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New Left Review I/235, May-June 1999

Michael Mann

The Dark Side of Democracy: The Modern Tradition of Ethnic and Political Cleansing

The twentieth century’s death-toll through genocide is somewhere over sixty million and still rising. [*] This essay was prepared for The Social Science Research Council Workshop ‘Democracy, the Use of Force and Global Social Change’, University of Minnesota, May 1–3 1998. The conference proceedings, including a slightly different of this essay, are being published in Democracy, Liberalism and War: Rethinking the Democratic Peace Debate, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Press, 2000. Yet most scholars and laypersons alike have preferred to focus on more salubrious topics. If they think about genocide at all, they view it as an unfortunate interruption of the real structural tendencies of the twentieth century—economic, social and political progress. Murderous ethnic and political cleansing is seen as a regression to the primitive—essentially anti-modern—and is committed by backward or marginal groups manipulated by clever and dangerous politicians. Blame the politicians, the sadists, the terrible Serbs (or Croats) or the primitive Hutus (or Tutsis)—for their actions have little to do with us. An alternative view—often derived from a religious perspective—sees the capacity for evil as a universal attribute of human beings, whether ‘civilized’ or not. This is true, yet capacity for evil only becomes actualized in certain circumstances, and, in the case of genocide, these seem less primitive than distinctly modern.

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Michael Mann, ‘The Dark Side of Democracy: The Modern Tradition of Ethnic and Political Cleansing’, NLR I/235: £3

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