A. Dirk Moses is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the City College of New York, where he began teaching in August 2022 after stints at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Sydney, and the European University Institute in Florence. He is the author and editor of publications on genocide, memory, colonial and intellectual history, including most recently The Problems of Genocide (2021). He is working on a project called Genocide and the Terror of History, and is senior editor of the Journal of Genocide Research.
“Civilization and Genocide: Revisiting Transgression in History”
The postulate that the Holocaust constituted an unprecedented civilizational rupture is not only hegemonic in Germany. It is the foundation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 that tries to frame international Holocaust memory. This paper will reconstruct the evolution of this postulate and how the concept of genocide in its dominant liberal mode, undergirds the postulate. In its second part, the paper will trace challenges to this postulate and liberal conception of genocide that posit an alternative postulate: “civilization” as based on multiple transgressions, like genocide, including slavery and ethnic cleansing. Europeans and non-Europeans understood these relationships well before the twentieth century, justifying and criticizing them in different ways. Revisiting their arguments helps us understand our moment as part of centuries-long discussion about transgression in history, violent expansionism and bases of so-called civilized values.