The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil

The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil

The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil

The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil


Scholars in a variety of fields have attempted to explain the roots of violence, with mixed and confusing results. This book brings Kierkegaard's voice into this conversation, arguing that the Christian intellectual tradition offers the key philosophical tools needed for comprehending violence.


Through my writings I hope to achieve the following: to leave
behind me so accurate a characterization of Christianity and its
relationships in the world that an enthusiastic, noble-minded young
person will be able to find in it a map of relationships as accurate as
any topographical map from the most famous institutes. I have not
had the help of such an author. The old Church Fathers lacked one
aspect, they did not know the world.

Søren Kierkegaard, JP, 6: 6283 (1848)

The past century has been very violent. The Nazis formulated and carried out a plan to kill as many Jews as they possibly could. Stalin’s regime brought about the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens. The Khmer Rouge executed or starved to death approximately two million people in Cambodia during the late 1970s. The Hutus in Rwanda slaughtered Tutsis by the hundreds of thousands more recently, despite the “success” of Christian missions there, which has led to the majority of both tribal groups identifying themselves as Christian. Many other similar historical examples could be cited, but the issue has been sufficiently brought forward. From time to time throughout human history largescale eruptions of violence have resulted in the deaths of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. In this study, I ask one basic question: Why?

Why are human beings violent? How can we best understand the root motivations for large-scale political violence, such as the Holocaust and Stalin’s purges? In these situations, it is clear that the violence is not coordinated with any rational, sane perception of reality by individuals who are stable and morally mature. We are considering extreme cases of psychological and social pathology, where human action has completely fallen off its hinges and become demonic. In other words, the task is to understand morally disordered human action from a vantage point that will see through the insanity. But where is this vantage point?

Authors addressing this issue have reflected on the roots of violence and come forward with a variety of theoretical models for violent behavior. Alice Miller, for instance, argues that the violent actions of adults can always be traced to violence they suffered as children. Ervin Staub describes how “difficult life conditions” lead social groups to attempt to improve their situation through acts of scapegoating. William Brustein argues that the Nazis gained power because they offered to the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.