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We incorporate their denunciations of contemporary society into our
own thinking without giving up our love of what we possess, ending up
in a partly ambivalent, partly celebratory mood, uneasily aware of what
our history has cost but not finally regretful. When we do acknowledge
some dimension of that cost, we usually turn it into the pretext for par-
tial, narrowly construed resentment, a demand that our particular group
be invited more openly to the party and given a greater share of wealth
and respect—as if that broader world, despite the systemic violence on
which it is based, remains legitimate. In short, although we know that the
world in which we participate emerges from a history of devastation, we
ultimately accept its violence because of its benefit to ourselves.
Our response to genocide, however, suggests that on occasion cer-
tain events do give us pause. Shocked and appalled by the Holocaust, we
vowed never to let murder on that scale happen again. But we have not
yet made good on this vow. Although we created the United Nations to
help adjudicate conflict, that body places too great a trust on the pow-
ers of the modern state to intervene into its affairs and accordingly to
this day often allows nations to commit grievous violence against their
own citizens. Neither the destruction of a third of the world's Jews nor
the long series of genocides in the last four decades has inspired us to act
with sufficient resolve. Although we decry the consequences of state vio-
lence, we have not dared to shift our loyalty to any alternative that would
be powerful enough to curb it. 114
Our inability to realize the goals stated in that vow may arise from an
even greater inability to understand violence on that scale. Yet such incal-
culable violence should not disable our resolve but make it incalculably
strong in its turn, elevating mourning into an even more powerful emo-
tion that demands resolution. Our failure in this regard in the six decades
since the Holocaust suggests either that we did not mourn those deaths
or, more likely, that we have learned to dissociate mourning and action,
emotion and institution.
The response to genocide thus exposes a fundamental impasse in our
culture: a vast gap between our vows and our actions, our confidence we
can build new institutions and our ability to do so. We have so far not
passed from intention to fulfillment, from horror to resolution. The fail-
ure to act in one regard exposes a much broader, long-standing failure
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