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Bringing the Meaning Back In: Exploring Existentially Motivated Terrorism

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Radicalization and political violence are traditionally explained as rational, instrumental choices motivated by grievances, deprivation, oppression, and other factors external to the individual. This explanatory model, however, is dangerously incomplete many radicalized individuals appear to be internally motivated toward violence as a way to bring meaning to their lives. Western philosophy, and the existentialist school in particular, has long recognized the centrality of meaning to human existence. Psychology and sociology have more recently empirically demonstrated meaning-in-lifes close connection to happiness, psychological well-being, and even physical health. This thesis examines both the philosophy and science of meaning-in-life, demonstrating the process through which it is produced and terrorisms unique ability to do so. Finally, this thesis examines four case studies across time, place, and ideological basis to establish the influence of existential motives in the history of terrorism. Understanding and accounting for the importance of meaning-in-life and its role in terrorism will help develop effective counter-radicalization and counter-violent extremism programs that account for more than rational,instrumental motives.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Psychology

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