who takes out the garbage in the household. In the last few decades, there has been a tendency in the Western world to extend the meaning of what is political, like in the example I have just given. The meaning of political, obviously, has to do with power relationships, with the use of power.

Why does a regime resort to political violence?

It is difficult to provide a generalized answer because there are many different kinds of political violence. I think that one major distinction, which I could have mentioned earlier, is between the political violence that is directed at an adversary outside, as in a war, and the political violence that is directed at domestic opposition. So, why does a regime resort to political violence? That depends on the type of violence. In the domestic case, a regime resorts to political violence when the population does not cooperate or collaborate or when the regime can not achieve its goals by peaceful means, like in your country. It is pretty obvious why a regime uses political violence. Because it can not get what it wants by peaceful means. So, it has to put down the opposition. Or even more generally, a regime resorts to political violence when it feels threatened. I would like to also point out that when a political system feels threaten, this feeling of threat is not always rational. The Nazis felt threatened by the Jews, but, clearly, the Jews did not threaten the Nazi political system. Similarly, the so-called Kulak in the former Soviet Union did not really threaten the Soviet political system. I would say that resort to political violence is also ideologically determined, because the more ambitious the goals of the system are, the greater the difficulties in implementing or realizing them, and therefore the more likely the system will resort to violence.

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Desde mi punto de vista, la violencia forma parte de la naturaleza animal: la muerte de un animal por otro de su misma o diferente especie, por mil razones asociadas a la sobrevivencia, llámese hambre, sobrevivencia del más apto, poder, etc. El proceso civilizatorio en Homo sapiens tiene como fin precisamente ir sustituyendo la violencia natural, la barbarie, por la convivencia, en un equilibrio delicado. Y los regímenes totalitarios o similares tienden precisamente a echar para atrás el proceso de formación en la civilidad y ciudadanía, para retrotraernos a los instintos básicos más primitivos.

Dra. Gioconda Cunto de San Blas
Presidenta de la Academia de Ciencias Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales

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