Natalie Zemon Davis lecture series - Joan Scott: The Judgement of History. Retribution: The Nuremberg Trials
"As a historian, I know that there is no closure for history, that the repressed returns, sometimes as tragedy, sometimes as farce. Still, I think I (naively) held to the popular belief that there was a certain finality to history’s judgment. We often use the words “the judgment of history,” or we suggest that we need to be “on the right side of history.” The moral stance implied in those words draws enduring distinctions between good and evil, justice and injustice, equality and inequality, right and wrong—as if in her wisdom, Clio will rescue us mortals from the errors of our ways. In these lectures, I am interested in the paradoxical operations of the judgment of history, particularly as the imposition of that judgment was seen as a means of closing the future to the wrongs of the past and in this way establishing the singular linearity of history’s path. What aspects of the past were repudiated? How and in what terms? What of them remained? How account for the remainders? And what do they tell us about the ways in which the moral and the political are inextricably intertwined in the idea of history itself? I take as my cases three examples of the way the realization of justice was defined in the discourse of the judgment of history." (Joan W. Scott)
Nuremberg: The Future of the Nation-State
This lecture looks at the Nuremberg trial in 1946. Then the defeat of Germany in war was evidence that the judgment of history had prevailed. There the imposition of justice had at least two meanings. One looked to the past: requiring retribution, the imposition of sanctions in the name of the rule of law to ensure that the criminal acts of the Nazis would never be repeated. The other meaning for justice looked to the future, to the nation-state as the guarantor of human rights. The Nuremberg judges took for granted that the (“civilized”) nation-state was the apotheosis of historical evolution and so left uncriticized its practices of racial and ethnic exclusion, in this way allowing aspects of the discredited past to leak into the practices of the future.