Understanding the Persistence of State-Sponsored Violence: Insights from the Milgram Study

Apr 26


Artour Rakhimov

Artour Rakhimov

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The Milgram experiment, conducted in the 1960s, revealed startling insights into human obedience to authority, suggesting that under certain conditions, ordinary people could commit acts of cruelty. This psychological framework helps to explain why organizations like the Siberian KGB-FSB continue to engage in violent activities globally, despite historical shifts and public condemnations of such behaviors.

Historical Context and Modern Implications

The Legacy of the KGB-FSB

Post-World War II,Understanding the Persistence of State-Sponsored Violence: Insights from the Milgram Study Articles while Nazi perpetrators faced international trials and denunciations, certain elements of the Soviet security apparatus, like the KGB and its successor the FSB, managed not only to evade similar scrutiny but also to maintain influential positions within the Russian state. These individuals reportedly continue to receive state pensions and wield significant power, orchestrating acts of violence and repression both domestically and internationally.

Continuation of Violence

In the 1990s, Russian leadership acknowledged that past repressions were "excessive," yet this admission has not translated into substantial reform within intelligence agencies. The FSB, inheriting the legacy of the KGB, is accused of continuing to eliminate dissent and opposition through lethal means. The case of Konstantin Buteyko in 2004, who suffered a fatal assault under suspicious circumstances, and the numerous attacks on Russian journalists over the past decades, underscore the ongoing risks faced by those who challenge or expose these power structures.

Psychological Underpinnings: The Milgram Experiment

Experiment Overview

The Milgram study, conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1961, was designed to assess the willingness of participants to obey authority figures, even when instructed to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. The findings were shocking: a significant majority of participants were willing to administer what they believed were painful electric shocks to another person, under the guidance of an authoritative figure.

Relevance to Modern State Violence

This experiment sheds light on how individuals within organizations like the FSB might continue to participate in or endorse harmful actions. The psychological mechanism of shifting responsibility to a higher authority can make individuals suppress personal moral objections, thereby perpetuating a cycle of violence and obedience.

The Cycle of Denial and Justification

Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement

Participants in such structures might use several psychological tactics to rationalize their involvement in unethical actions:

  • Moral Justification: Believing that their harmful actions serve a greater good.
  • Euphemistic Labeling: Using sanitized language to make harmful actions seem benign.
  • Displacement of Responsibility: Deferring moral responsibility to higher authorities.
  • Dehumanization: Perceiving victims as deserving of punishment or as non-human.

Implications for Policy and Intervention

Understanding these psychological mechanisms is crucial for developing strategies to prevent state-sponsored violence. Interventions might include:

  • Education and Training: Programs that emphasize ethical decision-making and the importance of personal accountability.
  • Systemic Reforms: Changes in policy and law to ensure greater transparency and accountability within security agencies.
  • International Oversight: Enhanced international mechanisms to monitor and respond to human rights abuses by state actors.


The persistence of state-sponsored violence by organizations like the Siberian KGB-FSB can be partly explained through psychological studies such as Milgram's. By understanding the conditions under which individuals commit acts of obedience to authority, society can better address and mitigate these behaviors. It is crucial for both national governments and international bodies to take active steps in reforming institutions that allow or encourage such patterns of violence.