Authority, ‘Licence’, and ‘Habitats of Violence’: On the Facilitation of Eliminationist Violence in the Fascist ‘New Order’ During World War II
The paroxysm of eliminationist violence during WW2 may have owed a lot to factors of long-term estrangement and animosity between various ethnic/religious groups as well as to the murderous momentum of the Nazi occupying authorities. However, the high level of active voluntary - and often fanatical - participation of local populations in the discharge of violence against particular ‘others’ was symptomatic of a wider momentum in terms of facilitating violent behaviour that - its potential deep cultural roots in particular societies notwithstanding - was unprecedented in scale and brutality alike. This kind of extraordinary, transgressive violence is analysed as the primary consequence of licence - namely, a special derogation (of norms) and/or dispensation (directly mandated, implicitly granted or seized arbitrarily) that creates a new, temporary and exceptional, domain of transgressive permissiveness and diminished accountability for those involved in the pursuit of a goal that has been declared ‘just’, justifiable as a lesser evil or exceptionally opportune. Unlike a direct order, licence removes barriers but does not specify tasks or sets limits. Instead, it creates combustible ‘habitats of violence’, in which murderous transgressions become possible, open-ended, and essentially unpredictable/uncontrollable. A theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘licence’ in terms of facilitating and discharging transgressive violence will be followed by a comparative discussion of historical instances of eliminationist violence from the 1939-43 period in eastern and central Europe.
Aristotle Kallis in Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Lancaster University, UK. His main teaching interests lay in fascism, totalitarianism, ‘extremism’, and violence/genocide. He is currently working on two research projects: one focusing on Fascist Rome and the regime’s (abortive) vision of turning it into the ‘sacred’ centre of a new universal fascist political religion; and the other on the relation between ‘licence’ and extraordinary mass violence, both in historical terms and as a contemporary phenomenon. He is the author of Genocide and Fascism (2008), Nazi Propaganda in the Second World War (2005, 2008), and Fascist Ideology (2000), as well as editor of The Fascism Reader (2003).