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  • The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing, and: Moderne Zeiten? Krieg, Revolution und Gewalt im 20. Jahrhundert [Modern Times? War, Revolution, and Violence in the 20th Century]
  • Vladimir Solonari
Michael Mann , The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. 590 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 052183130X. $70.00 (cloth). 584 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0521538548. $24.99 (paper).
Jörg Baberowski , ed., Moderne Zeiten? Krieg, Revolution und Gewalt im 20. Jahrhundert [Modern Times? War, Revolution, and Violence in the 20th Century]. 205 pp. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2006. ISBN 352536735X. €26.90.

The term "ethnic cleansing" entered the English-language lexicon in the early 1990s in reference to bloody events in the former Yugoslavia. In his 2001 book Norman M. Naimark argued that, though genocide was not the same as ethnic cleansing, the latter had a "terrifying potential" for the former. In particular, Nazi policy toward Jews, which started as ethnic cleansing, "seamlessly evolved … into a campaign of mass murder and industrial killing, the Shoah."1 In 2005, Michael Mann brought this thinking one step further: not only did he treat the Holocaust as a case of ethnic cleansing, but he also integrated its analysis into the quest for a sociological theory purporting to explain why and under what conditions ethnic cleansing appears and spills over into genocidal violence. Though Mann was primarily looking for similarities among various instances of ethnic cleansing, what his book really achieves is to alert its reader to the differences between those cases in which the government played the role of initiator and accomplisher of the policy, and those in which it primarily responded to the pressure from below. The Holocaust is the most obvious example of the former and the Yugoslav civil war of the latter, with other cases lying between them.

Mann argues that all occurrences of ethnic cleansing and genocide should be seen as resulting from a protracted process of "radicalization" under conditions of war and perceived threat from the ethnic group that the perpetrators want to "cleanse." The terms that are central to his exposés are, besides "radicalization," "night and fog of war," "rival and believable claims [End Page 263] over the [same] territory" advanced by different groups, "descent into violence," "caging" (meaning the socialization of would-be perpetrators into a violence-valuing and violence-practicing milieu isolated from a wider society), and the like. Mann consistently refuses to believe any evidence that the governments might have contemplated and developed plans of murderous ethnic cleansing and genocide well in advance of when events started to unravel and talks in a way that suggests that they were always responding to social pressure and perceived threats. The same goes for ordinary perpetrators: it was not so much their ideologies or phobias as the way they were "caged" that developed their acceptance and taste for violence and cruelty, making them serial killers.

While I have a lot of sympathy for all this, I am perturbed by how little attention Mann pays to the role of racial science and eugenics in the case of the Holocaust. True, Mann does acknowledge that this case does not really fit into his theory of ethnic cleansing (I do not think he uses the word "theory," but I do believe that it is what the book amounts to) for many reasons, but primarily because Jews could not be seen as laying any claim to German territory. But he argues this observation away by saying that Hitler himself believed in the paranoiac imagery of Jews leading Slavs to contest sovereignty over German land (503). Here, however, Mann confuses "Slavs" with Soviet communism: Hitler never claimed that the Slavs were enslaved by Jews everywhere—only those living in the Soviet Union were—but it was the Poles who contested sovereignty with the Germans, not Soviet Slavs. Besides, substituting Hitler's paranoia for a "credible threat over Germans' territory" which, according to Mann, had to be felt as such by many Germans before they would be driven to commit genocide against Jews, undermines the coherence of the theory itself. Aware of that, Mann argues that the Holocaust is too "unique...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 263-269
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-10
Open Access
No
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