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Arne Johan Vetlesen


Response to Frederick DeCoste


In Passions in Context III, 2012, Frederick DeCoste responds to my essay "Atrocities: A Case of Suppressing Emotions or of Acting Them Out?", published in Passions in Context II, 2011. DeCoste's essay carries the title "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear."

DeCoste starts by listing what he regards as seven requirements of "serious, responsible, and productive disciplinary engagement with political evil", defining the latter as "the unjustifiable mass killing of human beings as a political policy and project of modern states."[1] He goes on to identify my essay as an instance of what he calls "atrocity studies", and makes the claim that my essay "forfeits the defining and abiding truth of the twentieth century's revelation about our situation-namely, that evil, as possibility and temptation, inheres in us and through us, in the mundane practices and institutions of civilized life"; and that in so doing, the species of inquiry which he sees my essay as belonging to "makes us more and not less vulnerable to evil."[2]

These are serious charges, especially the last one. I am not sure that they reflect the actual contents of my essay, the empirical material I present there, and the conclusions I draw. As I state at the outset, my chosen topic is "the role played by emotions in bringing about physical suffering." In order to discuss this role, I draw upon material from a number of historical instances of the infliction of suffering by one group against another, ranging from Nanking, My Lai, and Srebrenica to the Holocaust.

My essay can hardly be faulted if such a clearly heterogeneous collection of cases of atrocities fails to fit DeCoste's proposed definition of political evil, understood as "state acts that cause mass suffering and death as a matter of policy."[3] The discrepancy between what DeCoste is theoretically after in his model for the study of political evil, using the Holocaust as his only systematic historical case, and what my essay sets out to do (successfully or not), means that his criticisms miss the mark. I will explain why I find this to be so by discussing each of the specific criticisms he raises. In doing so, such a central topic of my essay as the role played by patterns of male socialization for the suppression or acting out of negative emotions will go undiscussed, simply because it is completely, and conspicuously, absent in DeCoste's comment. This being so, I shall in what follows try to respond immanently to what his comment does take as its main focus, thereby restricting myself-as does DeCoste himself-to the historical case of the Holocaust.



I  

According to DeCoste, a fundamental flaw in what he calls "atrocity studies" consists in their elision of "the difference between the personal and the political", the cost being that "political and personal emotions and motivations are collapsed one into the other."[4] He observes that "politically evil political projects require committed actors and followers."[5] He takes this to imply that the Nazis were "men and women of good conscience."[6] What these people sought in Nazism, understood as a "millenarian political movement", was "redemption-personal redemption, national, civilizational redemption-through politics." This millenarian spirit, this "longing for revolution", is "the specifically political emotion" that "permits us to judge those seized of it as persons of good but mistaken conscience and, absent other evidence, as persons not personally evil."[7] DeCoste then cites "the yearning for community" as crucial to Nazism's attractiveness to its followers.[8]

Let us grant that the factors mentioned here were instrumental in motivating people to support Nazism in Germany. On my view, the "yearning for community" cited by DeCoste must be taken to have been an individually felt, though widely shared, emotion. Likewise, as DeCoste says himself, in order to be a politically significant factor, the redemption sought must have a "personal" dimension. DeCoste underscores this when he suggests that "there is a deeper level still" to be recognized as part of what makes people prey to millenarian political emotions", namely that "we share the elemental, existential burden of identity", of having to answer questions like "Who am I?" and "Who are They?"[9]

I agree. However, I cannot help wondering how this insight into what I would call the existential dimension of evil-of wanting to hurt others-squares with DeCoste's programmatic claim, cited above, that the personal and the political be kept separate. In my book Evil and Human Agency, I use empirical material from Bosnia in the 1990s to explore the dialectic between the personal and the political (alternatively, the individual and the collective) that is crucial to understanding why and how individual persons are drawn to participating in large-scale atrocities against ideologically defined enemies: it is (partly) because doing so appears to them to meet certain existential needs.[10] Evildoing in my view resonates and engages with certain given, irremovable and hence non-optional conditions of human being-in-the-world -namely, dependency, vulnerability, mortality, the frailty of interpersonal relationships, and existential loneliness. Common to these five conditions is that they point, each in separate ways, to boundaries and limits. Evil has much to do with this dimension of human existence-be it as the attempt to transcend, negate, or deny boundaries or limits, be it as a symptom of individuals' intolerance of existential givens as such-as in evildoing that is carried out in the form of a protest against such givens; recognizing their realness for others­-in the form of the "weakness"-inducing vulnerability of one's victims-but denying their realness for oneself. In this perspective, evildoing is about hurting others in order to get relief from one's own vulnerability, to gain a sense of mastery over it. Joining a millenarian political movement in DeCoste's sense would be one way of trying to achieve such mastery. Here, what starts out and resonates as something deeply personal and existential on the ground, is energized, channeled and exploited as politically potent from above by means of securitization, often with fatal results for the targeted victims.[11] The way to do theoretical justice to the back-and-forth between individual and collective, personal and political at work here is to be open precisely to how they interact-in short, to avoid dichotomization.

A further complaint brought by DeCoste is to do with my "fundamental undervaluing of perpetrator conscience."[12] He quotes Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn: "to do evil a human being must first of all believe that he is doing good", adding that in the twentieth century history has taught us that "ideology alone gives evildoing its long-sought justification."[13] The "harsh lesson" is that "Hitler thought he was doing good"; "he stands before us "in good faith and otherwise innocent murderer of millions", this being the "brutal truth" that I "hide from ourselves."[14]

Let me try to sort out the different points that come up here. As I have written in the essay as well as in my book, the individual perpetrator will typically not perceive himself as an evildoer, as someone who commits wrong. Ideologically thought-out and collectively enacted evil conceives of itself not as evil, but as good; not as immoral, but as moral. Such evil invariably pursues a proclaimed goal: to remove something deemed malevolent, threatening, impure, and unworthy of life, so as to protect something benevolent, good, pure, and worthy. Notice that these are not separate matters; rather, they are two-in-one, matters inextricably linked, so that the "protection" part cannot be accomplished without the "destruction" part.[15] This being so, one's own aggression is presented as defensive, necessary, and justified; the aggression of the other as malignant, illegitimate, and immoral.

It is one thing to acknowledge-as DeCoste and I both do-the well-documented fact that evildoers, especially those involved in ideologically justified killings, like to portray themselves as doing good, not evil. It is quite another to go on to consider valid this self-portrait; to consider it the truth of the matter and to have nothing to add to the way, say, someone like Hitler preferred to view himself, namely as "doing good" and so as being an "innocent murderer of millions" (innocent in what sense-psychologically, morally, legally?).

This is the very move that I cannot but interpret DeCoste to be making, given his cited statements. If the essence of this move is the "truth" I am trying to hide from ourselves in my essay, then so be it. I don't see it as the truth at all. I would rather consider simply taking over, and adopting as valid, as the truth of the matter, the self-portrait of mass murderers-or of someone like Hitler-as analytically a non sequitur, as psychologically shockingly naïve, and as politically and morally irresponsible, coming from a scholar discussing the Holocaust.

That said, there is no reason to doubt that the evildoers in question have every interest in viewing themselves in such a way-as good, not as evil-and in recruiting as many others as possible to support their view, including academic experts. As I discussed at length in my essay, the narcissistic gains involved are self-explanatory and not to be doubted. What surprises me is that DeCoste pays no attention to the material I examine, be it Himmler's infamous speech at Posen in October 1943 or my references to the studies made by Philip Zimbardo and Harald Welzer.

To argue (as opposed to merely asserting) his case, DeCoste would need to engage with the many studies that tell a different story, questioning the preferred self-presentation of perpetrators and going beyond it. To be sure, the tendency for scholars (or journalists) to accept at face value the narrative given by even the most notorious perpetrators is a long-standing one. In my book[16] I devoted a separate chapter to examining how the tendency played out in Hannah Arendt's assessment of Adolf Eichmann as "merely thoughtless", showing up the inconsistencies and cognitivistic bias (more on which later) in her account and backing my criticisms with the material on Eichmann that has become known to the public in recent years thanks to books by (among others) David Cesarani and Irmtrud Wojak. On the constructive side, Gitta Sereny's psychologically nuanced, yet at the end of the day morally devastating, exposure of the role played by layers upon layers of bad faith-from seemingly innocent evasiveness to downright lies-in such leading Nazi figures as Franz Stangl (commandant of Treblinka) and Albert Speer is highly instructive. As for a survivor's refutation of the "good faith" hypothesis, the locus classicus is Primo Levi's essay "The Memory of the Offense", exposing the tricks of perpetrator memory manipulation step by step.[17] One of the strongest cases made for the thesis that the architects behind the Holocaust were in fact committed to "a conscious affirmation of the wrong involved in it", notwithstanding their obligatory declarations to the contrary, is Berel Lang's study Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide.[18] Approaching the issue from a more philosophical point of view, John Kekes in several books has argued that taking the evildoers point of view "systematically falsifies the relevant facts"; "it inflates the importance of the evildoers' concerns and deflates the great harm their concern lead them to cause."[19] Moreover, Kekes is one of those who would flatly deny DeCoste's programmatic statement that perpetrators of evil "need not be evil persons". Indeed, it is puzzling that DeCoste starts his essay by stating the need to "establish perpetrator beliefs as false"[20] and to "repudiate those beliefs as lies"[21], only later on to ask us to believe Hitler on his word when declaring that ordering the killing of millions of innocent civilians is "good."



II

Considering that the topic of my essay is the role of emotions in individuals committing atrocities, it is surprising that DeCoste has so little to say about what he would regard as a valid account of the subject. Instead, he chooses to make a series of dismissive remarks about the kinds of approach to the role of emotions in the carrying out of the Holocaust that he deems deeply mistaken. Holocaust studies, we are told, reduced the Holocaust to pathology. The perpetrators were portrayed as pathological anti-Semites "caught in a frenzy of hatred of Jews", and since they were "amoral beasts", "then the state they used must have been just as pathological."[22] I am glad that my essay is not placed in this category. But who is? DeCoste gives no names, mentions no books. In a footnote we read that "the pathology narrative first gained purchase at the various Nuremberg Trials."[23] Really? If anything, the public's impression from these trials was very much on a par with what Arendt later was to argue in the case of Eichmann: that (save for the odd eccentric personality-most notably, Göring and Hess) what was most striking from the various psychological tests carried out among the accused was that they, for the most part, appeared "shockingly normal." Attempts to have the "pathology" hypothesis DeCoste speaks about verified by this material would certainly fail (as does his curious reference to the film Schindler's List). If anything, Daniel Goldhagen's aggression-oriented explanation of how the Holocaust could happen caused the media spectacle it did precisely because it challenged the anti-pathology narrative that had been dominant for decades, associated in the public with Raul Hilberg's stress on bureaucracy, with Stanley Milgram's experimental findings about harmless "ordinary" people's propensity to obedience with authority, and with Hannah Arendt's (unhappily chosen) formula about the "banality of evil."

But again, what became of the main topic in the essay DeCoste purports to examine? "Strong emotions such as hatred and rage" briefly turn up in connection with DeCoste's dismissive reference to Goldhagen, whose "proposed explanation simply reiterates the rapture thesis of the pathology narrative"; allegedly aligning my position on emotions with this (rapture) thesis, I "explain away the Nazi conscience through the alchemy of psychology and gender."[24]

So much for DeCoste's curiosity about what might be learned from the latter-I take it he refers here to the pages I spend presenting the empirical studies of male violence carried out by sociologists Randall Collins and Thomas Scheff. These being my main sources, even a superficial glance at their work will bring out the falsity of placing the material I use here and the implications I draw from it within DeCoste's "pathology narrative" taken in the sense he gives it.

To proceed to a more substantive matter: There is a sense in which DeCoste is correct in saying that, in the Holocaust, "strong emotions such as hatred and rage were discouraged by and among the perpetrators."[25] That is to say, it is correct as far as official Nazi rhetoric and propaganda are concerned; it is correct per programme. And in that sense, it would appear to sit well with DeCoste's claim that "perpetrator conscience demands the deliberate and enforced exclusion of hot emotions at the point of execution."[26]

Now these are statements at the level of official policy. There is no need to invoke Himmler's Posen speech once again to make the point that for the leading Nazis, the killings were supposed to be all about tidiness, order and high morale, about passing a character test and a moral ordeal of unprecedented order-and nothing about strong emotions or egocentric motivations. The question that I touch upon in my essay, and that many Holocaust scholars have pursued over the years, is: Given that what was demanded per programme from on high was the exclusion of hot emotions, does it follow that the killings carried out on the ground de facto conformed to this demand?

It does not, as plenty of recent historical research goes to demonstrate. It is a major weakness in DeCoste's essay that he nowhere engages with the empirical micro-level of the Holocaust (or for that sake other atrocities), not even with the material of that kind that is contained in the essay he sets out to discuss. For one thing (and this is part of my criticism of Zygmunt Bauman's approach)[27], the Holocaust is a strikingly and deeply heterogeneous phenomenon, carried out by individuals who satisfy no "one size fits all" theoretical perpetrator model, performing the killing "work" in different constellations and circumstances and using a wide variety of methods and weapons. On the ground (as opposed to in Himmler's and Eichmann's office quarters in Berlin) there is a continuum from hot emotions to their apparent near-total absence, effected more often by a combination of routine, exhaustion and numbing rather than by decree; from killings under improvised and sometimes chaotic circumstances, performed by poorly prepared personnel (the early open-air mass shootings carried out by the first wave of Einsatzgruppen and police battalions), to spectacular and never to be repeated massacres such as the Babij Jar (33 771 Jews shot at close range on a single day, September 29, 1941)[28], to the sought-for "tidiness" of bureaucratized and industrialized mass murder in Auschwitz (but even there allowing for much non-utilitarian hands-on cruelty and suffering).[29] Whereas a scholar such as Goldhagen (whose account, by the way, I nowhere uncritically endorse) concentrates on the former end of the spectrum, scholars such as Hilberg and Bauman focus on the latter. The mistake is to take one's specific focus for the whole picture: they all find something within the vast unfolding event named the Holocaust to verify their hypothesis, be it one involving hot emotions or apparently none at all. Again, the fact that emotions-and they come in many other guises than as "rapture" and "frenzy"-are allowed no systematic place in DeCoste's theoretical model, and especially not in his notion of perpetrator conscience, is not to say, let alone to have proved by way of historical evidence, that they played no role in the actual behavior of the perpetrators. How untidy an affair the carrying out of the killings were is particularly well documented in a number of studies authored by German scholars of a new generation, all conspicuous by absence in DeCoste's otherwise rich bibliography (see, for instance, Sofsky, Gerlach, Wildt, Reemtsma, Welzer, Neitzel).

Instead of restating the position I take on the role of emotions in my essay, let me draw attention to the view taken by Manus Midlarsky in his magisterial Origins of Political Extremism: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.[30] Following Aristotle, Midlarsky attributes particular importance to the emotion of anger, understood not just as a response to insults (in which case it would be just a guardian of self-esteem), but rather as a response to what the individual perceives as unjustified insults. Anger is eminently communal and group-oriented-outward as well as inward-in that it can be triggered on behalf of one's own group (class, race, ethnic group, nation) as well as oneself. This means that people in a state of anger are more apt to blame others for mishaps and grievances that occurred. Significantly, anger is an emotion of normative import in that it is provoked by a violation of "what ought to be" in the agent's view. As a consequence of loss-e.g., having been deprived of one's appropriate place in the world, of the respect one commands; in short, having been frustrated in one's perceived entitlement of some sort or other-a feeling of humiliation may arise that quickly may pass over into outright anger at the individual or (more to the point) group seen as (or by way of ideology and propaganda: claimed as) responsible for the violation of the normative order or for other kinds of afflictions one (implying: one's group) has suffered.[31] In the cases of Nazi Germany and early 1990s Bosnia, for instance, responsibility for the various kinds of loss suffered will typically, again thanks to the drumming up and channeling of negative emotions that is a specialty of genocidal ideologies, be attributed to one particular group of others (respectively, the Jews and the Muslims). Midlarsky sums up as follows:

"Loss generates anger at the injustice of the loss, which in turn can be mobilized by extremist groups that seek not only to retrieve or redress the loss (as in territory), but also to direct their anger at helpless civilian targets who are somehow implicated, often in the most indirect fashion, in the origins of the loss."[32]

As Midlarsky also observes, many studies indicate that anger, in contrast to sadness or a neutral emotion, "increases the probability of negative reactions to people of a different ethnicity."[33]

DeCoste's assertion that "strong emotions such as hatred and rage were discouraged by and among the perpetrators" discloses more about the requirements of his proposed theoretical model than it does about actual perpetrator behavior. To appreciate the implications more fully, consider Edward Weisband's work. In a comprehensive study preoccupied with a number of recent instances of "political evil", Weisband finds that what most strikes him in the historical material is the amount and frequency of "surplus" or sadistic cruelty imposed on civilian victims. [34] For Weisband, the defining characteristics of atrocities reside in the "how" citizen victims die. What demands social scientific investigation is the ways in which perpetrators cite supererogatory obligations (recall, again, Himmler's Posen speech) to justify (to themselves as well as to others) their sadistic actions. There is, argues Weisband, a complex interplay between "moral masochism and sadistic moralism". Readers familiar with the studies cited above by German scholars in the last two decades will not be surprised by the phenomena Weisband studies-e.g., forced enactments of the victim‘s suffering for the "enjoyment" of perpetrators; victims made to "perform theatrically," humiliating, ridiculing and denigrating themselves in front of an audience of fellow victims as well as applauding perpetrators and onlookers,[35] being forced to perform perverse sexual acts against members of their own family (reported, for instance, from the camps in Bosnia). This material recalls Paul Ricoeur's talk of the manifestation of perverse desire for confirmation of totalized domination over existential finitude (masters of life and death) by way of creating "spaces of exception."[36] The "how" that is of particular interest in this perspective refers to perpetrators' fascination with the dying of their victims, in stark contrast to their indifference at their death. The victims' dying-drawn out in time, perfected and staged as a spectacle, as an end in itself, as the real thing - is brought about in the sought-for manner, the material suggests, when all that is personal, private and intimate is devastated, and when the victim is forced to partly witness, partly him- or herself to become an agent-an accomplice-in the process of dying.



III

Philosophically, I suspect that DeCoste and I have very different views on the relationship between rationality and emotions. The way I read him, DeCoste subscribes to an understanding of emotions in general that portray them as the opposite of rationality, in keeping with the traditional dualism. Given such a notion, it is but a short step to heaping emotions together with pathology and to regard emotion-based behavior as typically highlighted in a "frenzy of hatred" etc. I also spot an implicit cognitivism in DeCoste's depiction of what he calls "perpetrator conscience" (akin, by the way, to the cognitivist bias I have criticized in Arendt's account of conscience in the case of Eichmann.[37]) A related matter is DeCoste's insistence that a sharp distinction be made between beliefs and acts. Following Hegel, I dispute the dualism this distinction is nourished by in the understanding of human agency.[38]

Finally, there is the disagreement between DeCoste and myself over Hobbes and Levinas. I shall not add anything to my account of Levinas' ethics, only remark that DeCoste's (probably ironic) statement that I see "salvation" to reside in that ethics and consider it a "means of curing ourselves of mass atrocity"[39] is without textual basis in what I wrote. Although I ended up favouring Levinas over Hobbes, my aim was not exclusively normative but to a large extent analytic: to tease out some important common concerns as well as crucial differences in two ethical theories seldom compared.

To concentrate on Hobbes, then, I take DeCoste's case for his superiority vis-à-vis a Levinasian alternative to be captured in the following statement:

"This Hobbesian insight-that we are law needy because we are each of us at once vulnerable and predatory-does not parade as a morality tout court; on the contrary, it is by intent and design a specifically political basis for a specifically political morality."[40]

I cannot avoid noting the irony in DeCoste's turning so enthusiastically to Hobbes after having proven so reluctant to appreciate the pride of place of emotions in much human behavior, not least that of the violent sort. Perhaps DeCoste will reply that he nowhere denies the centrality of emotions; the point, however, being that emotions-emotions of the wrong kind, at that-not one-sidedly influence our behavior, lest violence ensue. In short, the all-important point is about self-control, keeping inside what might prove destructive if allowed free reign in the outside world.

This is of course a classic trope in the political philosophy of liberalism, explicitly endorsed by DeCoste and brought out in his appreciation of Judith Shklar toward the end of his essay, if not before. As for Hobbes, the limitations of his position on emotions precisely as far as a viable political morality is concerned, lie in his tendency to see all activities of the self as oriented toward the reduction of vulnerability. In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that to evoke another's envy is as dangerous as to threaten life: both invite preemptive attack. Envy carries a particularly dangerous potential in Hobbes' account: it is an agent's reaction to the narcissistic injury that occurs when our excellence compares unfavorably to that of others. Fear is at the core of Hobbes' psychology and anthropology; is the one human emotion that any stable political arrangement (viz., state) must be sure to have as its steady ally if peace is to be attained and sustained. Envy and fear being the two strongest, most potent emotions in Hobbes's account, the crucial issue becomes how to connect them in real life. In Hobbes, the person's fear of narcissistic injury will sometimes trump even the fear of death; this is because honor-the need to protect and to keep it-is perceived as no less important than physical life itself.[41] As C. Fred Alford has pointed out (and I follow his analysis closely here)[42], in Hobbes the self's obsession with power-the power needed to stave off experiences of humiliation in the form of envy, loss of honor-is associated with "a rather narcissistic, unclear distinction between self and world; as though the whole world were but a mirror of one's own passions."[43] It is not merely (to use the psychoanalytic term) that there are only selfobjects in Hobbes' world; it is that "the entire world is perceived only in terms of how it makes us feel."[44] As is well known, the transition from the state of nature to an existence as citizen in the political state involves no fundamental change in the structure of the Hobbesian self: the self as he conceives of it never grows, never matures; it is as static as it is (posited analytically as) ahistorical. The counterpart to this is that the otherness of the other is denied, to allude to Levinas. For lack of processes of psychological maturation as well as of moral growth (recall Hobbes' all-out dismissal of Aristotelian virtue ethics and the teleology as well as anthropology it is predicated on), the upshot is that in Hobbes-to quote Alford once more-

"power-to overawe others and to protect us from others-is the only standard, the only morality, the only basis of obligation. The notion that we might have a duty, when the sovereign is weakened, to come to his aid, to support him with our power, is totally absent."[45]

This being so, I do not find the case DeCoste makes for Hobbesian ethics at all convincing when it comes to fostering the other-oriented "care and humility" that he-sympathetically-ends by advocating.


Bibliography



Alford, C. Fred: The Self in Social Theory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991)

Bauman, Zygmunt: Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford: Polity Press, 1989)

Cesarani, David: Eichmann. His Life and Crimes (London: Vintage, 2005)

Gerlach, Christian: Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrussland 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1999)

Goldhagen, Daniel J.: Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Vintage, 1996)

Hegel, Georg F.W.: The Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977)

Hobbes, Thomas: Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968)

Kekes, John: Facing Evil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)

Kekes, John: The Roots of Evil (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005)

Klee, Ernst, Willi Dressen and Volker Riess: "Those were the Days": The Holocaust through the Eyes of the Perpetrators and Bystanders (London: H. Hamilton, 1991)

Lang, Berel: Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Levi, Primo: The Drowned and the Saved (London: Abacus, 1988)

Midlarsky, Manus: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Midlarsky, Manus: Origins of Political Extremism: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Neitzel, Sönke and Harald Welzer: Soldaten: Protokolle vom Kämpfen, Töten und Sterben (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2011)

Pippin, Robert: Hegel's Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Reemtsma, Jan Philipp: Vertrauen und Gewalt (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2008)

Ricœur, Paul: The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969)

Sereny, Gitta: Into that Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder (London: Pimlico, 1974)

Sofsky, Wolfgang: Die Ordnung des Terrors: Das Konzentrationslager (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1993)

Sofsky, Wolfgang: Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (London: Picador, 1996)

Vetlesen, Arne Johan: Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: An Inquiry into the Preconditions of Moral Performance (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1994)

Vetlesen, Arne Johan: Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evil­doing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Vetlesen, Arne Johan: "A Case of Resentment: Jean Amery versus Primo Levi" Journal of Human Rights 5, no. 1 (2006), p. 27-44

Vetlesen, Arne Johan: "Narratives of Entitlement" (Unpublished lecture, Oxford University, 2012)

Weisband, Edward: "Political Evil: State Atrocity, Genocide and Human Personality" (Book manuscript, 2013)

Welzer, Harald: Täter: Wie aus ganz normalen Menschen Massenmörder werden (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2005)

Wildt, Michael: Generation des Unbedingten: Das Führungskorps des Reichs­sicherheitshauptamtes (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2003)

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Zimbardo, Philip: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2007)


Arne Johan Vetlesen is Professor of Philosophy at the Department for Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo. Among his recent publications is A Philosophy of Pain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) and Angsten for oppdragelse. Et samfunnsetisk perspektiv på dannelse (with Per Bjørn Foros, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2012).


[1]     Frederick DeCoste, "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear", Passions in Context 3 (2012), p. 1.

[2]     Ibid., p. 2.

[3]     Ibid., p. 4.

[4]     Ibid., p. 4.

[5]     Ibid., p. 5.

[6]     Ibid.

[7]     Ibid.

[8]     Ibid., p. 6.

[9]     Ibid.

[10]    Arne Johan Vetlesen, Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 10.

[11]    Ibid., p. 167 ff., 295.

[12]    Frederick DeCoste, "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear", p. 6.

[13]    Ibid., p. 7.

[14]    Ibid.

[15]    See Arne Johan Vetlesen, Evil and Human Agency, p. 177.

[16]    Ibid., p. 52-102.

[17]    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (London: Abacus, 1988); Arne Johan Vetlesen, "A Case of Resentment: Jean Amery versus Primo Levi," Journal of Human Rights 5, no.1 (2006), p. 27-44.

[18]    Berel Lang, Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 22 et passim.

[19]    John Kekes, The Roots of Evil (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), p. 120.

[20]    Frederick DeCoste, "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear", p.1.

[21]    Ibid., p. 5.

[22]    Frederick DeCoste, "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear", p. 3.

[23]    Ibid., footnote 17.

[24]    Ibid., p. 6.

[25]    Ibid.

[26]    Ibid.

[27]    See Arne Johan Vetlesen, Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing, p. 14-51.

[28] See Harald Welzer, Täter: Wie aus ganz normalen Menschen Massenmörder wurden (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2005), p. 166 ff.

[29] See Wolfgang Sofsky, Die Ordnung des Terrors: Das Konzentrationslager (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1993).

[30]    Manus Midlarsky, Origins of Political Extremism: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

[31]    See Arne Johan Vetlesen, "Narratives of Entitlement" (Unpublished lecture, Oxford University, 2012).

[32]    Manus Midlarsky, Origins of Political Extremism, p. 40 f.

[33]    Manus Midlarsky, The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 88.

[34]    Edward Weisband, "Political Evil: State Atrocity, Genocide and Human Personality" (Book manuscript, 2013).

[35]    See Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Riess, "Those were the Days": The Holocaust through the Eyes of the Perpetrators and Bystanders (London: H. Hamilton, 1991), for the German case.

[36]    Paul Ricœur, The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969).

[37]    See Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: An Inquiry into the Preconditions of Moral Performance (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1994), p. 85 ff.; idem, Evil and Human Agency, p. 77 ff.

[38]    See Georg F.W. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977); Robert Pippin, Hegel's Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 220 ff.

[39]    Frederick DeCoste, "Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear", p. 8.

[40]    Ibid.

[41]    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

[42]    See C. Fred Alford, The Self in Social Theory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 96 ff.

[43]    Ibid., p. 97.

[44]    Ibid., p. 98.

[45]    Ibid., p. 102.