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The Politics of Terrorism: Power, Legitimacy, and Violence

Author(s): Richard A. Couto

Journal: Integral Review
ISSN 1553-3069

Volume: 6;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 63;
Date: 2010;
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Keywords: Arendt | criminalize | political leadership | political terrorism | political violence | politics | state violence | structural violence | terrorism | war on terror | Weber

This paper examines and juxtaposes discourses about terrorism, violence, and political leadership. It presents generalizations about terrorism—a form of political violence by, for, and against the state—and politics and violence based on the theories of Max Weber and Hannah Arendt. The stark contrasts drawn from these theories include power as non-violent strength (Arendt) versus power as violence-dependent (Weber) and the struggle for legitimacy between different agents (states and individuals) as well as terrorism by, for, and against the state. This reframing of power leads to judging a lack of power where there is violence, and the presence of power where one observes non-violence. An examination of political and criminal violence leads to questions about deliberate and purposeful violence, indirect and structural violence that has political consequences, and their relationship to terrorism. It expands the application of terrorism to include indirect structural violence by indicating its relationship to direct violence, not only in traditionally-viewed terrorist action but in the ignored terror of, for example, inner cities. Terrorism has many forms by many actors. To synthesize the results of these lines of reasoning leads to a conclusion with considerable implications for politics and for political leadership. The politics of terrorism suggest a central counter-terrorist approach: de-politicizing the violence of terrorists whenever possible and using the authority and power of the state to institutionalize it as criminal violence. This, in turn, also means politicizing other forms of violence, such as capital punishment, and their indirect and structural forms, such as the inner city.
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