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Between War and PoliticsInternational Relations and the Thought of Hannah Arendt$
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Patricia Owens

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199299362

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299362.001.0001

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The Boomerang Effect: On the Imperial Origins of Total War

The Boomerang Effect: On the Imperial Origins of Total War

(p.52) 4 The Boomerang Effect: On the Imperial Origins of Total War
Between War and Politics

Patricia Owens (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at Arendt's historical analysis of a form of war that still shapes the contemporary world. In particular, the chapter assesses her farsighted and prescient claim that late 19th-century wars of imperial conquest helped sow the seeds of 20th-century total war in Europe. The implications are potentially great for how we might think through the social and political processes unwittingly unleashed by various forms of violence, including so-called ‘small wars’. Arendt's writing on imperialism and European total war also reveal some of the flaws in conventional military history and strategic studies which has understood these practices as unrelated. Arendt points us toward relationships that are much closer to Clausewitz's more fundamental insight about war as a social process that transcends the nation-state. Moreover, Arendt may have been the first to articulate what today we call ‘blowback’ and she termed the ‘boomerang effect’.

Keywords:   Arendt, Clausewitz, imperialism, total war, military history, Euro-centrism, totalitarianism, blowback, Agamben, boomerang effect

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