'It is a terrible thing to condemn even a terrible man': Vasily Grossman on judging perpetrators

Laura Aysen Guillaume, Patrick Benedict Finney

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This article, drawing its title from Everything Flows, discusses the ways in which Vasily Grossman’s work can help in thinking about the problem of judging totalitarian perpetrators. Against Tzvetan Todorov’s assertion that Grossman effects a general absolution of perpetrators though his stress on the paralysing power of the totalitarian state, it offers a more nuanced reading. Grossman seeks to present a human face to the work of judgement: one which does not elide the complexities inherent in judging wrongs. To be sure, he takes seriously the suffocating power of the state, but he establishes its culpability not in order to absolve individual perpetrators but in order to affirm the primary solidarity of humanity. Grossman’s concept of ‘humanity’ emerges as a form of resistance to the state’s ideological treatment of humankind, and thus forms the ethical core of his work. Crucially, however, this does not produce a simple prescription for the treatment of perpetrators or comprehensive guidelines for the assessment of guilt and innocence. What Grossman offers instead is an encounter with the agony of judgement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-356
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of European Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2013


  • Vasily Grossman
  • quilt
  • innicence
  • judgement
  • 'New Man'
  • perpertrators
  • totalitarianism


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