Arne Johan Vetlesen


A Case of Suppressing Emotions or of Acting Them Out?


Hannah Arendt held that seeing others suffer gives rise to "animal pity". The paper discusses various historical cases of atrocities where no such pity is forthcoming. To the contrary, to perceive signs of weakness or helplessness in others triggers aggression. Hobbes and Levinas highlight two diametrically opposed approaches to the question of what commands respect for the other, the positive side to the issue of what invites aggression. Whence the urge to destroy what is deemed weak? Is there a case to show that weakness instead has a peculiar ethical authority, commanding the would-be killer to hesitate?
In a famous passage in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt wrote about "the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering."[1] I take it that the pity referred to is called "animal" because it is deeply embedded in our nature as human beings; that is to say, it is elemental and it will arise spontaneously, provided that the subject is aware that suffering is taking place. Arendt's formulation is general, it does not identify the position of the subject vis-à-vis the one who suffers: animal pity is held to be the response, regardless of whether the subject is inflicting the suffering himself or observing someone else doing it. Indeed, the response's preceding the-morally and legally-crucial distinction between perpetrator and bystander is part of what makes it truly elemental.

That said, there is no doubt that the position Arendt is primarily occupied with in her book is that of the perpetrator. How could Eichmann do what he did? And to the extent that the answer to that thousand-dollar question is to do with Eichmann being a "desk murderer," a perpetrator protected from seeing the physical suffering his deeds amounted to, the force of the question is shifted. It is shifted, that is, to those men who actually did cause the suffering in question, causing it physically, and who by doing so had to see-sense-the suffering of the victims; see it as something factual and undeniable, as the intended effect of their own action.

In what follows, I shall depart from Arendt's way of framing the issue. More directly than she did, I shall address the role played by emotions in bringing about physical suffering. Whereas Arendt seems to have shared the widespread assumption that emotions are, and have to be, suppressed in those who produce vast amounts of physical suffering, I wish to explore the hypothesis that emotions are systematically activated in perpetrators of large-scale violence so as to intensify, deepen, and prolong the suffering.


Atrocities typically involve one group's aggressive acts against members of another group; they are an instance of collective action. Violence is deliberate and methodical, though its exact form and extent vary. In the paradigmatic scenario, two groups encounter each other. The situation is one of mutually acknowledged conflict, such as between two armies at war. However, this does not imply symmetry between the groups. We shall see that atrocities more often than not are perpetrated in a situation of significant asymmetry, whereby-surprisingly-the group inferior in number will commit the gravest atrocities.

To participate in a conflict situation of this kind is to be in a state that is far from emotionally neutral. Since the situation is tense, since the onset of violence is expected, fear is widespread. Fear colors the view and determines the acts to be carried out, invariably in the name of legitimate-though if need be, pre-emptive-self-defense.[2] These are the situational characteristics of what is termed a "forward panic." Tension builds up and increases, striving toward a climax. When the opportunity finally arrives, the tension/fear comes out in an emotional rush. In the context of military battles, the pattern is referred to as "the flight to the front." It resembles a panic; yet instead of running away and seeking shelter, the fighters rush forward toward the enemy. As sociologist Randall Collins observes, "Running forward or backwards, in either case they are in an overpowering emotional rhythm, carrying them on to actions that they would normally not approve of in calm reflective moments."[3] Collins cites the famous My Lai massacre in Vietnam on March 16, 1968, as a case of forward panic. But he also notes that most incidents of police violence that create public scandals have the character of forward panic, mentioning the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles in May 1991 as an archtypical instance.

The composite mood of a forward panic comes from the transformation of tension/fear into aggressive frenzy, usually centered on rage. A physiological process with its own irresistible momentum, a forward panic typically comprises, and oscillates between, strong yet diverse feelings, in particular fear, rage, and elation. The latter feeling is vital; Collins speaks about "hysterical laughter and ebullient good humor within the victorious group," to which he adds whooping and cheering for oneself and other sounds of victory, concluding that "there do not seem to be many silent forward panics; it is a climax of noise as well as of violence."[4] On Collins's view, the emotion of a forward panic, whatever its exact mixture, has two key characteristics. First, as we have seen, it is a hot emotion, a situation of being highly aroused, steamed up. It comes on in a rush, it explodes; and after the end of violence, it takes time to calm down. Second, it is an emotion that is rhythmic and strongly entraining. This attests to the group dynamics of the panic. Individuals in the throes of a forward panic keep repeating their aggressive actions; in doing so, they are not acting as distinct individuals with separate minds and bodies, as it were; everyone does everything in the mode of being and acting together with the others, thus allowing each one's mood to feed off the other's and so keeping them-whether they are two individuals or a hundred, or even thousands-locked into their mood of frenzy and hysterical elation.

I noted that the momentum in which the single individual is caught up when in a forward panic is irresistible. As a consequence, the ensuing violence assumes "second nature" characteristics: it is experienced, by perpetrators and victims alike, as unstoppable, as the unfolding of a law-like, quasi-autonomous dynamic that is beyond human control; a process not set in motion by human agency but instead one in which agency is entrapped. Collins remarks that "persons keep on doing what they are doing, over and over, though it makes no sense even as aggression." Hence the irrationality often commented on, the out-of-proportion and overkill qualities of the violence produced by a forward panic, rendering their gruesome deeds unrecognizable to the agents themselves, making them incapable of identifying themselves, and their pre-panic motives and mindsets, with the havoc wrought.

This is why Collins is justified in stating that "a forward panic always has the look of an atrocity. It is patently unfair; the strong against the weak; the armed against the unarmed (or the disarmed); crowd against the individual or tiny grouplet."[5] However, it is crucial to warn against misunderstanding the point about the violence produced by a forward panic being uncontrollable. Even in the most spectacular instances, such as the rape of Nanking in December 1937, where about 300,000 persons were killed and where observers agree that the situation escalated out of the control of the Japanese commanders, we would be wrong to describe it as an uncontrollable frenzy. As Collins points out, "Japanese soldiers did not go berserk, lashing out in all directions; they did not shoot each other, and they generally respected their own hierarchy." This being so, the often-invoked "moral holiday" attributed to the Japanese soldiers, or for that matter the American ones participating in My Lai, had its implicit yet unequivocal boundaries; "it was," writes Collins, "a frenzy of destruction, but a targeted and delineated frenzy." Collins's general conclusion is well taken: "A forward panic and similar moods of onrushing, uncontrollable violence is like running down a tunnel; but the tunnel has a place in social space, with a beginning and an ending in time, as well as walls outside of which it does not go."[6]

The analysis so far has focused on the ways in which a forward panic impacts on the group of perpetrators. What about the victims? In citing two armies at war as a paradigm case of collective violence, the implied relationship between them is one of more or less symmetry in terms of power. However, in exploring the psychological and emotional dynamics at work in a forward panic, we must acknowledge Collins's empirically based observation that such a panic "arises in an atmosphere of total domination." True, in Nanking, Chinese troops greatly outnumbered the Japanese troops on the scene, prompting the question why did the Chinese not fight back once it became clear that the Japanese attackers were intent on slaughtering them. Indeed, such asymmetry in numbers, if not weapons, is a hallmark of the forward panics that have gone down in history as particularly bloody: the attackers are few yet tightly organized and well prepared, the attacked are a mass of people, sometimes outnumbering the former one hundred to one or the like.

Given this constellation, why do the victims not take up a proper fight, allowing their superiority in numbers to compensate for their inferiority in military means?

The role of emotions in atrocities being my topic, it is important to recognize the extent to which the emotional responses of the victims help shape the extent of cruelty exhibited by the attackers. Much historical material suggests a rather straightforward stimulus-response here. The dialectic works like this: the more passively the victims go to their deaths, the more fury and contempt build up in their killers; and the more the violence of the killers is driven by open fury and contempt for their victims, the more terrorized and apathetic they become. Especially in cases where ideology has been employed to instill a feeling of superiority toward the victims, labeling them "vermin," "rats," or other versions of a subhuman species, and so in effect dehumanizing them, the dehumanization that started out as a more or less far-fetched allegation for propaganda purposes gets reinforced, as it were, the more passive, weak, and thus demonstrably inferior and helpless the inaction of the victims makes them appear. We recognize that there is something self-fulfilling-fatally self-fulfilling-about the aggressors' dismissive claims about the targeted victims. Nonresistance and passivity when confronted with slaughter feed back to the killers as extra proof-as if it was needed-that the victims are rightfully deemed unfit and undeserving to live, so that carrying out their death is a perfectly natural, and legitimate, response to their being the way they are.

This process of asymmetrical entrainment is not unique to massacres and other large-scale atrocities. Collins also identifies it on a much lower level of violence, in the micro-interactional processes of victory and defeat in sports, and in domination in the subtleties of interaction in everyday life: "The contemptuous striking out, the cruel jokes of the winners are sustained by the cringing despair and dull passivity of their victims. It is something like a bullying child growing more and more infuriated at the cringing of a cat he is torturing."[7]

Collins describes the mood of slaughter as an "emotional tunnel" to get at the incorrigibility and irreversibility of the group's violence: once set in motion, it gains a momentum that cannot be stopped; killing comes to a halt only when there is no one left to kill. This implies that whereas a forward panic sometimes will end up leaving more bodies on the ground than ordered and planned prior to the event, it is extremely unlikely to leave less. However, the atmosphere of frenzied celebration and exuberance that typically accompanies the attack, once it gets properly started, cannot persist for a very long period of time. It may last for a couple of hours, or at most for a couple of days, but after that, this mood wears out, and the killing of the remaining victims turns methodical and assumes the features of dull routine. The kick initially brought by the act of killing is replaced by the indifference that goes with having to finish up a sullen, ugly job.

It is significant that the emotional dynamic exhibited in mass killings performed in the manner of a forward panic is of a perfectly general nature: a build up, a turning point, a frenzied height, and a falling off. Remove the second phase, identified as the turning point, and the dynamic is the same as that of, say, sexual intercourse. This is also to note that by "emotional dynamic" (the term used by Collins) is not meant only the dimension of the subject's feelings but his physical state as well: the tension felt partly leads into, partly is sought overcome by eminently physical action, applying all one's strength to destroy the enemy. There is no mind/body split here: having the feeling (fear, tension) is to be bodily alert, mobilizing every fiber for attack.

I indicated that absent a turning point, no forward panic will ensue. What does the turning point consist in? Though mentioning its crucial importance, Collins has almost nothing to say about the characteristics of a turning point. What he offers by way of description is this:

"Forward panic is set in motion only if the tension is suddenly released, if the apparent threat and strength of the opponent rapidly turns into weakness; there must be a space in that situation into which to rush forward instead of running away, a vacuum into which the encounter is precipitated. If that vacuum does not open up, the situation flows in a different direction."[8]

The tension with which this description begins is the product of a prolonged period of confrontation between the two groups; its build up begins prior to the actual scene of physical co-presence and confrontation between the groups. Propaganda, taking pains to portray the enemy as a lethal threat to everything near and dear, even to one's own survival, helps the build up of the fear/tension complex to be instilled in the mind-body of its intended addressees. The longer this phase persists, the stronger the psychic and physical longing for release, meaning physical action that holds the promise of bringing to climax a tension increasingly felt as intolerable, as waiting to explode simply according to its inner dynamic. Hence the element of agent-reported choicelessness with regard to the action-read aggression-ensuing, as if one acted by inner compulsion and so could not bring oneself to resist doing what one did.

In Collins's description, the only factor invoked to explain the shift we are interested in-the shift from standoff to slaughter, from stasis to explosion-is that "the apparent threat and strength of the opponent rapidly turns into weakness." Now, whether the opponent is too strong for attack to be prudent, or so weak as to be easily beaten, is obviously hard to tell prior to engaging in full-fledged combat. Insofar as the enemy is found to be weak rather than strong, that experience can only be made in the process of fighting him, not before setting about to do so. Therefore, the turning point we are trying to identify may be of a more subtle kind. The signs taken to reveal that the enemy is vulnerable so that attack will prove successful, the more imminently launched the better, need to be recorded prior to action; the signs need to be taken up and referred to as a reference point for giving the green light to attack. Such signs of weakness may be wholly negative in character; a case in point is when the enemy, instead of launching the expected attack, either remains passive or actively withdraws. Tactically, this typically involves the group preoccupied with the optimal timing and scale of its attack in trial and error; in staging a small provocation here, a somewhat bigger one there, so as to tease out from the enemy what kind of response there is reason to expect once the full-blown attack-waiting in the wings-is launched.

To render the point less abstract, not to say regrettably concrete, consider the following example. Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic used the experience gained by taking hostages among UN personnel in Bosnia as a litmus test to tease out how the UN could be expected to react to his long-planned assault on the Muslims gathered within the UN-declared "safe zone" of Srebrenica in July 1995. Here the turning point in Mladic's tactics that the rest of the world takes the Srebrenica massacre (genocide, in fact) to embody needs to be identified as occurring a couple of months before the actual carrying out of that spectacular massacre. Experience collected over four years convinced Mladic that UN forces would not be employed to stop his operation in Srebrenica. Mladic, that is, was sure that his opponents would not expect him to dare undertake such a massive attack within UN-controlled territory; and his being right about this was brought out in the shock and disbelief articulated by UN-leaders, diplomatic and military, after the event. Mladic counted on UN, NATO, and EU not believing that he would attempt such an attack; partly for that very reason he decided to order the attack, and to bring it to conclusion without any resistance worth talking about, again precisely as Mladic had counted on. The weakness in the enemy that the enemy, as well as bystanders and observers of all stripes, concede as having been revealed by the attack and the destruction it wrought, is in fact a weakness the aggressor for his part perceived prior to the attack. Indeed, his being able to do so takes the form of a major determinant in the decision to attack.


I have departed somewhat from the issue of whether atrocities are a case of suppressing emotions or of acting them out. Yet we have not strayed so far from this issue as we are inclined to think. Something that I find striking in the material presented above, invoking various massacres (Nanking, My Lai, Srebrenica), is that for an aggressor to perceive weakness in the enemy is to become more contemptuous toward him and so inclined to step up violence. This point is a different one from saying that the weaker the enemy is taken to be, the less hesitant will be the perpetrator about attacking him. What I am getting at is not the well-established fact that weakness in the one signals "attack" to the other. Instead, I am trying to identify something more subtle, something bearing on what kind of psychological impact is exerted on an aggressor by being confronted by what is seen as weakness in the enemy. Or more to the point: the weakness spotted may be so significant in its effects on the subject that it helps produce the other as enemy, meaning as worthy only of contempt and as undeserving of respect, or even of life as such. In putting the point like this, I mean to address weakness in a constitutive sense.

To get a better grasp on what position my claim amounts to, consider Hobbes and Levinas as representing opposite poles in moral philosophy when it comes to the question of what it is that prompts a subject to show respect for others (in a minimal sense, basically involving respect for the other's right to life). Simply put, Hobbes's answer is the perceived strength of the other; Levinas's is the perceived vulnerability (if you will, weakness) of the other.

This difference suggests quite different figures as the paradigmatic other: in Hobbes, the other is the full-grown male, not only comparable but in all relevant respects similar to myself, be it in physical capacities, be it in intelligence, purposes, and interests. Accordingly, in all respects relevant to my showing or not showing respect, the relationship between the subject and the other is one of symmetry. Since we are both after the same (goods, resources, rights), scarcity among the latter is a problem to be solved; it can be solved, meaning all-out war can be avoided and peace and security be established, precisely because of the basic likeness obtaining between us, permitting and in fact giving rise to moral, legal, political, etc., symmetry in our dealings with each other.

Levinas's originality, indeed provocation, consists in taking the contrary view: I respect the other, I decide not to use my power to kill him, because-meaning on the condition that-I perceive him as utterly vulnerable, as easy prey, as it were, as incapable of resisting any wish I might entertain to disregard, neglect, or outright negate not only his rights but his very existence. The paradigmatic other is the infant, the widow, the stranger-so many versions of helplessness, of dependency; of absence of powers of conatus, self-persistence, self-assertion. Accordingly, whether I intend it or not, like it or not, have entertained the idea or not, once I encounter the other I am landed in a relationship of radical asymmetry, the ineluctable participation in which entails that I have no choice but to acknowledge the peculiar force of a command-Thou shalt not kill!-addressing me from a height, as it were, a command whose force and urgency consist in its emanating from a position, a being, of utter weakness-such as the newborn, wordlessly addressing the adult to protect her, take care of her, nurture her, lest she die. Here respect for the life of the other, for the other's craving to persist and to be supported in order successfully to persist, is-at least initially-a wholly one-way affair, a matter of doing something for another that the other is incapable of reciprocating, signaling that interaction unfolds beyond (or should we rather say prior to?) the economics of give and take, of equilibrium in the long, if not in the short, run. Levinas's claim could not be more beg-to-differ like vis-à-vis Hobbes: the more vulnerable and unable to challenge me the other, the stronger the authority of the moral appeal directed at me.

How to bring this philosophical contrast to bear on the role played by emotions among perpetrators of atrocities? When focusing on atrocities carried out collectively (which they typically are) by groups such as Mladic's forces in the Srebrenica case, Hobbes's position appears to be unequivocally confirmed and Levinas's just as unequivocally disproved. Such perpetrators proceed with their premeditated killings as long as, and exactly as long as, they encounter weakness not resistance. As Collins's analysis of a forward panic lets us expect, the weaker the enemy is perceived to be, the more cruelly and totally is he crushed. The absence of resistance met upon during the slaughter does not effect its slowing down-say, for reasons of mercy with victims demonstrably unable to do anything at all to protect themselves. On the contrary, the more complete their passivity, the greater the determination to kill them off completely and without mercy. As noted above, their passivity is turned into a proof that they do not deserve to live. It goes to demonstrate the legitimacy of exterminating them. Weakness, when encountered in this form, makes a difference for the perpetrator: not Levinasian-like, by causing the perpetrator to hesitate in his deed, by experiencing himself as affected by the weak's appeal to be spared by the strong, but the other way around, namely by fuelling the perpetrator's original intent to kill.

But is Levinas's alternative position so easily dismissed? Let us look more deeply into the matter.


On closer scrutiny, what is borne out by the material considered is not pure Hobbes. His doctrine is that strength respects strength; might halts when facing equal or superior might. To achieve a harmony (of sorts) between men individually intent on self-preservation and increase of power, possession, and vainglory, in a word: on expansion of what might they start out with, what is required is that all of them realize that today's gain-be it in the form of killing-more likely than not will make for tomorrow's loss-be it of one's own life. The logic of social co-existence is that of thoroughgoing symmetry. Once revealed, asymmetry-one individual's encountering another conspicuously unable to match his powers-would immediately spell the former's doing away with the latter, or at least invite exploitation. To expose weakness-to Hobbes always a comparative, never an absolute matter-is tantamount to defeat in the struggle for existence.

Convinced? Most likely, yes. But why? I mean, why so easily convinced that Hobbes got it right when depicting the basics of human aggression, what spurs it and what helps halt it?

To begin with, one of several blind spots in Hobbes's way of posing the issue is identified when we start asking a question indicated, though not fully stated so far: Whence the rage felt by perpetrators who in their victims encounter only fear, apathy, utter helplessness? Why do they get so furious? Why, for instance, is Rodney King, lying on the street, incapable of moving, hit forty-five times with the stick of the most active police officer? In a word, why does killing, precisely in cases where the victim is either completely unable or completely unwilling to put up a fight, so often take the form of overkill?

I believe that Freud made an important observation when he stated that our actions-and especially those driven by strong emotion-have a two-dimensional structure in the sense that in doing something to you, I simultaneously do something to myself. Adorno is attentive to this insight when he writes, referring to the notorious brutality of Nazi perpetrators: "Whoever is hard with himself earns the right to be hard with others as well and avenges himself for the pain whose manifestations he was not allowed to show and has to repress." That this is so is the upshot of a socialization and education according to which "manliness consists in a maximum of capacity to endure pain."[9]

It is a historical fact that while atrocities comprise victims of both sexes and all ages, the perpetrators are invariably men, mostly young men, at that. Though not my main concern, the importance of gender in understanding the violence in question cannot be ignored.

The American sociologist Thomas Scheff has written extensively on this topic. Confirming (though not mentioning) what Adorno had remarked with regard to "how Auschwitz was possible," Scheff notes that in Western cultures most boys learn, as first option, to hide their vulnerable feelings in emotionless talk, withdrawal, or silence. Scheff calls these three responses "(emotional) SILENCE." Importantly for our discussion, he goes on to state that "in situations where these options seem unavailable, males may cover their vulnerable feelings behind a display of hostility." What young boys learn in their families, and later from peers, is to "suppress emotions they actually feel by acting out one emotion, anger, whether they feel it or not."[10]

"Silence/violence" is Scheff's label for the pattern this gives rise to. In agreement with Adorno's observation, vulnerable feelings are first hidden from others, and after many repetitions, even from the self. In this latter stage, Scheff maintains, behaviour becomes compulsive. Facing what they construe to be threatening situations, men may be compelled to silence or to rage and aggression. Even within a secure social setting, and even with their partners, Scheff continues, men are less likely to talk freely than women about feelings of resentment, humiliation, embarrassment, rejection, joy, genuine pride, loss, and anxiety. This is where Scheff identifies the reason men are more likely to show anger: men "seem to be backed up on a wide variety of intense feelings, but sense that only anger is allowed them."[11]

The social environment in which the silence/violence pattern thrives need not be, and is not confined to, authoritarian upbringing German-style. A sufficient condition for its (re)production is that, as Scheff says of his own father, "equating fear with cowardice was implied in his comments and actions." The numbing out of feelings of fear that result from this in boys from an early age, makes men dangerous to themselves and to others. Fear is an innate signal of danger that helps us survive, as Scheff aptly emphasizes. The crucial point is that repression of emotions-refusing oneself to be in close contact with the entire repertoire of affective responses, as well as needs and inclinations, be they positive or negative-leads to a vicious circle. In order to avoid pain inflicted by others, we learn to repress the expressions of feeling that lead to negative reactions from others. A self-reinforcing pattern results: "As we become more backed up with avoided emotions, we have the sense that experiencing them would be unbearably painful. In this way, avoidance leads to avoidance in an ever increasing, self-perpetuating loop."[12]

How to counteract the dominance of this destructive pattern? Adorno offers a simple answer (simple in theory if not in practice): by seeing to it that anxiety not be repressed. "When anxiety is not repressed, when one permits oneself to have all the anxiety that this reality warrants, then precisely by doing that, much of the destructive effect of unconscious and displaced anxiety will probably disappear."[13]

The idea to which this brings us is a familiar one, not only from psycho­analysis but from psychology in general: strong negative feelings-such as rage and anger-arise with particular intensity in a subject who confronts in another subject feelings that he has long forbidden himself to feel, let alone to express openly. The soldier who beats up his victim, and be it a helpless child, over and over, continuing even long after the victim is dead, is reacting against, and hoping to bring to complete silence, something in himself that he has forbidden as part of his own repertoire. Killing off this part in the other-the part pointing to deep-seated vulnerability and dependency-becomes a means to confirm, again and again, its elimination in oneself. Other-directed aggression is fundamentally intertwined with auto-aggression.

But why precisely does aggression reach a peak when vulnerability-or what I above called signs of weakness-is met upon in the other? My suggestion is that envy plays a big part in this being so, and that envy's doing so is something the subject absolutely needs to deny, to himself no less than to others. The victim before the perpetrator who expresses fear and anxiety, who does not conceal that being in grave danger is fundamentally equal to having one's utter vulnerability at the hands of an aggressive other fully exposed, and who has nothing to muster against the thus exposed weakness being used against him, precisely to take his life-is the human being (the being human) that the perpetrator standing there disallows himself to be, to feel, to expose. It is precisely in situations where an emotionally silent (Scheff) subject meets upon one who manifestly breaks that silence, demonstrating what has been forced into hiding and denial in the former, that a flicker of reminder occurs, as it were: the other represents a could-be-me contrasting with the real me. By being put so sharply into relief, the contrast is rendered unexpectedly stark; ineluctably, it is sensed as emotionally unbearable.

Although I have presented this thesis in my own words here, it is not difficult to pick examples from the material we have already discussed. For instance, Scheff speaks about Lt. William Calley's "combination of emotional silence and flagrant violence" as exhibited in his leading role in the My Lai massacre in 1968. Scheff also mentions the case of Hitler, focusing (as does the psychoanalyst Alice Miller) on Hitler's psychopathology as a product of the conjunction of the father's physical and emotional violence against Hitler as a child and his mother's complicity in it. Miller argues that the rage and shame caused by his father's treatment might have been completely repressed because of his mother's complicity.[14] As is well known, Hitler's mother Klara, as much as young Adolf, was tyrannized by her husband; however, she is reported to have offered only obedience and respect in return. In this atmosphere of complicity in mistreatment, of there being no "third" person to confide in and with whom to share his feelings of helplessness, hurt, and betrayal, Hitler was required not only to suffer humiliation by his father in complete silence, but also to respect him for it, like his mother did and expected of him as well. This makes for a basic context for repression.

Scheff comments that Hitler's early childhood constituted an external feeling trap from which there was no escape. The trap entails that when shame-I am being beaten by my father, and my mother knows about it, but they both find it perfectly alright-is evoked by, goes unacknowledged, it generates intense symptoms of mental illness and/or violence toward self or others. Under the conditions of complete repression that seem to have been the reality of Hitler's childhood, a repression never to be broken later in his life, Hitler lived in a constant stage of anger bound by shame.[15] Moreover, Hitler is reported by those who knew him from early on to fly into a rage over any triviality. His rising to absolute power as Chancellor did not diminish but amplifed his constant apprehensiveness when interacting with others: "His anxieties lest he appear ridiculous, weak, vulnerable, incompetent, or in any way inferior are indications of his endless battle with shame."[16] Shame theory explains that long chains of alternating shame and anger are experienced as blind rage, hatred, or resentment if the shame component is completely repressed. Here the expression of anger serves as a disguise for the hidden shame, projecting onto the outside world the feelings that go unacknowledged within. In Hitler's case, of course, the Jews were the main scapegoat onto whom his inner conflict was projected, whereby one should recognize the extent to which everything allegedly "Jewish" was caught up in shamefulness-be it their religious rituals, their sexual cravings, their dealings in money and high finance, etc. The psychological bottom line is all too familiar and not at all confined to admittedly extremely pathological cases like Hitler. It is that which cannot, for reasons of initially externally enforced denial, be handled within is compelled to be tackled in the outside world, in the guise of so many "shameful," "aggressive," or "dirty" objects (persons) that merit but to perish from this world.


It is time to pause and reflect on whether I have succeeded in providing a clear-cut answer to the question originally posed: Should atrocities be regarded as a case of suppressing emotions or of acting them out?

Let me begin by observing, briefly, that this way of putting the question carries an implicit reference to a view made popular with a number of studies during the last decades, not least Zygmunt Bauman's much-discussed book Modernity and the Holocaust.[17] To simplify somewhat, Bauman's thesis is that strong emotions-such as rage and hatred-were in fact deemed unwished for among the Nazis persecuting the Jews; due to their "biological" force and their behavioral unpredictability, emotions, if permitted to be let loose in the carrying out of the mass killings, would only cause the killings to get out of control. In a word, openly enacted upon emotions would prove dysfunctional to the goal of killing off as many victims as possible in the quickest manner technically possible. The detached perpetrator, regarding murder as a purely technical affair calling for efficient logistics and bureaucratic devices, would hence be more up to the task than the perpetrator acting from deeply felt antipathies toward the victims. Accordingly, persons with openly sadistic leanings would be expelled from the ranks of perpetrators once such traits came to the fore.

As is well known, Daniel Goldhagen goes out of his way to repudiate the thesis that the Holocaust was the work of a disinterested bureaucratic mindset and that in order to reach their deadly aims the Nazis had to rid themselves and their henchmen of personal motives of an emotional nature, in particular those manifesting a desire to hurt and humiliate the victims, the more so, the better.[18] Goldhagen contends that the anti-Semitism at work in the Nazi case proved to be so shockingly lethal in its consequences precisely because the ideology took pains to gain access to the emotional layers of the German population; having identified and engaged with the layers of pent-up frustration, rage, and hatred, the (explosive) force of these negative feelings were meticulously and expertly channeled so as to target the favored scapegoat for everything that had gone awry-namely, the Jews. Here the "return of the repressed," of which Freud spoke, is seen to be a return with a vengeance indeed, one for which an overt object is ready to hand. Self-related gratification and collective narcissism became allies in a truly explosive mixture of two complexes into one, rendering participation in killing the declared enemy of each and all an activity with a whole catalogue of promised upsides: professional advancement, social admiration, the passing of the character ordeal Heydrich and Himmler liked to talk out when addressing the SS, the elite within the elite (I return to this below).

Here, if not before, we are struck by the analytical poverty of the category "emotions" as applied so far. Actively taking part in an atrocity, I may in fact enact both of the alternatives that my original question implies as mutually exclusive: I may, that is, suppress some emotions (those to do with love, compassion, and sympathy) while acting out specific others (those to do with hatred, contempt, and rage). Suppressing the former may be regarded as a precondition for allowing free reign to the latter; only this way can the destruction brought by my action be so limitless, so devoid of any hesitancy on my part, and presumably so empty of regret and remorse afterwards. To apply Scheff's scheme, violence presupposes, and is made possible by, a silencing of emotions-though not, as we now recognize more clearly, a silencing of emotions per se or en bloc, but a highly selective silencing. What is being silenced here is that part of my emotional repertoire that would let me regard and treat others as objects of love, compassion, and sympathy, hence disposing me to protect them from pain and suffering. In an earlier work, I have theorized the faculty from which these positively other-regarding feelings arise as the faculty of empathy; its core consists in the ability to be affected by how the other is affected.[19]

Let me connect this point with the quote from Arendt with which I started. Terminology is unimportant: what Arendt calls pity, others call compassion; I regard both as presupposing and as arising from our faculty of empathy. The phenomenon Arendt draws attention to can be described like this: in focusing on your suffering qua body, qua sentient being, I immediately take your pain as a reason for my acting; and in doing so, I treat your suffering as equivalent with my own. Here, in the words of Jay Bernstein, "my co-suffering with you functions as a bond between us, a valuing of your hurt as what should not be."[20] Bernstein goes on to state that "Pain behavior reveals the value of life and life as valuable; compassion's generality turns suffering into injustice, as what ought not to be generally, and its arbitrariness reveals the unjustness of its limitation."[21] For all its qualities, when it comes to disposing the agent to relieve, as opposed to inflict, the other's pain, compassion (or sympathy) has not made much of a career in Western moral philosophy (with the noteworthy exceptions of Hume, Smith, and Schopenhauer). This being so, the following double association has reigned relatively uncontested, not only in theory but to a large extent also in practice, and not only totalitarian or fascist style: the association, on the one hand, of compassion with human weakness and unlimited dependency, and the association, on the other hand, of reason with independence and autonomy Kantian style. Crucially, this has led to the latter displacing the former. To silence compassion, the sought-for purely administrative handling of killing, hence of the other's pain, promotes abstraction from sensuous particularity. Bernstein observes that silencing compassion requires becoming cold, in Adorno's sense of coldness: coldness is the affect of indifference toward sensuous particularity. The goal, as expressed most famously by Himmler, is to remain "decent" in the midst of revolting carnage; come what may in terms of human suffering, the goal to carry on acting-killing-in a methodical and consistent manner, at no time succumbing to "human weakness" in the form of compassion, to making an exemption when facing a victim who for some reason triggers the agent's all-too-human inclination for "softness" and so for letting live. "The coldness necessary to complete the task," Bernstein continues, "tapped a coldness already there," a coldness participating in a specific historical constellation of rationalized experience and instrumental rationality, seen as constitutive of the bourgeois subjectivity Adorno considered crucial for the carrying out of the Holocaust.[22]

As I suggested, what we witness in the agents here is not a silencing of emotions per se, but a silencing of positive other-regarding emotions such as compassion (Adorno), pity (Arendt), and sympathy (Hume). The category mistake often made, for instance by Bauman, consists in throwing the baby, meaning all emotions, out with the bath water. From the documented endeavour among Nazi leaders to silence compassion with as much as a single victim, be it a helpless child, it does not follow that all emotions in the agents' repertoire were sought eliminated. The coldness of which Adorno and Bernstein speak draws our attention to wide-ranging socio-historical factors in the socialization of men-yes, men in particular-not only within the context of a decade-long totalitarian rule, but prior to, and so as preparing the way for, Nazism's rise to power. To pick an example to make my point: when one subjects Eichmann's behavior toward the Jews-individually, not only collectively and categorically-to closer scrutiny, one finds ample evidence that he on several occasions demonstrated a zeal for murder that appears driven by deep-seated hatred; feelings of outright aggression against the Jews, or some individual Jew, were clearly on display.[23] However, this does not refute Adorno's thesis about socialization into coldness, about silencing capacities for compassion. The coldness epitomized in Eichmann the desk-murderer does not exclude an element of sadism, of considering the suffering inflicted on millions of victims not as a "necessary evil" but instead as a supreme good, a goal to be attained at all costs (including losing the war). The same can be said, with even stronger proof, in the case of KZ commandant Franz Stangl.[24] To conclude, then, whereas some emotions were indeed silenced, since their flourishing would heighten inhibitions against causing suffering, others, namely emotions of the opposite, meaning of the aggressive kind, were clearly required, lending much-needed energy and motivation to the otherwise quickly routinized and dull work of killing defenseless people day in, day out. Goldhagen no doubt overdoes his case in his polemic against, by implication, Bauman; but that does not detract from him having a valid point.

To make the picture more complete, we should also acknowledge that in inflicting such huge amounts of suffering on defenseless victims such as children, women, the elderly, and mentally retarded people, the Nazi perpetrators in question typically report doing this with a perfectly good conscience. And indeed, few among them are known to have been bothered by remorse after the war, a fact that preoccupied survivors like Primo Levi and Jean Amery to the point of obsession. On the face of it, it is easy to see that, having invested so much of their identity and self-image in professing that participating in such atrocities was the morally "right" thing to do, these persons would have everything to lose in terms of self-respect and self-esteem should they come to entertain an alternative assessment, meaning one of moral condemnation. In this sense, positive as well as negative emotions from the very start figured substantially in the kind of commitment fostered among perpetrators. Recall that the peculiar SS-morality articulated by Heinrich Himmler in particular invoked feelings-deemed as virtues-of loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage, Vaterland-oriented altruism, and the like. One basic principle had to be absolute for SS men, as Himmler took pains to make clear in his famous speech delivered at Posen on 3 October 1943: they had to be "honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our blood, and to nobody else. Our concern, our duty is to our people and our blood. Toward anything else we can be indifferent."[25] Honor, decency, loyalty: the most well-established virtues of the Western canon are all conspicuously included, with the important twist that they are employed as entirely in-group concepts. This fact leads Peter Haidu to comment:

"What strikes the reader with horror at the reading of Himmler's speech is that the very qualities we admire and defend, with which we inculcate our children as qualities of a desired subjectivity, are qualities claimed by his discourse as leading to the Event [i.e., the Holocaust] and to the destruction of that subjectivity."[26]

Self-consciously (and shockingly) unapologetic, Himmler's message clearly meant to come across as morally upbeat, encouraging the personnel committing mass murder to look upon themselves with pride, yet also with the modesty that is proof that one steadfastly acts on behalf of one's collective and not out of self-interested motives; one helps carry out the difficult work for which only the elite within the elite is fit-psychologically and morally, in terms of character and motivation.

The significant narcissistic gains experienced by members of perpetrator groups have been theorized by social psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Harald Welzer, stressing that the very violence that is totally destructive to the victims is deeply "constructive" for the perpetrators in that being members of such a group helps build strong positive emotional ties between the individuals involved, engaging them in the solidarity and comradeship that go with doing "difficult" things together over a period of time, facing the same hardships, including condemnation by outsiders.[27] If we are to believe Welzer, nothing quite socializes men-yes, men-like committing atrocities together: the more outrageous, extensive, and long-lasting the violence performed side by side with others, the more strongly will the shared Weltanschauung and feelings of solidarity be entrenched in each participant, making exit from the group not only undesirable but well-nigh unthinkable. When in the midst of perpetrating slaughter, the group typically experiences a loss of the wider world that is, so to speak, compensated by the evolvement of in-group closeness, warmth, and fraternity; when interaction with the wider outside world fades or even atrophies, the rules and norms of conduct that pervade the actions, goals, and interests of the group come to reign supreme, to become the only reality-also: moral reality-worth paying attention to.[28] The alternative, namely to challenge or oppose outright the moral universe both theorized and practiced by the in-group, would mean losing one's place, giving up one's status as a proper member, as one of us; that option, according to Zimbardo and Welzer, for the large majority of people is a nonstarter. The bottom line of their approach to group violence is the claim that persons do everything in their might to secure group membership. This concern trumps the concern attributed to an autonomous moral subject (one Welzer explicitly asserts does not exist)[29] whose willingness to preserve membership depends on the group-independent (as it were) moral merits of the actions such membership demands of an individual agent.


To be sure, a bleak note to end on. Misguidedly bleak, I shall argue. But instead of rehearsing my reservations against accepting the all-comprising social-psychologism just referred to,[30] I shall conclude by re-engaging with the paradigmatic contrast I made above. Considered in the light of our discussion so far, who can be said to come closest to the mark, Hobbes or Levinas?

Hobbes's claim is that other-directed aggression occurs in the service of safeguarding self-interest and that what halts the enactment of such aggression in a manner amounting to a war of all against all that no one can be sure to profit from in the long run is for each individual to realize that while the others are not (significantly) stronger than he is nor are they (significantly) weaker; symmetry obtains. To hammer home the point about symmetry-in powers, energies, and motives between men-is, for Hobbes, to make the argument that is required for a peaceful social arrangement to overcome a (pregiven and quasi "natural") conflict-ridden and violent one. Asymmetry as between men is not a topic, not a relationship, worth dwelling on in Hobbes; it figures, so to speak, only to be dismissed, as the exception from the rule, or as a false perception of the dynamics of human co-existence. True, the relationship between the Leviathan and his subjects is one shot through with gross and eliminable asymmetry; this is what legitimates the former ruling over the latter, it is the difference that keeps them both in the proper place. The point, however, is that a relationship of symmetry-namely, between otherwise sovereign individuals-is primordial; the asymmetry vis-à-vis the Leviathan is the willful product of an agreement between men recognizing themselves as equals.

Whereas Hobbes relegates asymmetry to a secondary role, Levinas opposes the powerful tradition of thought alluded to above by asserting that the perceived inferiority-weakness, vulnerability-of the other is constitutive for my responsibility for her. There is a direct proportionality between absence of power and degree of responsibility: the more vulnerable and helpless my addressee, the more unequivocal becomes my responsibility. Though perhaps a somewhat strained exercise, I suggest we translate this thesis into our question about violence and what may help halt it. The view Levinas offers here is that to acknowledge the powerlessness of the other, meaning her nonresistance toward my powerfulness, is to suspend the latter. This turning of the tables, this standing the received wisdom on its head, is backed by Levinas's argument that a peculiar resistance issues from the other who stands before me naked instead of armed, passive instead of active; this nakedness-in so many senses-lends a peculiar authority to the wordlessly conveyed command, "Thou shalt not kill!" To be sure, in our action we may, we are free to, resist this command; yet while it is not irresistible, it is undeniable, contends Levinas: "Here is established a relationship not with a very great resistance, but with the absolutely other, with the resistance of what has no resistance, with ethical resistance."[31] Ethical resistance in the sense intended here is directly connected to suffering in Levinas's analysis: "Is not the evil of suffering-extreme passivity, impotence, abandonment and solitude-also the unassumable and thus the possibility of a half opening, and the possibility that wherever a moan, a cry, a groan or a sigh happen there is the original call for aid, for curative help?"[32] Levinas addresses our topic even more directly when he speaks about how the opposition posed by the face of the-nude, helpless-other is related to violence:

"Violence consists in ignoring this opposition, ignoring the face of a being, avoiding the gaze, and catching sight of an angle whereby the no inscribed on a face ["Thou shalt not kill"] by the very fact that it is a face becomes a hostile or submissive force. Violence is a way of acting on every being and every freedom by approaching it from an indirect angle. Violence is a way of taking hold of a being by surprise, of taking hold of it in its absence, in what is not properly speaking it. The relationship with things, the domination of things, this way of being over them, consists in never approaching them in their individuality."[33]

That violence entails denying the victim particularity, individuality, and uniqueness, translating her instead into the impersonal and versachlichte domain of the general, or into a perfectly exchangeable element of a calculus or a category, is not an insight original with Levinas, of course; it is to be found everywhere in Adorno's writings as well, to give but one example. More peculiar to Levinas is his insistence that violence is not, properly speaking, a relationship at all. Violent action, says Levinas, "is in fact an action where one is as though one were alone."[34]

Our take on the role of emotions in the carrying out of atrocities has focused on why the perceived weakness of the victim, in the form of manifest (and sometimes greatly surprising) nonresistance and passivity in the face of persecution, in a number of well-documented cases serves as a go-ahead to inflict more suffering instead of less. Why, that is, does the victim's weakness invite more violence, excessive and overkill-like violence, instead of marking its limit and helping bring it to a halt?

The answer I gather from Levinas, who to my knowledge never posed the issue in exactly these terms, is this. The other's weakness is the other's opposition; it constitutes her ethical resistance to my action, my intended violence. This is equal, I propose, to saying that weakness is an invitation: the invitation to relationship, to forming a bond between the subject and the other. Strictly speaking, Levinas wants to say something more. He does not only assert that the passive or inferior party, precisely by virtue of that passivity, is the one initiating the relationship, which for Levinas means a relationship of responsibility that goes one way-mine for you-without, or rather prior to, concerns with reciprocity, with equilibrium between give and take, etc. The "more" Levinas wishes to say has thus been hinted at: it is that I am committed to a bond with the other in the manner of an "always already": it is not for me, that is, to bring such an interpersonal bond, such a commitment for the other in the form of one-sided responsibility for the other, into existence. The other does that, effects the bond. Arriving too late to bring it about per will and decision, hence as a product of my freedom, of my autonomy, I can only either do it justice or deny it, meaning break the bond by resisting the call for responsibility.

I shall not go into the intricacies of how Levinas, over and over again throughout his philosophical oeuvre, makes his argument. What I take his analysis to help us understand is this. To confront the other in her utter vulnerability is to be reminded of my partaking in a relationship of responsibility for her fate. The more completely this vulnerability is exposed to me, the stronger grows the undeniability and urgency of the responsibility I carry. My response will make all the difference in the world for the other: life or death. This heightens my power, makes it limitless and absolute, in direct proportionality to its absence in the other. The situation is one of asymmetry in extremis.

I suggest that Levinas is right that the vulnerability confronted will be experienced as highly charged. It is the opposite of neutral; there can be no neutral way of responding: either my responsibility is borne out in the manner of halting violence and saving her life, or I choose to negate its moral impact, namely by completing my attack, by killing. Here my violence effects the total and irreversible silencing of the other.

Why choose the latter option, as so many individuals have done? Consider this hypothesis: my killing the helpless other is my means to silence the appeal to responsibility that his vulnerability conveys. I neutralize the far-from-neutral appeal by neutralizing its sender. In doing so, I acknowledge something intolerable about the appeal, addressing me, haunting me, as long as its sender is alive to issue it. The felt intolerability of the appeal testifies to its forceless force, its ethical resistance as produced by factual nonresistance.

Is there, then, a quicker route from the appeal to silencing its sender by taking her life, than from the appeal to protecting its sender by saving her life? Levinas, of course, is the last philosopher to deal in statistics. His thesis about the peculiar force of an appeal backed not by power but by its sheer absence is not the product of empirical investigation. The philosophical importance of Levinas's description of the appeal has to do with the unique manner in which it poses the choice between doing good and doing evil to the agent addressed by it. The agent's freedom consists in this: that a response either way is available; that the alternatives are precisely this stark: no neutral stance is possible, hence no evasion from the compulsion-obligation-to respond either the one way or the other.

And yet, what if the response in most cases resembling the Levinasian scenario is that the latter alternative-killing so as to silence the appeal once and for all-is chosen? Levinas, who dedicated his principal ethical work to the victims of the Holocaust, will be taken by many a reader, even sympathetic ones, to be downright refuted by the evidence brought by studies such as Jan Gross's Neighbors or Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, from which the following observation is extracted:

"It is a matter of recorded fact that many of the most violent savageries carried out by the Jews of Eastern Europe were perpetrated not by the Germans themselves, but by the local populations of Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians; the neighbors, the intimates, with whom the Jews had lived side by side for centuries, until some delicate mechanism shifted and they turned on their neighbors . . . . Closeness can lead to emotions other than love. It's the ones who have been too intimate with you, lived in too close quarters, seen too much of your pain or envy or, perhaps more than anything, your shame, who, at the crucial moment, can be too easy to cut out, to exile, to expel, to kill off."[35]

Instead of viewing this as a piece of historical evidence that refutes Levinas's position, I think it gives us reason to appreciate the prudence in Levinas's pointing not to the neighbor but to the stranger as the ethical addressee par excellence. Despite the historical correctness, as well as the psychological unpleasantness, of the sociological closeness between killer and killed that is documented in the above-mentioned works, we should not forget that more often than not the parties involved in the large-scale atrocities we consider here are perfect strangers. This being the case, Levinas is right on target when he elects the stranger, not the neighbor, as the paradigmatic other with which the agent is confronted. Whereas scholars such as Welzer and Zimbardo end by completely socializing the individual moral agent, making belongingness to the group the supreme issue, thereby eclipsing all autonomous moral decision-making, Levinas-in an unexpected and, as it were, overlooked similarity to Hobbes, his great rival-paints the agent in a radically individualized, de- or should we say pre-contextualized fashion, absent all sorts of in-group commitments, bonds, and norms. Though far-fetched, indeed a fiction, from the social-psychological perspective of Welzer and Zimbardo, this portrait of the moral agent as an individual, as alone in the face of the other and so as alone when it comes to deciding how to act, rings true to no less than the adherents of two major intellectual traditions in the West: Lutheran Christianity and atheistic existentialism, Kierkegaard and Sartre, respectively.

There is also an independent argument to counter the objection against Levinas that his radical individualist, noncontextual conception of the moral agent overburdens the real-life agent and, besides, flies in the face of all available evidence. Contra Welzer and Zimbardo, in the context of moral, or not so moral, life, exceptions from the statistical rule command exemplary relevance. Theirs is the power to call upon us: to make us change our ways, for the morally better at that. In insisting on the possibility, as opposed to the likelihood, of choosing an alternative that de facto is chosen all too rarely, we are all reminded that this alternative possesses reality. Having been the actual choice of but a minority in the past, it rests on all of us to help make it the majority choice in the future; or, alternatively put, speaking on behalf not of collectivity or humankind but of myself only: it rests on me to make sure to make the exception my choice, thereby lending it weight and visibility in the common world of which Arendt so fondly speaks, ensuring that this act survives me and poses a yardstick by which others, or simply my successors, can measure their own efforts as moral agents facing the choice between good and evil. To act in this manner is within human reach-as Arendt's invocation of Anton Schmidt, the lone and forgotten resister in the midst of mass killings, compels us to recognize. That the exception is more important, meaning morally important, than the rule, is not news to ethics but arguably its greatest challenge to each of us.


Adorno, Theodor W.: "Education after Auschwitz." In Critical Models (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005)

Arendt, Hannah: Eichmann in Jerusalem (New York: Viking, 1965)

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

Bernasconi, Robert et al., eds. : The Provocation of Levinas (London: Routledge, 1988)

Bernstein, Jay: Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Bromberg, Norbert / Small, Verna V.: Hitler's Psychopathology (New York: International Universities Press, 1983)

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

Collins, Randall: "Micro-interactional Dynamics of Violent Atrocities." Irish Journal of Sociology 15, no. 1 (2006), pp. 40-52

Friedlander, Saul, ed.: Probing the Limits of Representation (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1992)

Goldhagen, David J.: Hitler's Willing Executioners (New York: Vintage, 1996)

Gross, Jan T. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)

Haidu, Peter. "The Dialectics of Unspeakability: Language, Silence, and the Narratives of Desubjectification." In Probing the Limits of Representation, edited by Saul Friedlander (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 277-299

Hobbes, Thomas: Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969)

Jeffery, Renee, ed.: Confronting Evil in International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Levinas, Emmanuel: Collected Philosophical Papers (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993)

Levinas, Emmanuel: "Useless Suffering." In The Provocation of Levinas, edited by Robert Bernasconi and David Wood (London: Routledge, 1988), pp. 156-167

Mendelsohn, Daniel: The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (New York: HarperCollins, 2006)

Miller, Alice: For Your Own Good (London: Virago, 1987)

Miller, Alice: The Untouched Key (London: Virago, 1990)

Scheff, Thomas: "Aggression, Hypermasculine Emotions and Relations."Irish Journal of Sociology 15, no. 1 (2006), p. 24-39.

Sereny, Gitta: Into that Darkness (London: Pimlico, 1974)

Tester, Keith: Moral Culture (London: Sage, 1997)

Vetlesen, Arne Johan: "Collective Evildoing: A Critique of Zimbardo." In Confronting Evil in International Relations, edited by Renee Jeffery (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 61-85

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

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

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

Wojak, Irmtrud: Eichmanns Memoiren. Ein kritischer Essay (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2004)

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

[1]    Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (New York: Viking, 1965), p. 106.

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

[3]    Randall Collins, "Micro-interactional Dynamics of Violent Atrocities," Irish Journal of Sociology 15, no. 1 (2006), p. 40.

[4]    Ibid., p. 43.

[5]    Ibid., p. 44 f.

[6]    Ibid., p. 48.

[7]    Ibid.

[8]    Ibid., p. 51.

[9]    Theodor W. Adorno, "Education after Auschwitz," in Critical Models (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 198.

[10]   Thomas Scheff, "Aggression, Hypermasculine Emotions and Relations," Irish Journal of Sociology 15, no. 1 (2006), p. 24.

[11]   Ibid.

[12]   Ibid., p. 26.

[13]   Adorno, "Education after Auschwitz," p. 198.

[14]   See Alice Miller, For Your Own Good (London: Virago, 1987); idem, The Untouched Key (London: Virago, 1990).

[15]   Scheff, "Aggression, Hypermasculine Emotions and Relations," p. 34.

[16]   Norbert Bromberg and Verna V. Small, Hitler's Psychopathology (New York: International Universities Press, 1983), p. 183.

[17]   See Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford: Polity Press, 1989).

[18]   See Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (New York: Vintage, 1996).

[19]   See Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1994).

[20]   Jay Bernstein, Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 406.

[21]   Ibid.

[22]   Ibid., p. 411.

[23]   See David Cesarani, Eichmann: His Life and Crimes (London: Vintage, 2005); Irmtrud Wojak, Eichmanns Memoiren. Ein kritischer Essay (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2004).

[24]   See Gitta Sereny, Into that Darkness (London: Pimlico, 1974).

[25]   Heinrich Himmler quoted in Peter Haidu, "The Dialectics of Unspeakability: Language, Silence, and the Narratives of Desubjectification," in Probing the Limits of Representation, ed. Saul Friedlander, 277-299 (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1992).

[26]   Ibid., p. 293.

[27]   Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2007); Harald Welzer, Täter. Wie aus ganz normalen Menschen Massenmörder wurden (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2005).

[28]   Keith Tester, Moral Culture (London: Sage, 1997), p. 105.

[29]   Welzer, Täter, p. 267.

[30]   For objections, see Arne Johan Vetlesen, "Collective Evildoing: A Critique of Zimbardo," in Confronting Evil in International Relations, ed. Renee Jeffery, 61-85 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[31]   Emmanuel Levinas, Collected Philosophical Papers (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993), p. 55.

[32]   Levinas, "Useless Suffering," in The Provocation of Levinas, ed. Robert Bernasconi et al., pp. 156-167 (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 158.

[33]   Levinas, Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 19.

[34]   Ibid., p. 18.

[35]   Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), p. 129 f.; see also Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).