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  • Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder
  • David D. Laitin
Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder. By Daniel Chirot and Clark McCauley (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2006) 268 pp. $24.95

Men (we are not told much about women) have a dual nature. They are often ruled by jealousy, resentment, fear, and hatred and thereby seek to rid the earth of their enemies. Yet they are also gentle, forgiving, and gregarious, and thereby seek institutions to limit the full expression of their passions. Hence, it is natural (though rare) and welcome that a psychologist (McCauley) would team with a sociologist (Chirot) to explore not only the psychological sources of mass murder but also the social sources of its containment.

The authors have a capacious definition of mass political murder. Unlike many tracts that portray the Holocaust as unique, Chirot and McCauley see the Nazis as historically all-too-common, an example of an ideology of purity that drives states and men to extraordinary acts of cruelty. Like Michael Mann in The Dark Side of Democracy (New York, 2005), the authors view genocide—in which ethnic others are eliminated as part of an evolving state design—as characteristic of the modern age. But they do not link it in any way, as does Mann, to democracy. In fact, the same sorts of motives pervaded predemocratic mass killings, such as Genghis Khan's in Central Asia and Persia, William the Conqueror's in Yorkshire, or Thomas Cromwell's in Ireland. What distinguishes modern genocide is not motive, but the fact that the modern nation-state is much larger than the tribe. Consequently, to wipe out an enemy nationality requires a degree of organization heretofore unknown. The scale of the modern state for the authors of this volume, rather than its association with the democratic age, explains genocide as we know it today.

The book offers a balanced assessment of why mass killings are normal and why they are so rare. Rhetorically, this assessment situates the book's collaborators as if they were at the two ends of a tennis court, with the reader sitting by the net following the ball—to his/her neck's chagrin—from side to side. On the one hand, to get the rally going, we are reminded how astounding it is that man could do such things to his fellow man; on the other hand, given what we know about man's nature, it is astounding that mass killing is so rare. On the one hand, the rally continues, human nature is ugly and will remain so; on the other [End Page 256] hand, men construct institutions (codes of honor; the potlatch, exogamy, Geneva accords) to set limits to their passions. On the one hand, institutions set limits to man's passions; on the other hand (witness the ubiquitous violations to the Geneva accords), these institutions are hardly sufficient to contain those passions in times of crisis. On the one hand, the Geneva accords were violated with impunity; on the other hand, with American hegemony, they are more likely to carry bite.1 On the one hand, trading states are more tolerant such that we should expect less mass murder with increased world trade; on the other hand, the great Dutch trading republic massacred and enslaved nearly the entire population of the Banda Islands merely for trading with British merchants. On the one hand, decentralization of state power (as with the case of Karnataka in south India) reduces the ability of states to use police power for evil purposes; on the other hand, those same institutions without a strong civil society (as in Côte d'Ivoire) are a prescription for state collapse, civil war, and gratuitous murder. On the one hand, contact between groups fostered by peace interests yields tolerance; on the other hand, when those who experience positive contacts return home, the tolerance wanes.

Missed in this extended rally is a Holmesian attention to what can be learned from dogs that do not bark. The authors focus on contemporary Europe as a place where norms of tolerance reign, lowering the...


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pp. 256-258
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