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Some Remarks on Mass Murders, Social Darwinism and Mysticism in the 20th Century

Last modified: 18 November 2007
Hamit Bozarslan

November 2007

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Hamit Bozarslan, Some Remarks on Mass Murders, Social Darwinism and Mysticism in the 20th Century, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 4 November 2007, accessed 30 August 2014, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/fr/Some-Remarks-on-Mass-Murders-Social-Darwinism-and-Mysticism, ISSN 1961-9898

 From Biological Discourse to Biological Violence

The biological discourse of enmity is not autonomous or self-sufficient. In fact, the degree of complementarity between social-Darwinist categories and the religious-eschatological categories of “good” and “evil” can be rather impressive. [4] These categories are conceived as bearing incompatible and unchangeable sets of values and atavistic traits (civilization and barbarity, progress and regression, frankness and secrecy, beauty and ugliness…) that differentiate two groups as collective entities, and their individual members, in a moral and physical sense (Traverso, 2003:156). This radical opposition continues with yet another distinction: the “we group” is considered the subject of History (it has a historical and universal mission to accomplish), as well as the subject of its own history (reaching collective wealth, happiness and emancipation), whereas the enemy group is simply apprehended as an object. It does not have its own dynamics or vitality, and is not possessed of any historical mission other than negative and destructive ones. The enemy group can only act through inhuman – and therefore brutal – force (or inhuman weakness), an inhuman sense of treachery and non-human virility, which in this case is radically different from either the struggle for life or libido. Oppression and destruction appear to be the only dynamics that give life to the group designated as an enemy, and its only motivation in the struggle for life. This explanation was widely used during and after the genocide of the Armenians, and also in order to justify the genocides of the Jews and the Tutsis.

Accordingly, a war to annihilate this enemy, relying almost exclusively on brutality and treachery, is not seen as wrong: it is construed as a necessity for the group’s own sake and for humanity as a whole, and a means for the “we-group” to accomplish its universal, metaphysical mission. However, in some cases, such a war requires the “we group” to use a sort of counter-barbarity, against its enemies’ barbarity. This counter-barbarity is not synonymous of a regression or contradictory of its protagonists’ civility; instead, it is a moral obligation. The moral responsibility for this act of extermination rests with the exterminated group itself, in the sense that “it forced us” to behave as we did. Thus, this extermination becomes the last crime of the enemy group.

Moreover, the process of counter-barbarity must be perceived as legal, and must include extremely sophisticated judiciary procedures. The mass murders and extermination should not only be scientifically explained and morally legitimized; they must also be lawful, and become legally constructed acts and policies. In the Ottoman Empire, the deportation of the Armenians, a prelude to their extermination, was made “lawful” through legislation, and yet another legal act forbade their conversion to Islam from 1915 to 1918. In Nazi Germany, all acts of discrimination against the Jews were legally founded (but the legal information and decisions concerning the extermination itself were known only to a few high-ranking decision-makers). In Cambodia, members of the opposition (or suspected opponents) often had to accept the vocabulary of the authorities – i.e. the legitimacy of the categories constructed by the powers that be – in their own confessions and testimony, before their executions could legally be carried out [5]. In essence, these laws prove that the “we” group remain attached to their civilized norms and way of life. As Marc Ruthemond’s latest film on Sophia Scholl showed, they are also a written explanation, argumentation and legitimization. The law is a means to enshrine what is "natural" or "scientific" (“struggle for life,” “violence as a part of human nature,” “treacherous cells”...) as a legal truth, and make it a supreme source of legislation and of the judicial framework of society. Through the legalization of extermination, the biological categories used to express enmity (“Untermenchen,” treachery, betrayal) become obligatory for everyone. [6]

Footnotes

[4] In contradiction with the scientific claims of social Darwinism, the struggle between “us” and “them” is often explained on a mystical and metaphysical level. Thus, the “battle” is presented as taking place between the “we-group,” that represents positive values which have remained unchanged throughout history, and the non-human “them,” which has preserved the negative values inherent to their race. The real meaning of violence against “them” (or their violence against us) should not be sought in the concrete place and time-frame in which it occurs, but rather in this a-historical explanation. However, in contrast to past battles, the battle which takes place here and now is the one which will end this eternal, worldwide plot, and through which the “we-group” will achieve its eschatological emancipation.

[5] However, the genocide of the Tutsis is an exception to this rule, in the sense that it took place at the same time as a sort of coup d’Etat, which gave the radical Hutu factions in the State apparatus total autonomy.

[6] Today, more than nine decades later, the Turkish State still wants to transform the category of “betrayal” into a legally and universally pertinent argument legitimizing the Armenians’ deportation. Moreover, it demands that the Armenians themselves accept these categories and consequently, that they acknowledge their “treachery” and admit that they were responsible for their fate.

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