Berg traces lynching’s U.S. history, starting with the Colonial era and coming to the present, addressing the characteristics of this brutal punishment undertaken by 'ordinary' people.
Even the ancient Greeks saw the danger that democracy and other forms of popular government could degenerate into mob rule. In this thought-provoking and disturbing history of lynching from colonial times to the present, Berg, a history professor at the University of Heidelberg, draws a clear connection between lynching and a perversion of democratic impulses. Berg views racism as a fundamental component of many lynchings, particularly after the Civil War, when many white southerners rejected the authority of various Reconstructionist state and local governments. African Americans were the most frequent victims, but other racial and ethnic minorities were often targets. Obviously, simple mob blood-lust plays a role, but at a deeper level, Berg asserts that the perpetrators of lynchings often see themselves as antiauthoritarian avengers, representing the popular will and standing in opposition to an 'illegitimate' state power that cannot be trusted to act swiftly or justly. This is a well-written examination of the history and psychology of this particular form of mob violence.