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Monopolies of Violence? Civil Insurgency and the Accountability Paradox

Alexei Abrahams - Postdoctoral Scholar, Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance
Brandon Merrell - PhD candidate, U.C. San Diego

Researchers of counterinsurgency, civil conflict, and statebuilding often argue that governments must possess a Weberian "monopoly on violence" to protect citizens from domestic predators. Monopolists, however, are notorious for predatory behavior. How can citizens empower a Leviathan to maintain order without sacrificing their ability to hold the Leviathan accountable if it oversteps? In some states, norms and institutions may deter tyrannical tendencies, but in authoritarian countries, fragile territories, and nascent democracies, citizens face a real tradeoff between order and accountability. Using a model of this interaction, we argue that citizens can manage this accountability paradox by threatening to support an insurgent movement. Although the presence of armed insurgents may provoke civil war, the threat of unrest can also inhibit government predation. The model further shows that citizens should refrain from enabling the insurgency to overthrow the government entirely, as this result would merely replace one monopolist with another. Instead, citizens calibrate their support for insurgency so that each actor is deterred by the threat of the other. Our result challenges conventional wisdom by suggesting that third-party statebuilders, rather than suppressing insurgents, should instead seek to institutionalize them to deter against government overreach until formal institutions mature.

Scheduled for presentation at the 2018 APSA Annual Meeting.