Why do people turn to terrorism? Social scientists have offered many insightful answers to this question ranging from education, poverty, and inequalities to the effects of political regimes. And yet, we are still far from providing a definite solution to this puzzle. Our project, funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, seeks to provide an answer to this question by focusing on the long-term historical legacies of political violence. We analyze how civil wars in the distant past (the nineteenth century) in the Basque Country in Spain could have left an imprint on beliefs and preferences that partly explain the outbreak of terrorism in the 1970s.
We use archival data from the three Basque provinces to collect information about political violence across villages in the nineteenth century. During the nineteenth century, there were two civil wars in Spain that were fought mainly in the Basque Lands. We have collected several indicators from archival and secondary sources of support for one of the warring factions, the one devoted to the defense of Basque autonomy and laws (the “Carlists”), across villages. These indicators include deserters of the Army, votes for Carlist candidates in elections immediately after the second civil war, and subscriptions to the main Carlist journal during the first civil war. We found a positive association between these indicators and support for political violence in the 1970s, which indicates that the legacy of political violence in the past has indeed affected the outbreak of terrorism one hundred years later.
Civil wars left a legacy of distrust and alienation toward the state that can persist through generations, paving the way to violent responses to perceived threats.
Our research has tried to go more in depth into the mechanisms connecting political violence in the nineteenth century and beliefs and preferences in the 1970s. We found that civil wars left a legacy of distrust and alienation toward the state that can persist through generations, paving the way to violent responses to perceived threats. The research also shows that the transmission of these legacies was especially strong in communities that have remained largely isolated in the century that separates the civil wars from the terrorism of the 1970s.