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Facilitators and Inhibitors of Political Mass Killing

Governance, Development and Conflict

ISBN: 978-0-85724-895-4, eISBN: 978-0-85724-896-1

ISSN: 1572-8323

Publication date: 17 August 2011


Social psychology has focused on two major explanations for political mass killing: obedience-authoritarianism and conformity although competition and in-group-out-group distinctions also have drawn substantial attention. However, the ability of any of the social sciences to account for the phenomena has been limited. Another perspective is developed, which examines (a) support for international law governing restraint in conflict and (b) views of respondents towards attackers and victims in actual historical incidents. A national probability sample of 1,504 Russian adults was interviewed in early 1999 and shortly afterwards a sample of 579 students at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) in Moscow. Respondents were presented with statements, from international law governing restraints in armed conflict. In addition, a short description of a historical incident was presented. Each respondent was asked to (a) assign a penalty if any to each of three organizational levels of the attackers and (b) evaluate the attributes and motives of the attackers and the victims. The international law section indicated weak to moderate support for many of the principles. Results for the historical events included (1) relatively high penalties for at least one level of the attacking hierarchy, (2) lower penalties for attackers in which the home country was the initiator, (3) higher penalties for the commanders than for lower levels, and (4) a similar factor structure in each sample for the victim–attacker assessments and high predictability from victim–attacker evaluations to assigned penalty. This chapter focuses on the psychological dimensions for evaluating political mass killing.


Levy, S.G. (2011), "Facilitators and Inhibitors of Political Mass Killing", Chatterji, M., Gopal, D. and Singh, S. (Ed.) Governance, Development and Conflict (Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 185-201.



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