Sonntag, 7.7.2024, 12:30h

Konstanty Gebert

Totalitarianism and Genocide: Bastard Children of the Enlightenment?

One of the consequences of the Enlightenment was the acceptance of the idea that the state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens. Until then, it was just the biggest bully in the neighborhood, who provided security from other bullies in return for its subjects’ money and obedience. The Enlightenment about-turn gave us, gradually, universal suffrage, universal education, and other widely shared benefits, thanks to which we can, among other things, meet and discuss the Enlightenment’s failing. But what was the state to do when a group was seen as standing in the way of universal prosperity and progress. It could – and did – educate the ignorant, re-educate the recalcitrant, and heal, or at least treat the indisposed. But if a group was seen as malignant and could not be reformed, the state had the right – indeed the obligation – to dispose of it, in the name of the greater common good. If the group’s malignancy was of an ethnic or racial nature, ordinary mass murder would suffice; if it was of a political nature, totalitarianism was the solution. It is obvious that the creators of the Enlightenment did not desire, approve or even envisage such developments. It is no less obvious that they constitute the bastard progeniture of their creation.

Konstanty Gebert
is an international reporter and columnist with the leading Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza. Born in Poland, he received his degree in psychology from Warsaw University in 1976. He has taught at Hebrew University, the University of California at Berkeley, Grinnell College, and Warsaw University’s Collegium Civitas. He has served as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Turkey, India and Kashmir, Myanmar, Israel-Palestine, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Gerbert has also advocated for a revival of Jewish life in Poland as a co-founder of the under-ground Jewish Flying University and the Polish Jewish intellectual monthly Midrash. He has served as a board member for the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Paideia Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and the Dutch Jewish Humanitari-an Fund in The Hague. In 2018 he received the American Jewish Press Association Rockower Award.

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