Demo-skepticism and Genocide



Genocide studies have expanded rapidly over the last twenty years, impelled by events such as the Bosnian and Rwandan tragedies and aided by the interdisciplinary confluence between comparative politics, history, anthropology and other social sciences. The challenge from historical sociology is particularly meaningful and few scholars are better equipped to achieve this task than Michael Mann. His explanation, linking genocide to ‘democracy’, is a relatively novel one. However, while scholars from various disciplines broadly agree on the link between genocide and modernity, the description of ethnic cleansing as the ‘dark side of democracy’ is more controversial. This article assesses Mann's claim, contrasting it with recent research in the field: after situating Mann's contribution within the structure–agency debate, I question whether causality and human responsibility are lost. I then explore the broader, recent trend of ‘demo-skepticism’ to which the book belongs. Its main weakness is a contraction of the concept of democracy into that of ‘majority rule’. This is accompanied by an intermittent overlap between the concepts of democracy, liberalism and neoliberalism, under the umbrella term ‘liberal democracy’.