Eric Weitz is leading genocide scholar
Human rights researcher and professor's newest book is 'A World Divided'
It didn’t take long for Eric Weitz ’74 to have one of his most memorable Binghamton University experiences.
Days after arriving on campus from his Queens home, he found himself wandering the Bartle Library, feeling a tremendous thrill as he looked at volume after volume in the stacks. Binghamton fueled his intellectual curiosity and inspired him to become a leading scholar of genocides and human rights.
Weitz is distinguished professor of history at the City College of New York, and also served there as dean of the Division of Humanities and Art. The prolific modern European and German history researcher has written a number of books; one of the most noteworthy is A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation (Princeton University Press, 2003).
“When I came to Binghamton, I was originally going to study Russian and Soviet history,” Weitz says. “I took German history with George Stein and found him so engaging that I took as many of his classes as I could, and decided to specialize in modern German history. Binghamton has strongly shaped my professional career.”
In fall 2019, Weitz had an opportunity to give back, serving as guest speaker for Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. Weitz discussed his newest book, A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States (Princeton University Press, 2019).
“I argue that — despite major criticisms — human rights are the best thing we have going for us, even though advances are contested and difficult,” he says. “From the late 18th century forward, nation-states have protected our rights, but are exclusive at the same time, driving out people defined as not worthy of citizenship.”
Weitz praises Binghamton’s institute for being one of the few to focus on genocide prevention. He says it’s tough to answer if the world is any closer to fulfilling the “never again” promise that has remained empty since the end of the Holocaust.
“We do know that it’s worse if those who commit genocide and other atrocities are able to operate with impunity,” Weitz says. “[International tribunals] at least provide a standard that says humans should not be subject to efforts at ethnic cleansing, mass annihilations or violations of basic human rights.”
Weitz is concerned, however, by what he’s seeing in the current American political landscape. This outlook comes from his works on Weimar Germany from the end of World War I until the Nazi takeover. Prior to the Third Reich, Germany experienced a severe fracturing in its political system and society.
“I don’t think we’re on the verge of totalitarian dictatorship because American democracy has deeper roots, but I do worry about the sharp polarization in American politics,” he says. “I don’t think that is a healthy path for any democracy.”