Habitual Violence

In the article “States of Exception”, the authors Mark Edele and Michael Geyer examine the extraordinary and unique violence that occurred on the Eastern front, the conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The authors assert that the relationship between the two states produced the violence, and it’s escalation. They argue that “the devastating nature of this war, [they] suggest, is the consequence of the inimical interrelationship of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union”1. No one event, action, or side assumes complete responsibility for the barbarism that defined the Eastern front.

The authors highlight numerous historical events, trends, and statements that reinforce the cyclical nature of the escalation. The authors identify that the escalation grew from the bottom up2. Additionally, the authors write that this escalation of violence resulted in and corresponded with the extermination/persecution of various religious, ethnic, and social groups within both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This specific movement of growth developed out of Nazi Germany’s deliberate loosening of its control over the actions of lower leaders3. This notion seems to support the structuralist view of Hitler’s role in regards to the Holocaust and also the overall decentralized structure of the Nazi state as outlined in Nicholas Stargardt’s article, “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s article, “Hitler and the Holocaust.” However, the state’s role in inducing a bottom up escalation of the violence seemingly contradicts the very nature of a free and self perpetuating violence. Furthermore, the entire notion of reciprocity, that the violence of the Soviet Union encouraged the escalation of violence by Nazi Germany and visa versa, undermines the authors’ arguments that the violence truly originated from the bottom.

Both Stalin and Hitler reacted to and encouraged shifts in their respective army’s display and direction of violence4. Do you think that the violence and its unique development actually developed from the bottom? Also, the authors argue that the radicalization of violence actually developed out of a sense of pragmatism. Do you think this pragmatism reinforces or undermines the uniqueness and bottom up movement of the violence?

  1. Edele, Mark, and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick, 345-395. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009 []
  2. Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 358 []
  3. Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 351 []
  4. Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 369, 353 []

3 thoughts on “Habitual Violence

  1. The violence began with sanction from the top, and the bottom took the orders to the extreme. In 1942 Stalin tried to restrain the troops, but the message was already out there, too many had died and the Germans had committed too many atrocities for the men on the ground to disregard (369). While it did not truly start at the bottom, it completely took over and the top could not regain control. As one side escalated their attack, so did the other. It was reciprocal, and continued until after the end of the war. The Soviets punished the Germans after the war for the atrocities they had committed against Soviet citizens and soldiers.

  2. I agree with Danielle, the government did sanction extreme violence. The escalation of violence came from the people, however it would be interesting to see the correlation between the youth programs and the escalation of violence. Although the examples used in the article do articulate the responsibility of revenge for the escalation, the state ideology encouraged the militarization of the people.

  3. The violence began with government support, but it was reinforced by the masses from the bottom up as well. You cannot successfully have one without the other. I do think the concept of pragmatism did support violence, especially for Nazi Germany because their ideologies were based on sciences.

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