In the half-century since the appearance of Hannah Arendt's seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism, innumerable historians have detailed the history of the Nazi years. Enzo Traverso's brilliant synthesis, The Origins of Nazi Violence, maps the troubling genealogy of the Nazi regime, situating the extermination camps at the terrible intersection of European modernity's industrialization of killing, dehumanization of death, and colonialist mindset.
Challenging the conventional presentation of the Holocaust as an inexplicable anomaly, in which Nazi crimes have been excised from the trajectory of the Western world, Traverso navigates the intricate history of technical, cultural, and ideological antecedents to the horrors of the Holocaust. The uniqueness of Nazism, he argues, lay not in its opposition to the West, but in its terrifying blend of many forms of distinctively Western violence.
The guillotine and machine gun, the prison and assembly line, racism and eugenics, the massacres of colonial wars and World War I, had already fashioned the social universe and the mental landscape in which the Final Solution would be conceived and set in motion. Deftly tracing and elucidating this complex lineage, Traverso reveals that the ideas that coalesced at Auschwitz came from Europe's mainstream and not its margins.
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