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Blood Sacrifice and the Nation


  • 30 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 416 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.67 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 306.2/0973
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: JC346 .M27 1999
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Flags--Social aspects--United States
    • Political culture--United States
    • Nationalism--United States
    • Totemism--United States
    • Sacrifice--United States

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521626095 | ISBN-10: 0521626099)

This compelling book argues that American patriotism is a civil religion of blood sacrifice, which periodically kills its children to keep the group together. The flag is the sacred object of this religion; its sacrificial imperative is a secret which the group keeps from itself to survive. Expanding Durkheim's theory of the totem taboo as the organizing principle of enduring groups, Carolyn Marvin uncovers the system of sacrifice and regeneration which constitutes American nationalism, shows why historical instances of these rituals succeed or fail in unifying the group, and explains how mass media are essential to the process. American culture is depicted as ritually structured by a fertile center and sacrificial borders of death. Violence plays a key part in its identity. In essence, nationalism is neither quaint historical residue nor atavistic extremism, but a living tradition which defines American life.

• A new and compelling theory of American patriotism as a civil religion • Explains in detail how flag ritual and symbolism bear on every aspect of American life • Offers an explanation of why American society has felt a lack of direction since World War II


1. Introduction; 2. That old flag magic; 3. Theorizing the flagbody; 4. The totem myth; 5. Death touchers and border crossers; 6. Totem memory and succession; 7. Refreshing the borders; 8. Dismemberment and reconstruction; 9. Fresh blood, Public meat; 10. One size fits all; 11. Epilogue; Appendix 1. The flag in life: Representational politics of the Stars and Stripes David W. Ingle and Carolyn Marvin; Appendix 2. Representative coding categories.


'This is a provocative book which provides a welcome counterweight to interpretations which ignore the 'primitive' basis of nations.' Ethnic and Racial Studies

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