A CENTURY OF GENOCIDE Utopias of Race and Nation Eric D. Weitz Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. 308pp, US$19.95 cloth (ISBN 0-691-00913-9)
THE DARK SIDE OF DEMOCRACY Explaining Ethnic Cleansing Michael Mann Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 58opp, $33.95 paper (0-521-53854-8)
Eric Weitz and Michael Mann have both tackled among the most important subjects of our time-why and under what conditions societies have turned to genocide or ethnic cleansing.
Mann's thesis is definitive: ethnic cleansing is the dark side of democracy, what happens when we are on our way to democracy or when democracy goes awry. Whether or not it is the dark side of democracy, the critical part of his insight is that ethnic cleansing is modern, and that people who commit mass ethnic murder are not primitive: they are us. There are no virtuous peoples, he writes. The problem arose when the notion of democracy-the promise of rule by "the people"-collided with an awareness of ethnos- a division of "the people" into different ethnicities, two or more of which are contesting control of the state in question.
Mann, a sociologist, qualifies this first thesis with seven others, all of which attempt to describe the ways in which the collision of demos and ethnos grows deadly. They are as follows: i) "ethnic hostility arises when ethnicity trumps class as the main form of social stratification"; 2) "the danger zone of murderous cleansing is reached when a) movements claiming to represent two fairly old ethnic groups both lay claim to their own state over all or part of the same territory and b) this claim seems to them to have substantial legitimacy and some plausible chance of being implemented"; 3) "the brink of murderous cleansing is reached when one of two alternative scenarios plays out-the less powerful side is bolstered to fight rather than to submit by believing that aid will be forthcoming from outside, or the stronger side believes it has such overwhelming military power and ideological legitimacy that it can force through its own cleansed state at little physical or moral risk to itself"; 4) "going over the brink into the perpetration of murderous cleansing occurs where the state exercising sovereignty over the contested territory has been factionalized and radicalized amid an unstable geopolitical environment that usually leads to war"; 5) "murderous cleansing is rarely the intent of perpetrators"; 6) "there are three main levels of perpetrator-radical elites running party-states, bands of militants forming violent paramilitaries, and core constituencies providing mass though not majority popular support"; and 7) "ordinary people are brought by normal social structures into committing murderous ethnic cleansing" (5-9).
Mann excels at describing the stages a regime goes through as it descends into ethnic cleansing or mass murder, how an initial plan to privilege one ethnic group over another is twisted and radicalized into the unintended plan "d"-full-scale ethnic murder-and how "ordinary" citizens are co-opted into endorsing it.
He is less convincing, to this reader at least, when he claims that it is the dark side of democracy, per se, that is responsible for ethnic cleansing. Mann himself contends that it is not democracy itself, but rather a perversion of it-something that occurs in the attempt to find it-that is in place when ethnic cleansing or genocide occurs. Weitz, in fact, seems to have it right when he states that, in the four cases he examines in detail-the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, Hitler's Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Yugoslavia-"in acting upon the ideologies of race and nation, they drew upon Enlightenment conceptions of human progress and nineteenth-century scientific advances that posited the possibility, indeed, the desirability, of improving society by shaping its very composition" (237). It is not democracy, but rather the nation-state as created by we-the-people-when that term is defined in an exclusionary way-that seems to be the culprit. …