Library of Social Science
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Library of Social Science Book Reviews

Published Review Essays

To read the complete essay, scroll down the page and click on the title of the book.
(essays are arranged in alphabetical order by author of the book).

Author, Title, Publisher & Reviewer Extract from the Review Essay
Life Against Death Bonadeo, Alfredo
Mark of the Beast: Death and Degradation in the Literature of the Great War

University Press of Kentucky

Review by Kimberly Baxter

In Mark of the Beast: Death and Degradation in the Literature of the Great War, Alfredo Bonadeo surveys literary and historical sources to show how soldiers’ experiences on the battlefield shaped their outlook on life and death. War caused a profound spiritual and moral loss—as soldiers on the frontlines became like beasts to survive.
Life Against Death Brown, Norman O.
Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History

Wesleyan U. Press

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

Who created the symbolic order? What is the source of the "power" of society?" Freud observed that the mythological conception of the universe is fundamentally psychology projected into the external world. Brown suggests that not just mythology, but the entirety of culture is a projection. In the words of Stephen Spender: "The world which we create—the world of slums and telegrams and newspapers—is a kind of language of our inner wishes and thoughts."
The Psychoanalysis of War Campbell, David
Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity
U. of Minnesota Press

Review by Lida Bteddini

Identity, to Campbell, is a vital dimension of being, inescapable and necessary for the existence of any notion of the self. However, identity is not “fixed by nature, given by God, or planned by intentional behavior,” rather is “constituted in relation to difference.” Identity contains no foundations that are “prior to, or outside of, its operation,” and therefore, the identity of every entity is “performatively” constituted.
The Psychoanalysis of War Denton-Borhaug, Kelly
US War-Culture, Sacrifice and Salvation
Taylor & Francis

Review by David Weddle

Denton-Borhaug argues that references to combat deaths as “necessary” sacrifices are drawn from centuries of Christian interpretations of the death of Jesus as required for salvation, and transform war into a sacred enterprise devoted to saving the nation from its enemies. She believes that until such language is replaced by more neutral rhetoric, we will never escape the delusion that war is the necessary, even “transcendental,” means to ensure national security.”
The Psychoanalysis of War Fornari, Franco
The Psychoanalysis of War
Anchor Press

Review by Library of Social Science

The spirit of sacrifice is intimately related to an ideology in the name of which one may sacrifice oneself. What is this “absolute and unconditional something” that would somehow justify the “establishment of a masochistic-sacrificial position?” The masochistic-sacrificial position (e.g., the role of a soldier) is idealized—becoming a kind of “supervalue”—because it is put into the service of “that absolute and unconditional something.”
Politics as Religion Gentile, Emilio
Politics as Religion
Princeton U. Press

Review by Library of Social Science

The “fusion of the individual and the masses in the organic union of the nation” is combined with persecution against those outside the community. According to this totalitarian fantasy, there can be no separation between the individual and the state: they must exist in a condition of “perfect union.” Those Others who disrupt the experience of perfect union are branded enemies of the state who must be eliminated or removed.
Modernism and Fascism Griffin, Roger
Modernism and Fascism
Palgrave Macmillan

Review by Library of Social Science

Fascist ideology revolves around the vision of a nation being capable of “imminent phoenix like rebirth.” The quest for rebirth gives rise to a revolutionary new political and cultural order that embraces all of the “‘true’ members of the national community.” Fascism constitutes a radical form of nationalism growing out of the perception that one’s country is in imminent danger—seeking resurrection.
War and the American Difference Hauerwas, Stanley
War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity
Baker Academic

Review by Kelly Denton-Borhaug

The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship, and inextricably tied to war, has incredible power, all the more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives. Most citizens are blithely unaware of the contradiction between their assumptions regarding “the separation of church and state”—and the deeply religious sacrificial war-culture that so profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation.
The Jewish Enemy Herf, Jeffrey
The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust
Harvard U. Press

Review by David Walker

National Socialism explained why a private war with Poland resulted in Germany fighting a life or death struggle against the combined might of the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States. Only Hitler and the Nazis could explain the war: the result of Jewish financial plutocrats in London and New York, and Jewish Communists in Moscow, working together to fulfill the Jewish dream of world domination. Only Germany understood the truth and was fighting to annihilate the Jewish threat.
Blood that Cries Out from the Earth Jones, James
Blood that Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism
Oxford U. Press

Review by Library of Social Science

Violent religious actions are linked to a particular image of God, namely that of a “vengeful, punitive and overpowering patriarchal divine being.” The believer who engages in acts of violence is relating to an omnipotent being who “appears to will the believer’s destruction.” This punitive God must be “appeased and placated.”  In the face of such a God, the believer must “humiliate and abject himself.”
The King's Two Bodies Kahn, Paul
Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil
Wiley-Blackwell

Review by George Dunn

In Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil, Paul W. Kahn argues that the modern world has lost the ability to make sense of the phenomenon of evil. Focusing especially on those forms of political evil that have blighted the modern political landscape—torture, the production of weapons of mass destruction, unjust wars, slavery, and genocide—he argues that they elude the categories of liberal, rationalist political thought.
The King's Two Bodies Kantorowicz, Ernst
The King's Two Bodies
Princeton U. Press

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

Nations function—like the Second Body of the King—as a double of one’s self: a larger, “more ample” body with which we identify. Our nation is a Body Politic that seems more powerful than our actual body. We project our bodies into a Body Politic and wage war to defend the fantasy of an omnipotent body that will live forever.
Dynamic of Destruction Koenigsberg, Richard
Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War
Library of Social Science

Review by Michael Roberts

In this new monograph one theme focuses on the manner in which Hitler’s experiences in the trenches of the First World War entrenched his support for Germany’s goals in that war and the principle that the individual must sacrifice self for national cause. Rather than decry the horrors of wartime bloodshed, Hitler was elevated by the community of the trenches and venerated those comrades who died in the fight.
Dynamic of Destruction Kramer, Alan
Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War
Oxford U. Press

Review by Joanna Scutts

The brutal combination of human and cultural destruction was not some kind of natural disaster, nor the logical extension of human (or masculine) violence. Instead, it “arose from strategic, political, and economic calculation.” This is the book’s most important contribution: awareness that people and cultural artifacts were not destroyed by a “whirlwind” or a “machine,” but by specific decisions of specific commanders, by orders decreed from above and carried out by armed men on the ground.
The Nazi Doctors Lifton, Robert Jay
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
Perseus Book Group

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

The central fantasy uncovered by Lifton was that of the German nation as an organism that could succumb to an illness. Lifton cites Dr. Johann S. who spoke about being “doctor to the Volkskorper” (‘national body’ or ‘people's body’). National Socialism, Dr. Johann S. said, is a movement rather than a party, constantly growing and changing according to the “health” requirements of the people's body. “Just as a body may succumb to illness,” the doctor declared, so “the Volkskorper could do the same.”
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation Marvin, Carolyn & David Ingle
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag
Cambridge U. Press

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

What is really true in any community is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. What is “sacred” within a given society is that set of beliefs “for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.
Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War Miller, Steven E.
Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War
Princeton U. Press

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

The ideology of the offensive at all costs grew out of the desire to demonstrate the moral courage and will of one’s troops, and therefore the greatness of one’s nation. Such a strategy rarely resulted in breakthroughs. By virtue of attacking—even when slaughter was the result—soldiers exemplified the will to national self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s nation.
SS Thinking and the Holocaust Mineau, André
SS Thinking and the Holocaust
Rodopi

Review by Brian Crim

Total war is total health, and the Nazi party portrayed Germany as a patient in danger of racial infection. The SS translated its biological worldview into dispassionate practice. War was a matter of self-defense, a prophylactic, and therefore ethical. In SS thinking, Mineau claims, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust combined to act as one “gigantic sanitary operation,” representing the “politics of antibiotics par excellence.”
SS Thinking and the Holocaust Musolff, Andreas
Metaphor, Nation and the Holocaust: The Concept of the Body Politic
Rodopi

Review by Liah Greenfeld

If Hitler is the strategist behind the anti-Semitic Nazi metaphors, we must assume that he was a super-brain. And then, why and how would these metaphors make its users believe in assumptions they did not believe in earlier and that to the extent of participating in genocidal practice (demurely placed by Musolff in parentheses)? Did the users (and possibly the mentally-superior creators) of the metaphors come to believe in the assumptions behind them in order to murder Jews?
Kim Baxter Rubenstein, Richard
The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the
American Future

Harper Perennial

Review by Kimberly Baxter

From the review: “Rubenstein understands World War I as a moment in which human societies developed the capacity for mass extermination of their own members.” Rubenstein traces the transformation of society that culminated in the Holocaust—through which leaders came to view their own populations as expendable—to earlier historical events. He notes that World War I generals whose strategies caused mass casualties among their own troops enjoyed public approval.
The Body in Pain Scarry, Elaine
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
Oxford U. Press

Review by Library of Social Science

The desire to resolve disputes through waging war revolves around the fact that the maiming and destruction of human bodies is necessary—a requirement. War seeks to establish the validity—the truth—of a sacred ideal. Warfare is characterized or constituted by a unique, radical form of verification: the maiming and destruction of human bodies.
Awaiting the Heavenly Country Schantz, Mark S.
Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death
Cornell U. Press

Review by Rana Salimi

The political system of U.S. society in the Civil War era demanded that its citizens sacrifice their lives and commit violence against their fellow countrymen so the nation as a whole could survive. The dominant religious ideology of the time required citizens to voluntarily exchange the mundane world for the heavenly rewards of the afterlife. The individual could achieve the eternal life in heaven and could be commemorated as a hero if he was ready to sacrifice himself.
Japan's Holy War Skya, Walter. A
Japan's Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism
Duke U. Press

Review by Richard A. Koenigsberg

To achieve the state of “one heart, same body,” the individual had to discard or annihilate the self. Any consideration of one’s own personal needs was wrong: one had to totally submerge the self into the collectivity. When Kakehi spoke of the bad aspects of Western culture that had entered Japan, he was referring to the evils of Western secularism and individualism. The Western focus on the value of the individual was the “greatest threat to the Japanese nation.”
For Love of the Father Stein, Ruth
For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism
Stanford U. Press

Review by Library of Social Science

Collective forms of violence are perpetuated in the name of an ideal that binds the group together and functions to “sanctify the actions of a (collective) perpetrator on a (collective) victim.” Large scale forms of violence are undertaken in the name of an ideal object that can move groups to decree the liquidation of anything that “challenges its validity and superiority.” Forms of behavior deemed criminal on the individual level may be “condoned and encouraged when perpetrated collectively.”
Contesting Sacrifice Strenski, Ivan
Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France
U. of Chicago Press

Review by Library of Social Science

Nationalists attacked the deplorable state of French morale. Intellectuals were derided for “egoism” and “lazy melancholy;” workers for lack of enthusiasm for collective causes. War represented a spiritual force that would “bind citizens into common service for the nation,” incubating a spirit of national unity. Just as Jesus’ death cleansed the sins of humanity, so common soldiers’ self-sacrifices were seen as expiation for France’s sins.
A Century of Genocide Weitz, Eric
A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation
Princeton U. Press

Review by Murray Schwartz

The key term is “individual.” It is individuality that must be eliminated in the genocidal process, the individuality of perpetrators as well as victims. Although the rituals enforcing mass compliance that Weitz studies help account for the passive and active participation of people in dominating groups, it is the abandonment of self-reflective thought that lies at the heart of “the banality of evil.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body Wittman, Laura
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body
U. of Toronto Press

Review by Roger Griffin

The tombs give aesthetic expression to the need of modern man for redemptive myths despite, or maybe because of, the “death of God”. They marked yet another point where the modern West collectively expressed existential dissatisfaction and intimations of nihilism—and hence the concomitant longing to return to the ancestral state of mythic consciousness that had given rise to the first burial ceremonies.