Library of Social Science

Ideologies of War

Pioneering the online publication of scholarship, the Ideologies of War website has attracted a world-wide audience—exploring the sources and meanings of collective forms of violence. The World Wide Web offers unprecedented opportunities to make significant writings available—overcoming the unfortunate yet all-too-common fate of papers published in journals: obscurity. Papers and book chapters posted on our website (and promoted through the Library of Social Science Newsletter) often are read hundreds of times on the first day of publication. Authors are gratified by the extraordinary feedback that they receive.

This website poses and seeks to answer a fundamental question: why are certain ideas embraced so vehemently—with such passion—that human beings are willing to die and kill in their name? The following concepts are among those that are central to our investigation:

Sacrifice

The Roman poet Horace declared, "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." For a time, it seemed that glorification of sacrificial death was on the wane. Islamic terrorism—suicide bombing—revivified the idea of giving one's life for a sacred ideal. What is it about ideologies that compel people to die (and kill) in their name?

Sacred Ideals

At the core of each ideology lies a sacred ideal. Hitler is viewed as anomalous, but his statement, "We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world," conveys the structure of thought lying behind many forms of societal violence. Sacred ideals transform acts usually viewed as criminal and pathological into actions considered noble, honorable and praiseworthy.

The Nation

Nations are symbolic objects—often thought of as real entities—that permeate everyday existence. Yet however ordinary they may be, nations generate extraordinary forms of collective behavior—such as warfare and genocide. Societal killing is undertaken in the name of purifying or preserving one's nation by destroying or eliminating "enemies" that are imagined to be a threat to its survival.