Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy. A bold theoretical construction of causal relations between democratization and genocide, tested through detailed historical studies.
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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What Is Trump?
The pitfalls of bad historical analogizing laid bare in ubiquitous attempts to pin a ‘fascist’ label on the 45th president. Instead, Riley argues, Trump is better grasped as an incoherent amalgam of Weberian forms of rule—ramshackle patrimonialism, weak charisma—operating like a foreign body inserted into America’s capitalist-bureaucratic state.
Metaphysicking the West
Dylan Riley on Heinrich August Winkler, The Age of Catastrophe. ‘The West’ as normative construct—and narrative telos—in a moralizing account from Berlin of the 20th century’s wars and revolutions.
The electoral watersheds of 2016 signalled a rejection of the global-neoliberal formula of rule, but no viable establishment alternative exists. In its absence, Riley argues, Trump may offer a neo-Bonapartist substitute for a coherent hegemonic project.
Politics as Theatre?
Dylan Riley on David Runciman, The Confidence Trap. Parables for the present crisis drawn from liberal democracy’s most difficult hours.
Property Leading the People?
Dylan Riley on Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Genealogy and idiosyncratic extension of the Marxian concept.
Dylan Riley on Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself. Historical reframing of the New Deal for the age of Obama.
Dylan Riley on Sheri Berman, The Primacy of Politics and Ashley Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy. Conflicting assessments of Bernstein’s legatees and the future of a reformist left.
Tony Judt: A Cooler Look
Few Anglophone intellectuals have received such posthumous acclaim as the Director of the Remarque Institute, leading contributor to the New York Review of Books, and late champion of social-democracy. Regularly compared to George Orwell, if not Isaiah Berlin, does any careful examination of his oeuvre sustain such panegyrics?
Reviving its classical definition, ‘rule of the propertyless’, Luciano Canfora recasts the story of democracy in Europe as one of successive defeats, with lessons from Louis Napoleon on the use of suffrage as legitimation for oligarchic rule. Dylan Riley assesses a remarkable historical polemic from the Italian philologist.
Enigmas of Fascism
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, Fascists and Robert Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism. Alternative versions of the rise of a paramilitary Right in interwar Europe: were fascist movements ideologically coherent or inchoate, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary?