Sunday, July 6, 2014

Midlarsky, 2011, Origins of Political Extremism (violence)

Midlarsky’s book, The Killing Trap (2005) is a comparative analysis of genocides, but in it he points to the problem of incommensurability - comparing large and small cases that are not really comparable.  In the Origins of Political Extremism, he gets beyond this problem by focusing on the comparative analysis of the factors that lead individuals towards political extremism in thought and action. It is therefore closer to political psychology than political science.  His explanation centres on ephemeral gains (once we were great, now we’re not) and mortality salience (lots of us died, and our dead are more important than their dead). He identifies several different forms of political extremism: fascism, communism, radical islam, extreme nationalism and militarism, and uses a wide range of historical cases in some detail: Nazism and Stalinism feature heavily, with anti-semitism and anti-Jewish violence a major contributor to his thinking, particularly in the final section on ethics and morality. Poland in the 1920s, the Balkans in the 1990s, and militarism in Japan, Pakistan, and Indonesia make cameo appearances. In the final chapter, his prescription for avoiding political extremism in the face of ephemeral gains by democracies is simply to minimize perception of the loss. Those who study genocide don’t rate this as highly as Harff and Gurr, or several classic comparative studies of genocidal violence: Kuper, Leo. Genocide: Its political use in the twentieth century. Yale University Press, 1982; Fein, Helen. Genocide: A sociological perspective. London: Sage, 1993.
(also posted on Amazon)
David Last, 31 August 2013 

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