1st Edition

Militias, States and Violence against Civilians Civic Vice, Civic Virtue

Edited By Paul Lorenzo Johnson, William Wittels Copyright 2023
    206 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines the conditions under which the presence and use of militias result in an increase or a decrease in violence against civilians in intra-state conflicts.

    Showcasing the breadth and diversity of modern militias in the context of violence against civilians, the volume addresses the predation and repression that many such groups are infamous for, as well as increasingly important efforts by other militias at civilian protection in war-torn settings. The chapters examine militias from around the world, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative methods as they cover groups as varied as gangs, death squads, grassroots community-defense groups, official state militias, and party-sponsored armies – groups on the "civic vice" side, the "civic virtue" side, and the wide and mixed in-between space where most cases fall.

    Taken as a cohesive unit, the work lays the foundation for an encompassing theory and interrogation of the causal chain between militia type and operating context and the levels of violence against civilians. It provides path-breaking theory-building and empirical scholarship. Policymakers and national security practitioners dealing with issues relating to armed groups will also benefit from the practical issues covered here, such as how different forms of sponsorship and training affect militia behavior.

    This book will be of interest to students of civil wars, political violence, counterinsurgency, civil-military relations, and security studies in general.

    1. Introduction

    Paul Lorenzo Johnson and William Wittels

    2. Pro-Regime Militias

    Clionadh Raleigh and Roudabeh Kishi

    3. Civilian Defense Forces and Violence against Civilians

    Andrew Thomson

    4. State-Militia Relations and Repression

    Erica De Bruin

    5. Science and Epistemology as Territory in Conflict: The U.S. Occupation and Violence against Academics in Iraq

    Julie Mazzei

    6. Violence against Civilians and the Legitimacy of Community-based Armed Groups in Kenya and Haiti

    Moritz Schuberth

    7. The YPJ of Northeast Syria and the Socialization of Restraint towards Civilians: ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’

    Mario A. Fumerton, Wladimir van Wilgenburg, and Zinah A.N. Hamawandi

    8. Conclusion - The Study of Militias and Violence: Where to Go from Here?

    Corinna Jentzsch


    Paul Lorenzo Johnson, independent researcher, USA, holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Davis. His research interests include civil-military relations, grayzone warfare, and genocide prevention.

    William Wittels is Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Brown University's Graduate School. His research interests include political theory, conflict studies, and higher education. He holds a PhD in political science from Duke University.

    'Militias invoke an earlier, pre-modern era before the ‘Weberian’ state regularized the delivery of security. But as this important and very welcome volume by leading scholars makes clear, these armed organizations outside the regular security structure are resilient, multitasking and evolving, and their sometimes genocidal violence and mistreatment of civilians is of our times too. The authors suggest conceptual refinements and new subtypes beyond the focus on progovernment militias. The chapters provide statistical analysis and detailed case evidence of the price paid by the civilians who have to live with these organizations. The study of militias and their dynamic and sometimes clandestine relationship with governments and other actors is challenging and valuable in itself. Yet it also opens a window on the wider issues of political violence, repression, conflict or, indeed, the viability of states.'

    Neil J. Mitchell, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, University College London, UK 

    'This edited volume investigates a range of important questions about militia relationships with the state and society, as well as the ways in which different groups can perpetrate or refrain from violent action against civilians. Its chapters interrogate these complex issues across cases and contexts, and I was particularly pleased to see engagement with the "civic virtue" side of militia and self-defense force behavior.' 

    Steven T. Zech, Monash University, Australia

    'This book advances the study of militias and other armed groups conceptually and empirically. It challenges the dichotomous assumptions that catalogs armed groups as either virtuously responsible or viciously violent and shows how relations between these groups and other actors - political parties, communities, and other violent entrepreneurs - condition the behavior of armed groups. The individual chapters in the volume go far in demonstrating how the multiple methods can expand the horizon for study of this important phenomenon.'

    Ariel I. Ahram, Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, USA


    'Militias have attracted increasing attention and with good reason: their activity is consequential but also puzzling in many ways. This volume is a decisive step forward in our understanding of this important phenomenon.'

    Stathis N. Kalyvas, All Souls College, Oxford, UK