Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Genocidal Democracies in the New World


“If ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we shall never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi.… In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.” This is the first chapter in which we will meet perpetrators of murderous ethnic cleansing like this man. But he was no colonial desperado. He was Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States.

The previous two chapters suggested that murderous ethnic cleansing had been uncommon until quite recently. I traced the emergence of dangerous organic conceptions of democracy in 19th-century Eastern and Southern Europe, contrasting them with the more tolerant liberal democracy dominating Northwest Europe. Yet most liberal countries also had colonies. There both organic and liberal conceptions of we, the people coexisted. On the one hand, the settlers recognized themselves as divided into diverse interests and classes, and their political parties represented this diversity amid liberal institutions. On the other hand, this entire people had the singular quality of being “civilized” and did not include “natives,” “savages,” “orientals,” and so on. The difference was later recast as racial. The “lower races” were not a part of we, the people.

Thus some of the states I earlier called liberal were in reality dual, with an extremely dark side many miles away in their colonies. Class compromise, representative rule, and tolerance among Europeans developed above terrible atrocities against very large out-groups.