Genocide––the extermination of human groups––is stereotypically viewed as an irrational and explosive outburst of primordial hatreds. Explosive it certainly is. But it is rarely irrational, and just as rarely apolitical.

Perhaps the misapprehension is rooted in the canonical––until recently unique––status of the Jewish Holocaust in popular and scholarly understandings of genocide. The Nazis’ depiction of Jews as a satanic force, of their political control as total and universal (despite their manifest defenselessness everywhere the Nazis reached)––it all seems the very nadir of insanity. Much the same could be said of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979), the megalomaniacal mega-murders of Stalin and Mao, and the lethal barbarism of today’s Islamic State. These genocidal agents seem either prepolitical or suprapolitical, driven instead by primitive urges and millenarian fantasies.

Yet ...

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