Volume 22, Issue 1, Spring 2017
On the Harm of Genocide
My aim in this essay is to advance the state of scholarly discussion on the harms of genocide. The most obvious harms inflicted by every genocide are readily evident: the physical harm inflicted upon the victims of genocide and the moral harm that the perpetrators of genocide inflict upon themselves. Instead, I will focus on a kind of harm inflicted upon those who are neither victims nor perpetrators, on those who are outside observers, so to speak. My thesis will be that when a whole community or culture is eliminated, or even deeply wounded, the world loses an avenue for insight into the human condition. My argument is as follows. In order to understand human nature, and that which promotes its flourishing, we must certainly study individual human beings. But since human beings as rational and linguistic animals are in part constituted by the communities in which they live, the study of human nature should also involve the study of communities and cultures—both those that are well ordered and those that are not. No one community or culture has expressed all that can be said about the human way of existing and flourishing. And given that the unity and wholeness of human nature can only be glimpsed in a variety of communities and cultures, then part of the harm of genocide consists in the removal of a valuable avenue for human beings to better understand themselves.