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Rethinking the Role of Ideology in Genocide, Atrocities and Mass Killing

Wednesday 13 March 2019
Diplomacy and Global Affairs Research Seminar Series 2019
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague


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About the lecture

The role of ideology is one of the most debated issues in contemporary scholarship on genocides, mass killing, and similar atrocity crimes. Scholars have traditionally presented radical ideologies as sources of intergroup hatred and utopian visions of society, which encourage ideological believers to perpetrate extreme violence against civilians. Yet 21st Century scholars have largely rejected this ideology-centred story – emphasising that few atrocity perpetrators look like such ideological true believers. I challenge both of these perspectives. Ideology is indeed crucial in explaining why and how genocides and mass killings occur, but in ways quite different from the traditional story. Specifically, I make two central claims. First, atrocity-justifying ideologies do not simply motivate 'true believers'. There are a range of ways in which ideologies may shape political behaviour, and they can even exert a powerful influence over individuals who do not privately believe in the ideology at all. Second, I argue that the most important ideological foundations of genocide, atrocities and mass killings do not lie in radical ideals, values or hatreds. Instead, ideologies justify mass killings by drawing on relatively familiar notions of self-defence and punishment, but ones which are attached to extremely distorted perceptions of the world. I substantiate these claims with reference to a number of cases - in particular, the Stalinist Great Terror, Allied Bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II, and recent Islamist-Fundamentalist atrocities.

The speaker will share a copy of the draft introduction of his forthcoming book Ideology and Mass Killings, upon request after the lecture.

About the speaker

Jonathan Leader Maynard is a departmental lecturer in international relations at the University of Oxford, and a research associate of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. His research focuses on the role of ideology in political violence, mass atrocities and armed conflict, and he is currently writing a book on Ideology and Mass Killing for Oxford University Press. He has published in scholarly journals including the British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, Terrorism and Political Violence, Ethics, and Genocide Studies and Prevention, as well as for news media including The Independent and The New Statesman. 

About the seminars

The Diplomacy and Global Affairs (DGA) Research Seminar is a series launched by the Research Group on Diplomacy and Global Affairs at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs. The seminars of internationally acknowledged guest researchers and faculty members deal with current research topics in diplomacy, international relations, global affairs, and political economy broadly conceived and target a broad audience through their interdisciplinary focus.


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