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date: 26 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the evolution of terrorist violence across the twentieth century, from the nationalist and anarchist groups that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century through to the September 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in America. It does not attempt to establish a definition for terrorism—a Sisyphean undertaking. But it does identify commonalities between different terrorist groups over the century and a process of historical learning. It argues that it is possible to draw something of a terrorist “family tree,” which links groups with otherwise very different ideologies and motivations, and which appeared in markedly different settings. The chapter acknowledges the strategic rationale that has been at the core of most terrorist campaigns, but also suggests that a recurrent feature of terrorist violence has been the symbiosis between instrumentalism and fanaticism. The qualitative nature of terrorist violence marks it out as more than the expression of rational political goals. Equally, though, it is impossible to ignore the fact that terrorism has been about power: principally, the struggle for it, waged against those who have it, by those who do not.

Keywords: anarchism, nationalism, fanaticism, terrorism, legitimacy, democracy, the state, evolution, insurgency, war

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