In Defense of (the term) “Genocide”


Philosopher Berel Lang on his new book:

The United Nations “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was passed in the U.N. General  Assembly on December 9th,  1948.  That Convention has since then, unamended, remained the defining formulation of the crime of genocide.  (The term “genocide” itself first appeared only four years before that, coined by Raphael Lemkin in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.) Since its adoption, the charge of genocide, although in common usage, has also been contentious—especially so in disagreements about its applicability to specific mass atrocities as well as in its own conceptual coherence.  Such disagreements have fostered efforts to replace “genocide” by alternatives, notably the general category of “crimes against humanity.”

Genocide: The Act as Idea, introduces remedies for vagaries in the U.N. formulation most directly responsible for its criticism.  It more substantively argues that alternative analyses of mass or systematic atrocity (like “crimes against humanity”) would themselves also find it necessary to identify and thus to define genocide as a distinctive instance of such categories’ more general reach:  distinct from both individual and mass murder in the intention of genocide to destroy the group as such—an implication of group rights in the basic right of at least certain groups to exist.

The title initially proposed for this book was In Defense of ‘Genocide’.  Penn Press objected to that title on grounds that it could too easily be mistaken—but it indeed articulates the book’s thesis.

(What’s Wrong? is grateful to Professor Lang for providing these remarks)


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