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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 20 April 2014, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Some-Remarks-on-Mass-Murders-Social-Darwinism-and-Mysticism, ISSN 1961-9898

 Enmity and Social-Darwinism

The designation of a group as a biological enemy has little to do with enmity as it has been theorized in various theories of war from different parts of the world, or even as it was defined and advocated by Carl Schmitt. It is widely known that to Schmitt (1996), enemies did not exist as such and, therefore, had nothing to do either with “nature,” or with ethnic and political differences. An enemy was always constructed for social and political reasons. Thus, enmity was both a political principle and the sine qua non condition of the very existence of politics. [2] In contrast, in the biological definition of enmity, a religious or ethnic group is designated as an enemy not because of its warlike behavior, but simply because of its very biological existence. Racism, which Bauman defines as a form of “social engineering,” defines the existence of one’s “own” group with a purely medical vocabulary – “racial health,” “unwertes Leben,” (useless lives) “elimination,” “reduction,” “Lebensraum” (vital space of a biologically defined human group) (Bauman 2002:118) – and makes any coexistence with the “enemy group” – “microbes,” “viruses,” “cancer,” “deficient cells,” “sores” (Appadurai, 2002:292-293) – impossible. This “bio-politics” (Houillon, 2005:399-405) can also animalize or reify the enemy group (Sémelin, 2005; Vidal, 1996).

The biological reading of relationships between social groups generates a new “political syntax” (Pichot, 2002:126), and depicts society as an organic body, the survival of which requires a “brain,” “executive members,” anti-bodies, perfect internal cohesion, as well permanent activity to destruct deficient or hostile cells. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that it means advocating “absolute violence” (Sofsky, 1996:49), or even biological violence against these “cells”. Thus, the destruction of “them” becomes the only condition for the survival of “us” (Sémelin, 2005:70).

As Véronique Nahoum-Grappe suggests, a biological definition of enmity inevitably leads to “undoing [the enemy’s] birth,” in other words, to destroying them along with their ancestry and descendants (Nahoum-Grappe, 1999 and 2003). Ancestry is considered the origin and meaning of the threat (which at least partly explains the search for pure historical genealogies), and descendants are perceived as the inevitable reproduction of the source of the illness. In such a social-Darwinist perspective, everyone from “our body” or “our species” is perceived as threatened by anyone from the “hostile cells” or from the “other species”. Thus, each member of “our body” or “our species,” individually and collectively, has a moral and biological obligation to defend “us” as a whole.

The biological reading of relationships between social groups, which is scientifically legitimized through the school of “demographic economy” (Aly and Heim, 2006:81), has a further implication: it simultaneously humanizes and dehumanizes violence. Violence is humanized in the sense that it is accepted as an inherent part of human nature, which defines every human species (“man is a wolf to man”). Heinrich Himmler was quite clear when he explained that “the only way to solve the social problem is for one lot to kill others and take their land.” (Aly and Heim, 2006:25-26) [3] Furthermore, this principle is also considered accurate within a given species, of which only the strongest members are able to win “the struggle for life.”

However, this humanization of violence, even to the point of annihilation, goes hand-in-hand with the dehumanization of other groups as legitimized targets of the violence of one’s own group (Burgat, 1999). As Zygmunt Bauman put it, in fact, a “human” being can only exercise violence at the cost of dehumanizing others and considering alterity between social groups as a sign of enmity : “Once effectively dehumanized, and hence canceled as potential subjects of moral demands, human objects of bureaucratic task-performance are viewed with ethical indifference, which soon turns into disapprobation and censure when their resistance, or lack of cooperation, slows down the smooth flow of bureaucratic routine. Dehumanized objects cannot possibly possess a ‘cause,’ much less a ‘just’ one; they have no ‘interests’ to be considered, indeed no claim to subjectivity. Human objects become therefore a ‘nuisance factor’.” (Baumann, 2002:129)


[2] Schmitt joined the Nazi party in the 1930s and defended the idea that the Jews were impure, considered a degenerate element within German society and a threat to the Aryan race and law (Zarka, 2003:161-164).

[3] Hermann Goering remarked: “This year, 20 to 30 million people will starve in Russia. Perhaps this is for the best, since certain nations must be decimated,” quoted in Aly & Heim 2006: 267.

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