Loose morals

"War killed an average of over a hundred people an hour through the 20th century,” writes Jonathan Glover. One can only wonder what the 21st century will bring. Glover, director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College in London, undertakes the momentous task of offering a moral history of the past century. According to Glover, it is the history of the failure of our humanity and the concurrent rise of barbarism. He charts the constant threat of barbarism and struggles to build up ethical defenses against it.

In writing any history of the recent past, factual error is a danger, as is distortion of perspective, oversimplification or faulty inference. The difficulties mount if one purports to write a moral history. How is the author to avoid moralizing, biased judgments or, perhaps worse, a simple reading of history as moral progress or moral decline?

 

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