The State and Genocide

Anton Weiss‐Wendt

in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199232116
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 The State and Genocide

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  • History
  • Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
  • United States History


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This article explores the connection between the state and genocide. It argues that no form of mass violence, and least of all genocide, erupts spontaneously. It requires premeditation, usually by a government with a record of gross human rights violations. Indeed, the discussion contends that genocide is intricately linked to the idea of the modern state, despite a body of scholarship that questions that link. Non-state agents such as radical political parties or armed militias are usually incorporated into the governing structure and therefore rarely perform on their own. The state may deliberately use them as proxies to obscure the decision-making process and thus to shift responsibility for the crimes committed. Even though the ruling body may not always emphasize state interests in genocide, the painstaking reconstruction of the chain of command, where possible, inevitably points to the upper echelons of power as the original source of mass violence.

Keywords: mass violence; genocide; premeditation; human rights violations; modern state; chain of command

Article.  9447 words. 

Subjects: History ; Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing ; United States History

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