An Eye for an Eye: Public Support for War against Evildoers

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman, “An Eye for an Eye: Public Support for War against Evildoers,” International Organization, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Summer 2006): 687–722.

Abstract: Retributiveness and humanitarianism, predispositions that shape individuals’ moral judgment and criminal punishment attitudes, should also influence their positions on war against evil-seeming states. Retributiveness should heighten support for punitive uses of military force, satisfaction from punitive wars, and threats perceived from transgressor states, while humanitarianism should have the opposite effects. Using death penalty support as a proxy measure for these values, public opinion about the 1991 and 2003 Persian Gulf wars provides evidence for a moral-punitiveness effect. Death penalty supporters were significantly more hawkish than death penalty opponents in both cases, controlling for ideology, utilitarian logic, and other potential confounders. These findings explain why foreign villains and good-versus-evil framing heighten public support for war.