Mark Levene


I have to be honest: it was with some degree of reluctance that I agreed to GSP’s invitation to offer a commentary on David Scheffer’s paper. Not only has my involvement in genocide studies been explicitly on the academic, rather than hands-on activist or, for that matter, legal side, but also I have made abundantly clear in recent years that I do not find a real basis for genocide prevention either in Lemkinesque assumptions as to the development of strengthened juridical instruments aimed at buttressing existing international law or in military intervention against violators.1 Genocide, in my view, has always been, to greater or lesser degrees, far too inextricably bound up with the conflicts and tensions of the broader international political economy ever to be isolatable to the circumstances—however singular—of any specific state. Nor do I believe it to be a phenomenon wholly treatable—and hence curable—in its own right, without respect, that is, to a wider and more holistic epidemiology of violence in the modern world. This is not to say that I consider that genocide can simply be subsumed within wider categories of violence; indeed, one of the most peculiar, if not bewildering, aspects of the phenomenon is the degree to which it defies most conventional, including social-scientific, analyses as to its origins and nature.2 Even standard notions that genocide involves a straightforward bipolarity between one group of actors carrying out the violence and a second group who are its defenseless victims, while it may have salience on some occasions, I find increasingly wanting, on a variety of levels, with reference to many of the contemporary instances referred to as ‘‘genocide’’ today. Prevention of genocide, if we are to arrive there at all, thus requires, in my reckoning, not only a much broader engagement with the systemic sources of conflict in the contemporary world but a paradigmatic shift in our approach to the fundaments of human life on this planet.