Philosophy professor's book receives praise in renowned literary journal

David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy
David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy.

“On Inhumanity,” the book released this year by David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at the University of New England, has received praise in its latest review from TLS, a renowned journal for literature and ideas.

The book, composed of 26 short chapters, is about dehumanization — what it is and how it works, its connections to racism and atrocity, and how to combat the phenomenon. Published in July, the book uses examples, including the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the lynching of black Americans, and anti-Romani persecution, among others, to describe dehumanization, which is characterized by the denial of full humanness to others.

Reviewer Stephen Wilson writes that “[‘On Inhumanity’] is a book forged in urgency and written for the common reader by a philosopher seeking not just to interpret the world but to change it. His final chapter is a handbook for resistance to demagoguery.”

Wilson highlight’s Smith’s claim that all people are vulnerable to the dehumanizing impulse because they are equipped with a set of powerful psychological biases. Overcoming those biases requires knowledge and recognition of past atrocities, Wilson says.

“Inhumanity is not the province of a small number of war criminals, deviant psychopaths or perverse sadists; it is made possible and committed by ordinary people who frequently believe they are acting in righteous indignation against a group perceived to be intrinsically threatening and somehow less than human,” he writes. “Genocidal attacks and colonial cruelties remain deeply shocking, and these acts are difficult to own as a tendency located in oneself. But they continue to occur and such recognition is essential, David Livingstone Smith says, if we are to resist being drawn in to becoming perpetrators ourselves.”