A powerful work of moral and political philosophy.The idea which I shall present here came to me more or less out of the blue. I was on a train some five years ago, on my way to spend a day at Headingley and I was reading a book about the death camp at Sobibor... The particular, not very appropriate, conjunction involved for me in this train journey... had the effect of fixing my thoughts on one of the more dreadful features (...) of human coexistence, when in the shape of a simple five-word phrase the idea occurred to me. In The Contract of Mutual Indifference, Norman Geras discusses a central aspect of the experience of the Holocaust with a view to exploring its most important contemporary implications. In a bold and powerful synthesis of memorial, literary record, historical reflection and political theory, he focuses on the figure of the bystander -- the bystander to the destruction of the Jews of Europe and the bystander to more recent atrocities -- to consider the moral consequences of looking on without active response at persecution and great suffering. Geras argues that the tragedy of European Jewry, so widely pondered by historians, social scientists, psychologists, theologians and others, has not yet found its proper reflection within political philosophy. Attempting to fill the gap, he adapts an old idea from within that tradition of enquiry, the idea of the social contract, to the task of thinking about the triangular relation between perpetrators, victims and bystanders, and draws a somber conclusion from it. Geras goes on to ask how far this conclusion may be offset by the hypothesis of a universal duty to bring aid. The Contract of Mutual Indifference is an original and challenging work, aimed at the complacent abstraction of much contemporary theory. It is supplemented by three shorter essays on the implications of the Jewish catastrophe for conceptions of human nature and progress and for certain types of Marxist explanation. (shrink)
“Marx did not reject the idea of a human nature. He was right not to do so.” That is the conclusion of this passionate and polemical new work by Norman Geras. In it, he places the sixth of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach under rigorous scrutiny. He argues that this ambiguous statement—widely cited as evidence that Marx broke with all conceptions of human nature in 1845—must be read in the context of Marx’s work as a whole. His later writings are informed (...) by an idea of a specifically human nature that fulfills both explanatory and normative functions. The belief that Marx’s historical materialism entailed a denial of the conception of human nature is, Geras writes, “an old fixation, which the Althusserian influence in this matter has fed upon … Because this fixation still exists and is misguided, it is still necessary to challenge it.” One hundred years after Marx’s death, this timely essay—combining the strengths of analytical philosophy and classical Marxism—rediscovers a central part of his heritage. (shrink)
Richard Rorty has proposed the hypothesis that those who came to the rescue of Jews in Nazi Europe are more likely to have been moved to help by parochialist sorts of consideration — sympathy for a colleague, fellow national, and the like — than they are by universalist motives having to do with the proper treatment of human beings. Although inconclusive on many other points, the research on rescuer behaviour during the Holocaust embodies a consensus contrary to Rorty's hypothesis; and (...) extensive reference to the rescuers’own testimony supports that consensus. (shrink)
This is the first book to gather the key writings of the distinguished political theorist Norman Geras into a single volume, providing a comprehensive overview of the thinking of one of the most important Marxist philosophers in the post-war era. Among the essays included here are 'The Controversy about Marx and Justice', 'The Duty to Bring Aid', 'Primo Levi and Jean Amery: Shame' and the contentious 'Euston Manifesto', which lays down a set of central principles for the democratic left in (...) the twenty-first century. The reader is rounded out with several posts from Geras's much-loved and widely read 'Normblog', as well as companion essays by Alan Johnson and Terry Glavin, which explore how Geras's philosophical concerns led to his more recent, trenchant critiques of the direction of left-wing politics. (shrink)
Hope is a precious resource. But, deluded, not based on a sober appraisal of the relevant realities, hope can also be lethal. One kind of hope is utopian hope. It does not exhaust what social hope is, or should be, about. The hope of remedying the most terrible injustices makes an urgent call on our attention. The world has travelled some way from the time when tyrannical governments could act with impunity in dealing with those under their jurisdiction. But it (...) has not travelled far enough. There remain a number of deficits in the system of international law: "thresholds of inhumanity". (shrink)
The paper considers whether it matters that Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments is not, as he presented it, a genuine survivor account, but rather a fabrication or fiction. It matters in one way and it doesn't in another. It matters because the truth is important: both in general and with regard specifically to the Holocaust. However, that Fragments is a fiction also doesn't matter, for it can be read independently of its author's identity; can be read as being, indeed, fiction. Read thus, (...) the book retains much of its power and quality as a narrative of what the memories of a child survivor might be. (shrink)
This paper is a critique of the Marxian idea of a future stateless utopia. It is an immanent critique. Were one to start from non-Marxist assumptions, detailed argument would scarcely be necessary. Non-Marxists just take it for granted that any organized modern society foreseeable from the present world must necessarily involve state-type institutions of governance. My aim here is to show that, even thinking from within the Marxist tradition, the idea of a stateless utopia is not sustainable, unless as a (...) blind act of faith. (shrink)
This collection of essays is addressed to the legacy of Enlightenment thought, with respect to eighteenth-century notions of human nature, human rights, representative democracy or the nation-state, and with regard to the barbarism, including the Holocaust, allegedly unleashed by eighteenth-century ideals of civilization. Each author offers an interpretation of modern or postmodern philosophy against the background of a so-called Enlightenment Project, envisaged as the conceptual ghost that haunts modernity.