There is a new book offering a philosophic treatment of Genocide. The book received a good reviews in the journal Ethics and is a required reading for those who teach anything related to Holocaust or Genocide seeking a philosophic approach.
The reviewer gently notes in the review “the bibliography contains no references even to philosophical papers on genocide, other than one by Larry May himself.” Hence, non-analytic works by those in Continental thought Todorov, Butler, Agamben, Appadurai, and Bauman are not interrogated. One should also read Ben Kierman’s Blood and Soil for the current state of the history of genocide.
May deals with the philosophic definitions of what does it mean to single out a group, what is a group, and the role of agency. May’s nominalist definition of groups will refine the thinking of those who define groups, such as Jews, with essentialist and realist definitions.
Larry May, Genocide: A Normative Account, Cambridge University Press, 2010, $28.99
Reviewed by Chandran Kukathas, London School of Economics
The Polish lawyer and Holocaust survivor, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term ‘genocide’ in a book published in 1944 on Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Lemkin devoted his energies over the next four years to agitating for the recognition of this crime by international law and was instrumental in the drafting and eventual promulgation of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Since then, legal analysis of this controversial notion has grown as the term has come to occupy a distinctive place in law and, no less importantly, in popular discourse. Everyone knows the term ‘genocide’.
Over the past 60 years there have been countless historical studies of particular genocides, as well as numerous comparative discussions, notably Ben Kiernan’s Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yet while historians, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists and international relations theorists have published extensively on the question of genocide, philosophers have been conspicuously silent on the subject. Larry May’s study is the first substantial philosophical work on genocide. This is surprising given the controversy that has surrounded the concept from its very beginnings. It is not so much that disciplinary boundaries matter, or that lawyers and historians are incapable of conceptual analysis. It is rather that there are questions that have preoccupied philosophers that are thrown into particularly sharp relief by the problem of genocide, and there is much that philosophers can contribute — and learn — by paying greater attention to this moral notion.
Larry May’s philosophical study is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of genocide, as well as to our appreciation of a number of theoretical problems that are addressed in the book. Although it is a freestanding work, it is a part of a larger project that produced three other substantial Cambridge books: Crimes against Humanity: A Normative Account (2005), War Crimes and Just War (2007), and Aggression and Crimes against Peace (2008). In combination these works amount to an enormous achievement. The breadth of scholarship is impressive in itself: Professor May has mastered a substantial legal and historical literature in order to address the questions he has posed. Yet he has offered much more than a tour of extant works on war and war crimes. He set out to supply and succeeded in producing an account of the moral foundations of international criminal law. Genocide is a crucial part of the account.
Larry May begins by defending a nominalist view of the idea of a group that he says is inspired by Ockham and Hobbes. From Ockham he takes the idea that groups have no independent existence, but from Hobbes he takes the idea that groups are artificial persons that can be understood as agents. Read the Rest Here.