[First published May 2, 2005] Following is an interview of R.J. Rummel by the editor in chief of La Provincia di Como, an Italian daily newspaper.
1) Your researches about democides reveal how dangerous is government power. But when does concentrated political power produce democides?
The borderline is between democracies and nondemocracies. Democratic governments almost never murder their own citizens, while the least democratic governments murder them in the hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions.
2) How did you begin to study mass murders?
The nature, causes, and conditions of war had been the early focus of my research, but I kept coming across references to this or that government murdering thousands of people. Even though a PhD in political science, I had not heard of many of these deaths. This stimulated my curiosity, so when I completed my five volumes on Understanding Conflict and War, I did a pilot study to get an estimate of the extent of government murder, which I began to call democide, in the world. I was shocked at its extent. So, I began a through eight-year data collection project to fully detail all the killing. When completed, I came up with about 170 million people murdered by governments 1900-1987. the specifics are in my HTM”>Death By Government and Statistics of Democide.
3) From Nazism to former U.S.S.R and China, it seems to exist an internal link between bureaucracy/order and mass murders. Is it correct? How can you explain this relation?
It is a relationship between the power a regime has and the likelihood it will murder its people or those it controls. The more power at the center, the more democide. Simply, power kills.
4) Your studies are revealing the frailty of the Hobbesian paradigm: state is not the main condition for peace, but the transcendental condition of any political violence. Do you agree?
It is not the state per se, but whether the state is controlled such that it is prevented from murdering people. Democracy is such control, since those in power are responsible to the people, but also democracies are civil societies with many contra-state power organizations and societies, like the church, universities, the media, corporations, small businesses, social groups, etc. These balance and restrain power, as does the periodic requirement that leaders submit their record to the voter, who then can fire them.
When the state is not so restrained, then we get a Hussein, Taliban, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.
5) In your opinion, why do political scientists have generally neglected the impressive chapter of democides?
First, in their education, they only learned about the Holocaust. Second, by inclination they tend to favor government action (after all, many students select political science because they want to do something about social problems they see, and believe the government is the way to deal with them) and bristle at claims that government can do evil things, like murdering people wholesale. Third, since most are on the left, and most killing is by left-wing governments, if they do know about it, they refuse to teach or write about it for political reasons, or believe that when governments are trying to revolutionize a society to free people from exploitation, poverty, and inequality, it is a just war, and in war people are killed.
6) How was difficult to estimate the magnitude of government killing?
Very. And this is why in my statistics I give a most improbable low and high, and then what I call a prudent mid-estimate. The low and high provide a most likely range in which the true number should lie.
7) You said that democratic freedom is a method of non-violence. What do you properly mean?
Just that. When conflicts occur in a democratic society, they are managed democratically through debate, negotiated, compromise, peaceful demonstrations and protests, and ultimately if society wide, through voting, and acceptance of the results. Note that in the U.S. we had two huge socio-political conflicts, one in 1999 over whether President Clinton should be fired, and the other over who really won the 2000 presidential election. Both were resolved peacefully. To my knowledge, not one person was killed or injured in these conflicts, and virtually no violence occurred. Yet, it is hard to imagine conflict that is more serious where the emotions and interests of people were more engaged.
8) Carl Schmitt argued that – once a government has the power – nothing proves that law will be respected and violence will not be used. From these premises, democracy seems not enough to prevent political violence. What is you opinion?
This is dichotomous, either-or thinking. Government is necessary and anyway, an anarchy would naturally turn into some kind of government, if only by the smartest and strongest thugs. But once there is a government, the questions are then which kind most respects and law and creates the least violence. And this is democracy, especially liberal democracy with its respect for human rights. If one lists all the violence in the world over, say, ten or twenty years. the pattern would jump out of the data. Democracies by far would have the least.
9) You argue that freedom promotes peace. Would you please indicate some evidence of it?
My God, my website is full of the evidence. The most systematic evidence is in my five volumes on Understanding Conflict and War. The evidence regarding democide is in my Statistics of Democide. Just one and the most recent publications of the evidence is in to the Appendix to my Saving Lives . I recommend it to you as an example of how I did the empirical studies. For the historical and qualitative discussion of freedom and violence, go to Chapters 5 to 7 in the book.
10) Are we still facing, in some part of the world, the very risk of a democide?
Not only facing, it is ongoing in Sudan, Burma, North Korea, and the Congo, just to mention the worse of the democide underway.
You will find on my website the world’s most extensive Q and A regarding my work on democide and war.