[Marxism] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's "Worse than War"

jayroth6 jayroth6 at cox.net
Sat Oct 24 07:07:36 MDT 2009

Gird your loins: another scholar demanding "anti-genocide" action by imperialism

He argues as well that "political Islam" - jihadism - constitutes "the most coherent and deadly mass-­murderous ideology since Nazism." 



Goldhagen's moral and political account impels him, by contrast, to scorn the very idea of the "national interest" as the chief object of foreign policy. Invocations of the national interest, he observes, routinely facilitate mass murder by rationalizing a passive response. Our policy, rather, should be founded on the recognition that genocidal eliminationism, which Goldhagen argues has killed more people in recent generations than war itself, is the supreme moral problem of our time. 

This sounds like just the kind of absolutist formulation that condemns academic theorists to political irrelevance. But if the ultimate goal is to ensure that we never again stand by in the face of a Rwanda-style genocide, public opinion will not be rallied through an earnest accounting of national interest, but through an appeal to conscience.

Intense moralism carries risks of its own, however, including hyperbole. Is eliminationist violence really the greatest threat of our time? Goldhagen acknowledges that the number of states "likely to again commit or suffer mass murder or elimination has dropped dramatically," but then insists that since dictatorships are by their very nature "proto-­eliminationist," the potential for mass violence remains almost limitless. He argues as well that "political Islam" - jihadism - constitutes "the most coherent and deadly mass-­murderous ideology since Nazism." 

Yet stable, ethnically homogeneous autocracies pose little imminent threat of atrocities (especially compared with unstable, heterogeneous democracies like Pakistan). And by lumping together largely peaceful groups like the Muslim Brotherhood with Al Qaeda, Goldhagen turns political Islam into an eliminationist bogy. Moreover, even Al Qaeda, with its ideology of mass murder, has not been able to marshal the resources of a state to attain its ultimate goals. 

Goldhagen's sense of urgency causes him to demand a revolution in human affairs. States must not only abandon the logic of national interest, but also reshape the global architecture around the goal of ending eliminationism. He heaps scorn on the United Nations, whose founding principles of respect for sovereignty and of noninterference in internal affairs have served, as he rightly observes, as a shield for leaders in Sudan and elsewhere who are bent on slaughtering their own people. He would dissolve the United Nations and establish in its place an organization of democracies dedicated to staging interventions. He does not pause to contemplate how very few takers such an organization would have.

Nor does Goldhagen fully acknowledge the advances, however tentative, that the existing international system has made. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the principle known as the responsibility to protect, which stipulates that states have an obligation to safeguard their peoples from mass atrocities, and that the international community must step in when states fail to act....

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