The Future of a Negation: Reflections on the Question of Genocide, by Alain Finkielkraut

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The Future of a Negation: Reflections on the Question of Genocide, by Alain Finkielkraut

This is a translation of Finkielkraut's analysis of Holocaust denial in France, published in 1982. Events have by no means outpaced Finkielkraut's brilliant diagnosis. The "negation" in the title is the English rendition of le négationnisme, the French equivalent for Holocaust denial. Both terms -- le négationnisme and denial -- are meant to divest the self-styled claims of its advocates, wolves in sheep's clothing, to be merely historical "revisionists," or courageous, non-conformist truth seekers.

The French incarnation of Holocaust denial, Finkielkraut argues, is anchored in the political Left, thus differing from the North American version, whose chief practitioners are on the extreme Right. In both cases, however, denial crosses the political spectrum, with advocates among Afro-American radicals in the United States, and among neo-Fascists in France. Finkielkraut has little to say about neo-Fascist denial in France; his bête noire is the negationist Left.

Nevertheless, Finkielkraut casts his net wide, running the gamut from outright deniers to those set on trivializing or diminishing the Holocaust: Trotskyites on the extreme Left who published and supported the work of Robert Faurisson; the American radical Noam Chomsky who favored Faurisson with a preface to his book Mémoire en défense and was himself no mean practitioner of genocide denial in the case of Cambodia; the disappointed leftists of the generation of 1968; representatives of groups, often anti-Israel, wanting to outbid Jews as the world's victims.

The villain of the piece, for Finkielkraut, is ideology: theory embraced as unshakeable belief, theory that dismisses facts that threaten to undermine it. Thus, Finkielkraut argues that supporters of Faurisson on the extreme Left sought to "rehabilitate" not Hitler, but Marx (p. 29). In their view, Marx taught that political systems were mere epiphenomena, tools of the ruling class. From this, they concluded that there was no substantial difference between liberal democracies, the party dictatorship in the U.S.S.R., and Nazi Germany. Moreover, the proletariat was considered the only victim licensed by history, for as the only truly universal class, the proletariat will bring liberation to all humanity. The Holocaust had to be disposed of by the extreme Left because there was no place for it in the dialectic of history.

For similar reasons, Finkielkraut argues, Noam Chomsky supported Faurisson and denied the Cambodian genocide as well. He simply believed he held the key to the reality behind appearances, which was that information was controlled and manipulated by those in power. …