Revolution, Genocide, Terror

16 April 2010


As the evils of the world prior to the Industrial Revolution were embodied in the figures of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death — so the evils of the industrialized world, in which science has largely conquered pestilence and food is plentiful to the point of becoming problematic, might be summarized as revolution, genocide, and terror. Last night as I was thinking about this it struck me that I would like to write a book titled Revolution, Genocide, Terror or Revolution, Genocide, and Terrorism, and with a subtitle something like “The Underbelly of Political Society” or “The Underside of Political Modernity.” You get the idea, I’m sure.

Revolution - Genocide - Terror

While the emergence of consolidation of the nation-state in the early modern period brought many quantifiable goods to human society, as certainly as it facilitated the elimination of ancient evils it simultaneously facilitated and exacerbated contemporary evils. So the nation-state has largely replaced the brutal archaism of hereditary aristocracy, but the established mechanism for political change is now revolution, and revolutions have proliferated even as they have lost their efficacy to bring about authentic change. And the nation-state, by instituting a political order putatively based on ethnicity and nationality, has pioneered new methods of oppression and violence based on ethnicity and nationality that was almost absent in ages of polyglot empires. Among these methods are what Daniel Goldhagen called “Eliminationism” in his book Worse than War, which I discussed in Genocide and the Nation-State.

'Pyramid of Skulls’ by Paul Cézanne , ca. 1901

The response to state-sponsored oppression and violence has been asymmetrical reciprocity of oppression and violence on the part of non-state actors, and thus terrorism has become the established mechanism of grievance. The systematic organization of nation-states, with regular police forces and standing armies, along with their insistence upon a legalized monopoly on violence, virtually guaranteed that those opposed to the policies of nation-states would find themselves forced to choose between passive acquiescence and asymmetrical violence.

Sufficient unto each age are the evils thereof.

Perhaps it is a universal truth that the passing of one political order and the initiation of another must bring the parallel passing into history of one set of goods and evils associated with that order, and the initiation of a novel set of goods and evils paralleling the initiated political order. While the identification of goods and evils belongs to the ideological superstructure of the political order, the goods and evils themselves would seem to be inherent in politico-economical infrastructure. Moreover, the inherent goods and evils of a particular social structure would seem to be integral, each being the mirror image of the other.

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