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The Sacrificial Theory of Warfare, Chapter XVII:
The Totem Secret—is Secret No More

Marvin states that knowledge that the group must sacrifice its own to survive is “a secret.” Due to the work of Library of Social Science—those who publish with us, and those who continue to read the LSS Newsletter—this secret is secret no more.

We now recognize that the fundamental purpose of political violence is not to achieve concrete, practical objectives, but to sacrifice (that is to say—kill) members of society. We treasure our sacrificial dying and killing. It is the way we express our devotion—keep our beloved societies energized and alive.

I’ve written about “awakening from the nightmare of history.” By this I mean, very simply, becoming aware of the sacrificial mechanism that sustains societies. This awareness is developing and growing. Can we truck on if there is no longer “something to kill and die for.”

Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg, PhD
Director, Library of Social Science

The Totem Secret
from Carolyn Marvin’s Blood Sacrifice and the Nation
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag

For information on purchasing through Amazon, click here.

Carolyn Marvin is Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

The knowledge that the group must sacrifice its own to survive is a secret. We keep it secret by treating violence as primitive and morally suspect, a failure of social structure rather than an elemental component. Violence exists is presented as a last resort, a challenge to civilized modernity as the hallmark of the nation-state.

The totem secret demands that we must pose as unwilling killers. Our side must not shoot first. It is not we who want the blood of our sons. The enemy causes the sacrifice. Violence exists because of the Other and not because of us. We insist that the death of our own does not originate with ourselves. All group-sustaining violence poses as a reluctant response to violence that originates with others.

While totem violence is regularly enacted in rituals of unifying blood sacrifice such as war, this knowledge must be separated from devotees, as sacred things are, whenever it threatens to surface explicitly. We use the term taboo to describe the tension between the violent mechanism that sustains enduring groups and the reluctance of group members to acknowledge their responsibility for enacting it. To protect themselves from recognizing the source of group unity, citizens render totem violence and its symbols sacred, that is, unknowable.