Bloody Revenge: Emotions, Nationalism, and War.


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Scheff, Thomas J. Bloody Revenge: Emotions, Nationalism, and War. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. xi + 162 pp. $46.00.A curious juxtaposition exists between the title of this text and the topic. There is little development of the revenge concept. We do learn that the author considers the only book on the subject in the entire human science literature to be general and vague. His own formulation “suggests that emotional arousal leads to vengeful actions only if that arousal is denied” (p. 63). His interest is more in shame.Scheff claims at the very beginning that his perspective is the analysis of the social bond. He proposes that in every type of human contact (groups as well as individuals), the social bond is either built, maintained, repaired, or damaged, and that damaged bonds (alienation) are the basic cause of destructive conflict. He faults modern scholarship in the human sciences for ignoring emotions as causes, and for confusing the analysis by attributing more so-called rational motives.Borrowing from family systems terminology, Scheff defines two basic types of alienation that lead to protracted conflict: isolation between nations and engulfment within them. He explains his method as a study of the specimen to understand the species. Through microanalysis of a conversation between bickering husband and wife, he reveals the process of silent quarrels and impasses. He calls this process protracted conflict, and extends it to international political systems, thereby justifying the subtitle: Emotions, Nationalism, and War.Shame is viewed as the master emotion, a genetically inherited human universal that identifies threats to the social bond, to integrity, and to oneself. Sensitivity to shame has survival value, whereas unacknowledged shame paralyzes one's ability and desire to compromise (p. 54).Hitler's rise to power and control over the German people of the 1930s and early 1940s is analyzed and interpreted in this light. Scheff makes a fairly convincing case for his theory as he explains how an incompetent public speaker, consumed from early childhood with humiliation and rage, went about capturing the devotion of a whole nation.How does the old saying go? Hindsight is 20/20? I'm not sure that even Scheff can identify the entire precursor effect of that abysmal period of humankind, but the interpretation seems somewhat more real than those by dry, abstract real-politic writers.In summing up the book's merits and flaws, this reviewer has mixed emotions. The writing style is very heavy, almost arrogant, but the reference section is a small jewel, and the Appendix is informative. It is beyond me to honor a writer who disdains current attention to the concept of anxiety (p. 129), which has been studied and discussed by researchers, practitioners, AND users, in order to propose a vague notion of denied shame leading to revenge. However, I applaud his call for more attention to social bonds. Its other names I know are connectedness and relationship building; perhaps there are even more. This is a topic we need to study, and Scheff's book merits attention as stimulating reading in that light.Leila F. Dane, Ph.D.

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