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Constraining Leviathan: What Torture Teaches Us About Political Institutions and Democracy

Departmental Event

Start Date: Apr 10, 2017 - 12:00pm
End Date: Apr 10, 2017 - 01:30pm

Location: SSCO 78, Room 2069

Professor Will H. Moore

Arizona State University

Torture is taboo today, and this book argues that, surprisingly, the study of a political taboo helps illuminate something that few political scientists recognize: dissent and repression, far from being on the fringe of our discipline, is central to it. While there is no necessary connection between inquiry into a taboo and the insight about the central place of Leviathan to the study of politics, that torture is a political taboo puts in sharp relief the tension between the extent to which we accept Leviathan’s coercive capacity as an effective means to limit the carnage we might otherwise visit upon one another and our aspiration to bind Leviathan from abusing us. States represent a solution to an important set of economic, political, and social problems. Criminal and appellate courts, police, internal security agents, and prisons are as crucial to modern polities as civil courts are to modern economies: they make everything else possible. That is, the study of democratic performance fails to begin with the observation that states have an inherent predatory capacity. The monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion both produces solutions and a problem. This project probes torture to illuminate the capacity of plurality institutions (elections), anti-majoritarian institutions (veto players, powerful courts) and civil society (civic freedoms) to constrain Leviathan.

Will H. Moore is a Professor in the School of Politics & Global Studies and affiliate of the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University. His research focuses on dissident–state interactions: human rights, coercion, protest, rebellion, repression, terror. He is particularly interested in how political institutions (the popular franchise, legislatures, courts, and civil and political rights) impact those interactions, and in escalatory and de-escalatory dynamics. He is also a student of the norms and institutions embraced by scientific communities.