Source: (2004) Presented as part of the Transnational Seminar Series, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 5 November. Downloaded 2 February 2005.

In his essay, “The Contest of the Facultiesâ€?, published in 1798, Immanuel Kant presents an intriguing reflection on the French Revolution. The moral significance of the revolution, he suggests, is to be found, not in any event directly connected to it, but in the reaction of “disinterested sympathyâ€? towards the revolutionary cause on the part of onlookers. Because this response was potentially hazardous and had nothing to do with selfinterest, Kant sees it as the result of a “moral disposition within the human raceâ€?, and thus as a moral phenomenon that can never be forgotten. Presumably for Kant, this serves as grounds for hope of moral progress in the form of movement towards a global “federal unionâ€? of independent republics, a union that would secure universal peace. Though I am no latter-day Kant, my central aim in this paper is to identify a novel moral phenomenon that is surely as significant, though considerably less exhilarating, than the circumstances noted by Kant in 1798. I am referring here to the remarkable rise of a series of practices and institutions operating at both the national and global level, designed to respond to war crimes, atrocities, human rights abuses, and grave injustices committed by states or political movements against minorities and individuals. Arguably, this is a development that takes its inception in the Nuremberg Trials and the passage of the United Nations Genocide Convention in 1948. The Eichmann Trial of 1961 also played an important role in alerting people to the idea that past human rights abuses require a response in the present; indeed, most of the manifestations of memory politics that concern me here have occurred since this trial. (excerpt)


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