A landmark book, David Pan’s Sacrifice in the Modern World seeks to explain the continuing emphasis, in modern times, on sacrifice. Pan specifically turns to the culture of sacrifice—ritualized and sanctified death—in Nazi Germany, showing how that regime co-opted an existing discussion of sacrifice and infused it with its own mythology. Pan suggests that sacrifice is a key value in every society but that there is a preponderance of association of sacrifice with Nazi culture and therefore a largely pejorative treatment of sacrifice.
Surveying the arguments of philosopher Alfred Baeumler and other symptomatic Nazi texts, Pan shows how the Nazis’ reactionary intellectual culture unraveled much of the Enlightenment project. In so doing, he is able to offer a compelling new perspective on basic theoretical concepts in the work of Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Bataille, Girard, and others. He posits that it is only by clearing our way through the Nazis’ misuse of sacrifice that we can understand the durability of sacrificial structures that—following several of the theorists he discusses— establish the fundamental values by which we live our lives.
Rather than condemning the Nazi appeal to sacrifice itself, this book looks at the particular ways in which sacrifice was distributed and structured within that society. All cultures must grapple with the existential violence of the human condition, and they frequently do so through aesthetic treatments of sacrifice, rooted in myths and traditions. Pan argues that our task is not to eradicate these traditions but to engage them by carefully evaluating the commitments and values that they imply.