Duty to Respond: Mass Crime, Denial, and Collective Responsibility

Duty to Respond: Mass Crime, Denial, and Collective Responsibility

Duty to Respond: Mass Crime, Denial, and Collective Responsibility

Duty to Respond: Mass Crime, Denial, and Collective Responsibility

Excerpt

A disclaimer is due at the very beginning: the incentive for writing this book is non-academic. Its author is a member of a social group in whose name grave crimes were committed in the recent past. I am haunted by the ghosts of the innocent people who were killed in my name. This is perhaps one typical reaction to mass crime, experienced in different historical situations, by many people who share membership in a group with perpetrators of mass atrocities. Hannah Arendt famously dismissed this reaction as a [misplaced feeling [that] can only lead to a phony sentimentality in which all real issues are obscured.] For Arendt, [real issues] following mass crime are guilt and responsibility. While I agree with Arendt's identification of the central questions, I oppose her claim of the [dangerous irrelevance] of emotional reactions to atrocities committed in one's name. Consider opposite feelings, which usually prevail in the wake of the fall of a criminal regime: those who supported the old regime react with confusion, self-victimization, or different forms of intuitive denial. Such spontaneous attitudes of the rejection of the truth and its moral impact are with surprising regularity and ease translated into political and cultural strategies which insist on a new beginning ex nihilo, where the act of the regime change is perceived as a watershed between a [then] and a [now.]

This book argues that the latter types of reactive attitudes and strategies are morally wrong. No argument developed to support them can stand the test of moral justification. In addition, they are politically and culturally wrong: no such strategies can advance the goal of democratic transition, the rule of law, stability, peace, or reconciliation. Although Chapters Two and Three are devoted to the elucidation of the political and cultural

Hannah Arendt, [Collective Responsibility,] in Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judg
ment,
ed. by Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), 147–148.

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