Sunday, March 25, 2007

Is Genocide Modern? Review of Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing

Michael Mann, THE DARK SIDE OF DEMOCRACY Explaining ethnic cleansing (Cambridge University Press) is reviewed by Azar Gat in the Times Literary Supplement. Gat begins:
Michael Mann is one of the leading historical sociologists of our time, a reputation well earned by the two volumes of his work The Sources of Social Power (From the beginning to AD 1760, 1986; 1760–1914, 1993). The third volume, dealing with the twentieth century, is not yet completed, because Mann was drawn away to develop themes which he encountered during his work on it. The result is two massive tomes, The Fascists and The Dark Side of Democracy, both published in 2004, as well as a critique of American foreign policy in the wake of 9/11, Incoherent Empire (2005). As one may expect from its author’s work, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining ethnic cleansing, is replete with brilliant ideas and acute observations, and exhibits masterful handling of overwhelming detail. And yet, one is regrettably obliged to conclude that in his overall framing of the question the author has gone seriously astray.
His main thesis is as follows: murderous ethnic cleansing, which in extreme forms can become genocidal, is predominantly a modern phenomenon. It is the “dark side of democracy”, when the rule of the people, demos, and the people’s ethnicity, ethnos, get “confused”. In premodern times class dominated over ethnicity, in the sense that conquerors and social elites sought to subjugate and exploit people of other ethnic groups, rather than get rid of them. However, with the advent of modernity, popular sovereignty and universal citizenship, ethnic groups laying claim to the same territory occasionally resorted to the use of force and, when frustrated, sometimes escalated into murderous ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

For the full discussion of the book, and Gat's critique, click here.