Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence

Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence

Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence

Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence

Excerpt

Through some kind of diffusion or infection, the character of
sanctity and inviolability—of belonging to another world, one
might say—has spread from a few major prohibitions on to
every other cultural regulation, law and ordinance. But on these
the halo often looks far from becoming: not only do they invali
date one another by giving contrary decisions at different times
and places, but apart from this they show every sign of human
inadequacy. It is easy to recognize in them things that can only
be the product of short-sighted apprehensiveness or an expres
sion of selfishly narrow interests or a conclusion based on insuf
ficient premises. The criticism which we cannot fail to level at
them also diminishes to an unwelcome extent our respect for
other, more justifiable cultural demands. Since it is an awkward
task to separate what God Himself has demanded from what
can be traced to the authority of an all-powerful parliament
or a high judiciary, it would be an undoubted advantage if we
were to leave God out altogether and honestly admit the purely
human origin of all regulations and precepts of civilization.

—Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927

It is a truism that industrial capitalism since the nineteenth
century has been increasingly destructive of forms of social life,
that its markets have dislocated persons and things through
out the world, that the pollution of its factories and transport
systems had disastrous effects on the natural environment
and global climate that all humans inhabit. And yet industrial
capitalism is the volatile condition in which Western liberties
have been constructed, defended, and gifted to the world. The
violent freedoms of industrial capitalism can be said to have
constituted political life as the space of an earthly permanence
that can compensate for the death of the past—at the cost of a
fatal threat to the future. For the modern sovereign state has an
absolute right to defend itself, a defense that may—as the Inter-

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