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Power Kills

Contents | Preface

Chapter 1: Introduction and Summary

Appendix 1.1: Q and A on No Wars Between Democracies

Chapter 8: On The Nature of Democracy

Other Democratic Peace Documents On This Site


What is the "democratic peace"?

"The rule of law: towards eliminating war"

"Freedom of the press--A Way to Global Peace"

"Convocation Speech,"

Freeman Interview

City Times Interview


"The democratic peace: a new idea?"

Q & A on democracies not making war on each other

But What About...?

Bibliography on democracy and war


"Libertarianism and International Violence"

"Libertarianism, Violence Within States, and the Polarity Principle"

"Libertarian Propositions on Violence Within and Between Nations: A Test Against Published Research Results"

"Democracies ARE less warlike than other regimes"


Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace (see e.g., Propositions 16.11 and 16.27

The Miracle That Is Freedom

Power Kills


Chapter 13

Why Does Power Kill?*

By R.J. Rummel

There is. . . . no fundamental, but that every supreme power must be arbitrary.
----George Savile (Marquis of Halifax), Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections Of Fundamentals (1750)

In review we thus have at one end the social field with its democratic regime. The regime is but one pyramid of power among many in the social field. Behavior among all in the field is patterned by structures of expectations that evolve between individuals and groups, the sum total of which act to check and balance, to cross-cut and cross-pressure, interests, and thus to severely limit the intensity of collective violence, and its spread across society. Moreover, the constant hubbub of individuals and groups adjusting and readjusting to each other as they and their environment change, of social trial and error and social learning, develops an exchange culture, one of negotiation, compromise and toleration. At the other extreme is the coercive society organized by a regime to achieve some goal. Society is divided into those who give the orders and those who must obey, and all major issues become polarized along this axis. Violence becomes a way of insuring obedience, or achieving the organizational goals, and of restructuring expectations were they to break down. This is an antifield. It is ruled by raw coercion and force; pervasive fear assures obedience.

The most fundamental explanation of the democratic peace, then, is that Freedom promotes nonviolence and Power kills. This conclusion leaves two questions to answer. One of these concerns how this idea fits into the political triangle?

Recall that democratic regimes in an exchange society are at one corner of the political triangle while totalitarian regimes with the coercive society they have constructed are at another. They therefore are at opposing ends of one side of the triangle, which is a continuum ranging from Freedom to Power. But there is also the third corner of the triangle, that of authoritative regimes, where absolute monarchies would lie at the very tip. How do authoritative societies and their authoritarian regimes relate to the social field, anti-field dimension?

First, true authoritarian regimes should not be confused with military dictatorships or rule by some leader who has taken over power by a coup d'état or that has assumed dictatorial power once elected. A true authoritarian regime is one that rules according to the traditions and customs of the nation and has assumed power according to these traditions, such as a King's oldest son, upon the Kings death, ascending the throne with all the traditional pomp to be crowned the new king. The regime rules largely through its authoritative power. The people largely believe that this rule is right and proper, and indeed, would fight to maintain it. Says Lord Acton of the monarchies that developed after the Middle Ages, they "exerted a charm over the imagination. . . that, on learning of the execution of Charles I., men died of the shock; and the same thing occurred at the death of Louis XVI. and the Duke of Enghien."1

Were the monarch's rule to greatly depart from what the people or powerful elites believe it should be, rebellion may occur, the monarch deposed, and even their head cut off. However, there is much room for variation among monarchies from one culture to another. The tradition according to which they are crowned with the right to rule may also grant them the use of considerable arbitrary and coercive power, particularly if the monarch is adept at playing off possible enemies against each other and appealing to his legitimacy. One of the worst examples of this was King Louis XIV of France, of whom wrote Lord Acton wrote,

With half the present population, he maintained an army of 450,000 men; nearly twice as large as that which the later Emperor Napoleon assembled to attack Germany. Meanwhile the people starved on grass. France, said Fenelon, is one enormous hospital. French historians believe that in a single generation six millions of people died of want. It would be easy to find tyrants more violent, more malignant, more odious than Louis XIV., but there was not one who ever used his power to inflict greater suffering or greater wrong; and the admiration with which he inspired the most illustrious men of his time denotes the lowest depth to which the turpitude of absolutism has ever degraded the conscious of Europe.2

Another such example is Ivan Grozny--Ivan the Terrible-- of Russia, perhaps the worst of its monarchs, who in the 1560s and 70s went on killing sprees and with his own private group of killers, the Oprichnina, massacred tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of possible opponents, detractors, the old nobility, and others.3

Especially in the arena of foreign affairs Monarchs have traditionally been given much leeway to decide issues of war and peace, to unilaterally define the national interest, and to play at war.

Regarding the domestic affairs of an authoritative society, many individuals and groups are largely left alone to pursue their own interests as long as they do not interfere with those of the regime or its favored institutions, such as a church. There are therefore areas in which a social field exists, such a relatively free market, friendship groups, and within the family and clans. Moreover, where traditional culture is followed, where people do things because this is the way they believe they ought to behave, they are still operating within a social field. That is, they are acting freely, they choose to be guided by customs and norms handed down to them, or they follow these customs and norms unconsciously, as one speaks a language they learned as a child. However, those areas of society that are ruled over by the regime more through force and coercion than through its legitimacy and authority, such as in the maintenance of a state religion or forced service in the military, are not matters of free choice but the power of the regime. As authoritarian rule has recourse to coercion and force it creates a partial antifield, as this becomes the major modus operandi it turns part of society into an antifield. No authoritarian regime in modern times has completely relied on the strength of tradition and its authority to rule. All for one reason or another have resorted to extensive coercion, whether to meet the challenge of modernization, to develop and strengthen their nation, to handle the great wealth of its resources, such as oil, to make war, or simply to assure their rule. But also no authoritarian ruler has assumed or resorted to the autocratic power of contemporary totalitarian regimes. Consequently we can place authoritarian regimes between totalitarian and democratic ones on the Freedom to Power dimension.4

Then there are a host of other regimes that are neither strictly authoritarian (in relying on authoritative power) or totalitarian. They are those nations ruled by the likes of an Idi Amin of Uganda, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Muammar al-Qaddafi5 of Libya, or Park Chung Hee of South Korea.

In a military coup in 1971, Idi Amin Dada seized power and ruled dictatorially until his abortive invasion of Tanzania in 1978 and the defeat of his army. His rule was completely arbitrary. He murdered his opponents, including high members of his own regime who criticized him. He slaughtered members of competing tribes and instilled fear throughout the country. He also ejected from the country tens of thousands of Asians, many of whom had lived in the country for generations. But although his rule was by absolute Power, he did not try to totally control all of Ugandan society. To a great extent, custom, particularly tribal custom, regulated much behavior and whole segments of the society were free from government management and control, especially in economic matters within a mainly preindustrial economy. Private enterprise and exchange or barter were allowed, as long as businessmen kept out of politics or did not interfere with the prevalent government graft and corruption, and paid the appropriate bribes. This was a society partly exchange, partly authoritative, and to a large extent, coercive. If democracy is at the top corner of the political triangle, totalitarian regimes at the lower left corner, and authoritarian regimes--absolute monarchies--at the lower right, then I would place this regime somewhere in the lower middle of the political triangle. On the Freedom to Power dimension, the left side of the triangle, it would be closer to the totalitarian end than the democratic.6

Then there is Chile. In 1973, with covert American assistance, the military under General Pinochet overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende that was based on a coalition of socialists, communists, and leftists. The military instituted a state of siege, including censorship of the press, and proceeded to purge the government and other institutions of communists and leftists, summarily executing thousands of them. More tens of thousands were imprisoned without trial and torture was widespread. Many simply disappeared. However, in subsequent years the regime returned to private owners much of the property, such as banks, land, and businesses that had been taken over by the Allende regime. The Pinochet regime also tried to free the economy of most of the controls and regulations that had limited exchange, and to promote economic growth through a free market. Then in the late 1980s Pinochet ended many of the political restrictions he had imposed and began the return the country to democracy. He was defeated in a plebiscite he held in 1988, but kept control over the government until a new president was elected in 1989.7

The Pinochet regime clearly used coercion and force to purge the country of what it saw as undesirables and to maintain its rule against any possible opposition until it was ready to return democracy to the country. But outside of this, the nation as a whole was a social field, indeed, outside of politics and political expression, it was more spontaneous than it had been under the Allende government, which had nationalized whole industries and expropriated huge tracks of land. The economy was freer, intervention in the affairs of the Catholic church was less, and people could go about their private business. Tradition and custom, bargaining and exchange, prevailed where they were independent of the regime's interests in maintaining its power and protecting the nation against communism, socialism, and radical leftists.

This regime has been especially condemned by the international community for its abysmal human rights record and military rule, and I should be especially clear as to what I mean. None of the allegations of human rights violations, mass murder, and undemocratic rule are being denied. What I am saying is that aside from this there were large regions of Chilean society in which behavior was spontaneous, a social field. I would place Pinochet's regime during this period towards the middle right of the political triangle. Pinochet's rule was absolute but he allowed much exchange and also tradition and custom played a large role in Chilean society, as for example, in the social dominance of the Catholic church. On the Freedom to Power dimension the regime would be closer to the Freedom end than Idi Amin's, since while neither was totalitarian, Amin tended more in his use of power to coercively intervene in society than did Pinochet.

As to Qaddafi, he is a radical Arab nationalist and socialist who with his Revolutionary Command Council took power after deposing King Idris in 1969. He has ruled dictatorially, and has followed the socialist one-party model in trying to mobilize and organize the population to achieve his five-year plans and for other state purposes. Nonetheless, significant self-management has been allowed and there is meaningful independence for many social groups and businesses. Qaddafi also has been an adventurer in foreign policy, helping rebellious groups in other counties and radical terrorist organizations, and using his army to support radical movements in neighboring countries. In 1990, he aided in the overthrow of the regime in Chad, and his agents have been accused of bombing Pan Am flight 103 out of the air over Scotland. Moreover, Qaddafi has done his share of arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions (especially after each of the three attempted coups against him), even of Libyans who have fled the country and criticized him abroad. In the political triangle, with the regime's use of coercion and force to effect a partial socialist transformation of Libya, I would place it towards the lower left of the political triangle, recognizing that Islam and associated tradition is still an essential aspect of Libyan society. On the Freedom to Power dimension, Qaddafi's regime would be closer to the totalitarian end and further away from the democratic than would be Amin's regime.8

Finally, there was the South Korean regime of General Park Chung Hee. In 1961 the Korean military overthrew President Chang Myun and General Park assumed power. He was elected to the presidency in 1963, but ruled with a strong hand. As a result of increasing protests against this he imposed strict military control over the country in 1972 and in 1975 forbid any political opposition against him. He was assassinated in 1979. The aim of his rule was to maintain a strong South Korea against the subversion, infiltration, and military provocation by North Korea and the increasing threat of an outright North Korean invasion; and to manage the fast paced modernization of Korean society and its rapid economic development.9

Human rights abuses were common, but neither as blatant or extreme as for many similar dictatorships. While internal economic matters were largely free, there was much government regulation, and especially in matters of foreign trade and investment, strong government controls. Korean society, like most Asian societies at this time, was inherently authoritarian. Tradition and cultural norms and rules dominated much social behavior, within the family and between members of other groups, and between individuals. However, with the increasing modernization of Korean society and its economic and technological development, these traditions were being eroded in favor of more social and cultural freedom. Still, I would place the Park regime towards the lower right in the political triangle and on the Freedom versus Power dimension I think it should be closer to the democratic end (but of course not democratic) than for any of the other regimes considered above.

So much for how the explanation that Power kills fits into the political triangle. A second question has to do with how the three levels of explanation--popular will; democratic culture, cross-pressures, and in-group perception; and Freedom versus Power relate to each other? That based on popular will stands off by itself and gives a partial explanation. It accounts for the inability of President Roosevelt to come to the military aid of Great Britain during her crisis of survival under the rain of German bombs and threat of a cross-channel invasion in the dark days of 1940 and 1941. It helps explain the inability of the Johnson and much harder line Nixon administrations to pursue victory in Vietnam after the North Vietnam-Vietcong Tet Offensive of 1968. It explains the inability of the Eisenhower administration to pursue a clear victory in Korea or at least to employ large scale offensive operations to force the North Koreans to negotiate a peace earlier than they did. But then there were wars like the Spanish-American war which popular will appeared to demand. That is, the people's will can occasionally work for war. Moreover, a problem is that this explanation depends on the existence of electoral machinery that systematically gauges and reflects and empowers the will of the people, and thus it involves a continuum from fully democratic electoral systems to those without any elections and representational systems, such as the most authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But those totalitarian regimes with their noncompetitive but existing electoral systems and legislatures would stand in the middle of such an electoral scale. Finally, this explanation is not meant to nor does it relate to the disposition of democracies to be more internally nonviolence than other type of regimes.

For the second level explanation the crucial variables are two: cross pressures resulting from the diversity and plethora of interests created by an exchange society, and associated exchange culture. The latter not only helps minimizes violence within the society but also encourages democratic and oligarchic republican regimes to treat other regimes they perceive to be like themselves in an accommodating manner. Both cross-pressures and culture provide a proper understanding of the democratic peace, in my view, as long as it is understood that they sit along a continuum from the most democratic to least democratic--totalitarian--regimes.

The third level explanation integrates and extends these two variables within a more basic conceptualization of social fields and anti-fields, and Freedom versus Power. Moreover, it treats the simple idea of cross-pressures as one of a complex of checks, balances, and inhibitions that result from the interlacing and interwoven expectations and interests created within a spontaneous society. Exchange culture at this level also emerges from the freedom of individuals and groups to establish their own social equilibrium--structure of expectations--with each other. Finally, at this level the explanation makes clearer why the opposite of democracies, totalitarian regimes, should have the most severe violence, why Power kills. This is through the concept of an anti-field, an organization with a well defined hierarchy, command structure, and resulting polarization of interests and expectation.10

We thus have at the most fundamental and general level an explanation of why the less democracy the more nations make violence on each other, and the more their internal collective violence and democide. That is, why nondemocracy is an engine of violence. This is because these societies are turned into antifields. They are ruled by coercion and force. And thus, Power kills. 


* From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of Chapter 13 in R.J. Rummel, Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence, 1997. For full reference to Power Kills, the list of its contents, figures, and tables, and the text of its preface, click book.

1. Acton (1967, p. 288).

2. Acton (1967, p. 288). Suffice to say that this is from an address he gave in 1877, well before the totalitarian evils of our century.

3. Medvedev (1971, p. 269); Backer (1950, pp. 69-71).

4. If we collapse the two-dimensional space of the political triangle into one-dimension along the Freedom to Power (democracy to totalitarian) dimension, then this is where authoritarian regimes would end up.

5. Also spelled Kaddafi, Khadafy, or Gaddafi.

6. On Idi Amin and Uganda, see Avirgan (1982), Harrison (1976), Kannyo (1987), and Martin (1974)

7. On Pinochet and Chile, see Falcoff (1989), Sigmund (1977), and Politzer (1989).

8. On Qaddafi's Libya, see Anderson (1986), Blundy (1987), Deeb (1982), and Cooley (1982).

9. On South Korea during this period, see Savada and Shaw (1992), Yoon (1990), and Sohn (1989).

10. There are, of course, alternative explanations of the democratic peace which argue that it is not democracy that causes the peace, but something causing the lack of violence that is only accidentally related to democracy. See for example, the overview of some of these in Russett and Antholis (1992, p. 416). Such explanations include those in terms of lack of common borders between democracies, and thus less or no war; the existence of only a relatively few democracies, and thus the lack of violence is only a chance event; the existence of common ties, as in the common market; a common enemy as during the Cold War; economic development and wealth, which make war between such nations too costly with too little gain; or an accidental concurrence of policies on most issues that helps democracies avoid major disputes, violence, and war. All these and other explanations of which I am aware are too narrow to simultaneously encompass peace between democracies, the greater peace between nations the more democratic they are, the peace within democracies, and their lack of democide. That is, none explain why democracy is a method of nonviolence. In addition, they have been found empirically insignificant, as that concerning borders in my own research and those of others cited in Part 1 (such as Gleditsch, 1995). There is much reason to discount this common explanation. Moreover, the possibility that the interdemocratic peace is a chance finding has been shown by significance test after significance test to be very unlikely (see chapter 2). Consider also that we now have had for decades several dozen democracies, around one-fifth to one-fourth of all nation-states, without war between them.

For citations see the Power Kills REFERENCES

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