In This Review

The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy After the Holocaust
The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy After the Holocaust
By Norman Geras
Verso, 1998, 181 pp

The argument of this book is that the Holocaust and the great evils of our time (famine in Ethiopia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia) have been met with a "contract of indifference" and swept under the rug by virtually everyone. The author seems to assume that every individual is born with a kind of unlimited moral liability, and that if they dare enjoy themselves in innocent pleasures while knowing that torture is going on in some distant part of the world, they are as morally culpable as the Germans who shut their eyes to the murder of their Jewish neighbors. One can legitimately argue whether we as societies and individuals are doing enough to fulfill our duties toward others, although the blanket assertion that the world has been indifferent is hard to sustain. The author's moral reasoning leads to absurd conclusions by not seeking to distinguish between levels of responsibility. The Germans after all voted for Hitler, saw their neighbors being rounded up, and were often in a position personally to help Jewish friends. It seems perfectly natural that people should be more concerned with evils that are closer to them, that involve family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, and the like, than with ones that are distant and abstract, even if the latter are much larger in scale.