During the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell was asked why he could not shoot an enemy soldier who was running holding up his trousers. Orwell replied 'I had come here to shoot at "Fascists"; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a "Fascist". A Common Humanity is a beautifully written, profound and arresting book about what predicaments such as Orwell's tell us about humanity. Drawing on a wealth of important examples including the Holocaust and attempts to deny it, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the taking of children of mixed blood from Aboriginal parents in Australia, and the work of Primo Levi, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, Raimond Gaita sets out a provocative new picture of our common humanity. He urges us to recognize that whilst many of these examples call into question whether there is such a thing as a common humanity, it is not the idea of humanity that is at fault. It is the empty language of rights and obligations we use to explain what a human being is. It leaves no room for our ability to love other human beings and to share with them grief, hope, built, shame and remorse.
It is our recognizing that others share these inescapably human features that gives us our common humanity. It is our common humanity that gives us rights and obligations, not our rights and obligations that give us our common humanity.