Contemporary Political Violence and Its Legitimation
  • Paul Hollander


Several motives converged in bringing about this volume. The essential point of departure was my longstanding admiration for the work of Robert Conquest and the desire to find a suitable and durable intellectual expression for these sentiments. It is safe to say that no Western author has provided more revealing and reliable information about every aspect of the Soviet system, and especially about its policies and institutions of coercion, than Robert Conquest. He did so often at times when neither Western academic audiences nor the educated public were particularly receptive to such information or interested in Soviet-Communist affairs. As Czeslaw Milosz pointed out:

The achievement of Robert Conquest becomes most obvious when we view it together with the behavior of his contemporaries … For many decades of the 20th century, the great majority of them observed certain rules … To act against those rules would have been to violate powerful taboos … I have in mind … an injunction forbidding one to speak the truth about the Communist system in the Soviet Union.1


Cultural Revolution Political Violence Moral Outrage Mass Murder Soviet System 
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  1. 1.
    Czeslaw Milosz, “The Poet Who Was Right,” National Review, August 17, 1992.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert Conquest, Tyrants and Typewriters (Lexington, MA: 1989), pp. xi, xiii.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Harvey Klehr, “Honoring Evil,” New York Post, March 22, 2007.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jay Nordlinger, “Conquests’s Conquest,” National Review, December 9, 2002. The portrait of Conquest—cheerful, jocular, even a practical joker—that emerges from the recollections of his friend, Kingsley Amis, further highlights this apparent incongruity between personality and professional preoccupations. Memoirs, London, 1991.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    George Walden, “History on His Side,” Daily Telegraph, June 11, 2005.Google Scholar
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    Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow (New York, 1986), pp. 344, 6.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes (London, 1991), p. 132.Google Scholar
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    An extended discussion of these disparities, and their proposed explanation may be found in the introduction of Paul Hollander, ed., From the Gulag to the Killing Fields (Wilmington, DE: 2006).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Stephen Pinker, “A History of Violence,” New Republic, March 19, 2007, p. 19. Pinker notes among the favorable developments the decline or disappearance of cruelty as entertainment, of human sacrifice, of slavery, and of public “torture and mutilation as routine punishment.” He also notes a similar decline of the death penalty for trivial offenses, of “homicide as the major form of conflict resolution,” and of the diminished proportion (in relation to population size) of those killed in various conflicts.Google Scholar
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    Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven, CT: 2007), pp. 36–37.Google Scholar
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    Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: 2006), pp. 123.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 127. For an illuminating discussion of some of the psychological aspects of this violence see Anne Thurston, “Urban Violence During the Cultural Revolution,” in Violence in China, ed., Jonathan Lipman and Stevan Harrell (New York: 1990).Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    “The killers did not have to pick out their victims: they knew them personally. Everyone knew everyone in a village.” Jean Hatzfeld, A Time for Machetes—The Rwandan Genocide: The Killers Speak (New York: 2005), p. 60.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Ibid., p. 213. Group solidarity and dynamics also played a part in Islamic terrorism as was noted in an article describing the motives of Moroccan youth: “the turn to violence is seldom made alone. Terrorists don’t simply die for a cause … ‘They die for each other.’” Andrea Elliott, “Where Boys Grow Up to Be Jihadis,” New York Times Magazine, November 25, 2007, p. 72.Google Scholar
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    A recent book argued that “evil cannot be satisfactorily explained—and … perhaps it should not be explained since explanation is a slippery slope that tends towards acceptance.” Lance Morrow, Evil: An Investigation (New York: 2003), p. 55.Google Scholar
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    George Konrad, A Guest in My Own Country: A Hungarian Life (New York: 2007), pp. 292–93.Google Scholar
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    Gloria Cigman, Exploring Evil Through the Landscape of Literature (Berne, Switzerland: 2002), p. 17.Google Scholar
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    John Kekes, Facing Evil (Princeton, NJ: 1990), pp. 5, 7, 233, 232.Google Scholar
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    John Kekes, The Roots of Evil (Ithaca, NY: 2005), pp. xi, xii, 1, 2.Google Scholar
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    John Kenny Crane, The Root of All Evil: The Thematic Unity of William Styron’s Fiction (Columbia, SC: 1984), p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Andrew Delbanco, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil (New York: 1995), pp. 196–99.Google Scholar
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    David Frankfurter, Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History (Princeton University Press: 2006). Cited in the New York Times, July 24, 2006, p. B3.Google Scholar
  24. 42.
    Leszek Kolakowski, My Correct Views on Everything (South Bend, IN: 2005), p. 180.Google Scholar
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    Nathan Leites, A Study of Bolshevism (Glencoe, IL: 1953), pp. 208, 106, 348, 352.Google Scholar
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    Alexander Yakovlev, The Fate of Marxism in Russia (New Haven, CT: 1993), pp. 7, 11, 17, 29, 38, 39, 56–57.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (New York: 2000), p. 1.Google Scholar
  28. 47.
    Nazila Fathi, “Iran Exonerates Six Who Killed In Islam’s Name,” New York Times, April 19, 2007.Google Scholar
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    Todd Gitlin, “The Wound That Refuses to Heal,” New York Times Book Review, September 23, 2001, p. 6. A review of In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf.Google Scholar
  30. 52.
    Gao Xingjian, The Case for Literature (New Haven, CT: 2007), p. 50.Google Scholar
  31. 53.
    For further discussion see Paul Hollander, The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries and Political Morality (Chicago: 2006).Google Scholar
  32. 54.
    See Norman Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe (Cambridge MA: 2001), pp. 149–51, 154–55.Google Scholar

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© Paul Hollander 2008

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  • Paul Hollander

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