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Cover Contemporary Terrorism Studies

14. Can States Be Terrorists?  

Kieran McConaghy

This chapter discusses how states use political violence and asks whether this sort of action could be considered terrorism or not. It lists the core points of study related to state acts of violence. These include instances of threatened acts of violence, state approval of violent acts, and the psychological impact of state and non-state acts of violence. State terrorism has become marginalized because the focus has been primarily on certain types of non-state political violence. States frequently sponsor or assist violent groups internationally when such acts serve their foreign policy objectives. The chapter examines examples of governments taking advantage of state terrorism. This tends to happen in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, but also with colonial powers and liberal democracies too. The chapter clarifies how an accurate definition of terrorism is dependent on intent, which is difficult to determine for state and non-state actors.


Cover Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes

3. Defining Autocracy  

This chapter examines authoritarianism, providing a framework for understanding authoritarian regimes. Although all autocracies share a disregard for competitive elections and pluralism, the structural differences between them are vast. The chapter begins by discussing totalitarian regimes. Scholars developed theories of totalitarianism to take account of the new type of dictatorship that emerged in Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin. This research represents some of the earliest efforts to disaggregate autocracy. Political science research subsequently built on these early efforts, and scholars developed a number of ways to distinguish between different types of authoritarian systems. The chapter then presents a categorical framework for understanding differences across autocracies based on whether political power and decision-making reside with a single individual (personalist dictatorship), a party (single party dictatorship), the military (military regimes), or a royal family (monarchic dictatorship). Some dictatorships combine elements of more than one of these categories.