The Year Zero: Iconoclastic breaks with the past

  • Antoon De Baets


Some regimes try to force a complete break with the past and even to start from the year zero. Throughout history, such iconoclastic breaks were meant to erase, once and for all, the entire past or to destroy as many of its relics and symbols as possible, and either to reach or regain some faraway golden age. Iconoclastic breaks have thus far enjoyed less systematic attention than the breaks commonly indicated by the phrase “transitional justice,” although their legacy usually leaves deeper scars. My goal, then, is to explore these iconoclastic breaks with the past. I conclude that there are three main types: communist, nationalist and Islamic. The central iconoclastic idea is “historical law” for the first type, “homogenization” for the second and “purity” for the last. Each has its own vision of history: the first is predominantly future-oriented, the second present-oriented, and the third past-oriented.