The states must be crazy: Dissent and the puzzle of repressive persistence

Christian Davenport, Cyanne Loyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


According to forty years worth of research, dissent always increases repression whereas state coercive behavior has a range of different influences on dissident activity. If the outcome of government action is uncertain, why do authorities continue to apply repression? We explore this 'puzzle of repressive persistence' using official records of U.S. government activities against the Republic of New Africa, a Black Nationalist organization active in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, we investigate three proposed answers to the puzzle: repression is effective but in a way not currently considered; repression functions by mechanisms not hitherto considered by quantitative researchers; or those who use repression are not actually interested in eliminating dissent. We find that persistence in this case can be attributed to: 1) a long-term plan to eliminate challengers deemed threatening to the U.S. political-economy and 2) the influence of particular agents of repression engaged in a crusade against Black radicals. Both factors increased the likelihood of continued coercion despite short-term failure; indeed such an outcome actually called for additional repressive action. These insights open up a new area of research for conflict scholars interested in occurrence, persistence and escalation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-95
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict and Violence
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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