Propaganda by the Deed, Fourth Generation, Warfare and the Decline of the State

Propaganda by the Deed, Fourth Generation Warfare and the Decline of the State

 An Examination of the History of the Decline of the State’s Monopoly on Violence and Warmaking

By Keith Preston



I. The Rise of the Modern State and Its Monopoly on Violence (1300 to 1800)

II. Anarchists Vs. the State and Propaganda by the Deed: Early Challenges to the State’s Monopoly on Violence (1885-1915)

III. Liberalism Vs. Anti-Liberalism and the Emergence of Non-State Military Actors (1945-1989)

IV. Fourth Generation Warfare and Non-State Military Actors (1989- )

V. Fourth Generation Warfare and the Decline of the State (1975- )







          World events of recent years have called to the forefront of public attention and intellectual debate the matter of what is commonly called “terrorism”. Efforts at merely defining this provocative term have proven difficult, and no consensus exists among scholars as to what “terrorism” actually is. The standardized cliche’ that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” appears to have some actual basis in fact given the ideologically charged nature of many efforts at summarizing the core characteristics of terrorism. Can all individuals or organizations who engage in extra-legal violence for political purposes be objectively classified as “terrorist”? Or do such actors need to engage in a narrower set of behaviors, such as inflicting injury or death upon persons not directly involved in whatever “cause” or “struggle” the alleged “terrorists” may be motivated by, in order to validly earn the “terrorist” label? Is the term “terrorism” itself appropriate when describing non-state actors who engage in political violence? Does this label signify any characteristics at all that are unique to those to whom it is being applied, or is the “terrorist” label merely a subjective ideological construct?(1)


          Of course, the use of physical threats and raw violence towards the achievement of political ends by rulers and the ruled alike has been commonplace since time immemorial. Political history is to a large degree the story of  palace coups, massacres, purges, insurrections and other incidents of violence occurring outside the context of any formalized legal infrastructure. However, “terrorism” as it is commonly perceived of by contemporary Westerners certainly carries with it the imagery of particular kinds of actions such as bombings, assassinations, hijackings and deliberate destruction of physical infrastructure carried out by persons devoted to the achievement of some political program through the use of such tactics and doing so in a manner that is frequently indistinguishable from that of common criminals so far as established legal norms are concerned. An examination of the history and evolution of modern Western “terrorism” would indicate that this lay perspective is indeed rooted in fact. However, it is inappropriate to associate extra-legal political violence with ordinary criminality. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to first understand the relationship between “terrorism” and the modern institution of the state as it has evolved in the Western nations and subsequently been exported to other parts of the world.

     As will be shown below, political governance underwent a major transformation in the Western world in the eras between the early Renaissance period and the rise of modern nationalism in the nineteenth century. The foremost characteristic of this transformation was the emergence of government as a corporative as opposed to personalized conception. Parallel to the development of this impersonalized, bureaucratized manifestation of government was the decline of the older polycentric order of Europe whereby powers that were previously shared by a variety of institutions (including warmaking powers) were now concentrated into the hands of the corporative state. The state then claimed for itself an exclusive monopoly on the use of political violence. Over time, the state evolved from its role as a means to an end (the maintenance of order) to an end unto itself. This latter process transpired from the time of the French Revolution to the explosions of the “total wars” of the twentieth century.


          Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the state’s monopoly on political violence and warmaking began to meet challenges from contending ideological currents and organizational forces. One of the earliest manifestations of this trend was the advent of so-called “propaganda by the deed”, a term given to the tactics of the classical Anarchists, an ideological tendency that ironically denied not only the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence but the legitimacy of the state in its entireity. Though the classical Anarchists of the “propaganda by the deed” period effectively died out as a political or ideological force following their defeat in the Spanish Civil War and the eclipsing of radical labor movements by the Second World War, their tactics were appropriated and utilized by a wide variety of dissident political currents in Europe and the Americas during the postwar period. Such currents originated from all over the geographical and intellectual spectrum. Some were “far Left”, others “far Right”. Some were religious in nature, others avowedly secular. Some consisted of indigenous Europeans or Americans, others originated from the Third World.  Some killed or bombed indiscriminately, others were more selective. Indeed, the only common denominator to be found among postwar Western “terrorist” groups is their resolute opposition to one or another of the manifestions of modern liberalism and its foundations: bourgeoise commercialism, neocolonialism and liberal imperialism, relative cosmopolitanism, rapid technological expansion and parliamentary forms of government.


          Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Western liberal model has achieved unprecedented hegemony and taken root in an expanded number of nations. The elimination of the Soviet Union as a constraint on liberal imperialism has been accompanied by a predictable rise in militarism on the part of Western liberalism.(2) Furthermore, the universalist presumptions and economic determinism of liberalism, combined with the ongoing process of the globalization of capital, have propelled the liberal powers, particularly the United States, towards the pursuit of unprecedented and unchallenged global hegemony. That this state of affairs should meet with resistance from many of the world’s peoples is no surprise, particularly those peoples whose cultural foundations are the most antithetical to liberalism, i.e., those of the Islamic world. Interestingly, pockets of resistance to liberal global hegemony have arisen within the First World as well, including the United States.


          Much of conventional opinion regards the practice of modern “terrorism” as originating from ordinary criminal motivations, ideological extremism, mental illness or moral deficiency on the part of its practicioners. Accusations of this type are frequently selective, uninformed and heavily ideologically-intoned. In this paper a dissenting point of view will be presented, that of “terrorists” as non-state political and military actors engaged in the rational application of ordinary principles of realpolitik and in the process mounting a challenge to the state’s claimed monopoly on political violence, and in ways that are not fundamentally different ideologically, morally or psychologically from those of state actors. Instead, the kinds of “terrorist” groupings to be examined will be shown to be representatives of a new stage in the evolution of modern war (so-called “fourth generation war”). Additionally, an examination of modern military history, contemporary military theory and the dramatic expansion of both the scale and success of so-called “terrorist” entities will demonstrate both the rise of such entities as major political contenders and the decline of the state as a monopolist of political violence.


Martin Van Creveld on the Rise of the Modern State and Its Monopoly on Violence (1300-1800)


          The Dutch-Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld, in his seminal work “The Rise and Decline of the State” (1999), describes the origins and development of the modern conception of the state as it emerged during the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries in Western Europe. Van Creveld emphasizes the importance of distinguishing the state from government per se. What characteristics are unique to the state that are not necessarily to be found in government generally? The most important of these is the notion of the state as a legal person unto itself. The state has a legal and institutional life of its own that exists above and beyond its individual members or subjects and is self-perpetuating even as its personnel change. The state is a corporate body, but unlike other corporate entities (business corporations or religious and educational institutions) the state regulates and externally establishes the conditions of operation for other kinds of corporate bodies, maintains for itself an exlusive territorial monopoly and a monopoly on particular attributes of public authority (“sovereignty”), and is recognized by and interacts with other state entities in a way that non-state entities do not.(3)


          Van Creveld points out that prior to the rise of the state political government was carried out with varying degrees of formality by tribes, chiefdoms, city-states and empires. Typically, ownership and rulership went hand-in-hand. Those who acquired ownership of land and resources, by whatever means, also ruled over those who lived upon the land.(4) An important contribution of the Greek cities and the later Roman Republic to the eventual rise of the state was to separate ownership from rulership. The operation of the machinery of government existed independently of the private property of owners and individual rulers. One could lose one’s political position without losing one’s personal wealth in the process. However, the political arrangements of antiquity did not conceive of government as an institution independent of its individual members. Van Creveld cites Thucydides’ claim that “the city is its men” and Cicero’s description of the Republic as “an assembly of men living according to law”. (5)


          With the collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe and the emergence of the subsequent feudal era, a historically unique set of arrangements came about that created the conditions necessary for the rise of the state. Van Creveld observes that unlike previous disruptions of centralized authority and the dispersion of power into the hands of  localized rulers, the medieval feudal rulers who comprised the Holy Roman Empire found themselves in the position of having to share power with the Church. The Church was a massive institution unto itself. The Pope maintained his own seat of authority in Rome, while the domain of the Emperor moved from place to place. The Pope also possessed his own armed forces and the Church maintained many privileges of its own that preserved its independence from secular authority. Out of the cracks in the overlapping authority of Church and Emperor came the monarchies who formed the basis of future states. The monarchs persistent struggle against the powers of the Church, the Holy Roman Empire, the independent cities,  and the feudal nobility proved successful over the long term and the time of absolute monarchs began.(6)


            Van Creveld describes the process by which these centralized monarchies began laying the foundations of the state by building a bureaucratic infrastructure for administrative purposes.(7) The bureaucracy eventually became a power unto itself and began to challenge  the power of the monarchy, the Church and the centers of authority to be found in the broader society. The bureaucracies’ powers of collecting both information and taxes from the citizenry at large transformed its relationship to the citizenry. The emergence of a bureaucratic infrastructure with the power of taxation subsequently made it possible for the bureaucracy to gain a monopoly over the raising of armed forces and making war, an activity that had previously been largely privatized. The growth of regular armies, along with internal police organizations and penal institutions, cemented the concentration of authority into the hands of the bureaucracy. By the end of the eighteenth century, the bureaucracy had grown to the point where it crystallized into the person of the state.(8)


          During the centuries of its evolution, the state was accompanied by the parallel development of a radically altered intellectual culture, one which gradually came to deny the previous theological foundations for political legitimacy in favor of a more pragmatic secular concern for the obtainment and preservation of order. As the state grew, the power and influence of intermediary institutions such as the Church, aristocracy, the individual monarch, the patriarchal head of the household and the slave master diminished. Particularistic attachments along with traditional systems of rank and privilege began to decline. Rulers and authority figures came to be seen as ordinary persons whose powers and privileges were derived from their official positions rather than any instrinsic virtue, wisdom or superiority of their own. As traditional hierarches began to vanish, subjects began to be seen less in terms of their ascribed status and more as individuals in terms of their relationship to the universal authority of the state. Egalitarian doctrines arose whose effect was to extend political rights to ever growing groupings of citizens (classes, religions, ethnicities) within the state. This leveling of traditional hierarchies, combined with the disruptions and dislocations generated by the industrial revolution, caused the state to grow ever more powerful.(9)


          Van Creveld examines the transformation of the state from a means to an end (the preservation of order and the protection of life and property) to an end unto itself. The intellectual framework in which this occurred involved the marriage of the state with nationalism.(10) The glorificaton of the national state and the transfer of traditional particularist, provincial or parochial loyalties to the state first found full expression in the French Revolution. Traditional religious sentiments were replaced with the quasi-deification of the state and the nation. State ceremonies, rituals and pageants began to take on quasi-religious symbolism and expressions of reverence. This trend was manifested in particularly spectacular ways by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, but was also observable in less extravagant ways in the liberal states such as France, England and America. Conscripted, popular armies became the norm and to give one’s life in the fight for one’s country was elevated to the level of the highest ideal. The state strengthened its control over civil society not only by means of its police and penal institutions but also through assuming control over education, welfare services, banking and other sectors of social and economic life as well. This unprecedented dominance on the part of the state afforded individual states the means with which to wage war against one another with previously unheard of levels of death and destruction.(11) Ironically, the state, whose original purpose had been the maintenance of peace, became an instrument of unparalleled disorder. Martin Van Creveld thus describes the legacy of the modern state:


“In return for fostering technological development which made possible a much-augmented standard of living the state exacted protection money. Essentially it consisted of unlimited blood and treasure, a development which climaxed during the first half of the twentieth century. Reveling in total war, the state demanded and obtained sacrifice on a scale which, had they been able to imagine it, would have made even the old Aztec gods blanch.”  (12)       


Anarchists Versus the State and Propaganda by the Deed: The Rise of Modern Western Terrorism and Early Challenges to the State’s Monopoly on Violence (1885-1915)


           As previously mentioned, the use of violence to promote political ends has always existed in some form or another. The actual use of the term “terrorism” began during the time of the French Revolution. The term was brought into common language by the English political philosopher Edmund Burke, who denounced the “terrorism” of the French revolutionaries.(13) What is of importance to the thesis outlined in this paper is not politicized violence per se, but the manner by which the use of such violence has arisen in the modern Western world and its relationship to the modern state and the future of the modern state. What is distinctive about modern terrorism is not that it is “terrorism” but that it occurs within the context of an institutional framework where a single corporative entity (the state) claims exclusive monopoly on the use of violence as opposed to one where the waging of war by private individuals and groups is expected and where private acts of violence (such as assassination) are standardized political tools.


           The popularized image of “terrorism” in its contemporary form is traceable to the tendency of nineteenth century revolutionaries to engage in political assassinations. Such tactics were utilitzed by a number of ideological tendencies (for instance, Irish nationalists), but by far the most notorious and stereotypical of such tendencies were what would now be called the “classical anarchists”.(14) There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that among the earliest challengers to the modern state’s monopoly on violence would be an ideological tendency that denies the very legitimacy of the state itself, as opposed to the legitimacy of a particular type of state or a specific state policy or action. Although fairly obscure today, the classical anarchists were in their time a rather large movement, considering the radical nature of their ideas, involving millions of people and maintaining a presence in most countries, not only in Europe and North America but also in Russia, Asia, Latin America and even Africa. As might be expected, the anarchists were a diverse and often eccentric lot and their ranks included everything from labor militants to organizers of utopian colonies, proto-feminists and homosexuals to those who synthesized anarchist militancy with the ethos of machismo common to Latin cultures, quasi-Marxists to extreme individualists, pacifists and extreme idealists to, of course, proponents of terrorism or what was called “progaganda by the deed”. (15)


          The concept of “propaganda by the deed” was formulated by the anarchists as a means of describing their notion of leadership by method of “direct action” as opposed to conventional political outlets like political parties. Not all efforts at “direct action” or even “propaganda by the deed” involved violence. Sometimes these terms took on milder connotations, such as the creation of alternative institutions (for example, worker cooperatives or independent schools) that the anarchists hoped would be a model for the broader transformation of society. However, these terms eventually came to be identified by the public at large and many anarchists alike as mere synonyms for acts of political violence. There were many such incidents. The most notorious of these were the regicides carried out by the anarchists. In his study of the origins of urban terrorism, Anthony M. Burton observes that over a thirty year period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century centuries, the anarchists assassinated a head of state or cabinet official approximately once every eighteen months. The most well-known attacks of this type  were the assassinations of Czar Alexander II of Russia, President Carnot of France, King Umberto of Italy, Empress Elizabeth of Austria and President William McKinley of the United States. (16)


          The actual political and intellectual theories of the anarchists were more sophisticated than what they were often given credit for, and not all anarchists approved of the actions associated with “propaganda by the deed.” (17)Indeed, the anarchists included within their ranks many rather innovative thinkers, including the pioneer sociologist and leading anarchist militant Peter Kropotkin, the economist Pierre Joseph Proudhon, the geographer Elisee Reclus and other individuals of similar caliber. Some anarchists opposed violent actions outright, and others felt somewhat conflicted about the question. However, some anarchists leaders were unabashed champions of armed insurrection and overthrow of the existing bourgeoise order by any means necessary. The majority of anarchists did not simply oppose the state and its laws and institutions. They were also social revolutionaries of a type and bitterly denounced the frequently deplorable working conditions the laboring classes of the day were subjected to, a characteristic they shared with socialists and progressives and all stripes. Political violence was not merely an end unto itself but an act of revolt against political and economic situations regarded as unduly oppressive and unjust.(18)


          Of the leading personalities of classical anarchism, the one who was perhaps most representative of the stereotype of the anarchist as the terroristic madman was the German-American Johann Most. By the time of his immigration to America in 1882, Most had already served time in Germany’s Reichstag (as a socialist deputy) and in Germany’s prisons (as a treasonous socialist revolutionary). Deciding that socialism lacked the revolutionary fervor he desired, Most became an anarchist. As editor of the anarchist publication Freiheit (German for “Liberty”), Most was an incessant preacher of violent revolution.(19) He was at times described as a “terrorist of the word” with his writings characterized as “like lava shooting forth flames of ridicule, scorn and defiance…and breathing hatred.”(20) The title of one of Johann Most’s published works provides a sufficient descripition of his general outlook: Science of Revolutionary Warfare: a Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitro-glycerine, Dynamite, Gun Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons.(21) Johann Most was based in  Chicago, location of the Haymarket incident of 1882, when a bomb was thrown into a crowd of persons, killing eight policemen. Though no actual perpetrator was determined, eight anarchist militants were prosecuted for incitement. Four were executed and a fifth committed suicide while awaiting the gallows.(22)


            Anarchists were predictably regarded by the authorities of the day as mere deviants and criminals. Two interesting works that survive from the Haymarket period bear this out. One of these, Anarchy and Anarchists: A History of the Red Terror and the Social Revolution in America and Europe, was written by Michael J. Schaack, a Chicago police captain who supervised the investigation following the Haymarket bombing. Schaack describes the anarchists with language resembling that of the “international communist conspiracy” rhetoric that later came to be popular in the United States during the 1950s:


“Let none mistake either the purpose or the devotion of these fanatics, nor their growing strength. This is methodic-not a haphazard conspiracy. The ferment in Russia is controlled by the same heads and the same hands as the activity in Chicago. There is a cold-blooded, calculating purpose behind this revolt, manipulating every part of it, the world over, to a common and ruinous end.”(23)


The other work in question, The Rise and Fall of Anarchy in America, by an unidentified author using the name “George N. McLean”, describes the Haymarket incident and the subsequent investigation, trial and executions. Included is a section with the subtitle “The Anarchist’s Fatal Delusion”, providing the following characterization of the anarchist:


“Under the fascination of rose-tinted delusion whose fatal mists obscure the mental and moral realm of thought, many become criminals, goaded on by blind infatuation which persevered in becomes a passion all-absorbing in its nature. In the blindness of their infatuation they seek to immortalize their names by a bold and base attempt at the subversion of law and order.”(24)


          So much for the prosecution. In assessing the incendiary rhetoric and violent behavior of the anarchists from the perpsective of a historian, context is immensely important. Yes, the anarchists could be violent at times, but so could their opponents. The labor battles of the era often approximated the idealized “class war” preached by radicals of the day. Violence was common on both sides, and utilized not only by labor militants, but also by strikebreakers, “scabs”, policemen, soldiers and state militiamen. Many acts of violence carried out by the anarchists were done in response to repression of dissent or lethal action against labor organizers and striking workers carried out by the forces of the state and business interests. The anarchists’ antigovernment rhetoric, in the context of the present era, often mirrors that of contemporary political conservatives. Many of the issues championed by the anarchists, such as the right of labor unions to organize, the right to birth control, and freedom of political speech, are now mainstream and frequently uncontroversial. So were the anarchists criminals and deviants as their enemies proclaimed or were many of them simply people whose thinking was ahead of its time? (25)


          What is important about the classical anarchists for the purposes of the present study is not their specific beliefs, but their role as one of the earliest and most famous political tendencies that sought to overthrow the modern liberal states that have taken root in the Western world over the last one and a half centuries. The anarchists would eventually fade from the scene, but many other groups would subsequently arise that would utilize tactics identical to those associated with “propaganda by the deed”. The anarchists offered an alternative to liberal-democratic capitalism that contained a vision of decentralized confederations of autonomous worker communes and farming villages. Future insurrectionists would possess alternative political visions of their own. These differing visions would be as divergent as possible, but with the common denominator being a shared hatred of the values of modern liberal society.  


Liberalism and Anti-Liberalism: Political Violence by Non-State Actors in the Postwar Era (1945-1991)


“Insisting it is the lack of freedom that fuels terrorism, Bush declares, “Young people who have a say in their future are less likely to search for meaning in extremism.” Tell it to Mussolini and the Blackshirts. Tell it to the Nazis, who loathed the free republic of Weimar, as did the communists.


“Citizens who can join a peaceful political party are less likely to join a terrorist organization.” But the West has been plagued by terrorists since the anarchists. The Baader-Meinhoff Gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Puerto Ricans who tried to kill Harry Truman, the London subway bombers were all raised in freedom.”


“”Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock,” said the president, “are less likely to blow themselves up at rush hour.” But Hamas and Islamic Jihad resort to suicide bombing because they think it a far more effective way to overthrow Israeli rule than marching with signs…”


                                                              Patrick J. Buchanan, September 10, 2006 (26)


“We need a Revolution, be it fascist, comunist or islamic, please God(s), save Portugal from big money democracy, I’m willing to suport anything other than this.”

                          Portuguese revolutionary nationalist, September 10, 2006 (27)



          Political violence by non-state actors declined in the West during the period between 1914 and 1945. The labor battles that had characterized previous decades were overshadowed by the fury of the First World War. In some countries, particularly the United States, the war effort was used as a pretense for the repression of dissident political movements under the guise of protecting against “sedition” and preserving national unity. Structural changes implemented by Western governments during the interwar period had the effect of either coopting or subjugating labor unions and the Socialist parties.  In some countries, particularly those of Central and Eastern Europe, the newly emergent fascist and communist movements often maintained violent quasi-military organizations of their own, but these soon came to either dominate the state (such as the German Nazis or Italian Fascists) or suffer repression when their enemies were able to seize political power (such as the Communist Parties in countries where right-wing authoritarian regimes came into being). The atmosphere of total war that accompanied World War Two had the effect of diminishing conflict between states and non-state actors, and the conflict of this type that did take place (the resistance in France, for example) primarily pitted indigenous resistance forces against the forces of direct foreign occupation. Prior insurrectionary forces like the anarchists were overrun by the hegemony achieved by Communism on the political Left following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the increased respectability, cooptation and “mainstreaming” of the labor movements of the various Western nations.


          The defeat of the Axis powers in 1945 and subsequent American occupation of Western Europe, the region from where the state first originated, assured for that region the preeminence of liberalism. Martin Van Creveld observes that while the corporative state was subsequently exported to other regions following its initial rise in Western Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, Russia and Latin America, it was in the nations of the Anglosphere that the state became most firmly established.(28) It was in these nations that a particular ideological expression of the state, liberalism, became the most pronounced. How can liberal states be best described? The irreducible minimum qualities would be a parliamentary form of government of some sort, a commercialist/capitalist/bourgeoise economic foundation, an expansive technological base, a relatively cosmopolitan cultural atmosphere and, since at least the mid-twentieth century, an extensive public sector managerial bureaucracy. Additionally, the defeat of the Axis forces in World War Two, the resulting occupations of Western Europe by the United States and Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, and the emergence of the Cold War between the two great superpowers had the effect of reducing Europe to the status of de facto colonies or vassalages to one of the two Cold War contenders. Also, the unprecedented level of international power achieved by the United States in the postwar era combined with its ongoing rivalry with the Soviet Union, brought about a drastic expansion of American intervention into conflicts between other states and into the internal politics of other states.


            The presence of this arrangement in the Western world in the latter half of the twentieth century means that political violence exercised by non-state actors during this period, at least in the West, amounted to acts of violence against the United States and its protectorates, client states or de facto colonies in Europe, Latin America and because of the symbiotic relationship between the United States and Israel and the propping up of the Saudi oil cartel by the US, the Middle East. In examining this phenomenon, it is once again essential to point out that the concern of this study is not the question of political violence per se or even non-state political violence (so-called “terrorism”) but the relationship between political violence carried out by non-state actors and states who claim to possess a legitimate monopoly on such violence and the effect of this relationship on the evolution of warfare and the likely future of the state. During the postwar era, liberal and/or American hegemony was challenged by an amazing variety of organizations, groups and tendencies with grievances, ideologies, agendas and strategies of their own, and some of them rather colorful to say the least. In 1982, Dennis Pluchinsky observed that Western Europe had become the focus of terrorist activity and that 33 percent of terrorist actions between the years of 1968 to 1980 had occurred in this region. Latin America achieved a close second place with 21 percent.(29)


          These non-state armed resistance forces can be broken down into roughly the following classifications: First World Marxist, Third World Marxist, Nationalist, Separatist, Religious, Racialist, Traditionalist, and Ecologist and/or Technophobic. Each of these, of course, could be broken down into several sub-categories of their own. In 1992, Stephen E. Atkins identified more than eighty major organizations involved in violent resistence to Western states and/or puppet regimes in Europe, North and South America, and the Middle East.(30) Many of these organizations are considerably well-known. Among those who can be considered “First World Marxist” are Germany’s Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof), Italy’s Red Brigades and America’s Weather Underground. These kinds of insurrectionary groupings typically claimed hostility to Western imperialism, neocolonialism, capitalism and racism, and profess solidarity with leftist revolutionaries, or “Third World Marxists”, whom they see as their counterparts in the lesser developed regions. Most of the more significant armed, militant leftist groups from the Third World have, during the postwar era, originated from Latin America. These included El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Peru’s “Shining Path” (a popularized term for the Communist Party of Peru-Maoist), Colombia’s Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution (FARC) and the “Zapatista” peasant revolutionary force of the Mexican state of Chiapas.


          Some groups wished to achieve the independence of a particular national entity from a foreign colonial power (for example, the Irish Republican Army). Others desired the separation of a particular region from a larger state entity (such as the Basque autonomists). Still other factions maintained religious motivations, usually of an extreme fundamentalist or strongly orthodox nature (for instance, various Islamic “terrorist” groups, the Falangists of Spain or the violently anti-abortion militants in the United States). Some desired the independence or separation not of territorial entities or “nations” per se, but of racial and ethnic groupings in a biological sense. One such faction, an America neo-nazi group simply called “The Order”, carried out a series of armed robberies during the 1980s for the purpose of establishing an “Aryan” homeland in the US state of Idaho.(31) Particularly interesting has been the rise of militant resistance groups in  recent decades committed to violent or extra-legal actions on behalf of environmental causes. Indeed, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation currently classifies evironmental and “animal rights” militants as the primary domestic terrorist threat within the United States.(32)


          Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new target emerged that became the source of much hostility on the part of armed militant or “terrorist” organizations worldwide. This target was the unprecedented global hegemony achieved by the United States following the demise of its only true rival. Lacking the constraining force of the Soviet Union, the United States was afforded a freer hand in its capacity to impose its desired liberal-capitalist order on the entire world. This effort has been met with resistance by a wide range of forces, many of them the same organizations that opposed Western states or Western neocolonialism during the postwar period. The globalization of capital is offensive to dissidents worldwide for a variety of reasons. Some regard globalization as a force for greater exploitation of labor, particularly in lesser development regions. Others are concerned about evironmental destruction. Still others are concerned about the erosion of traditional cultural, religious, ethnic, national, racial and regional identities.(33) The most zealous and effective opponents of the unipolar domination of the United States and its program of liberal-capitalism have, of course, been the Islamic fundamentalists.(34) However shocking such incidents as the hijackings and destruction of September 11, 2001 may have been to people the world over, it is also true that many of the world’s peoples share many of the concerns that drove some individuals to such extreme action. As William S. Lind explains:


“To many of the world’s peoples… (the global triumph of liberal capitalism)…represents Hell, and they will fight it literally to their dying breath.” (35)


This is true even of some within the United States itself. The journalist Joel Dyer described the US militia movement of the 1990s in the following terms:


“”Following (the killing of dissidents by federal agents at) Ruby Ridge and Waco, the antigovernment movement focused on the creation of militias. With its military arm in place, the movement’s next push came in the form of common-law courts. As the sovereignty concept took hold across the nation, antigovernment adherents began to form organizations that encompassed all of these antigovernmental elements-sovereignty, courts and militias. The goal is that each organization should become self-sufficient, able to fully govern its membership with no assistance from the outside world. It’s as if there are thousands of independent countries operating within the border of the United States…Regardless of their differences, which are substantial, these groups realize that they must ultimately support each other to avoid being crushed by the federal government…These self-governing antigovernment bands range in size from a dozen people to several thousand…The actions of these supposedly sovereign groups are often in direct conflict with the laws of the United States, which they no longer recognize…The longer it exists, the stronger it grows, as more and more people are choosing to opt out of the federal system, whose taxes make the difference between a family’s eating or sending its children to bed hungry…The government’s refusal to recognize the sovereignty of these pockets of patriots is understandable: That would lead to anarchy.”


“A new breed of other elements within the movement-representing perhaps yet another step in the movement’s evolution-is also seeking foreign funding. One of my contacts, whom I will call ‘Tom’ since he spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me that he is actively seeking money abroad. Tom’s antigovernment organization, which has established dialogue with Mexico’s Zapatistas, South America’s Shining Path guerrillas, and the Nation of Islam, is the antithesis of the Identity-driven groups. But don’t mistake Tom for a leftist-he’s not. His vision of America is similar to that of the sovereigns, with small pockets of self-governed individuals living in regions outside of any federal authority. ‘If blacks want to live separate from whites,’ says Tom,’they should have that right. I don’t think that’s necessary, but people should be allowed to choose how and where they live.’ Tom says that the American government is responsible for creating the conditions worldwide that have spawned the sort of radical organizations his group communicates with in other countries, so it’s only natural that today’s antigovernment movement should consider them as alllies. In line with this vision, he says: ‘Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll have a standoff in Texas …and the Zapatistas will come to our defense. It could happen.” (36)


William S. Lind on the Rise of Fourth Generation Warfare (1989- )


          The historiography and historical narrative presented thus far provides the necessary background for the direct examination of the core thesis of this paper, i.e., that the state’s historic monopoly on violence and warmaking has declined and been rendered archaic as a result of successful challenges to that monopoly by so-called “fourth generation” military forces. The concept of “fourth generation warfare” was first outlined in 1989 by the American military historian William S. Lind.(37) The “generational” division of types of warfare is used to describe the evolution of war since the rise of the state.  Lind traces the beginning of the state’s monopoly on warfare to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. From that point on, wars were fought by states against states. The era of “first generation” warfare reigned from the time of Westphalia until the time of the American Civil War of 1861-65. “First generation” militaries were characterized by their emphasis on formality and a military culture oriented towards rank, order and discipline. Battles often took on the character of formal gamesmanship, open-air fighting and maneuvers involving the movement of large numbers of soldiers simultaneously. During the time of the US Civil War, the “orderliness” of battles began to dissolve and become more chaotic. The second and third generations of warfare each arose as a response to this change.


          “Second generation” warfare was devised by the French during the First World War. The “second generation” approach to battle maintains the traditional emphasis on rank, structure, and top-down decision-making. The strategic emphasis is on artillery and firepower, attrition and occupation. The aim is to inflict large-scale casualties on the enemy. The “second generation” approach continues to dominate American military strategy to date. “Third generation” warfare also had its origins in the First World, although it was invented by the Germans rather than the French. The emphasis of the “third generation” is on maneuvers and innovation by the lower ranks. Junior officers were permitted, for example, to disregard orders from superiors if those orders proved ineffective at getting the job done. The highest duty of the combat officer was to achieve victory by any means necessary, even if it meant altering or even abandoning battle plans formulated by commanders. Firepower was also replaced by speed as the focus of “third generation” warfare, and encirclement and dislocation of the enemy, rather that attrition, became the objective of battle. “Fourth generation” warfare represents the shift from wars between states to wars between states and non-state actors, a process Lind regards as the most important change in the nature of war since the initial obtainment of the monopoly on warmaking by the state with the Treaty of Westphalia.(38)


          To some degree, the guerrilla warfare tactics developed during the anti-colonial wars of Asia during the postwar era, such as those led by Mao Tse-Tung in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, serve as proto-types for “fourth generation” warfare.(39) However, these do not completely qualify as “fourth generation” in nature as they do not represent a complete break from the notion of war as combat between states, but qualify as conventional civil wars with two factions within a state fighting for supremacy, conventional revolutions where one state replaces another, or where a colonial power and its domestic puppet government are regarded by the insurgents as illegitimate and are expelled with the assistance of other states. It is with the rise of contemporary Islamic “terrorism” that fourth generation warfare really comes into its own. The Al-Qaeda organization, for example, is a completely privatized, non-state military entity that managed to carry out an unprecedented attack on the American mainland, inflicting casualties on a level comparable to the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Likewise, the present day “insurgent” forces with whom the United States is at war in Iraq do not represent a particular state, nor do they necessarily represent any specific would-be successor state. Instead, they represent religions, tribes, clans, ethnic groups, familial networks, ideologies and causes that exist independently of any recognizable state formation.


          An interesting case study of a “fourth generation force” is the Hezbollah organization of Lebanon.(40) Hezbollah’s entry into the war between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2006 marks the first time a “fourth generation” force has actually conducted an outright military invasion of an actual state. This proved to be a case where a “fourth generation” entity was able to match the firepower of a state military force and outmaneuver them. Hezbollah was also able to engage Israel in air and naval battles with rocket attacks capable of destroying Israeli planes and ships. Hezbollah did all of this while the Lebanese state sat by unable to defend itself against a massive air assault by Israel. Hezbollah is a particular well-developed fourth generation entity in that it maintains not only an independent military force but also an elaborate system of private social services, religious and educational institutions and hospitals as well. Such a model is a likely prototype for the way in which fourth generation forces will evolve in the future. Such forces will continue to arise from strange places. A story in the April 26, 2005 Washington Times reports:


“Brazilian drug traffickers have teamed up with Columbian rebels to smuggle narcotics through Paraguay, creating a lucrative new channel for distribution to the United States and Europe …

Using a precisely orchestrated system of flights from the Columbian jungle, Marxists rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC, are shipping 40 to 60 tons of cocaine annually to farms in Paraguay owned by Brazilian drug lords, who then put the cocaine in cars and small trucks and drive them across the nearly unmonitored border into rural western Brazil … in return for arms, dollars and Euros from Brazilian traffickers (for the FARC).” (41)


Observes William S. Lind:


“How long will it be before and other Islamic non-state forces make their own alliances with the drug gangs and people smugglers who are experts in getting across America’s southern border? Or use the excellent distribution systems the drug gangs have throughout the United States to smuggle something with a bigger bang than the best cocaine?

Just as we see states coming together around the world against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, so those non-state forces will also come together in multi-faceted alliances. The difference is likely to be that they will do it faster and better. And, they will use states’ preoccupation with the state system like a matador’s cape, to dazzle and distract while they proceed with the real business of war.”(42)


Martin Van Creveld on the Decline of the State and Beyond (1975- )

          Martin Van Creveld argues that without the monopolization of war as the primary function of the state, it would have been very difficult for the state to achieve the level of dominance that it eventually did. It was for the purpose of waging war that the state initially instituted its programs of bureaucracy-building and taxation, and its provision of health, education and social welfare services were intertwined with the development of its warmaking capacities, thereby creating a type of “welfare-warfare” state. These features, combined with the state’s monopoly over money, land and other economic resources, fused with a legitimizing ideology in the form of nationalism, served to make the state into the magnificent (or, some would say, monstrous) entity that it eventually became.  How could such an entity eventually lose its monopoly on war?


          Van Creveld traces this phenomenon to five principal sources. First, the advent of nuclear weaponry and modern “weapons of mass destruction” has significantly raised the costs of interstate warfare. The gains of such warfare are now overshadowed by its risks and costs. What does it profit a nation to conquer other nations but lose itself to massive nuclear retaliation? Just as the warfare state has been excessively costly, so has the welfare state. Even the most prosperous regimes have found it difficult to maintain its established levels of social spending without the use of deficits and the acquistion of public debt. A wide consensus exists among policy makers that “trimming the fat” from public budgets will become a necessity at some point, though politicians and political interest groups do their best to delay the day of reckoning. A third challenge to the state’s hegemony has been the internationalization of technology and innovations in the fields of technology and communications that make instantaneous commercial transaction possible by parties on all corners of the globe. The effect of this can only be to weaken dependence on national governments. Still another factor is the failure of the state to fully take root and stabilize itself in many parts of the world, notably Africa, Asia and Latin America. The disorder generated by the failure of the state in those regions has begun to spread to other regions as well (for example, the importation of Central American crime gangs into North America and African refugees into Western Europe). Lastly, there is the decline of nationalistic ideology and a greater unwillingness on the part of citizens to sacrifice themselves on behalf of their respective states. For instance, Van Creveld observes that nearly all states that have abolished military conscription have found it impossible to reinstate it due to overwhelming public hostility.(43)


          Whither the state? Van Creveld suggests that the state as it has been described in this study maintains three essential attributes: a corporative as opposed to personalized institutional expression, exclusive territorial monopoly and a monocentric rather than polycentric concept of “sovereignty” ( and, hence, a monopoly on violence warmaking and also on rulership or “law”). Van Creveld argues that the breakdown of the state will result in a proliferation of entities that are, like the states they replace, corporative in nature but also polycentric and extra-territorial. Most importantly, the state’s monopoly on violence will be forfeited and warfare in the future will likely be smaller-scale, more localized and waged by groups who territorial boundaries (if any) will less clearly defined. This new order will be neither a restoration of the medieval world that yielded to the state at the dawn of modernity, nor will it be the decentralist or libertarian utopia of the anarchists, though it may resemble both of these more closely than does the now-fading traditional state order. Will such a world be a better or worse place than the one that we are accustomed to? That would seem to be a matter of individual perspective. Van Creveld prefers to answer this question with a quote from Mao, who gave the following answer when asked what might follow a nuclear war:


“The sun will keeping rising, trees will keep growing and women will keep having children.”(44)


Perhaps this quote from Albert Einstein would be equally appropriate:


“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” (45)






Historiography of the Decline of the State’s Monopoly on Violence and Warmaking


Pre-State Era (Before 1300 A.D.)


Government is personalized and identified with a particular individual or group. The rulers are believed to have achieved their basis on the basis of divine providence or their superior wisdom and virtue. The Greek cities and the Roman Republic serve as a prelude to the development of the state by separating the concepts of ownership and rulership.


The Rise of the State (1300-1648 A.D.)


The monarchies of Western Europe achieve victory over the competing powers of the Church, nobility, city-states and the Holy Roman Emperor. The monarchs achieve a monopoly on violence and warmaking.


The Emergence of the State as a Corporative Entity (1648-1800 A.D.)


The monarchies procede to build a bureaucracy for the purpose of waging war. This bureaucracy, with its monopoly on taxation and information, forms the basis for the corporative state. Political theory develops in response to previous theological justifications for political authority. Government is conceived of in secular, pragmatic terms with an emphasis on the need to preserve order and protect life and property. The bureaucracy grows to the point where it overshadows the monarchy and becomes the state itself.


The Fusion of the State and Nationalism (1800-1945 A.D.)


Beginning with the French Revolution, the state is glorified not as a means unto an end but as an end unto itself. The state expands its activities into the areas of health, education, and welfare. Conscripted armies become the norm. The combination of large popular armies, technological advances, gargantuan state bureaucracies and ideological nationalism creates a situation that erupts in the form of the large-scale international wars of the first half of the twentieth century.


Early Challenges to the State’s Monopoly on Violence (1885-1915 A.D.)


Revolutionary groups begin using assassinations and bombings as a tactic. The classical anarchists assassinate the head of state of five major countries and many lesser official over a thirty year period. Violence battles between radical labor groups, state forces and private vigilantes become common.


The State at its Apex (1914-1945 A.D.)


Violence by non-state actors is temporarily eclipsed by the First and Second World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, internal repression within different countries and the cooptation of labor movements by twentieth century governments. “First generation warfare” of the type that developed after the Treaty of Versailles in 1648 gives way to “second generation warfare” invented by the French during World War I. The Germans respond by developing “third generation warfare” during the same period.


Continued Challenges to the State’s Monopoly (1945-1989 A.D.)


The defeat of the Axis powers result in the division of Europe into blocks of colonies controlled by the United States and the Soviet Union. The rise of the Cold War and American power escalates US intervention into the Third World. Armed resistance groups form in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America to resist US imperialism. These groups are ideologically divergent and frequently hostile to one another. Their only commonality is their opposition to US hegemony and its program of liberal-capitalism. These armed resistance groups continue the tactics of bombings, assassinations, hijackings and other methods used by their nineteenth century predecessors like the anarchists. These groups begin to form the basis of “fourth generation warfare” where states and non-state organizations wage war against one another. A transitional phase between Second or Third and Fourth generation warfare takes place during the guerrilla wars of Asia during the Cold War period.


The Dominance of Fourth Generation Warfare (1989- A.D.)


The collapse of the Soviet Union ends the Cold War and its related “hot wars”, such as those of Central America”. The United States now achieves unchallenged and unprecedented hegemony. Resistance forces, acting independently of states, escalate their wars against US imperialism. Included in this are not only attacks against US targets abroad or US allies and interests, but attacks within the US mainlaind as well, whether by domestic insurgent forces (such as the US militia movement or so-called “eco-terrorists”) or by foreign organizations waging war against the United States (such as Al-Qaeda).


The Decline of the State (1975- A.D.)


The state begins to recede and its primary function, the waging of war, is rendered too costly by the advent of nuclear weapons. The economic costs of the welfare state also contribute to an implosion of the state. The rapid development of communications and transportation technology renders the state less necessary for the facilitation of trade. The failure of the state to fully consolidate itself in certain regions leads to the spread of disorder elsewhere. Public confidence in the state begins to diminish.




1) For a comprehensive overview of modern terrorism, see the following sources: Anthony M. Burton, Urban Terrorism (London: Western Printing Services Ltd, 1975); Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne, The Terrorists: Their Weapons, Leaders and Tactics (New York: Macmillan Press, 1979); Jay Robert Nash, Terrorism in the Twentieth Century (New York: M. Evans and Company, 1998).


2) Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), pp. 9-64.


3) Martin Van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 126-154.


4) Ibid., pp. 1-58.


5) Ibid., p. 57.


6) Ibid., pp. 59-117.


7) Ibid., pp. 127-154.


8) Ibid., pp. 184-188


9) Ibid., pp. 170-183


10) Ibid., pp. 189-204


11) Ibid., pp. 205-262


12) Ibid., pp. 262


13) “It all Started with Robespierre; Terrorism: The history of a very frightening word”, Geoffrey Nunberg, Head Games, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, October 28, 2001.


14) Anthony M. Burton, Urban Terrorism (London: Western Printing Services, 1975), pp. 17-34


15) Paul Eltzbacher, Anarchism: Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy (New York: Chip’s Bookshop, Booksellers and Publishers, 1958). Translated by Steven T. Byington. Edited by James J. Martin. Originally published in Germany in 1900.


16) Marie Fleming, “Propaganda by the Deed: Terrorism and Anarchist Theory in Late Nineteenth Century Europe”, in Terrorism in Europe, edited by Yonah Akexander and Kenneth A. Myers (London: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1982), pp. 8-28.


17) April Carter, Political Theory of Anarchism (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).


18) Richard Suskind, By Bullet, Bomb and Dagger: The Story of Anarchism (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971).


19) Frederic Trautmann, The Voice of Terror: A Biography of Johann Most (Westport, Connecticutt: Greenwood Press, 1980).


20) Suskind, p. 45.


21) Burton, p. 27.


22) Suskind, pp. 1-17, 44-59.


23) Michael J. Schaak, Anarchy and Anarchists: A History of the Red Terror and the Social Revolution in America and Europe (New York: Arno Press, 1977), p. 688. First published in Chicago, by F.J. Schultze, 1889.


24) George N. McLean, The Rise and Fall of Anarchy in America (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1972), p. 267. First published in Chicago, 1890.


25) Robert Graham, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One, From Anarchy to Anarchism (300 CE to 1939) (Montreal, Black Rose Books, 2005)


26) Patrick J. Buchanan, “America’s Ideologue In Chief”,, September 10, 2006. Archived at


27) Flavio Goncalves, e-mail to author via Yahoo discuss list, September 10, 2006.


28) Van Creveld, pp. 263-331.


29) Dennis Pluchinsky, “Political Terrorism in Western Europe: Some Themes and Variations” in Terrorism in Europe, edited by Yonah Alexander and Kenneth A. Myers (London: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1982), pp. 40-78.


30) Stephen E. Atkins, Terrorism, (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1992), pp. 99-136.


31) Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt, Silent Brotherhood, (New York: The Free Press, 1989).


32) Charley Reese, “Let’s Get Real”, Populist Party of America, December 2, 2006. Archived at


33) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (London: Harvard University Press, 2000).


34) Jane Corbin, Al-Qaeda (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002).


35) William S. Lind, “Forcing the World to be Saved”,, January 21, 2006. Archived at


36) Joel Dyer, Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Just the Beginning (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997), pp. 191, 247.


37) William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Lt. Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR), “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989, pp. 22-26.


38) William S. Lind, “Understanding Fourth Generation War”,, January 15, 2004. Archived at


39) Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare: Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Vol. IX, 1937. Transcribed by Brian Basgen/Maoist Documentation Project. Archived at See also Cecil B. Currey, “Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap Remembers”, Journal of Third World Studies, October 2003. Archived at


40) Nir Rosen, “Hezbollah, Party of God”, Truthdig, October 3, 2006. Archived at See also William S. Lind, “The Summer of 1914”, On War #175, July 18, 2006. Archived at


41) Carmen Gentile, “Drug Smugglers, Rebel Join in Hand”, Washington Times, April 26, 2005.


42) William S. Lind, “More on Gangs and Guerrillas Vs. the State”,, April 28, 2005. Archived at,,Lind_042805,00.html


43) Van Creveld, pp. 336-414.


44) Van Creveld, pp. 415-421.


45) The Expanded Quotable Einstein, edited by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2000)






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_______. “The Summer of 1914”, On War #175, July 18, 2006. Archived at


_______. “Understanding Fourth Generation War”,, January 15, 2004. Archived at


_______.  Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Lt. Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR), “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989, pp. 22-26.


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