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103 6 DEVOTED ACTORS IN AN AGE OF RAGE Social Science on the ISIS Front Line and Elsewhere Scott Atran Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. —Søren Kierkegaard Introduction: A Fragmenting World Order The Western creations of the nation-­ state and relatively open markets that today dominate the global political and economic order (and to which non-­ Western powers like China and Russia now also subscribe) have largely supplanted age-­ old forms of governance, social formations, and economic activity. The accompanying rising populations and urbanization , extensive and rapid communications and transportation, and science and technology have transformed people in the farthest reaches of the planet into competitive players seeking progress and personal satisfaction through material expansion and success. But the increasingly unavoidable tension in the quest for material comfort and security, via participation in market-­ driven competition that constantly agitates for innovation and change, often comes at steep personal and social cost. This is especially so for communities and regions with little time to adapt and where aspirations show scant promise of fulfillment. As the spiritual values of long-­ standing cultures and religions have been eclipsed under newer institutions that lack stability or are corrupted, redemptive violence is prone to erupt from the resulting anxiety and alienation along prevailing political fault lines.1 104 Scott Atran Transnational Terror circa 1900 This was apparent in the actions of social revolutionaries and anarchists in the first wave of modern transnational terror that began shortly before the assassination of Russia’s czar Alexander II (1881). This terrorist wave extended through the assassinations of the prime ministers of France (1894) and Spain (1897), the empress of Austria (1898), and the king of Italy (1900), and the killing of U.S. president William McKinley (1901). It involved bombings of “bourgeois” civilians in cafes and theaters across Europe and North America, before abating with the onset of World War I. Affected nations reacted by adding or reinforcing state security organizations: like Russia’s Okhrana (1881), precursor of the NKVD and KGB; Britain’s New Scotland Yard (1890); France’s Brigade des Renseignements généraux (1907); and the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (1908), precursor of the FBI. Initially, however, states lashed out in stunned bafflement, often missing their illusive targets but hitting those unrelated to terrorist acts, and also using the cover of the fight against terror to mask the settling of scores against more traditional enemies. Thus, in his first annual message to Congress after McKinley’s death, Theodore Roosevelt declared that “When compared with the suppression of anarchy, every other question sinks into insignificance.”2 He then offered a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine: anarchy’s “general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and may lead the United States, however reluctantly . . . to the exercise of an international police power.”3 Most tellingly, the war against anarchy and terror helped to justify the brutal repression of a native insurgency against America’s “civilizing mission” and rule in Muslim areas of the Philippines. The countercultural pressures toward salvational violence against the international order are arguably similar for many who now join or support al-­ Qaeda and ISIS. And quite similar, too, has been the character of the international reaction to these vanguards of the recent post–­ Cold War wave of transnational political violence. There are, in fact, striking political, social, and economic parallels—­ and arguably continuities—­ between the pre–­ World War I unraveling of the European order and present challenges to the global order established after World War II. Before the Napoleonic Wars, the nation-­ state system was quasi-­ anarchic, with each nation playing close to a zero-­ sum game with all competitors and neighbors. The massive bloodletting and upside-­ down implications of the French Revolution and Napoleonic DEVOTED ACTORS IN AN AGE OF RAGE 105 Wars (1789–­ 1815) compelled Europe’s governing elites to develop a quasi-­ institutional consensus for how Europe, and the expanding colonial world it dominated, should be managed to avoid chaos. In the century from the Congress of Vienna (1815) to the outbreak of World War I (1914), this informal international consensus persevered to maintain the integrity of existing empires and nation-­ states; and this, despite important multinational popular uprisings (e.g., the revolutions of 1830 and 1848), the mass-­ casualty multilateral Crimean War (1843–­ 1846), and bilateral wars (e.g., Austro-­ Prussian War, 1866; Franco-­ Prussian War, 1870–­ 1871), which intermittently reconfigured the balance of...


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