Taking Mann seriously?

  • Semelin J
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Abstract

Michael Mann's two recent books offer a major contribution to the political sociology of mass violence. By developing and endorsing a comparative approach, the author wishes to explain the development of authoritarian regimes, above all fascist movements, as well as the phenomenon of ethnic violence. Considering the crucial and traumatic experience of the First World War as a cultural and social matrix, Mann's definition of fascism is particularly concise and enlightening. Mann's pages articulating the role of collective anxiety and even fear, prospering in a particularly unstable political, economic and international context and the security dilemma are among the highest achievements of the book. But what is disturbing in Fascists, is the deliberate choice not to take into consideration the historical and political realities of communist movements during the same period and ignoring Hanna Arendt's thesis on totalitarianism. The Dark Side of Democracy is a book more innovative and inspiring than earlier works. Contrary to mainstream genocide studies, Mann's work distances itself from the legal front. Sometime overusing the expression 'ethnic cleansing', a perverse definition of democracy can lead according to Mann to ethnic mass murders. In modern time, he notes, 'the people' has come to mean two things: demos (the mass of the population) and ethnos (the ethnic group that shares a common culture). Consequently, when an ethnic group claims 'We, the people', it can involve the rejection, even the eradication, of those who are perceived as aliens. But the murderous phenomena analyzed by Mann cannot be linked to the birth of modern democracy, but rather to a more general evolution, that is the formation of nation-states. What is at stake is not the dark side of democracy, but the dark side of the Nation-State in the modern democratic age. Another major contribution relies on the interpretation of mass violence based on the construction of a social imaginary. Before the massacre becomes an atrocious physical act, it is born from a mental process, from a vision of the other as a problem to be eliminated. It is crucial to distinguish more clearly than the author does two fundamental conceptions of 'social purity' that bring about two different figures of the 'enemy'.

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Authors

  • Jacques Semelin

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