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The murderous ‘ethnic cleansing’ of civilian populations remains one of the unexplained scandals of world history, although such events seem to have occurred almost as frequently as social revolutions. Over the past 150 years alone, mass killings of indigenous groups by colonial or settler states, of Armenians by Turkish forces and their allies, of Jews by the Nazis, of Tutsis by Hutus, have far exceeded any rational military or economic calculation. But historical and comparative sociology has had relatively little to say about these deeds. Debate about the causes of ethnic cleansing is instead dominated by ahistorical and individualistic models. Michael Mann’s impressive The Dark Side of Democracy makes a giant step toward specifying the concrete social structures and circumstances that produce such results. Its scale is vast—over 500 pages of dense theorization and historical narrative, encompassing a temporal arc that stretches from ancient Assyria to the Rwandan genocide—while its unforgettable analyses of perpetrators and their actions display an almost ethno-methodological sensibility to the micro-foundations of social life, a new dimension for this master of the grand narrative. It is a major achievement.
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