Finkelstein's background

Brad DeLong delong at econ.Berkeley.EDU
Mon Aug 28 23:23:14 PDT 2000

>Brad De Long wrote:
>>I did read beyond p. 13; I think that Goldhagen's book has a number
>>of very big problems. But that Goldhagen is an unwitting apologist
>>for Hitler is not one of them...
>Who said that? I think Norman's point (I don't have the book nearby,
>so I can't check the context) is that a theory of collective guilt
>absolves anyone of personal or collective political responsibility
>and absolves the analyst of having to explain why the Nazi holocaust
>happened. That's not far from the Elie Wiesel line that to try to
>explain the Holocaust is to demean it.

If that was his point, it was badly expressed:

"The merit of his thesis, Goldhagen contends, is that it recognizes that 'each individual made choices about how to treat jews'. Thus, it 'restores the notion of individual responsibility'. Yet if Goldhagen's thesis is correct, the exact opposite is true. Germans bear no individual or, for that matter, collective guilt. After all, German culture was 'radically different' from ours. It shared none of our basic values. Killing Jews could accordingly be done in 'good conscience'. Germans perceived Jews the way we perceive roaches. They did not know better. They could not know better. It was a homogeneously sick society. Moral culpability, however, presumes moral awareness. Touted as a searing indictment of Germans, Goldhagen's thesis is, in fact, their perfect alibi. Who can condemn a 'crazy' people?"

Finkelstein's complaint (one of them, at least) is that Goldhagen does not have a theory of collective guilt...

Finkelstein also adopts the weird position that bad people must know at a conscious level that what they are doing is evil before they can be held morally culpable. That's plain weird: the most common source of moral fault is a failure to think things through...

Brad DeLong

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