November 10, 2009


Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah, Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and The Ongoing Assault on Humanity ( New York: PublicAffairs, 2009) (“We must stop detaching mass elimination and its mass-murder variant from our understanding of politics. We must stop thinking it is sufficient for historians to describe the events themselves and then posit some (reductionist) “explanation.” Or for social psychologists to reduce it to social psychology. Or for diversionists to attribute structural causality and responsibility to abstract institutions or to systems far removed—either in time, such as long-gone colonizers, or in space, such as global capitalism—from the agents of violence and death and the countries of their destructive deeds. Eliminationist politics, liked the politics of war, is a politics of purposive acts to achieve political outcomes, often of ultimate ends and often of desired power redistribution. Only when we recognize this can we begin to understand the varied phenomena that compose eliminationist politics and respond better to them politically. Id. at 271 (italic in original). “Unlike crimes against humanity, war against humanity precisely captures the character and magnitude of perpetrators’ onslaught in another fundamental way. When someone says that entire classes of people do not deserve to live, or live among us, he essentially declares war on a part of humanity, which qualifies, and should legally qualify, as war on humanity in general. How can we know the perpetrators will stop after completing their eliminationist assault on the first group or groups they target, or in the first country they target?” Id. at 574 (italic in original). “War against humanity conveys the alarming threat mass murderers and eliminationist perpetrators pose, and countries’ and peoples’ urgent need to mobilize themselves to fight it. Theirs is a war against everyone and or potentially everyone. It must be met with a single-minded effort of full force. It must be defeated. It is an emergency situation entailing sacrifice, including individual sacrifice for greater good. That is why, in principle, none of us is a bystander. We are all implicated in the war itself. Humanity must engage a war against humanity with all possible military means to safeguard itself, and its every part.” Id. at 575 (italic in original). Goldhagen has written a very powerful polemic, one that every thoughtful person should read. However, it is a polemic and must be thoughtfully read as such. Go back and read the last passage I have excerpted, taking note of the following phrases ”urgent need to mobilize themselves to fight,” “met with single-minded effort and full force,” “emergency situation entailing sacrifice,” “individual sacrifice for the greater good,” “[w] are all implicated,” and “[h]umanity must engage in a war against humanity.” It is Barry Goldwater’s “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” (Delivered at the 1964Republican National Convention at San Francisco, California). No, extremism in the defense of liberty is a vice because it corrupts us and shatters whatever moral foundation we have for asserting our liberty. Goldhagen is correct that we must confront eliminationism and eliminationist, but he is wrong in asserting that such must be done single-mindedly. Such single-minded pursuit will destroy our own humanity. The single-minded pursuit of anything is, more than likely, a mistake. See James Traub, “Patterns of Genocide,” The NYT Book Review, Sunday, October 18, 2009.).