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A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation Paperback – 23 Jan 2005


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One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003


"There is much new in Weitz's analysis and his isolation of the common mechanisms of state-sponsored genocide is an invaluable contribution to the literature on the subject. . . . Despite its analytical and reasoned approach, this work cannot be read without feeling outrage, despair and horror. Weitz's work raises profound questions about the human capacity for violence."--Publishers Weekly



"An important, thought-provoking book on an inordinately complex subject."--Gavriel Rosenfeld, The New Leader



"Weitz has produced something exceedingly rare: a scholarly book one cannot put down. This is a meritorious, thoughtful book."--Choice



"Weitz makes a persuasive case that these genocides were not simply anarchic eruptions of age-old hatreds, but rather were engineered by crisis-ridden regimes promoting utopian visions requiring a radical refashioning of the population."--Martin Farrell, Perspectives on Politics



"A Century of Genocide has much to offer. It will serve as an excellent first introduction to Lenin and Stalin's crimes, the Holocaust, the Cambodian massacres of the 1970s and the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia."--Brendon Simms, Times Higher Education Supplement



""A] book that must be read and that must be argued over. Without an understanding of the issues [it] tackle[s] with passion and in depth, the desire to intervene--to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide--is meaningless."--Rima Berns-McGown, International Journal



"This important, highly thoughtful book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on genocide in the twentieth century. It deserves a wide audience among scholars, undergraduates, and policy makers. Broad ranging, genuinely comparative, rigorous, and learned, A Century of Genocide is engagingly written, while prudent and balanced in its judgments."--Frank Chalk, Slavic Review

From the Back Cover


"In his well-documented comparative account of five mass killings in the twentieth century, Eric Weitz has uniquely perceived the ideological connections and analogous revolutionary crises that resulted in 'a century of genocide.' Not only does his book demonstrate that human rights safeguards are indispensable for preventing human rights disasters, but it will help identify early warnings of future crimes against humanity."--David Weissbrodt, David Weissbrodt, coauthor of International Human Rights and Member, United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights


"This ambitious and broad-ranging study of genocide in the twentieth century is one of the most illuminating works of comparative history to appear in recent years. It shows in graphic and sometimes gut-wrenching detail how a vicious combination of racist ideology, power hungry leadership, and a popular willingness to participate in mass murder can result in the most appalling crimes against humanity. We can hope to prevent genocide only if we understand it, and this book is a major contribution to such an awareness."--George M. Fredrickson, author of Racism: A Short History


"This is a passionate, persuasive, and elegantly argued study of the genocidal policies and behavior of four twentieth-century regimes that are rarely systematically compared."--David Chandler, author of Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot


"Weitz brings a wealth of learning and understanding to the problem of genocide. His book is sensible and even-handed all the way through, breaking free of staid categories of analysis. Innovative and refreshing in tone, it traces its devastating story right down to the local level, where, after all, genocide happens."--Robert Gellately, author of Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany


"Eric Weitz's Century of Genocide is a model of comparative history. Brilliantly organized around the themes of race and nation, it keenly analyzes both the similarities and differences between the genocidal regimes of Hitler's Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodia and the genocidal actions of Stalin's Soviet Union and Milosevic's Greater Serbia."--Christopher Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland



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Amazon.com: 8 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
It lacks something 7 Aug. 2003
By pnotley@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Several years ago Eric Weitz wrote a fascinating book about the German Communist Party which argued that its notoriously truculent and dogmatic nature was not simply the result of Stalinist domination, but instead reflected the party's own German traditions as well as an understandable reaction to Weimar's intolerance of them. One would think that Weitz would be an excellent author to write about twentieth-century genocide. But this comparative account of four major genocides is disappointing. By his own admission Weitz does not have sufficient scholarly expertise to study the genocides in Armenia and Rwanda. So instead he looks first at Soviet terror in general and the more specifically genocidal deportations carried out against various nationalities during and after World War Two. Then he looks at Nazi Germany, Pol Pot Cambodia and the Serbian attack on Bosnia. All of his four accounts share certain key similarities. First, all the perpetrators were moved by a utopian ideology. Second, all the perpetrators were in some way or another "modern" and sought to use modern instruments to carry out their crimes. Third, all the genocides took place in periods of profound social and political crisis. Fourth, all the genocides were able to use the mass complicity of the society as a whole. Fifth, all the genocides had their own savage rituals of inhumanity.
Not bad, and the discussion of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are based on a reasonable discussion of the latest research. But there are some real problems with Weitz's account. For a start consider the "utopian" nature of genocide. Weitz does not define what a "utopia" is. This is rather important, since "utopian" implies the impossible, indeed the impossible that it would be dangerous to attempt. But while the Holocaust was a uniquely cruel atrocity, it was hardly "utopian" since it was, in fact, all too possible to kill 90% of Polish Jewry. More problematically, to what extent can Serbian nationalism be viewed as utopian? Undoubtedly some people thought a victorious Greater Serbia would lead to a better future. But the dominant themes in Serbian propaganda were paranoia, fear and self-pity. Instead of looking to a glorious millennium, Serbs concentrated on the "collective guilt" of Croats and Bosnians with Nazism. What Utopias did the Hutus dream of, or the final rulers of the Ottoman Empire have? One may agree with Weitz that Hitler and his colleagues believed in a "redemptive" anti-Semitism. But how far did this filter down to his executioners? (It strikes me that Arno Mayer's oft-derided "Why did the Heavens Not Darken," about the connection of the Holocaust to a vicious war against Communism, does better at answering this question.) The modernity of "genocide" is also problematic. That is certainly the case with Cambodia. Weitz's focus on ideology and ideological logic does not explain why Pol Pot followed a path that no other Communist party did. At one point Weitz suggests that Pol Pot's policies flowed logically from an ultra-radicalism, yet at other points he notes that he had to purge the Communist party frequently. More importantly, emptying the cities and abolishing money does not strike me as clever plans to destroy the ancien regime while following Democratic Kamuchea's own path to industrial modernity.
There are other problems. While genocide is understandably linked to war and crisis, this is not always the case. When destroying half of the population of what is now Congo, Belgium faced no imminent threat, nor did it carry out its crimes for any other reason than greed. Too much concentration on utopia and conflation of it with "fanaticism" leads to tautology. We condemn genocides as acts of fanaticism, and then define as fanatical genocidal acts. Weitz's discussion of the Yugoslav crisis does not really explain why so many Serbs and other Yugoslavs would support a policy that would definitely make the new nations considerably less than the sum of their parts. At one point Weitz mentions that Yugoslavia had a weaker civil society than, say, Poland or East Germany. But what distinguished pre-Milosevic Yugoslavia was not an especially brutal Communist regime. Indeed, the opposite was the case. Nor did Milosevic Serbia lack opposition parties and an independent church. There were no shortage of Serbs who denounced Milosevic, but a profound shortage of those who denounced Srebnica, and Weitz does not really explain why. At times Weitz's arguments are weak. He discusses popular complicity with genocidal crimes, though his main example for Nazi Germany actually takes place in Lithuania. He takes an example of one Serbian thug who comments that a victim looks like a cabbage and generalizes that this how all Serbian fighters viewed Bosnians. This is part of a larger problem with Weitz's discussion of ritual. Much of what he says about tortures and the rituals of atrocities is true, much of it is obvious, much of it is fashionable, but none of it is new or original. Likewise the accounts of genocide, while obviously horrific, do not really get us close to the minds of the perpetrators. Ultimately this is a book that adds little to our knowledge.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Holocausts 26 July 2003
By John C. Landon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Interesting analytical comparative history of genocide in the twentieth century, in Russia, Germany, Cambodia, and Serbia. After invoking the case of Armenia the author shows the common core of these four in the light of the nineteenth century tide of race and nationalism. The emergence of race as a concept is demonized now, but the legacy of Darwinism tends to be underplayed, although the account makes clear the mood of Social Darwinist confusion leading up to the First World War and its coarsening of spirits (and Armenian overture) resulting in the walpurgisnacht to come. The concept of genocide was arguably miscast, since it applies too technically to racial issues. (Cf.The emergence of the term and the Genocide treaty, along with the life of its inventor Lemkin in A Problem from Hell. Also the case of Rwanda should be included, cf. A People Betrayed, by L. R. Melvern)
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Skip it 30 July 2006
By Michael B. Farrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is poorly written, painfully repetitive, and excruciatingly poorly edited. The ideas are poorly organized, and at times it appears to be nothing more than a loose collection of quotations from other authors. The first chapter contains some interesting ideas, but its straight downhill from there. I should have known not to waste my time with this book when, in the prelude, the author states he will not address the Rwandan genocide because he doesn't know enough about it. Since the book attempts to cover the phenomenon of genocide in the 20th century from a comprehensive perspective, it seems somewhat dubious that the author submits not to understand one of the major genocides of the century. In short, this book is boring, obtuse and devoid of any useful purpose - I suggest taking a pass.
Synthesis not Thesis 27 Oct. 2006
By M. L. Bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Historian Eric Weitz traces themes of utopianism, racism, and nationalism through four genocidal regimes. Allotting one chapter each to the notorious Lenin/Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Miloseviæ regimes, Weitz follows "population politics" to their historical conclusions.

Weitz's deconstruction of the concepts of race and nation is concise and effective, demonstrating the fluidity and modernity of such understandings of human differences. Notably absent from Weitz's book, however, is a clear definition of or even sustained reflection upon the idea of utopia. Weitz largely assumes his reader's familiarity with utopia, and the assumption is crippling for a reader not well-versed in utopian theory. Moreover, the reader who is comfortable with the concept of utopia will be disappointed by the infrequency of actual applications of utopianism to these four regimes. For example, Weitz alludes to the complex juxtaposition of optimism and pessimism in these genocidal regimes without stating that such a paradox is inherently utopian. The word utopia denotes both "a region of happiness and perfection" and "a region that exists nowhere." When nowhere is attempted somewhere, utopia becomes dystopia. The clear progression of each regime from the possibility of utopia to the actuality of dystopia could likewise have been demonstrated, but Weitz also ignores the concept of dystopia.

Weitz notes that each regime promulgated and perpetuated a specific ideology, but he fails to demonstrate the manner in which the particular ideological perspective of a regime shaped not only its participation in history but also its construction of "eternity." Each regime came to view individuals through the lens of a determining attribute--namely, these concepts of race or nation. By separating and defining individuals according to an ideology, these regimes were able to exclude large segments of the population either formally or informally, from citizenship. In so doing, each regime was striving for a prescribed homogeneity. Only through achieving such homogeneity would they reach utopia; in this way, genocide is hideously utilitarian. Weitz undoubtedly recognizes but does not clearly delineate this process.

At points, Weitz's arguments are weak. For example, Soviet propaganda explicitly rejected racial themes as "zoological thinking." Nonetheless, Weitz characterizes that regime as racist without providing sufficient defense (although the label could be defended). In fact, Weitz even states that the absence of a well-developed racial ideology deterred the possibilities of genocide under Stalin, confounding his argument. Labeling Miloseviæ's regime as "utopian" is also somewhat problematic, as is evident but not explicit in his chapter on Serbia. The concept of utopia is virtually ignored in this chapter, which focuses on negative creation (destruction) rather than positive creation (construction).

A Century of Genocide provides a solid overview of ideology and genocide, but is incapable, as structured, of providing an in-depth analysis. With four regimes and at least three major concepts under consideration, Weitz's project is, perhaps, utopian in nature. The ideas behind the book have the potential to make new contributions to genocide studies; as it stands, the book is an excellent work of synthesis rather than the articulation of a new thesis.
Great summary of 20th century genocide 20 Jun. 2010
By Lehigh History Student - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eric Weitz attempts to put together a comprehensive view of the Genocides in the 20th century by looking at the twin foci of racial utopia and nationalism when conceptualizing genocide. This is a shorter book for the subject that was undertaken and given the length does an excellent job of looking at each genocide and tying them together. It starts off with the Armenian Genocide as the future blueprint for the 20th century and then moves onto Russia (under Lenin and Stalin), Nazi Germany, Khemer Rouge in Cambodia and Serbia in the 1990's. Each genocide is given a description without getting caught up in every horrid detail but still showing what was unique and common to each genocide. His main theoretical lens centers on the idea that those committing the genocide were focused on establishing a racial utopia via religion, ideological belief or gender. These races were narrowly defined and built upon the 20th century push of nationalism which is the other lens used to articulate the ways in which this racial utopia was to be achieved. For those looking for a basic overview of 20th century genocide this is a very good place to start.
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