THIS BOOK examines when and why human beings kill and torture other human beings who, on account of their different religious, political, and economic ideas, appear as a threatening source of “pollution.” What the polluting ideas were and are is of course a major aspect of the problem. They change over time. Yet this book is in no sense a work of intellectual or religious history. Instead it seeks to find out in what kind of a context this complex of ideas and action occurs. The complex itself one can easily recognize as a militant or very violent movement on behalf of moral purity. There is a good case for calling these movements against pollution attacks on moral impurity. Indeed, in this book moral impurity receives far more attention than its opposite. It is also rather more interesting. Still, impurity is impossible without purity.
That such movements have scarred the twentieth century and are well on the way to wounding the twenty-first is so obvious as scarcely to require comment. They were central to Fascism, Communism, and the imperial patriotism of Japan prior to its defeat in the Second World War. Since then they have cropped up, so far, in a relatively nonviolent form in the Christian right and in the Le Pen movement in France, and in a more violent form in Islamic movements and various others. These movements were the stimulus for writing this book. But they are not its topic.
Instead, this book seeks at least limited answers to two sets of general questions, those of time and place. How far back in time do we find a search for moral purity with a powerful component of violence? The Old Testament, the subject of the first chapter, is an obvious answer. The Old Testament records the invention of monotheism and the bloody struggles that accompanied its spread and establishment. Monotheism, in the straightforward sense of belief in one God and only one God, was apparently invented only once in human history. It necessarily implies a monopoly of grace and virtue to distinguish its adherents from sur