R. J. Rummel

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Rudolph Joseph Rummel

Rudolph Joseph Rummel (born October 21, 1932) is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii and alternative historian. He has spent the latter part of his career assembling data on wars, conflicts, and governmental murder, for which he has coined the term democide.

Among Rummel's more startling claims is that the death toll from government "murder" is far greater than the death toll from war. After studying over 8,000 reports of government caused deaths, Rummel estimates that there have been 170 million victims of democide in the last century, as contrasted to some 38 million killed in war: according to his figures, four times as many people have died from the inflictions of people working for governments than have died in battle. The high number of deaths outside of war circumstances is in part attributable to starvation and other causes arising from governments' flagrant disregard for human needs.

Rummel claims that his research reveals strong correlations between peace, freedom, and democracy. According to his analysis, of 353 wars since 1816, very few have been waged between democracies, and none have been waged between liberal democracies--"liberal democracy" being defined as nations which have universal franchise, free speech, and free press all enshrined in their bodies of law. "We have a solution for war," Rummel says. "It is to expand the sphere of liberty."

There is also a correlation, Rummel says, between political power and democide. Political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unconstrained, he claims: at the other end of the scale, where power is diffuse, checked, and balanced, political violence is a rarity. According to Rummel, "The more power a regime has, the more likely people will be killed. This is a major reason for promoting freedom."

Rummel concludes: "Concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth."

Rummel's writings and research have also been connected with the democratic peace theory.


Rummel's conclusions have been criticized the lack of definite correlation. He neglects current conflicts between Israel and Palestine as well as India and Pakistan, all of which are democratic nations--although Rummel's defenders would retort that Palestine was never a real democracy until 2005, and that Pakistan is ruled by a strongman who wields a great deal of undemocratic power. Moreover, were Israel truly at war with Palestine, Palestine would be destroyed due to the enormous disparity of power, and if Pakistan and India were truly at war with each other then tens of millions would die. Rummel's real point is that democracies rarely go to war with each other, and liberal democracies (defined by free speech, free press, and universal franchise) never do. Neither Pakistan nor Palestine, at this time, qualifies as a liberal democracy.

Rummel's conclusions have also been criticized for not considering the number of deaths due to anarchy and the lack of government, through mechanisms such as civil conflict, the breakdown of society, and foreign invasion. Some have found the data that he uses to be questionable.

Other people point out that his methods of calculation of the death toll are highly controversial. He compares the statistical data before and after a certain date and derives an estimate about the number of killings that occurred between. However, he fails to establish evidence of actual killing. Moreover, his results are based on an absolute trust in statistical data and statistics are prone to errors.

However, he himself uses the wider sense of "killed by", including all kinds of "reason-result" relationships between acts of government and actual deaths. Moreover, in calculating the number of victims, he doesn't feel he needs evidence of a death; the result of statistical calculation is, for Rummel, effective proof that death occurred.

For an example of alleged manipulation: Rummel estimates the death toll in the Rheinwiesenlager as between 4,500 and 56,000. Official US figures were just over 3,000 and a German commission found 4,532. The high figure of 56,000 also merited the notation "probably much lower" in Rummel's extracts.

Another flaw in Rummel's statistical calculations is that he doesn't use error margins.

In January, 2001, Rummel published a new book, Saving Lives, Enriching Life on his website. This book aims at popularizing his findings.

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