So, Congress is on recess (btw, an appropriate term for a bunch of codgers who all act like 3rd graders) for the next few weeks and the nation appears safe from outrageous behavior until they return. I thought I’d use this respite to discuss something I’ve been trying to figure out for awhile now, and that is what factors are necessary for a group of people to engage in violence against the government.

Any government depends upon the concept that losers will accede that their side has been temporarily defeated but will live to fight another day. Political differences are important, obviously, as the issues provide the field of battle. However, the battle is not expected to be to the death. Normally, interest group members, when they lose, will lick their wounds and go on to the next issue. But sometimes, violence occurs for political motivations.

Normally, when I make a guess about causation, I try to figure out how my guess can be tested. Since there isn’t any way I can figure how a test of this idea can occur, I thought I’d just throw it out for your amusement. First, a caveat. This doesn’t apply to people who act in isolation, like the Unabomber or the jerk in Washington State who plotted to ambush a bunch of police. People like that have a screw loose and it’s way past my pay grade to figure out what makes loony people loony. If you can’t convince any other individuals to join with you in your activities, that might be a signal to you that your policy vision is in need of corrective lenses.

So, what makes people in groups move toward violence? First, the issue or set of issues has to be incredibly important to the group of people. For most people, this eliminates them from consideration right away since they don’t pay much attention to public policy, except for the little niche that affects their own personal security. But there are individuals who spend most of their free time thinking about the same policy issue, day after day.

Second, they have to be morally certain that their view is the correct one, so that any opposing or mitigating view is depraved. That way, no other position need be countenanced.

Third, the group must have lost a policy battle. This gives the issue even more predominance to the organization. It permits the group to concentrate its efforts even further on the evil of the opposition.

Finally, for members of the group, there must be no hope of policy success. So instead of viewing policy formation as a pendulum, they see it through a glass darkly where everyone in power seeks their group’s defeat, and that no change within legitimate governmental institutions will positively affect their agenda.