The Politics of Frustration

Does extreme poverty breed violence and ultimately revolution? Many people believe that it does, and seek to explain phenomena ranging from guerrilla insurgencies to Islamist terrorism accordingly.

But Karl Marx and Alexis de Tocqueville, the two great social analysts of the nineteenth century, knew better what makes people tick, and what makes societies change. Extreme poverty breeds apathy, not rebellion. The very poor can at most be used for occasional demonstrations of anger, but they are not the stuff from which either terrorists or revolutionaries are made.

A far more critical group in any society are those who have begun to move forward to new conditions, but then find their path blocked. Their desires and ambitions are not unrealistic in the circumstances, but they are frustrated. Things do not move as fast as they want them to, or not at all, owing to conditions that they do not control. Opportunities exist, but they cannot be seized or realized.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To continue reading, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you are agreeing to our Terms and Conditions.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.