Vengeful Citizens, Violent States: A Theory of War and Revenge, Rachel Stein

Peter Liberman
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Winter 2020-21
Academy of Political Science
By showing that mass vengefulness helps democratic leaders bring their nations to war, this wonderful book significantly advances our understanding of how cultural values affect international politics. Its most important contribution is demonstrating that democracies that retain death penalty laws were significant more likely to initiate the use of force than non-death-penalty democracies in the 1945–2001 period. The finding is robust to a variety of control variables and specifications, although skeptics may wonder whether it might be inflated by ethnocentrism, beliefs about the utility of violence, or other unmeasured potential covariates. Rachel Stein attributes the belligerence of death penalty states to cross-national differences in vengeful cultures, on the grounds that citizens’ vengefulness predicts both cross-sectional support for the death penalty and cross-national differences in the penalty’s retention. Her rigorous analysis greatly strengthens the case that the unusual bellicosity of retributivists, observed by Stein and other researchers, affects actual interstate conflict.
War, Prisons/Penal Systems, Leadership, Book Review, Elites, Capital Punishment
Political Geography
Europe, Middle East, United States of America