The State as Rabble-Rouser

Michael Mann has long been the most interesting exponent of what might be called British post-Marxist sociology.  In his essays in the Archives européennes de sociologie, his Sources of Social Power (two volumes), and other writings, Mann has applied a four-power model (ideological, political, military, and economic) to historical studies, seeking thereby to overcome Marxist “economic” reductionism.  Mann’s approach works rather well as the basis of a flexible historical sociology, but I cannot defend it here.

In his latest work, Mann brings his four-power model to bear on ethnic cleansing and genocide.  He seeks patterns instead of absolute, predictable correlations.  His disdain for rational-choice theory—today’s near-universal fad in economics, sociology, and political science—seems clear; he calls it “rat. theory,” calling to mind Arthur Koestler’s and Noam Chomsky’s rude comments on the “rat psychology” of behaviorism.

Somewhat simplified, Mann’s causal scheme runs along these lines: Pre-existing ethnic distinctions (and even new ones) become central to potentially violent struggles once activists awaken and mythologize them in a contest for sovereignty over the same territory, where both sides have plausible claims and a perceived chance of victory; a destabilizing international environment, with...

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