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The Oldest Trick in the Book

Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution

Authors: Debney, Ben M.

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  • Establishes moral panics as the driving force for scapegoating and persecution in history by demonstrating historical linkages between various manifestations of elite crisis management and common purposes in scapegoating
  • Establishes panic-driven scapegoating as the principle means by which elites avoid accountability for the social, economic and other consequences of their own existence as a class
  • Establishes panic-driven scapegoating as a discourse with five distinct stages: (1) Mobilisation, (2) Targeting, (3) Legitimation, (4) Persecution and (5) Restoration
  • Establishes a unique and discernible logic characterising this discourse and points to one of the primary means by which history continues to repeat itself
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About this book

This book investigates the normalisation of blame-shifting within ideological discourse as a broad feature of history, working from Churchill’s truism that history is written by the victors. To that end, it explores historical episodes of political persecution carried out under cover of moral panic, highlighting the process of ‘Othering’ common to each and theorising a historical model of panic-driven scapegoating from the results. Building this model from case studies in witch panic, communist panic and terrorist panic respectively, The Oldest Trick in the Book builds an argument that features common to each case study reflect broader historical patterning consistent with Churchill’s maxim. On this basis it argues that the periodic construction of bogeymen or ‘folk demons’ is a useful device for enabling the kind of victim-playing and victim-blaming critical to protecting elite privilege during periods of crisis and that in being a recurring theme historically, panic-driven scapegoating retains great ongoing value to the privileged and powerful, and thus conspicuously remains an ongoing feature of world politics.

About the authors

Ben M. Debney is a doctoral candidate in History at Western Sydney University, Bankstown, Australia. His research investigates the origins and outcomes of capital accumulation as they relate to the climate crisis, with specific focus on the relationship between ‘primitive accumulation’ or ‘accumulation by dispossession’ and the phenomenon of 'Othering', manifesting most typically as misogyny and racism. 

Reviews

​“The Oldest Trick in the Book revives the type of radical class orientation that has given so much of classical sociology its analytic power and enduring relevance. Bait and switch scapegoating by elites is indeed a very old trick; but why do we fall for it anew, with each slightly refurbished iteration? Ben Debney’s well-researched, historically rich, and analytically-muscular book answers that question in useful and original ways.” (Christian Parenti, Associate Professor of Economics at John Jay College, City University of New York (CUNY), author of Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis and Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence)
“In his daringly sweeping treatise on scapegoating throughout history, Ben Debney reveals the social function of demonisation to be an audacious smoke and mirrors trick: obscuring the real evil of ruling elites while distortedly reflecting it. The Oldest Trick in the Book is a lively and thoughtful offering.” (Scott Poynting, Adjunct Professor, Charles Sturt University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia)

"The Oldest Trick in the Book takes us on a remarkable journey. Ben Debney perceptively explores the long use and abuse of power and ideology, from the Roman Empire to Red Scares, Witch Hunts to Islamophobia. The power of the One Percent, he shows us, depends on convincing the rest of us to accept the demonization of the Enemy: unruly women, treacherous communists, Islamic terrorists. It is to Debney’s great credit that he reveals scapegoating’s long history as pillars of rule, and strategies of cultural and material violence directed at the oppressed and exploited. The Oldest Trick in the Book is a necessary contribution to unmasking modernity’s binary code and pointing the way towards a more just and sustainable future.” (Jason W. Moore, Professor of Sociology, Binghamton University. Author, Capitalism in the Web of Life)

Table of contents (8 chapters)

Table of contents (8 chapters)

Buy this book

eBook $84.99
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-981-15-5569-5
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: PDF, EPUB
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Hardcover $109.99
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-981-15-5568-8
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • Immediate ebook access, if available*, with your print order
  • Usually dispatched within 3 to 5 business days.

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Bibliographic Information

Bibliographic Information
Book Title
The Oldest Trick in the Book
Book Subtitle
Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution
Authors
Copyright
2020
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan
Copyright Holder
The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.
eBook ISBN
978-981-15-5569-5
DOI
10.1007/978-981-15-5569-5
Hardcover ISBN
978-981-15-5568-8
Edition Number
1
Number of Pages
XXIII, 399
Number of Illustrations
2 b/w illustrations
Topics

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