A Noble Death


When we talk about martyrs today, we normally visualize a fanatic Muslim with a bomb strapped to his chest. But martyrdom also has a long-running tradition in Western thought, both Christian and secular. Ever since Socrates chose death before exile, Western thought have asked itself if there are values and principles transcending life itself - that is, values that are worth dying for. Philosophers and theologians, poets and statesmen have given us different answers to that question, ranging from God, truth and fatherland to justice and freedom.

A Noble Death examines the history of martyrdom in Western experience and discourse. We meet Socrates and Jesus before their prosecutors, the early Christians before their tormentors and modern martyrs of patriotism, racism and communism. Through characters like Jeanne d'Arc, Robespierre and Che Guevara the essay recounts the story of how the martyr's blood is turned into a political spectacle and a symbol for comradeship and truth. Michael Azar reads martyrdom as one of many manifestations of a more general politics of Death, where the dead are instrumentalized for the purposes of the living. In martyrdom, the utmost vulnerability of man turns into his foremost weapon. Death becomes the path to immortality. 

"Read Michael Azar. He is brilliant." Dagens bok (Håkan Kristensson)

"A long and erudite exposition of the history of Western ideas of martyrdom." Fria tidningen

"After reading Michael Azar's dense essay A noble Death,I ask myself if there is anything in our History that hasn't been marked my martyrdom. Azar surveys with ease the history of ideas, from Socrates and Jesus to the German victims of Stalingrad and Che Guevara." Dagens Nyheter (Stefan Helgesson)