They were educated men of their time. That is the crux of the question whenever we ponder the meaning of Western Civilization after Auschwitz. Our evolution has outpaced our understanding; we can no longer assume that we have a full grasp of the workings of our social institutions, bureaucratic structures, or technology.

—Raul Hilberg, ‘Significance of the Holocaust’, in The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy, and Genocide, ed. Henry Friedlander & Sybil Milton (Millwood, NY: Kraus International Publications, 1980), 101–2.

The ideology and system which gave rise to [Auschwitz] remains intact. This means that the nation-state itself is out of control and capable of triggering acts of social cannibalism on an undreamed-of scale. If not checked, it can consume an entire civilization in fire. It cannot carry a humanitarian mission; its trespasses cannot be checked by legal and moral codes, it has no conscience.

—Henry L. Feingold, “How Unique Is the Holocaust?,” in Critical Issues of the Holocaust, ed. Alex Grohman and Daniel Landes (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center and Rossel Books, 1983), p. 397, cited in Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), 86.

I was struck by these excerpts in July of 2019 when reading Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust. Today the “we”, “our social institutions, bureaucratic structures”, “the nation-state itself is out of control” all stand out for me. Whose institutions? Whose control?

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