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"There is much new in Weitz's analysis and his isolation of the common mechanisms of state-sponsored genocide is an invaluable contribution to the literature on the subject. . . . Despite its analytical and reasoned approach, this work cannot be read without feeling outrage, despair and horror. Weitz's work raises profound questions about the human capacity for violence."—Publishers Weekly
"A Century of Genocide has much to offer. It will serve as an excellent first introduction to Lenin and Stalin's crimes, the Holocaust, the Cambodian massacres of the 1970s and the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia."—Brendon Simms, Times Higher Education Supplement
“"A] book that must be read and that must be argued over. Without an understanding of the issues [it] tackle[s] with passion and in depth, the desire to intervene—to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide—is meaningless."—Rima Berns-McGown, International Journal
"Weitz has produced something exceedingly rare: a scholarly book one cannot put down. This is a meritorious, thoughtful book."—Choice
"An important, thought-provoking book on an inordinately complex subject."—Gavriel Rosenfeld, The New Leader
"Weitz makes a persuasive case that these genocides were not simply anarchic eruptions of age-old hatreds, but rather were engineered by crisis-ridden regimes promoting utopian visions requiring a radical refashioning of the population."—Martin Farrell, Perspectives on Politics
"This important, highly thoughtful book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on genocide in the twentieth century. It deserves a wide audience among scholars, undergraduates, and policy makers. Broad ranging, genuinely comparative, rigorous, and learned, A Century of Genocide is engagingly written, while prudent and balanced in its judgments."—Frank Chalk, Slavic Review
Race and Nation: An Intellectual History
On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was a great achievement that extended and deepened the venerable democratic principles espoused by the American and French Revolutions. The approval had come after months of difficult negotiations spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt. But the delegates apparently had very few disputes when it came to defining the categories that constitute the human population. After stating in the lead article that "[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," Article 2 of the document went on to declare, "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." Article 16 declared that everyone has a right to a nationality. Article 26 mandated that everyone has the right to education, which should "promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups."
How is it that the categories of "race" and "nation" appeared so self-evident, so natural to the delegates, that they required no further definition and hardly any negotiations about their meanings?
Just a few years later, in 1955, and just a short walk from the UN building, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) displayed in its galleries The Family of Man. It would become the most famous photographic exhibition of the twentieth century. After its initial five-month run in New York City, The Family of Man toured the world for eight years. It appeared in thirty-seven countries on six continents and was seen by over nine million people. The exhibition catalog has been published in scores of languages and remains a popular item to this day. The brainchild of Edward Steichen, the famed photographer and onetime director of the Department of Photography at MOMA, the exhibition contained 503 photographs, which he had culled from over ten thousand images that had been submitted by amateurs and professionals from around the world. In Steichen's words, the exhibit "was conceived as a mirror of the universal elements and emotions in the everydayness of life—as a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world." Yet the power of the still image is such that the stunning photographs seem also to capture a certain timeless, unchanging quality of the people on display, as if they were the very embodiment of the distinct nations and races that make up the "essential oneness" of the human family. A small caption identifies the country of each photograph, fixing the notion of distinct nations in the mind of the viewer.
The Family of Man is a testament to the ideas of peace and human rights espoused by the UN in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet how is it that The Family of Man also assumed the division of humanity into races and nations with a certain fixed and timeless quality to them? And how is it that the categories that could be celebrated as representing the wonderful diversity of humanity were the very same categories through which states organized the most extreme violations of human rights, namely, genocides?
The categories race and nation are not, in fact, self-evident; they are not natural, timeless ways of understanding human difference and of organizing political and social systems. The word "race" dates only from the late fourteenth century and is of either Latin or Arabic derivation; its usage first became prevalent in the sixteenth century. "Nation," rooted in the Latin natio, is a word with a much longer but also very diverse lineage. Like the Greek ethnos and genos, it simply meant a group of people, and writers from the ancient to the early modern world used it to describe all sorts of collectives: a kinship group, people with similar customs, the subjects of a particular state, or those with a common social function like students or even bonded laborers. Well into the Middle Ages, "nation" was often used pejoratively to refer to foreigners. But in the modern period, the term has undergone such a profound transformation by becoming tightly bound to politics—to the form of the nation-state—that it has only a limited and restricted association with its earlier meanings.
Race and nation, far from timeless concepts, represent modern ways of understanding and organizing human difference. Ancient chroniclers were, of course, well aware of the great diversity of human life. Through the encounter with others, they sought to define better the particularity— and the higher moral and cultural standing—of their own people. They often wrote and acted with enormous condescension and venom toward those outside their own group. In his Histories, written in the fifth century B.C.E., the historian Herodotus marked out the chasm that lay between the civilized Greeks and their barbarian neighbors by depicting, for example, the brutal customs of the Scythians, who lived as nomads and decorated their horses with the scalps of their victims. In the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites' status as a chosen people gives them license utterly to destroy their opponents. After the walls of Jericho collapsed, the Israelites under Joshua's command "devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.... They burned down the city, and everything in it." And so it goes with the other cities Joshua conquered— the Israelites "destroy" or "slaughter" everyone and everything in their path. They humiliate rival kings by hanging their dead bodies for a day before unceremoniously dumping them into caves or covering them with rocks.
But for all their intense hostilities toward outsiders, the Greeks and the Israelites did not think in terms of race, of fixed and immutable characteristics of a people, or of nation in its modern political sense. Neither Herodotus nor the anonymous authors of the Hebrew Bible ever imagined that in the lived world, all people of a particular group had to be politically unified with their own state. In the Bible's recounting, it took centuries of Jewish existence before the Israelites got a king and a state, and God himself was disappointed at their desire for political organization. For a chosen people, the only true covenant was with God. The unified Kingdom of Israel lasted less than one hundred years, and the prophets who followed its division called not so much for the restoration of the political unity of the people as for their adherence to God's law. As for the Greeks, their political world was one of many city-states, with no sense that Greeks could or should live all together within a single political system. They warred against one another as much as they came together in alliances against external enemies like the Persians. When Alexander created a Hellenistic Empire in the fourth century B.C.E., it was, like all premodern empires, a vast multiethnic creation, and its rulers never imagined that all the subjects had to be of the same ethnicity or religion.
Nor was membership in a particular group completely closed and defined only by lineage, as the proponents of modern race thinking argued. To be sure, in the Bible the Lord's covenant is granted to a specific group, the children of Israel. But membership in the chosen people lay open to whoever accepted the covenant and Yahweh's commandments; it was not restricted to those who could claim, however fancifully, "blood" descent from the patriarchs. The Hebrew Bible recounts many instances of conversion and many allies, including those of quite different physical appearance from the Israelites. Kush (Ethiopia), a powerful nation, is counted among the friends of the Lord, Nubians among those who will eventually join in the covenant. In Psalms, Ethiopians are included "among those who know me," and God "records" and "registers" them— that is, he enters them in the book of life as faithful worshipers. Individual Kushites play honored roles as a wife of Moses, a messenger to David, and an intercessor for Jeremiah.
Christianity and Islam were even more open to those beyond the original community of believers, since both asserted the universal stature of their religions without identifying any particular people as chosen. Christians defined themselves from the outset as a community of salvation in Christ's body, not an ethnic, national, or racial group. As Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians: "In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!" The great expansion of Islam resulted at least in part from its openness to all those who accepted Allah as the sole and indivisible God and Muhammad as his messenger.
Greeks considered themselves the most elevated people of all because they emphasized reason without excluding the passions, holding the two in appropriate balance. They generally used an environmental—not a "blood" or, in modern terms, racial—theory to explain the differences among people. Climate and terrain made some people fierce, others gentle, some wise, others savage, gave some a penchant for reason, others for the senses. When people migrated from their area of origin, they, or at least their descendants, would adapt to the temperaments that prevailed in their adopted homeland. Herodotus related that when the Scythian traveler Anacharsis returned home after travels in Greece, he was killed because he had adopted Greek ways, and a similar fate awaited the Scythian king Syclas when his followers found him celebrating the rites of Dionysus. Herodotus also described 240,000 Egyptian troops, left at guard posts unrelieved for three years, who decided to go over to the Ethiopians. "The result of their living there was that the Ethiopians learned Egyptian manners and became more civilized." Culture and customs could be adopted or abandoned, they were not "natural" to the physical body, and nothing prevented the intermixing of groups. "Barbarian" was not a racial but a political and cultural concept, a term of contempt for those who had not mastered reason and rhetoric.
Medieval Europeans often depicted outsiders in the most vile terms, as shown by even a cursory reading of the Church's condemnations of heretics and its tracts against Muslims and Jews. In the twelfth century, for example, Christian theologians condemned the heretic Henry of Le Mans by describing him as an animal, a "ravening wolf in sheep's clothing" and a "malicious fox" who moved about stealthily and deceptively. They also charged Henry with an assortment of sexual transgressions, from patronizing prostitutes to adultery to homosexuality. The "potent poison" of his speech supposedly "penetrated ... the inner organs" of his listeners. From the medieval Song of Roland to Luther's sermon about the Turks, Europeans depicted Muslims in similar fashion and associated dark skin with sin and apostasy. The fervent language, which made beasts out of humans and awakened the deepest sexual anxieties, was not terribly different from the way North American slaveholders depicted Africans and Nazis described Jews.
Some scholars profess to see these medieval European expressions as evidence for the emergence of a "persecuting society" that then developed in a linear fashion to the modern world. But overall the evidence for the medieval world is too mixed, the ruptures of the modern world too great, to permit any claim of continual development from medieval attitudes to modern race thinking and nationalism. Despite all its grotesque characterizations of "the other," the medieval Church held to its theological view that all people could be saved; it even welcomed Ethiopian Christians who made their way to Italy in the early fifteenth century. And only the barest glimmers of the modern nation-state are evident in the medieval period.
To locate the birth of modern conceptions of race and nation, we need to turn to the eighteenth century, when Europeans developed new ways of understanding difference and invented new forms of politics. The intellectual and political leaps of this century did not emerge suddenly. They were rooted in nearly three centuries of overseas travel and conquest, which revealed a world far more diverse than anything Europeans had previously imagined. In association with New World discoveries, they also established more cohesive and assertive states and, perhaps most fatefully, colonial societies in which the benighted status of slavery became associated, for the first time in human history, with people of one and only one skin color. But before we explore the historical emergence of race and nation, some definitions are in order.
RACE, NATION, ETHNICITY
Race and nation represent ways of classifying difference. The two categories have never been hermetically sealed off from one another; rather, the lines between them are fluid and permeable. Nonetheless, for the sake of analytical clarity, it is important to disentangle them and to define the characteristics of each form of identity. And they have to be defined in relation to a still more general term, "ethnicity."
The members of an ethnic group typically share a sense of commonality based on a myth of common origins (descent from Abraham in the case of the Israelites, from Hellen in later Greek accounts), a common language, and common customs. Ethnicity is the most open and permeable form of identity. Whatever the myth of common origins, outsiders are usually able to assimilate into the ethnic group by marriage and acculturation. Ethnic groups develop into nations when they become politicized and strive to create, or have created for them, a political order—the nation-state—whose institutions are seen to conform in some way to their ethnic identity, and whose boundaries are, ideally, contiguous with the group's territoriality. In terms of acceptance of outsiders, nationality oscillates from fairly open to tightly closed forms. In the modern world, the states in which citizenship definitions are based upon political rights tend to be the most open (the United States, France); those that define citizenship by ethnicity tend to be the most closed (Germany, Romania).
Race is the hardest and most exclusive form of identity. Race is present when a defined population group is seen to have particular characteristics that are indelible, immutable, and transgenerational. Race is fate; there is no escape from the characteristics that are said to be carried by every single member of the group, bar none. Races can "degenerate" if they become "defiled"; they can go on to still greater accomplishments if they become "pure." But the essential characteristics of each race are seen as immutable, and they are borne "in the blood" by every individual member of that race. While racial distinctions have most often been based on phenotype, race is not essentially about skin color but about the assignment of indelible traits to particular groups. Hence ethnic groups, nationalities, and even social classes can be "racialized" in particular historical moments and places.
Unlike ethnicity, race always entails a hierarchical construction of difference. Racial movements and states understand their creation and defense of a racial order as the great historical task of making the political and social world conform to the reality of nature, with its fixed system of domination and subordination. While ethnicity is often self-defined—and this was Max Weber's classic, subjectivist definition of an ethnic group—racial categorizations are most often assigned to a group by an outside power, usually a state, though over time, the group may then develop its own racial consciousness. Ethnicity or nationality by no means always or necessarily takes on racialized forms, but the possibilities are certainly present, all too easily present when modern states seek to limit the pool of citizens and strive actively to shape the very composition of society. Moreover, while biology provided the pseudoscientific underpinnings for race thinking in its heyday, roughly 1850 to 1945, race can also have a cultural basis. As the French theorist Etienne Balibar writes: "[B]iological or genetic naturalism is not the only means of naturalizing human behaviour and social affinities.... [C]ulture can also function like a nature, and it can in particular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable and intangible in origin.... [This perspective] naturalizes not racial belonging but racial conduct."
While ethnicity has existed since time immemorial, race and nation emerged together historically in the Western world from around 1700 onward.
Excerpted from A Century of Genocide by Eric D. Weitz. Copyright © 2003 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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|An Armenian Prelude||1|
|Introduction: Genocides in the Twentieth Century||8|
|Ch. 1||Race and Nation: An Intellectual History||16|
|Ch. 2||Nation, Race, and State Socialism: The Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin||53|
|Ch. 3||The Primacy of Race: Nazi Germany||102|
|Ch. 4||Racial Communism: Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge||144|
|Ch. 5||National Communism: Serbia and the Bosnian War||190|