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to recognize and address the destructive consequences of moderniza-
tion for the world's people. Our response to the Holocaust foregrounds
what is true virtually across the board: however great our private grief,
we live within a public sphere that on ultimate maters remains largely
disabled and bankrupt, that operates from within a legacy of uneasy,
haunted denial.
This legacy is intensified even further in the era of climate change. If
we cannot grieve for those destroyed by genocide, we are even less likely
to grieve for those we have not yet lost. Yet the potential violence to
come, as I have suggested, dwarfs the destruction of any genocide, indeed
of many more genocides than we have yet seen. Our present moment is
thus characterized with a dissociation more striking than ever beforeā€”a
strange compound of horror and complacency, resolution and indiffer-
ence. It is as if in our halting way we wish to explore the ultimate reaches
of disorientation and self-estrangement.
As I suggested a moment ago, our inability may stem from a continued
fidelity to the very thing genocide already discredited: the unchallenged
rule of the modern state. The United Nations has not yet found a way to
supersede the claims of its member nations to govern their internal affairs
without interference. This collective failure to curb the powers of the state
is especially harmful today as negotiations over an international treaty to
address the causes of climate change frequently run aground on competi-
tive assertions of state interest. Such assertions arise from developed and
developing nations alike, even from the world's wealthiest nation that can
best afford to be generous. Recently many commentators have blamed
international inaction on the resistance of nations such as China or India.
But we should not forget that in response to the Kyoto accords, in July
1997, the United States Senate voted 95-0 not to agree to any protocol
that did not apply as well to developing nations or that would harm the
American economy. 115 States clearly assume that their priorities are more
important than any potential threat to the biosphere, just as their inter-
ests are more crucial than protecting human beings from mass slaughter.
The rule of the state, it seems, can brook no interference, except from lim-
its the state freely accepts on its own terms.
Our tolerance for the power of the state finds its equal, in the American
political sphere, in our respect for the abstract liberty of the individual.
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