The Way of the Terrorist: Reflections on Terrorism’s Relationship to Modernity
There is a natural tendency to assume that terrorism, especially Islamist terrorism, is a form of barbarism belonging to an earlier irrational age, a rebellion of ’fundamentalist’ against modernity, or an expression of nihilistic hatred of the world. This talk suggests instead that most forms of terrorism since the 19th century which have a utopian rather than pragmatic goal are to be understood at least in art as the expression of a profound bid to destroy the existing system with an alternative modernity. Surveying the dynamics of Russian nihilism, the lone wolf terrorism of the Unabomber and McVeigh, and Islamist violence, Roger Griffin constructs the thesis that some terrorism is in part an attempt to restore a lost nomos, a sacred canopy of total meaning threatened or destroyed by modernity, the expression of a quest for transcendence that is more important than the individual’s own life.
Roger Griffin is Professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University (UK) where he gives courses on fascism, modernism, and terrorism, and has written on a wide range of political, cultural, and socio-psychological phenomena relating to generic fascism and right-wing extremism. His more than 100 publications in these subjects include the two monographs The Nature of Fascism (Pinter, 1991), Modernism and Fascism. The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave, 2007), and the collection of essays A Fascist Century (Palgrave, 2008). He also edited the anthologies of primary and secondary sources Fascism (OUP, 1995), International Fascism. Theories, Causes and the New Consensus (Arnold, 1998); and (with Matthew Feldman) the 5 volumes of Critical Concepts in Political Science: Fascism (Routledge, 2003). He is now working on the volume Modernism and Terrorism for his series Modernism and… (Palgrave)