Robert Nozick on Mankind and the Holocaust

I believe that the Holocaust is an event like the Fall in the way traditional Christianity conceived it, something that radically and drastically alters the situation and status of humanity. . . I do not claim to understand the significance of this, but here is one piece, I think: It would not be a special tragedy if humankind ended, if the human species were destroyed in atomic warfare or the earth passed through some cloud that made it impossible for the species to continue reproducing itself. I do not mean that humanity deserves this to happen. Such an event would involve a multitude of individual tragedies and suffering, the pain and loss of life, and the loss of continuance and meaning which children provide, so it would be wrong and monstrous for anyone to bring this about.

What I mean is that earlier, it would have constituted an additional tragedy, one beyond that to the individual people involved, if human history and the human species had ended, but now that history and that species have become stained, its loss would now be no special loss above and beyond the losses to the individuals involves. Humanity has lost its claim to continue. . . Like a relative shaming a family, the Germans, our human relatives, have shamed us all. . . Although we are not all responsible for what those who acted and stood by did, we are all stained.

Imagine beings from another galaxy looking at our history. It would not seem unfitting to them, I think, if that story came to an end, if the species they see with that history ended, destroying itself in nuclear warfare or otherwise failing to be able to continue. These observers would see the individual tragedies involved, but they would not see – I am saying – any further tragedy in the ending of the species. That species, the one that has committed that, has lost its worthy status. Not – let me repeat – that the species deserves to be destroyed; it simply no longer deserves not to be. Humanity has desanctified itself.

Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations (Simon & Schuster: 1989) pp. 237-239

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