Explanation for Political Violence

O’Neill defines political violence as “politically motivated violence outside of state control” (O’Neill 210). He provides three different explanations for political violence: institutional, ideational, and individual. Institutional emphasizes the impact of concrete organizations and trends that give rise to political violence. O’Neill argues that institutions “contain values or norms that implicitly or explicitly encourage political violence, or that they constrain human activity, thus provoking political violence” (O’Neill 211). The people are inherently upset with the current political system because they are being oppressed. As a result, they turn to revolutions, that are commonly violent, and terrorism in order to change the political system to their favor. Ideational, however, focuses more on the rationale behind the political violence, questioning why it takes place. O’Neill argues that ideas may in fact be institutionalized, such as a political organization or religion (O’Neill 211). He goes further and states, “Political violence is more likely to be associated with attitudes that are radical or reactionary, since each attitude views the current institutional order as bankrupt and beyond reform” (O’Neill). Here, O’Neill states that ideational and institutional can be linked in explaining political violence due to the fact that the people’s attitudes are caused by the institution at hand. I agree with the notion that institutional is the best explanation for political violence because the institution is “the root source for violence, a necessary condition for violent actions to take place, and a presumption that changes in the institutional structure would eliminate the motivation for this violence” (O’Neill). If the institution itself is abolished, then there will be no political violence as a result. The institution is the foundation of all political violence that occurs in society.

For Jamaica, political violence is part of their history. Since 1940, there have been moments of political violence with the presence of Group 69. The goal of Group 69 was the “cleansing of Western Kingston of JLP supporters and, in particular, Alexander Bustamante.” Bustamante was a key member of parliament in the region but was forced to flee due to the acts of violence against him, specifically from Group 69. Ralph Brown, the former mayor of Kingston, stated that the Group 69 were “defenders of the party” and wanted to end the oppression that was occurring in Jamaica. For 40 years, there was a violent war between the political parties (People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party) and terrorist groups, such as Group 69, for power. The Group assassinated various politicians for their reasoning. Their objective was to restore strength to Jamaica and reduce the presence of corruption in Jamaican politics. Recently, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar fired 26 members of government in an effort to prevent future periods of political violence. Jack Welch, CEO of GE, said, “Willingness to change is strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”

Institutional is the best explanation for political violence due to the fact that it is the “root source for violence” (O’Neill 211). In the case of Jamaica, the people were not satisfied with the standards of society and took up arms to change the system for the better.

O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.


2 thoughts on “Explanation for Political Violence

  1. I agree that the institutional approach is the best explanation for political violence. When looking at a state, it is important consider its inherent structures. I think an interesting point made by O’Neill is the two different ways that the institutional explanation can manifest itself: constraining versus enabling. The political system, or institution, may possess certain norms or rules that either encourage political violence or constrain citizens so much that they fight against the political system. This can be connected to O’Neill’s discussion of political culture in chapter three. Your example of Jamaica was an interesting one, and pretty representative of many countries that suffer from violence as a means for changing the political system. It seems from your explanation of the example that Jamaica possibly suffered from constraints on rights and freedoms, which led to the inevitable dissatisfaction and then violent push back.

    • I agree that the institutional explanation is the best way to understand political violence. As stated by O’Neil “Institutional explanations can be seen as a quest for a ‘root source’ for violence…” (O’Neil 211). In the case of stopping violence, this explanation would be most helpful. Stopping the root of all violence the community can eliminate all ideas and pressures of violence, creating a safer, more trustworthy community and government. Your case of Jamaica and Group 69 would fall under this category because it is a fixed organization that is causing violence in a community. The ideational explanation would not be as helpful because it focuses on the rationale behind the violent actions. For this explanation to take place, the violence would have already have happened. There are no patterns or specific organizations in this definition as in the institutional explanation which makes it harder for people to predict when violence will happen. The last idea of individual explanation emphasizes the psychological factors and how the violence is carried out. Although this idea is compelling, I find that the study might be difficult to determine what sort of person is prone to cause violence. I agree with you and find that the institutional explanation is the best way to understand political violence.

      Your example of Jamaica also goes back to Chapter three of O’Neil that explains ethnic conflict. The Group 69 wanted to gain political power over the government of Jamaica. So, in the case of your example, it is definitely an ethnic conflict of political violence instead of a national conflict which pertains more to gaining freedom from a corrupt government.

      O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.

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