Genocide: A Normative Account

Genocide-normative-account-larry-may-paperback-cover-art Chandran Kukathas reviews Larry May, Genocide: A Normative Account in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

The Polish lawyer and Holocaust survivor, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term 'genocide' in a book published in 1944 on Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.[1] Lemkin devoted his energies over the next four years to agitating for the recognition of this crime by international law and was instrumental in the drafting and eventual promulgation of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Since then, legal analysis of this controversial notion has grown as the term has come to occupy a distinctive place in law and, no less importantly, in popular discourse. Everyone knows the term 'genocide'. Over the past 60 years there have been countless historical studies of particular genocides, as well as numerous comparative discussions, notably Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur.[2] Yet while historians, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists and international relations theorists have published extensively on the question of genocide, philosophers have been conspicuously silent on the subject. Larry May's study is the first substantial philosophical work on genocide.[3] This is surprising given the controversy that has surrounded the concept from its very beginnings. It is not so much that disciplinary boundaries matter, or that lawyers and historians are incapable of conceptual analysis. It is rather that there are questions that have preoccupied philosophers that are thrown into particularly sharp relief by the problem of genocide, and there is much that philosophers can contribute — and learn — by paying greater attention to this moral notion.

Larry May's philosophical study is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of genocide, as well as to our appreciation of a number of theoretical problems that are addressed in the book.