The Psychotic in Public Life: Human Nature and the Political Justification of Brutality

Professor James M. Glass, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, College Park

Abstract: This talk will examine how human nature finds itself distorted through racism and the eugenic thinking that grounded regimes like slavery in the antebellum South and the German annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust. Professor Glass will look at how brutality and violence in human nature received scientific assurance through eugenic theory that conceptualized a distinction between different types of human beings; those distinctions argued that one class of persons may be exploited and killed because they lack the moral and physiological capacity to experience pain. It is therefore morally legitimate to inflict suffering since both the slave and Jewish body possess such radically different genetic structures from: in the case of the South, the whites, and in the case of the Germans, the Aryan race. Suffering for the slave and the Jew is of no moral consequence; therefore brutality towards both groups is justified by the prevailing patterns of moral conscience. In both historical instances, medicine and science are used to justify the exploitation of the slave body through work and breeding, and with the Jews, annihilation through the construction of the massive logistical project of death by gas, bullets, starvation, medical experimentation, and fire.

About the speaker: James M. Glass received his PhD in political science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1970. He is the author of six books and dozens of articles and book chapters. His most recent research has been into the Holocaust; his book, ‘Life Unworthy of Life:’ Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler'sGermany (1997), analyzed the psychological dynamics behind Germany’s genocide of the Jews, particularly the links between the German professions and the moral and ethical acceptance of mass murder. His most recent book, Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust: Moral Uses of Violence and Will (2004), examines the forces behind Jewish resistance to the German assault and their collaborators; it includes extensive interviews with resistance survivors and a discussion of critical ethical issues that arise from resistance assumptions and perspectives. He is the recipient of the University’s Distinguished Scholar Teacher Award (2002–2003), the Outstanding Faculty in the State of Maryland Award from the Maryland Association for Higher Education (2004), and the Kirwan Award for exceptional contributions to the quality of undergraduate education (2008). Professor Glass has taught and published in the areas of political psychology, international ethics, political theory, and philosophy. He has been invited to deliver numerous lectures on his research both nationally and abroad.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - 4:00pm

McKeldin Library, Special Events Room #6137, University of Maryland

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