Speaker: Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Author.


QUESTION: Eliminationism usually occurs within sovereign states and war between states. How do you deal with the legal ramifications involved with eliminating eliminationism?

DANIEL JONAH GOLDHAGEN: Actually, one of the noteworthy things about eliminationism, or even just mass slaughter, that has occurred is that the locus has shifted from the international realm, or greatly from the international realm, to being within states.

So in 1900 or the early part of the 20th century a lot of eliminationism was conducted by states in other countries or other territories. The shift now is such that it's almost always domestic. My response is: All the more reason that we have to think very seriously about sovereignty.

Now, sovereignty has been historically a useful concept in trying to help promote interstate peace. But as it has been understood historically, and to the present day, I think the concept is no longer valuable or needs to be amended quite seriously.

Let me remind you, as you probably know, that sovereignty is not about people, but it's about states. It's the sovereignty of states over their territory, the right to not have other states or countries interfere within your territory.

It seems to me to be almost ludicrous in our democratic age to say that there is such a thing as state sovereignty, as opposed to having the people be sovereign of countries, and to say that if the people are not actually governing themselves, that the state that is governing them is not only unprotected by this principle of sovereignty—and when I say the people governing themselves that means democratically—but in fact such states are illegitimate.

This is one of the problems with the United Nations. The United Nations harbors and has as a large percentage of its members quite obviously illegitimate states.

So sovereignty needs to be amended. We need to reconceptualize what it is. And, whatever we end up with, there is no way that I think a principle of sovereignty can be used to legitimize and justify and enable the slaughter of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.

And so sovereignty, whatever the definition, even if it does afford states some protection, must be abridged by certain kinds of acts. We can define those acts quite clearly—eliminationist acts can be defined clearly—and that's when the protection sovereignty provides will be lifted.

To me that seems like an easy move. I'm not saying politically it's easy, but conceptually and legally it should be quite an easy thing to do, and it seems to me also the only defensible way and set of principles to use to think about what sovereignty should be.

Transcript of entire lecture

Lecture based on a discussion of Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity