A different title that I decided not to use for this chapter would have been more explicit—but also offensive: “What’s so bad about genocide, anyway?”1 That wording sounds flippant, and the topic of genocide warrants something more than that. The flippancy, however, has a serious side to it. Although what is bad or wrong in genocide is often regarded as self-evident, it is in fact far from that; the assumption that it is obvious has led to both overuse and misuse of the term and to distortions in understanding its meaning. The question of the evil in genocide—what is so bad about it—is, at any rate, my subject here, with my premise the claim that genocide is indeed “so bad”: evil, if any human act is or can be. Nobody is likely to find this assessment surprising or contentious. On any ranking of crimes or atrocities, it would be difficult to name an act or event regarded as more heinous. Genocide arguably appears now as the most serious offense in humanity’s lengthy—and, we recognize, still growing—list of moral or legal violations. The evil in genocide ought to make an impact on philosophy. The following reflections show some of the ways in which philosophical work can respond to that proposition.
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- 1.Berel Lang, Post-Holocaust: Interpretations, Misinterpretations, and the Claims of History (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
- 2.Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944).Google Scholar
- 3.Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell” America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2002).Google Scholar
- William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
- 4.Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
- 7.See Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking, 1963), especially the Epilogue.Google Scholar