Acknowledging Intergenerational Moral Responsibility in the Aftermath of Genocide

Armen T. Marsoobian
2009 Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal  
This article argues for the claim that we are morally responsible (in the qualified sense proposed in the article) for the crimes of our ancestors if our ancestors, as a collectivity, were part of a community for whose sake and in whose name crimes were committed that meet the definition of the crime of genocide. This claim of "vicarious intergenerational moral responsibility" is supported by two arguments. The first counters the claim that one cannot have responsibilities for events in the
more » ... r events in the past by arguing that this claim oversimplifies one's relationship to one's past and the collectivities in which people live. Such collectivities, both ethnic and religious, have identities across time; identification with these collectivities involves accepting certain moral obligations. The second argument is based on the following premise: the political, social, cultural, and educational institutions that mark all large collectivities, such as nations, provide a degree of moral reliability that is necessary for individuals to carry out their legitimate interests. We count on such institutions to exemplify the values that allow individuals to flourish in their life activities. These institutions are by their very nature intergenerational. The moral reliability of such institutions thus requires that we endeavor to acknowledge and repair the damage caused by the failure of these institutions in the past. Accordingly, their health engenders a moral obligation on our part. Vicarious intergenerational moral responsibility is a responsibility not to the past per se but to the past as it plays an active role in the present. This article argues for the claim that we are morally responsible (in the qualified sense proposed in the article) for the crimes of our ancestors if our ancestors, as a collectivity, were part of a community for whose sake and in whose name crimes were committed that meet the definition of the crime of genocide. This claim of "vicarious intergenerational moral responsibility" is supported by two arguments. The first counters the claim that one cannot have responsibilities for events in the past by arguing that this claim oversimplifies one's relationship to one's past and the collectivities in which people live. Such collectivities, both ethnic and religious, have identities across time; identification with these collectivities involves accepting certain moral obligations. The second argument is based on the following premise: the political, social, cultural, and educational institutions that mark all large collectivities, such as nations, provide a degree of moral reliability that is necessary for individuals to carry out their legitimate interests. We count on such institutions to exemplify the values that allow individuals to flourish in their life activities. These institutions are by their very nature intergenerational. The moral reliability of such institutions thus requires that we endeavor to acknowledge and repair the damage caused by the failure of these institutions in the past. Accordingly, their health engenders a moral obligation on our part. Vicarious intergenerational moral responsibility is a responsibility not to the past per se but to the past as it plays an active role in the present.
doi:10.1353/gsp.0.0014 fatcat:ybui6ju3ojhuxlnkl3nre3dcda