Understanding Political Violence: A Criminological Analysis
By Vincenzo Ruggerio
New York, NY: Open University Press, Berkshire, 2006
This is the fifth title that I have reviewed in the Crime and Justice series titled “Understanding …”, 1 published under the supervision of Professor Mike Maguire. In the past, I have remarked that the aim of this Series is to produce a number of comparatively short, introductory, and plain language texts directed at undergraduate students on central topics in criminology that are written by internationally renowned authors, and that the titles I had reviewed had met and surpassed this objective. I am again pleased to commend a further title, this one by Professor Ruggerio, who teaches Sociology at both Middlesex University, London, and the University of Pisa, in Italy, by reason of the excellence of the analysis provided, the breadth of the issues addressed notwithstanding the fundamental orientation of an introductory text and, chiefly, by reason of the rigourous nature of the discussion drawing from not only classical scholarship and modern criminological literature, but first hand interviews conducted with former practitioners of political violence. This tour de force review of the nature and essence of political violence has much to teach students of criminal justice and criminology.
Indeed, when one considers the subject of this text, political violence, it is difficult to point to a matter that is closer to the everyday concerns of the vast majority of the community in light of the recent events of September 11, 2001. In this vein, one might also easily venture the opinion that political violence has been a staple news item for Americans since the Vietnam War. Although little authority for this opinion is required, the reference that follows has been selected to illustrate the pervasive nature of political violence in the consciousness of mainstream citizens. When Pride Still Mattered, A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss, Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 1999, sets out this observation on page 484:
Against the background of student protests over the war in Vietnam and the repressive actions of the apparatus of the State, “[Lombardi] gave his standard speech [to a group of business people] about the zeal to win and the need for discipline, but the events of the last few weeks had clearly affected him. In recent months his speeches had become increasingly strident as he complained that protesters were breaking the law with no recrimination, but the killings at Kent State jolted him. ‘The way to treat violence is not with violence’, he said in Milwaukee. ‘That only snowballs it.’ While issuing his traditional call for discipline, he began acknowledging that the voices of the young protesters should be heard. ‘I think the students have a great deal to say, but I don’t think violence, disruptions and burning are the right way to do it.”
Turning away from the general nature of these observations to more precise examples of the text’s assistance, I begin by listing the chapter titles with a view to illustrating the sweep of the issues that are considered by this eminent scholar:
- State savagery and Sedition
- Philanthropic murderers and regicides
- Morbid effervescence
- Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy
- Pre-political violence and organized hostility
- Revolutionary suicide
- The blind primacy of action
- Attacking the heart of the state
- Cloning the enemy
- Criminology as ceasefire
Further, I wish to point to certain key sub-chapters in order to inform the potential reader of the subtle yet enticing and provocative nature of much of what is analysed in Understanding Political Violence: A Criminological Analysis. Accordingly, consider “legal suffering and utility” on pages 14-18, “Women and political violence” on pages 38-40, “Social change in Parsons and Merton” on pages 59-66, “the new criminology” at pages 95-99 and The American Auschwitz” on pages 132-135.
In general, the author reviews the contributions that criminology stands to make to the study of political violence and draws from a wealth of sources, notably classicism, positivism, functionalism, symbolic interactionism and all of the major interpretative schools with a view of underscoring the conclusions that have been drawn in the past respecting this subject, and the corrections to be drawn in light of contemporary events and the guidance of present-day theorists2 and, indeed, terrorists. Professor Ruggerio is to be commended in particular for his trenchant references to the works of Bentham between pages 3 and 24, the invocation of the works of Zola on page 40, the apt inclusion of works touching upon the phenomenon of “boom towns” and the inclusion of relevant literature written in English, Italian, French and German. Most importantly, he is to be congratulated for his visionary remarks and scholarship in chapter 11 respecting the need for our discipline to lead the way towards the promulgation of non-violence as an end worthy of achievement and in criminalizing war. In this respect, his efforts inform those of Professor Wayne Morrison whose recent contributions in this vein are both notable and critically needed.3
Understanding Political Violence: A Criminological Analysis has much to teach us about the nature of violence in our daily affairs and in the long-term contributions that criminology may offer in seeking to outlaw and to sanction all repressive forms of conduct.
Ontario Court of Justice
1 Understanding Psychology and Crime Perspectives on Theory and Action, by James McGuire, [Open University Press: Berkshire, England, 2004], reviewed in Deakin Law Review (Winter 2007) [forthcoming]; Understanding Public Attitudes to Criminal Justice, by Julian V. Roberts and Mike Hough, [Open University Press: Berkshire, England, 2005], reviewed in Canadian Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10(3), May 2006, pages 303-306; Understanding Social Control Deviance, crime and social order, by Martin Innes [Open University Press: Berkshire, England, 2003], reviewed [in French] in Revue générale de droit, 2005, Vol. 35(3), pages 451-455; Understanding Victims and Restorative Justice, by James Dignan [Open University Press: Berkshire, England, 2005], reviewed in Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol 47(3) (July 2005), p. 614 [www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/cjcr.html].
2 Of note, although reference is made on page 1 to Terry Eagleton’s text, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic, [Oxford: Blackwell, 2003], interested readers might wish to consult his subsequent text, Holy Terror [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005]. See the author’s review in Library Journal, Vol. 130(13), October 15, 2005.
3 I refer in particular to “Rethinking narratives of penal change in global context”, in The New Punitiveness: Trends, Theories, Perspectives, edited by John Pratt, David Brown, Mark Brown, Simon Hallsworth and Wayne Morrison, [Willan Publishing, Portland, Oregon, 2005], on pages 290-307. In summary, he seeks to argue the following,: “[…] our narratives of penal change must be reassessed and complemented by analyses that adopt a self-conscious global context […]” (p. 290). The discussion that follows is quite simply an illuminating review of the various strands that make up this bedeviling global question and is highly recommended for making plain that the “biggest non-punitive area we inhabit is the global international system” as evidenced by the paucity of prosecutions for such epoch-marking crimes such as genocide. Indeed, one cannot easily recall a more lucid argument than the one by which the author states that some 165 million victims of murder did not have their crimes prosecuted, much less counted in any official statistical register (see page 294).