Every morning, before commencing work, I take time out to read a text. In the past few years, I have ploughed through Montaigne, Skinner, Hume, Locke, Adam Smith and Rawls. My choice has been the books that we ought to have read on this coil.
My current wrestling partner is Robert Nozick's "The Examined Life", a set of philosophical meditations that the philosopher set down as he placed his concerns within a thematic setting. Much of the book is a curiosity: an alternate perspective that never quite compels the reader to take up cudgels or cast scales from their eyes. Until we come to the chapter on the Holocaust. Like many of his generation, Nozick viewed this event as a uniquely evil occurrence. Its significance was a matter of kind, rather than degree. Such a claim is contested by many, but I do not wish to engage with that debate. Such value judgments are invariably subjective, particular to each individual and usually impervious to persuasion.
For me, Nozick's interpretation of the Holocaust in terms of Christian theology was compelling. He compared this atrocity to the original Fall and argued that Christ's time on Earth had come to an end. The sins for which Christ redeemed himself on the Cross were overwhelmed by the charnel houses. The horror of this evil washed away the promised redemption of Christian myth. Nozick then takes this one step further and states that if mankind were become extinct, then the lack of being redeemed rendered our existence as naught.
For Nozick, the Holocaust removed the value of humanism. As such, it is an argument from despair since this evil overwhelms all other aspects of western civilisation. Perhaps only distance and the erasure of memory can counter the stench. But the question that the philosopher posed is still unanswered, perhaps not taken up: Have we fallen and do we need to seek redemption