Gun control is predicated on the belief that private citizens cannot be trusted with firearms. That the state should have a “monopoly on violence” because it is less violent than individuals. And that firearms should be taken away from private citizens because only the state is responsible enough to handle them.
There is, however, a major problem with this: States are statistically far more violent than individuals. After all, in the 20th century alone, 262 MILLION people died at the hands of their own governments.
The term for this sort of atrocity is “democide.” It is one of the reasons the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution – to allow citizens some form of protection against agents of a tyrannical government meaning to do them harm, as the Founders were forcibly disarmed as colonists by the British prior to the American Revolution.
Democide is the murder of any person or people by their government. It’s an important concept, as it is more expansive than the better-known term genocide. While the largest genocide in history is widely thought to be the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s work pales in comparison to that of Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong. In fact, one aspect of Stalin’s terror was the “Holodomor,” the intentional mass starvation of Ukrainians, which killed over seven million victims in less than two years (compared to six million Jews over the four years of the Holocaust).
Sometimes democide is ethnically motivated, as in the Holocaust. In other cases, like Stalin’s Great Purge, having the wrong politics is enough to get one killed. In the Ottoman Empire’s persecution of its Greek and Armenian populations, religion was the motivating factor. However, in all of these cases, it’s difficult to ascertain where the political, religious and ethnic motivations begin and end.
Rather than splitting hairs, democide is a more inclusive term. Government killings tend to have mixed motivations, as religion, ethnicity and politics often overlap. And, after all, do the motivations even matter? Democide treats all mass killings at the hands of one’s government as a single crime, allowing us to better compare apples to apples.
Democide might be a practice as old as time, but it reached new depths in the 20th century. This is when warfare became mechanized and, as pointed out by anarchist philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe, war shifted from being about property disputes over pieces of land into ideological crusades. Democracy vs. monarchy or liberalism and communism vs. fascism are great examples of this.
While the act of governments killing their own citizens is not unique to this century, the concept of democide was first formulated by Rudolph Rummel, a late professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii and frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He studied the political violence of the 20th century with an eye toward doing all he could to end it. In doing so, he quickly noticed that not all mass killings committed by governments fell under the heading of “genocide.” Further, as stated above, the differences between mass killing for religious, political and ethnic reasons are often difficult to separate from one another. Rummel found a far more elegant term in “democide,” which could easily refer to all of this and more.
Rummel’s conclusions were based on empirical study over a period of 15 years. He penned six books on the subject, publishing his abstracts and statistics on his website as a free resource for all to read. The major conclusions that Rummel came to were that despite their other shortcomings, Western liberal democracies excelled over all other forms of government in two major respects:
Rummel employed a broad definition of democide, which included not just lining people up and shooting them, but also deliberate neglect, intentionally poor policy or forced labor. Hence, the Holodomor, a planned famine which is widely agreed upon to have been the result of deliberate Soviet policies directed against Ukrainians, fits squarely in the camp of democide. Although he was an outspoken proponent of international liberal democracy and a critic of communism, Rummel did not support going to war for the sole purpose of replacing a dictatorship with a democracy.
Union, the People’s Republic of China and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia all enter in the “million-plus” club and rank among the most democidal regimes in human history. Other forms of dictatorships, ranging from fascist to quasi-Marxist Third World nationalism, also rank high – with the autocracy of the Ottoman Empire being a relative outlier. The other major example of democide from a monarchy is the Belgian colonial authority in the Congo, which took place at the hands of a constitutional monarch (not an absolute one).
While Western liberal democracies are by no means beyond rebuke, they’re comparatively innocent when it comes to democide. What’s more, most democidal deaths at the hands of democratic powers tend to happen during times of war – such as the firebombing of Dresden. Western democracies have been known to act with undue care or even blood lust with regard to rival nations. They’re not known for wholesale mass slaughter of their own citizens or that of other nations.
While this certainly doesn’t make the victims of modern liberal democracies any less tragic, it does result in an overall body count that is much less than totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships. Incidents like the storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco or Ruby Ridge are noteworthy as aberrations – shocking scandals precisely because of how far they fall outside of democratic norms.