I'm delighted to have my article 'Humanizing Dehumanization Research', co-authored with the amazing Aliza Luft, Associate Professor of Sociology at UCLA, published in Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology.
In this article, Aliza and I argue that dehumanization research - while it has taught us a lot - has too often treated dehumanization as a diffuse, decontextualised phenomena, in ways that hamper how much this research can reveal about the real world instances of violence, extremism and discrimination that most interest us. We call for attention to three particular aspects of context which have gone understudied: the ideological contexts within which dehumanization takes on specific meanings, the social contexts of relationships and past experiences that shape how people interpret dehumanization, and the institutional contexts of organizations, practices and policies within which dehumanization can play varied roles.
The article is 'open access' and thus freely available. It is also relatively short: at just 7 pages. So please check it out! You can access it here.
The Department of Political Economy, and the Centre for the Study of Governance and Society, both at King's College London, generously hosted a book launch for my new book, Ideology and Mass Killing: The Radicalized Security Politics of Genocides and Deadly Atrocities towards the end of last year. I was delighted to be joined by Professor Elizabeth Frazer (University of Oxford) in the Chair, and with Dr Kieran Mitton (King's College London) and Dr Zeynep Bulutgil (University College London) as discussants.
The main section of the launch was videoed, and be watched below. Further information on the launch can be found here: https://csgs.kcl.ac.uk/video/jonathan-leader-maynard-ideology-and-mass-killing-the-radicalised-security-politics-of-genocides-and-deadly-atrocities/)
In the wake of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27th January, I was pleased to write a short article for the leading security blog site JustSecurity.org: 'Could It Happen Here?: The Holocaust and Atrocities in the 21st Century.' In the article, I discuss how recent scholarship now understands the Holocaust, and its relevance for how we understand atrocity crimes like genocides and mass killings in contemporary politics.
You can read the full article for free, here: https://www.justsecurity.org/85080/could-it-happen-here-the-holocaust-and-atrocities-in-the-21st-century/.
I was honoured to be recently asked to write a short article on 'Atrocity Crimes in Ukraine and the Question of Genocide' for the German journal Wissenschaft und Frieden. In this article, I summarise current evidence on atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, and the ways in which we might, and might not, describe these atrocities as genocide.
You can find the online German version of the article here: https://wissenschaft-und-frieden.de/blog/debatte/leader-maynard-graeueltaten-voelkermord-ukraine/. An English language translation of the article is below:
Atrocity Crimes in Ukraine and the Question of Genocide
The year 2022 will be remembered in history, not just for the return of major war to the European continent with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but for the worst abuses against civilian populations in Europe since at least the 1991-1995 Yugoslav Wars. Mounting evidence has emerged of Russian military forces engaging in three particular kinds of unlawful violence against civilians: a) the indiscriminate and intentional bombardment of civilian areas; b) targeted killings, rapes and torture of civilians by Russian forces; and c) the effective forced deportation of as many as 1.6 million Ukrainians, many of these into Russia. There is also evidence of law-of-war violations by Ukrainian troops, in particular mistreatment of Russian prisoners of war. But the scale of these abuses appears far lower, and Ukraine, unlike Russia, has generally cooperated with the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry investigating abuses by both sides in the conflict, as well as the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has, as of 21 November 2022, confirmed 6,595 civilians killed in the conflict – but emphasises that the real number will be much higher. In March 2022, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity or crimes of genocide in Ukraine.
How should we describe these acts of violence by Russian military forces? Governments, the United Nations, other international organizations, and scholars have increasingly come to collectively label war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide as ‘atrocity crimes.’ When such crimes are especially large-scale (typically if they involve 1,000 or more victims within a year) they are often labelled ‘mass atrocities.’ With the available evidence, it seems clear that Russian military forces have committed atrocity crimes in the form of war crimes – violations of the laws of war, as embodied in documents like the Geneva Conventions. This is typically the easiest category of atrocity crime to demonstrate – and Ukraine alleges that at least 34,000 possible war crimes have been committed by Russian forces. It seems highly likely that violence against civilians by Russian forces would also constitute crimes against humanity – which more specifically denotes a range of abuses that are, under the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Since the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry found abuses “in all regions on which it has focused thus far”, this criterion also seems likely to have been met.
The question of genocide
Many politicians, civil society organizations, and scholars have, however, gone further. In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly accused the Russian government of committing genocide in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, has confirmed that he is preparing a case against Russia for genocide. This accusation was prominently backed in April by leading Holocaust scholar Eugene Finkel, himself born in Ukraine. In August, the leading genocide-prevention organization Genocide Watch issued a Genocide Emergency in Ukraine, declaring that Russian policies which it labelled ‘urbicide’ – i.e. violence aimed at destroying whole cities – amounted to genocide. Genocide Watch is one of 21 civil society organizations to have now signed an open letter supporting a US Senate Resolution labelling Russia’s actions in Ukraine ‘genocide’.
This is, however, a contentious claim – and many genocide scholars (myself included) and specialist NGOs concerned with genocide have held back from this language. The question, here, is not about how bad Russian atrocities in Ukraine are. While ‘genocide’ has sometimes been called ‘the crime of crimes’, it does not simply refer to atrocities that are really awful or large-scale. No serious scholars or respected NGOs deny that Russian military forces are committing massive and appalling abuses against Ukrainian civilians. Such atrocities are atrocities whether they are genocidal or not. But genocide has a more specific legal meaning, defined in the 1948 Genocide Convention, as follows:
“[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
These are complex criteria, and what counts as “intent to destroy, in whole or in part,” has been subject to extensive legal and scholarly debate. Some, such as the influential genocide scholar A. Dirk Moses, even suggest that the concept of genocide is not fit for purpose, and should be largely abandoned.
When do atrocities constitute genocide?
Disagreements over whether Russia can be said to be committing genocide in Ukraine are therefore not primarily about the nature of the available evidence, but about what kind and threshold of evidence is necessary to confidently conclude that genocide is being committed. Many genocide scholars think it best to broadly stick to the meaning outlined in the Genocide Convention – because it is the Convention that gives genocide it’s key legal implications, because the Genocide Convention is the closest thing we have to a consensus statement by the international community on genocide, and because other rival definitions of genocide are often more easily politicised or manipulated.
Genocide in this sense involves two key elements: (i) “group-selective mass violence” and (ii) an aim of “group destruction” (to use political scientist Scott Straus’ language). First, people must be targeted with violence because they are members of specific national, ethnic, racial or religious groups – not simply, for example, because of their own behaviour, their political beliefs, their obstacles to military operations, or their private wealth that could be looted. Second, violence must be employed as a means for destroying the group – as opposed to, for example, terrorising the group to surrender, or willingly killing civilians in an effort to also kill military forces that are embedded amongst the civilian population. Many war crimes or crimes against humanity do not display these two features. For example, Russia appears clearly engaged in indiscriminate bombardments of civilian areas. But if such violence is simply intended to undermine civilian morale and demolish potential defensive sites for military forces then, while it remains a war crime, it does not constitute genocide.
Both these elements of genocide are complex to assess. Amongst many other problems, large-scale violence is often guided by multiple motives, so perpetrators could be in-part concerned with non-genocidal aims like military advantage or looting, and yet be willing to intentionally wipe out a whole civilian group in pursuit of those aims – which would constitute genocide. Indeed, genocidaires often portray their assault on civilian populations as a political and military necessity due to the threat they see civilians as representing – however delusional this perception actually is. Both the Nazi government during World War II and the Hutu Power government in Rwanda in 1994 made such claims about their victims, for example. Moreover, it is not necessary for perpetrators to try and wipe out a group entirely for something to count as genocide. Indeed, few genocidal perpetrators in history have been able to wipe out every last member of a group in this manner. What matters is whether the perpetrators nevertheless seek to physically eliminate a group to the extent they are able to do so.
What can we say about genocide in Ukraine?
A quite demanding mix of evidence is therefore required in order to confidently conclude that a given set of atrocities counts as ‘genocide’ in this legal sense. Evidence of the broad attitudes, intentions and ideologies of the perpetrators – both political/military commanders and their ‘rank and file’ subordinates – is one important element. We do have clear evidence of support for genocidal ideology amongst the Russian political elite. Most obviously, the rambling and historically inaccurate speech with which President Putin launched his invasion effectively denied Ukraine’s existence as an independent nation. On 3rd April, the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published an editorial that called for the Ukrainian people to be killed in large numbers since they were all essentially Nazis. “Denazification,” the author wrote, “is inevitably also De-Ukrainianization.” [https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kremlin-editorial-ukraine-identity-1.6407921] This is classic genocidal ideology: matching the kinds of justifications found in the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, Armenian Genocide, and all other major cases.
Yet such genocidal rhetoric alone is not enough to conclude that atrocities ‘on the ground’ are actually genocidal in nature. Government rhetoric might be largely a means for mobilising public support or sowing confusion about the conflict, with quite different rationales actually shaping violence ‘on the ground.’ We therefore need to also examine the actual pattern of violence being perpetrated. In the case of Ukraine, we need to examine whether Russian military forces appeared to be engaged in an effort to physically eliminate Ukrainians as far as it is feasible for them to do so, or whether they are targeting civilians for other, non-genocidal purposes, such as to terrorise the population into surrendering.
This, of course, is difficult. With the conflict in Ukraine still ongoing, reliable data on Russian atrocities is uneven. But most of the violence looks plausibly like terror bombardments, indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure, and attacks that willingly kill civilians in an effort to also kill Ukrainian military forces or render cities unviable for Ukrainian military operations – rather than genocidal efforts to physically exterminate the Ukrainians as a national group. At present, there are few if any confirmed cases of Russian military forces wiping out entire towns or villages, or otherwise killing all Ukrainians in a given area of Russian occupation – the kind of violence we would expect to see in genocide.
There are, however, two important caveats to make here. First, more evidence may emerge that would change this assessment. There is already fragmentary evidence of acts like, for example, systematically separating Ukrainian children from their families and deporting them to Russia, which could qualify as genocide under the 1948 Convention. In places, there have been reports of Russian targeting civilians purely on the basis that they spoke Ukrainian – this could also qualify as genocidal killing. As we learn more, it may become clearer that genocide is indeed occurring. It is also possible that individual acts of genocide may be occurring within broader patterns of violence against civilians that are not purely genocidal.
Second, this assessment depends on a quite narrow, legal definition of genocide as expressed in the 1948 Genocide Convention. There is a broader sense in which some commentators are describing Russian actions in Ukraine as genocidal: not because the violence seeks to physically eliminate the Ukrainian people, but because Russia’s broader objectives in the war are to effectively deny Ukraine’s existence as an independent nation and destroy symbols and institutions of Ukrainian nationality. But this kind of ‘cultural genocide’ is generally seen as lying outside the Genocide Convention, and isn’t the same as seeking to physically destroy a group in the manner of the Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, Rwandan Genocide, or similar famous cases. If concepts like ‘urbicide’ – the destruction of cities – constitute genocide, moreover, then we would be forced to conclude that the British and American aerial bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II, which explicitly sought to destroy entire urban areas, was genocidal in nature. Few accept that verdict.
Again, this is in no way to downplay the severity of Russian atrocities. Violence does not need to be genocidal to be abhorrent – and the international community has, since 2005, acknowledged a responsibility to prevent, react to and rebuild after atrocities, whether they are genocidal or not. As a scholar of genocide and mass atrocities, one of my principal fears is that people treat genocide as a kind of threshold of concern, below which violence can be effectively ignored. There is simply no reason why the genocidal killing of 8,000 Bosniaks by Serbian military forces at Srebrenica in July 1995 should concern us more than the non-genocidal killing of half a million alleged ‘communists’ in Indonesia in 1965-66, or the killing of over 1.5 million North Koreans through state-induced famine in the 1990s.
So politicians and NGOs should pause before rushing to employ the language of genocide as a denunciatory device against Russia, when key evidence about the actual intent behind violence on the ground remains murky. Such language is not necessary, and reinforces the questionable message that only genocides, and not the wide range of other atrocity crimes, really matter. It can also distort understanding of the real character of atrocities taking place and could complicate later legal prosecutions. We would do better to strengthen the consensus that atrocity crimes, irrespective of their particular form, present an urgent humanitarian crisis demanding international attention and action.
On 14th December 2022, I was delighted to take part in a webinar on my new book, Ideology and Mass Killing: The Radicalized Security Politics of Genocides and Deadly Atrocities, hosted by the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
Dr Elisenda Calvet Martinez chaired a discussion between me and Dr Christian Gudehus, discussing the motivation behind the book, its core arguments, and implications for research on genocides and other atrocity crimes.
You can watch the whole video here.
My recent article for the leading international security blog JustSecurity.org has been published, summairising some of the key research findings from my recent work on ideology and mass atrocities, and applying them to make sense of ongoing events in Ukraine.
You can read the article for free, here: www.justsecurity.org/83555/extremist-ideologies-and-the-roots-of-mass-atrocities/
I was delighted to be interviewed last week by Dr Miranda Melcher about my new book, Ideology and Mass Killing: The Radicalized Security Politics of Genocides and Deadly Atrocities, for a podcast on the New Books Network.
You can find the podcast, freely available, here: https://newbooksnetwork.com/ideology-and-mass-killing.
More info on my new book can be found here: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/ideology-and-mass-killing-9780198776796?cc=au&lang=en&
For more info about Dr Miranda Melcher and her research, check out her website, here: https://mirandamelcher.com/
One of my significant secondary interests concerns methodological debates in political science and political theory. In 2018, Alex Worsnip (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and I published a paper on 'Is there a distinctively political normativity?' in the leading philosophy journal Ethics, interrogating an argument advocated by many 'political realists' that politics involved its own kinds of normative concerns that are not moral in nature.
In another major journal, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, political theorist Matt Sleat has recently advanced a critique of our Ethics paper, suggesting that we have mischaracterised realism. But this suggestion by Sleat appears to rest on a significant misunderstanding of what Alex Worsnip and I actually argue, and the position we impute to realists. We have therefore written a short reply to Sleat, seeking to clear up this misunderstanding.
We'd stress that we have a lot of respect for Sleat's broader work on realism - and particularly recommend his edited volume Politics Recovered: Essays on Realist Political Thought, and his Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics.
You can read our reply, here:
You can read Sleat's original critique of us here:
You can find out more about Matt Sleat's own work on his departmental web page, here:
You can find out more about Alex Worsnip's work on his website, here:
In response to the ongoing evidence of serious atrocity crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, I have a new article out for the UK in a Changing Europe research network at King's College London considering how the international community might do more to prevent and halt such atrocities. Sanctions and efforts to publicize and condemn atrocities are crucial, I observe, but unlikely to halt atrocities on their own. The best way for the international community to fulfill its recognized responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes is to step up military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine - since only the expulsion of Russian military forces from Ukrainian territory provides a reliable way to stop atrocities on the ground.
Check out the full article here: ukandeu.ac.uk/the-struggle-to-prevent-atrocities-in-ukraine/
Following the tragic images and facts emerging from the Ukraine, I have written up a brief analysis on what we know about atrocities committed by Russian military forces in Ukraine, and whether they constitute genocide, for JustSecurity.org.
At the time of writing, we have clear evidence of serious atrocity crimes being perpetrated in Ukraine, as well as a visible escalation of genocidal rhetoric by state-backed media and officials in Russia. At the moment, we don't have clear enough evidence on the link between these two - i.e. that violence on the ground in Ukraine is being guided by specifically genocidal motives - to confidently conclude that genocide, in its legal sense, is occurring. However, more evidence is coming out all the time, and the risk of an intensification of atrocities, and potentially escalation to outright genocide, is high.
You can find the full article here: www.justsecurity.org/80998/is-genocide-occurring-in-ukraine-an-expert-explainer-on-indicators-and-assessments/
I was delighted to participate in the 'Diskursive Konstruktion von Feindbildern: Populismen, Verschwörung, Verhetzung' (Discursive Constructions of Enmity: Populisms, Conspiracy, Hate) workshop at Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich on 11 February 2022, hosted by Juliane Prade-Weiss, Dominik Markl and Vladimir Petrovic.
You can watch the video of my talk: 'Rethinking Extremism in Comparative Perspective: Narrative, Enmity and Political War' above! The webpage for the broader workshop can be found here: www.discoursesofmassviolence.komparatistik.uni-muenchen.de/index.html
I was really delighted to be featured prominently in Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon's latest op-ed in The Globe and Mail, 'The American polity is cracked, and might collapse. Canada must prepare.'
While the comments about me are incredibly generous, this article is a must read for Homer-Dixon's crucial analysis of the danger of growing political extremism in mainstream US politics, and his warning that Canada and Canadians are not sufficiently prepared for the danger of future authoritarian take-overs of the US state. It's a terrific read and necessarily urgent wake-up call. Check it out at the link below:
Interested in the history of ideas, rhetoric and ideology? I was delighted to take part in the British Academy conference on these themes to celebrate the work of the preeminent intellectual historian Quentin Skinner last week. The whole conference is free to watch online through the links below!
DAY 1 - https://youtube.com/watch?v=waztwgtbUp8
DAY 2 - https://youtube.com/watch?v=EWT_BNr7mcs
Programme here: https://thebritishacademy.ac.uk/.../Quentin-Skinner...
The great panel I shared with Professor Alan Finlayson and Dr Sophia Hatzisavvidou on 'Rhetoric and Ideological Analysis' is on the Day 2 video at 2:50:20. My own paper, on 'Ideology as Infrastructure' is at 3:23:10.
Enjoy! Loads of thanks, too, to Dr Adrian Blau and Dr Joanne Paul, as well as the whole British Academy team, for organizing such a great couple of days!
I was delighted, on 5 March 2021, to participate in an online and highly interdisciplinary workshop on 'Discourses of Mass Violence in Comparative Perspective,' hosted by the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich.
My talk at the workshop, 'Ideology and Mass Killing: How Groups Justify Genocides and Other Atrocities Against Civilians,' discussed the current state of the debate over ideology's role in mass violence against civilians, as well as previewing some of the key arguments in my forthcoming book, Ideology and Mass Killing, with Oxford University Press.
You can watch my talk, as well as videos of most of the other workshop talks, at the link below. This was a terrific event, and I highly recommend checking out the other videos too! My thanks to Juliane Prade-Weiss, Dominik Markl and Vladimir Petrovic for inviting me, and for organising the event.
I'm delighted to announce that my second foray into the debate over realism in political theory - part of my broader research interest in methodological debates in political theory and political science - has just been published in the leading philosophy journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.
You can get the Online First Version via the link below (Open Access - so anyone can read this), and the print version will appear in a forthcoming special issue of ETMP on Political Normativity.
My thanks to Carlo Burelli, Illaria Cozzaglio, Chiara Destri, Eva Erman, Favara Greta, Matthew Longo, Enzo Rossi, Cord Schmelzle, Matt Sleat, Manon Westphal, Alex Worsnip and all participants of the ‘Political Normativity: Realism Meets Critics’ workshop at the University of Milan (10/10/2019) and the ‘Realism and Moralism in International Politics’ panel at the ECPR General Conference (held online 25/08/2020) for their invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this paper.
I am really honoured to have been named as one of two runners-up for the Nils Petter Gleditsch Journal of Peace Research Article of the Year Award 2019, and congratulate the winners - Emily Kalah Gade, Mohammed M Hafez, and Michael Gabbay - for their terrific paper on 'fratricidal' violence between rebel movements in Syria. I saw Emily and Michael present an early version of their paper at a workshop we attended in Montreal in 2017, and have gratefully benefited from Mohammed's generous feedback on my own article, so I'm really delighted for them.
The full announcement about the prize is here: https://www.prio.org/JPR/ArticleOfTheYear/. Copies of the winning article, my article, and the other runner-up article (Juan Fernando Tellez's study of peace agreement design in Columbia) can be found on the Journal of Peace Research website, here: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/jpr.
I was delighted to appear on Dr Brian Klaas's exciting new podcast series, Power Corrupts, for an episode on 'The Anatomy of Evil'. The episode focuses on genocides and other mass atrocities, and asks how leaders and ordinary rank-and-file perpetrators are able to initiate and execute these most horrific forms of political violence.
The podcast (free to access) can be found here, or on all standard podcast apps.
My article on 'Ideology and Armed Conflict' has just been published in Volume 56, Issue 5 of the Journal of Peace Research. The article can be found here, and the abstract is pasted below:
A growing wave of scholarship suggests that ideology has demonstrable effects on various forms of armed conflict. But ideology remains a relative theoretical newcomer in conflict research, and scholars lack developed microfoundations for analyzing ideologies and their effects. Typically, existing research has primarily presented ideology as either an instrumental tool for conflict actors or a source of sincere political and normative commitments. But neither approach captures the diverse ways in which contemporary social science theorizes the causal connection between ideas and action, and both struggle to reconcile the apparently strong effects of ideology on conflict at the collective level with the relative rarity of ‘true believers’ at the individual level. This article addresses such problems by providing key microfoundations for conceptualizing ideologies, analyzing ideological change, and explaining ideologies’ influence over conflict behavior. I emphasize that ideology overlaps with other drivers of conflict such as strategic interests and group identities, show how ideologies can affect conflict behavior through four distinct mechanisms – commitment, adoption, conformity, and instrumentalization – and clarify the role of both conflict pressures and pre-existing ideological conditions in ideological change. These microfoundational claims integrate existing empirical findings and offer a foundation for building deeper explanations and middle-range theories of ideology’s role in armed conflict.
I'm delighted to announce that The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evil, in which I have a chapter on 'Evil, Genocide and Mass Atrocities', has just been published, edited by Stephen de Wijze (University of Manchester) and Thomas Nys (University of Amsterdam).
This is by far the most extensive existing volume on the study of evil in political theory and philosophy, so strongly recommended to all interested audiences! More information can be found here.
I recently appeared on Toby Buckle's Political Philosophy Podcast for an episode on 'What is Ideology?' alongside Dr Matto Mildenberger (UC Santa Barbara).
Matto and I recently co-authored a major review article on the current state of research on ideology, which formed the starting point for our discussion with Toby. Our article, in the British Journal of Political Science, can be accessed here for those with a personal or institutional journal subscription.
You can access the podcast (available to everyone!) at: https://www.politicalphilosophypodcast.com/what-is-ideology.