Burying the Evil of Genocide

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Edward A. TIRYAKIAN, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Since its first description by Dr. Raphael Lemkin in 1944 and the subsequent trials of Nazi criminals at Nuremberg, genocide has been seen as a heinous crime: the attempted mass killing of a population. The topic has spawned a voluminous literature on the relatively few documented cases of genocide that have taken place. To make an analogy with the medical sciences, genocide, like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is a very rare but for the most part fatal disorder.

This paper deals with an understudied aspect of genocide: how does it relate to a very old aspect of the human condition: the question of evil. The question of evil has had only limited recognition in the behavioral sciences, including sociology. It is, of course, a long-standing topic of theology and philosophy, yet a secular aspect of modernity has branded “evil” as mostly a taboo subject. The wall of silence was broken by political scientist and theorist Hannah Arendt in her epochal and controversial 1963 Report on the Banality of Evil. Although the subsequent literature is not bountiful, some social scientists have wrestled with the topic -- including such sociologists as Jeffrey Alexander, the late W.S.F. Pickering, and Christian Smith.

This paper engages two questions. First, I examine how “evil” and “genocide” pair together in these various social-scientific works (including whether writers have in mind “ontic” or “ontological” evil in reference to empirical situations labelled a “genocide”). Second, I examine the question of “burying the evil”: what have been major attempts to do so in salient cases of genocide such as the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and what have been the results for the affected populations?