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REVIEW ARTICLE Carnage before our time: nineteenth century colonial genocide

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David, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts (London and New York: Verso, 2001). 457 pp, $35.00, hardcover; (2002) $20.00, paperback.

The study of twentieth century genocide has been part of a landscape wherein political culture points to Nazism and communism as the twin engines of the greatest genocidal carnage in our time. That focus has a number of effects.

Our Zeitgeist has become profoundly pessimistic about the possibility of positive social and political change as our read of genocide's path is that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. In the words of Hans Schoots: "There will always be obstacles, if necessary millions, who will have to go because they do not want to march to the beckoning salvation and, therefore, they endanger the beautiful future. Terror then is not a derailment, but an integral part of political utopism."

There is wariness about the ambitions of ideology because we are charred into the notion that substantial societal transformation cannot be achieved in any manner that does not lead to perdition: politics becomes a matter of margins. Jason Cowley recently wrote about this tendency: "There is nothing to hope for beyond the smooth operation of free markets under the rule of law. But equally, there is nothing to believe in: ours is the era of the long aftermath, when all illusions have passed."

A second effect is a certain vulgarity in comparisons of genocidal scope. Those unwilling to equate communism with fascism fall into the trap of considering which was worse, and do so by often highly suspect numbers as can be expected in a debate that is often fervently ideological. This journal has made it its business to weigh in on those particular distinctions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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