Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous than Others

Book Review

Reviewer: Katerina Kjirovska

Publisher: Polity, 2013 ISBN: 978-0745649825
Author's page: James Gilligan

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous than Others

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James Gilligan, in his book Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous than Others, sets out to solve a mystery: a murder mystery. He claims that ‘as cigarette smoking has been shown to increase the rates of lung cancer, so the presence of a Republican in the White House increases the rates of suicide and homicide.’

It is significant that the author of this book is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New York whose aim was conducting research on suicide and homicide and probably never thought that his findings might influence elections in America. He set this mystery by posing two questions. First, ‘why homicide and suicide tend to increase and decrease together’ although motives and performers of each of them can be different. Second, why does this rate ‘fluctuate so enormously – sometimes more than doubling and at other times dropping less than half – within the population of the US over a time period too brief to allow for significant changes in the individuals composing the population?’ Gilligan spent years analysing the differences between the “mountains” and the “valleys” of this epidemic lethal violence (both suicide and homicide) trends and he discovered that rates of suicide and homicide skyrocket when Republicans are in power and drop when Democrats occupy the White House.

Logically, the main cause for this behaviour was not the label of the political party or the president itself, but the policies undertaken by the Republicans. From the authors view ‘if there is a causal relationship between party and violent death, rather than chance correlation, then it would seem almost self-evident that it must lie in the differences between the policies and achievements of the two parties, and the effect that those differences have on people’s behaviour.’

The timeframe of this study is the period from 1900 up to 2007 since, according to Gilligan, 1900 is when annual suicide and homicide records began to be recorded. Gilligan evidenced three key periods when rates of lethal violence were identified as being extreme were followed by non-epidemic declines. It is also important that the author omitted the period before the Great Depression (1929) as well as the period before and after WWII in order to prevent data influenced by a ‘great but unique historical event, rather than the party in power at the time.’ A fascinating fact about this book is that the author deploys not his own but US government data so, in a way, he shot the Republicans with their own bullet. 

Finally, this book is unique for the idea of connecting the socio-economic behaviour and the psychology of ordinary Americans accompanied with the ability of Gilligan to correlate these elements with America’s political life. This book is definitely a must read for scholars and students of politics. This book could serve as a warning bell for politicians in search of legacy to seriously consider the impacts of their policies lest they be held to account for inadvertent murder.

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