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Arne Johan Vetlesen Evil and Human Agency Understanding Collective Evildoing Cambridge Cultural Social Studies 2005

Arne Johan Vetlesen Evil and Human Agency Understanding Collective Evildoing Cambridge Cultural Social Studies 2005

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Arne Johan Vetlesen Evil and Human Agency Understanding Collective Evildoing Cambridge Cultural Social Studies 2005
Arne Johan Vetlesen Evil and Human Agency Understanding Collective Evildoing Cambridge Cultural Social Studies 2005

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Evil and Human Agency

Evil is a poorly understood phenomenon. In this provocative and original approach to evil, Professor Vetlesen argues that to do evil is to inflict pain intentionally on another human being, against his or her will, and causing serious and foreseeable harm. Vetlesen investigates why and in what sort of circumstances such a desire arises, and how it is channelled, or exploited, into collective evildoing. He argues that such evildoing, pitting whole groups against each other, springs from a combination of character, situation, and social structure. By combining a philosophical approach inspired by Hannah Arendt, a psychological approach inspired by C. Fred Alford, and a sociological approach inspired by Zygmunt Bauman, and bringing these to bear on the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, Vetlesen shows how closely perpetrators, victims, and bystanders interact, and how aspects of human agency are recognized, denied, and projected by different agents.

is Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, University of Oslo, Norway. He is the author of over thirteen books, including Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: An Inquiry into the Preconditions of Moral Performance (1994) and Closeness: An Ethics (with H. Jodalen, 1997).

Cambridge Cultural Social Studies

Series editors: J E F F R E Y C . A L E X A N D E R , Department of Sociology, Yale University, and S T E V E N S E I D M A N , Department of Sociology, University of Albany, State University of New York. Titles in the series

Matters of Culture D A V I N A C O O P E R , Challenging Diversity, Rethinking Equality and the Value of Difference K R I S H A N K U M A R , The Making of English National Identity R O N E Y E R M A N , Cultural Trauma S T E P H E N M . E N G E L , The Unfinished Revolution ` ´ M I C H E L E L A M O N T A N D L A U R E N T T H E V E N O T , Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology R O N L E M B O , Thinking through Television A L I M I R S E P A S S I , Intellectual Discourse and the Politics of Modernization R O N A L D N . J A C O B S , Race, Media, and the Crisis of Civil Society R O B I N W A G N E R - P A C I F I C I , Theorizing the Standoff K E V I N M C D O N A L D , Struggles for Subjectivity S . N . E I S E N S T A D T , Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution P I O T R S Z T O M P K A , Trust S I M O N J . C H A R L E S W O R T H , A Phenomenology of Working-Class Experience L U C B O L T A N S K I , Translated by G R A H A M D . B U R C H E L L , Distant Suffering M A R I A M F R A S E R , Identity without Selfhood C A R O L Y N M A R V I N A N D D A V I D W . I N G L E , Blood Sacrifice and the Nation (list continues at end of book)

Evil and Human Agency
Understanding Collective Evildoing

Arne Johan Vetlesen

cambridge university press Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521856942 © Arne Johan Vetlesen 2005 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published in print format 2005 isbn-13 isbn-10 isbn-13 isbn-10 isbn-13 isbn-10 978-0-511-13555-2 eBook (EBL) 0-511-13555-6 eBook (EBL) 978-0-521-85694-2 hardback 0-521-85694-9 hardback 978-0-521-67357-0 paperback 0-521-67357-7 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Daniel. and Petter Nicolai .To my children: Anahita.


Preface A note on the cover image Introduction 1 The ordinariness of modern evildoers: a critique of Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust Introduction The Holocaust as modernity’s window Reformulating the relationship between society and morality The many meanings of proximity Uncoupling responsibility from reciprocity Goldhagen’s challenge Reassessing Bauman’s thesis in the light of recent scholarship Mistaking the bureaucratic design for the reality Rendering human beings superfluous Hannah Arendt on conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil Introduction Assessing the influence of St Augustine ‘I cannot possibly want to become my own adversary’: the Socratic bottom line Conscience and temptation Did Eichmann have a conscience? The notion of conscience in Heidegger’s Being and Time Arendt’s advocacy of the Socratic model of conscience

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List of contents

Double dehumanization and human agency Lessons of an unforeseen proximity: Eichmann meets Storfer The attraction of superfluousness 3 The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others: An assessment of C. Fred Alford’s work on evil Introduction ‘Evil is pleasure in hurting and lack of remorse’ Klein’s positions of experience Imagining evil as the alternative to doing it: the role of culture Evil as envy Problems with Alford’s theory Identifying with Eichmann The limitations of Alford’s approach The logic and practice of collective evil: ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia Introduction Approaches to ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia What is genocide? The explosive dialectic of individualization and collectivism ‘Ethnic cleansing’ as a case of securitization The differences between individual and collective evil Genocidal logic and the collectivization of agency Girard’s theory of the surrogate victim The design of genocide as ‘ethnic cleansing’ Genocidal rape: its nature and function Rape, shame, and agency Responses to collective evil Introduction How to pass judgment on evil? A culture of indifference The responsibility of bystanders: when inaction makes for complicity Bosnia: the follies of impartiality enacted as neutrality Three lessons of moral failure Collective agency and its disaggregation Truth commissions, trials, and testimonies

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104 104 106 113 120 124 128 135 140


145 145 148 154 159 167 170 175 182 188 196 203 220 220 221 229 235 241 253 257 265


List of contents


Reconciliation, forgiveness, and collective guilt Assuming vicarious responsibility and guilt 6 A political postscript: globalization and the discontents of the self

272 281

289 299 310

References Index


My obsession with this book’s subject goes way back in time. I remember my shock when coming across, at the age of fifteen, the autobiography of one of the handful of Jews from Norway who survived Auschwitz, Herman Sachnowitz. His book is titled It Concerns You Too. Now a professor of philosophy specializing in ethics, my early interest in how organized evil comes about and what it does to all affected is, if anything, more intense than ever. Being a contemporary to the occurrence of genocide in the 1990s – in Bosnia and in Rwanda – made the topic even more urgent. Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we know only too well that the promise, nay imperative, ‘Never again!’ has been betrayed again and again. During the years spent working on this book, I have benefited from exchange with a large number of friends and colleagues. For contributions big and small, I wish to thank Per Nortvedt, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Lars Svendsen, Henrik Syse, Carsten Bagge Laustsen, Tone Bringa, Odd Bjørn Fure, and Bernt Hagtvet. Alastair Hannay once again offered his unfailing moral support. Zygmunt Bauman once again demonstrated that genuine friendship can endure heated disagreement. Thomas Cushman showed his belief in the book at a decisive moment. To all of them, and to the students who have made my seminars on evil into a workshop of ideas from which my argument in this book slowly ripened, I wish to express my deep gratitude. This also goes for my editor, Sarah Caro. Chapter 2 partly uses material originally published in my 2001 article ‘Hannah Arendt on Conscience and Evil’ (Philosophy and Social Criticism 27, 5). I am grateful to Sage Publications Ltd for permission to reuse this material.


which went largely unnoticed at the time and was without dramatic incident (the arrests occurred without noteworthy resistance). Because of a series of arrests. The photo was taken by a young Norwegian man. xii .A note on the cover image On 26 November 1942. at four o’clock in the morning. has – somewhat misleadingly – come to be known in postwar Norway as the ‘Norwegian Kristallnacht’. Georg W. The group would then be transported by freight trains to the infamous death camp Auschwitz in Poland. about 100 black taxis driven by Norwegian plain-clothes policemen were used to round up 532 Jews from their homes in the Oslo area. which would take them to Germany. when German Jews were killed or beaten up. Of the 532 individuals deported that day. which included children as well as elderly men and women. who used to take photos for the underground resistance. synagogues throughout Germany set on fire and thousands of books burned amid anti-Semitic speeches and shouting of Nazi slogans. had to stand in line to wait to be given the order to embark on the German ship Donau. With very few exceptions. alluding to the pogroms orchestrated by the Nazi Party in Germany on 9 November 1938. having been part of Fossum’s private collection until then. Only in 1994 did the photo become known to the wider public. The group. the film of which the ‘Donau-photo’ is part was in fact not exposed until after the war. Fossum. This event. the group was ‘selected’ for extermination by gas immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz in the early days of December 1942. only 9 would survive Auschwitz and return to Norway after the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945. sending them by courier to Sweden.

as I shall argue – not much was done to stop the genocides. on the empirical side. So what to do? For a start. ‘I have seen the future. and kitchen tools. partly because of it. axes. what is new is the readiness of society to denounce large-scale atrocities whenever they occur and to indict those responsible. Despite the knowledge – or perversely. The point is made: to embark upon a study of evil these days is to confront an abundance of empirical material. Being heterogeneous and pulling in all sorts of different directions.000 people in the former Yugoslavia. Leonard Cohen contended.Introduction Some fifteen years ago. the victims were massacred with machetes. The principal victims were civilians. in the latter. they were reported live on television for months on end. with guns. raising more questions than any academic can answer. knives. I have sought to avail myself of a rich variety of 1 . as well as the murder of nearly 200. on the contrary. just after the end of the cold war. on what I referred to as large-scale atrocities. and broken bottles. It is murder.’ He has been proved right.000 people within three months in Rwanda. of both sexes and all ages. and on the theoretical side. far from it. If anything. the material at hand dramatically explodes the framework of the conventional ‘scholarly study’. Now take a look at what happened during the last decade of the twentieth century – the century that will go down in history as the century of (increasingly universal) human rights and as a century stained by genocide. The facts are as plain as they are deeply disturbing: the 1990s saw the slaughter of more than 800. I have chosen to concentrate. Not that human evildoing is something new. The atrocities were not carried out in secrecy. In the former case. as demonstrated by the UN Conventions inspired by the ‘Never again!’ unanimously voiced in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

modern society. what it reveals about human nature or the workings of modern society. and the . and causing serious and foreseeable harm to her. Part of human agency. a reason for its inclusion is that it allows for thought-provoking contrast with the Holocaust – think only of the industrialized way in which the Nazis’ murder of millions of Jews was carried out. physical) accompanying the killings in Bosnia. since I believe it burdens the theoretician with the task of explaining what precisely is to qualify as ‘excessive’ in each concrete case. To analyse the dynamics of collective evildoing in general. selecting the Holocaust means engaging with what counts – in popular understanding as well as in scholarly works – as the seminal case of the worst that humans can do to each other. against her will. I investigate why and in what sorts of social circumstances this desire arises at an individual level. factors too often set apart and viewed in isolation in the literature. and the causes of man-made evil generalized from the Holocaust. But why this choice. springs from a combination of character. As for the second case to be discussed in depth. The two historical cases to receive particular attention are the Holocaust and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia. ranging from Socrates to Zizek. is to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on another human being. for example. Can there be such a thing as a theory about evil when the fact is that its manifestations in the world differ so widely? This brings me to my understanding of what evil is. is an agent’s desire to do evil in the sense given. Thomas Cushman (2001: 81) – but I do not wish to make this element a part of the definition of evil. On a more theoretical level. While agreeing on the evil nature of the Holocaust. and structure. though referring extensively to modern classics in the field such as Hannah Arendt and Zygmunt Bauman. conclusions about human nature. and the extent to which it forces us to discard received assumptions about what spurs man-made evil. then. are in principle open to question as soon as another historical case comes along in which the same issues force themselves upon us. I propose.2 Introduction approaches. as opposed to the eminent proximity (personal. and how it is channelled – amplified. exploited – into what I call collective evildoing. I shall take as my point of departure a definition of evil that I intend to be both commonsensical and minimalist: to do evil. considering the many other instances of well-documented evil on a large scale in recent history? First. scholars differ sharply with regard to such crucial questions as why it happened. that of so-called ‘ethnic cleansing’. emotional. in which whole groups are pitted against each other. It is tempting to add that the pain and suffering inflicted needs to be ‘excessive’ – as suggests. I argue that such evildoing. situation.

It contains the intellectually irresistible promise of allowing for a privileged access to ‘deep’. Deprived of its once widely held status as elementary. Evil. yet probably uncomfortable truths about us. what it means to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on someone else. Jurgen Habermas (1994: 185) captures this approach when he says that ¨ ‘what moral and. we know. This knowledge is experiential. My theoretical aim is to seek a kind of synthesis between functionalist and intentionalist approaches to collective evil. evil came to be seen predominantly in a perspective of irreducibly social (environmental. Thus defined. For all the talk about evil these days. it is practical not theoretical. shocked by his famous experiment findings in the early 1960s. a philosophical approach is combined with a psychological and sociological one. evil is a subcategory of immorality – wrongdoing at its absolute worst. Perhaps it was psychologist Stanley Milgram who. However. and what we are capable of doing to each other. not every immoral act is to be counted evil. Post-Milgram. evil – I suggest – turned into a secondary or derivative phenomenon. it confronts us no less compellingly in compassion for the hurt integrity of others than in suffering over one’s own afflicted identity or in anxiety at its being endangered’. immoral action means is something we experience and learn prior to all philosophy.Introduction 3 mechanisms by which individual and group fuse. about who we are. so that ‘your group becomes your destiny’. or it is trivialized and robbed of its sting. Whereas all evil acts are immoral. simply as human beings with some experience with others (and with ourselves). Finally. Either evil is made out to be more enigmatic than it really is. they are not by the same token to be regarded as evil. It can also be linked to . My hunch is that we. putting it like this strikes many a present-day reader as betraying assumptions long out of fashion. is a highly suggestive phenomenon. no doubt. Hence in taking it as our chosen point of departure we do not need to commit ourselves to any particular theoretical outlook or school of thought. especially. as a given disposition of human nature. inaugurated the influential academic shift away from traditional (metaphysically or religiously flavoured) notions of what evil is and what it tells us about ourselves and our place in the world. that is. know what evil is. it is a poorly understood phenomenon. my definition of evil is meant to differentiate evil from what is broadly understood as ‘immorality’: whereas acts such as lying and stealing are considered immoral as a matter of principle. The shift I have in mind should not be associated solely with the extraordinary impact of Milgram’s experiment. circumstantial) constraints and influences on the individual agent.

4 Introduction the theoretical shift from the most influential psychologist of the first half of the twentieth century to the most influential one of the last four or so decades: that is. to be traced back to a failure on the part of the person’s primary self-object(s) – most basically. especially peers (Riesman et al. as a psychological phenomenon. Heinz Kohut. . from what is the socially expected (and approved) conduct. Concomitantly. 1950). to increasingly using one’s well-tuned ‘radar’ to register and adjust to the expectations of others. a shift from acting from firm beliefs and inner convictions. especially of the kind emanating from some established authority. that is to say. to purposefully inflict suffering on others. or who were persuaded by others to commit it. in social discourse evil became more an instance of ‘causing bad or immoral consequences’ than of an agent’s desire or deliberate will to do evil. if at all claiming the interest of the scholar. . at least as far as psychology and sociology are concerned. as marginal to human agency rather than as forming a core element of it. it should be stressed – empathic response. Moreover. the ‘essence of sadism and masochism . is perfectly in line with David Riesman’s finding in another twentiethcentury academic bestseller.e. a failure of empathy. So. Evildoing ceased being predominantly a moral category. in all its manifestations. is not elemental’ (1977: 116). evildoing was seen as somehow shallow. . arises originally as the result of the failure of the self-object environment to meet the child’s need for optimal – not maximal. forming a distinct and persistent personality core. and thus as a socially conspicuous instance of a ‘falling away from the good’. This development. from Freud to Kohut. . instead of springing from some more or less enigmatic or deep anthropological truth about human motivation and behaviour. To Kohut. those who pursued it. it should be noted. founding father of ‘self psychology’. biologically given instincts. . In Kohut’s view. rejects the ‘equal rank’ thesis of Freud’s according to which eros and the death instinct (i. then. The Lonely Crowd. is not the expression of a primary destructive or self-destructive tendency’ (1977: 128). it would do so as a piece of behaviour deviating from the norm. came to do what they did because of ‘ego weakness’ or some other factor rendering them particularly vulnerable to social pressure. ‘man’s destructiveness . Aggression. something that is not biologically rooted or constitutionally pregiven but is instead. what ‘produces’ humanity’s destructiveness) are equiprimordial. that post-World War II American society is characterized by a shift from the ‘inner-directed’ to the ‘outer-directed’ social type. He argues that destructiveness is a secondary phenomenon.

Social conformity. to what is devoid of depth. In effect. and you shall be able to understand what has become of evil in the age of large-scale atrocities administrated by the institutions of the State. evil is an – often unintended – by-product of obedience to authority. in fateful collaboration with ‘systemic’ features such as increasing specialization of tasks amid growing overall complexity. to thoughtlessness. the infamous Nazi ‘desk-murderer’. if not by theoretical intention. as distinct from someone acting selfishly and in pursuit of his own interests only. and often also unknowingly – by individuals who. in which they – in alarming numbers. upon entering large and complex social institutions. Arendt ends up with an anti-psychological answer to why someone like Eichmann participated in collective evil. Milgram’s studies boiled down to the message that. Evil refers to the unfortunate consequences produced – by and large unintentionally. and Hannah Arendt’s famous notion of the ‘banality’ of evil. she in fact adopts the very self-presentation he cultivated. in the circumstances of contemporary society. At least superficially there is significant common ground between Milgram. and with alarming consequences for society – are willing to abandon their sense of responsibility for what they do. Arendt presents a portrait of him as a paradigmatic evildoer in our era that I find naive: in suggesting that he was ‘merely thoughtless’. without caring for the well-being of others. I show that this is a blindness in Arendt caused by her privileging the role of intellectual capacities over – morally crucial – emotional ones. and ‘therefore’ ought to perish. Wary of the pitfalls of ‘psychologizing’ Eichmann. evil-intending – will of human individuals. get caught up in a so-called ‘agentic state’. For reasons that I examine in depth in Chapter 2. my claim is that Eichmann was insensitive rather than thoughtless. I am critical of the shift of emphasis inaugurated by Milgram and consolidated – though in different ways – in the widely read works of Bauman and Arendt. Look to the ordinary.Introduction 5 The evildoer emerging from Milgram’s experiments is a person eager to please the powers that be. Arguing for the precarious yet indispensable role of empathy in moral perception. is the cause of more evil than is the once-assumed malicious – that is. To sum up. coined in response to the figure cut by Adolf Eichmann. evil in modern society has more to do with patterns of social interaction than with the character and motivation of the acting individual. Departing from Arendt. To allude to Zygmunt Bauman’s influential reformulation of Milgram’s claim. I explore the constant make-believe instrumental in seeking to make come true the ideological notion that some humans are not human. It is not that its advocates have got . thus read.

of which genocide stands out as .and life-destructive consequences a considerable portion of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic work is devoted. I shall draw upon a study by the American philosopher C. face-to-face basis is too often overlooked in academic inquiries into evil. other dimensions. and bureaucratic society into a matter – a consequence – of ‘patterns of interaction’ such as obedience to authority. Alford is less helpful. and features of evildoing remain in the dark. say. This is the type of interpersonal evil to whose agency. neglect. and ridicule – the list is easily prolonged. and Bauman. And when they – unexpectedly – resurface on the social arena. In challenging the understanding of evil I identify as the common ground between such influential authors as Milgram. complex. Alford is good at offering a framework for analysing what I term ‘individual’ evil. there are trends pointing in the direction they look to. This everyday arena of ‘micro’ instances of evil as caused and suffered by individuals on a person-to-person. In my view. inconspicuous to outsiders yet profoundly damaging to those targeted by it by way of humiliation. yet the hurt is effected in each case. What Evil Means to Us. understood as pleasure in hurting and lack of remorse. Arendt. leaving the individual victim damaged in his or her sense of self-worth. Goldhagen’s ultimately dogmatic and monocausal privileging of intention over social structure. After devoting a chapter to the contributions of Zygmunt Bauman and Hannah Arendt. and of the particularities of German mentality over general characteristics of collective behaviour. we are caught off guard. Alford is a welcome exception. spite.6 Introduction things completely wrong. Fred Alford. plays a large part. practically no less than intellectually: witness Bosnia – the event and the response (or lack of such) to it. making evildoing in our modern. In this respect. when it comes to understanding what I call collective evil: evildoing as planned and performed by groups against other groups. Rather than relying on Goldhagen. respectively. Such individual evil is often subtle. Daniel Goldhagen’s view. in one particular direction to comprehend what has presently become of evil. I shall discuss the alternative approach advocated by Alford. to build my case for an understanding of evil that in major respects goes against the grain of much of today’s received wisdom. I shall not opt for. Alford comes up with a tentative theory of evil that goes out of its way to provoke the paradigm inaugurated by Milgram. But by looking. often clever. forms. means that he throws the baby out with the bathwater. in which the Holocaust is traced back to a strong desire to commit murder on the part of each and every perpetrator. however. rather unanimously. in which sadism.

The phenomenon alluded to – that of allocating guilt – is a vast topic in its own right. As we shall see in great detail. My aims are several. Whereas in instances of individual evil the agent committing it will normally perceive himself as a distinct individual. It is indeed my thesis that the two types of man-made evil need to be studied as much for how they differ as for what they have in common. thus rendering the individual’s fate inseparable from that of the group. in some such cases the group’s sense of identity is inextricably fused with its (increasingly mythologized) victimhood. always a victim’ logic alluded to above. one carrying great significance for my suggested distinction between individual and collective forms of evildoing. and shame. the scapegoating of others engaged in by an individual who.Introduction 7 the particularly salient variant and to which I devote a large portion of the book. To put it briefly. immigrants) engaged in by individuals who act in their capacity as members of a certain group. In Chapters 4 and 5. including its crucial elements. and Alford a psychological one. Arendt a philosophical one. and the (often very fanciful) inscription of events old and new into a master narrative – the narrative of the group’s historical interaction with its adversary. perceiving themselves as acting on behalf of and for the sake of their group and the values it represents. I shift emphasis from the theoretical to the empirical. in particular ‘ethnic cleansing’. Collective evil as I theorize it appears to make self-fulfilling the idea that ‘your group is your destiny’. in inflicting suffering on some particular other person. acts on his own behalf and for reasons all his own. I find deeply intriguing the huge differences that appear to exist between the form of evildoing exhibited in the Holocaust (analysed by Arendt and . coupling this idea in disastrous ways with the sense of self-righteousness that stems from the ‘once a victim. To begin with. In fact – or so I shall argue – human agency as such is collectivized. it is not obvious that what helps illuminate and explain individual evil is apt to help us understand collective evil. To restrict myself to just one observation. Muslims. a sense of shared history and fate and thus identity. My choice of theoretical approaches to evil is intended to make the present work a truly interdisciplinary one: Bauman offers a sociological approach. Allocation of guilt in a group perspective is a process closely linked with memory. I turn to recent historical instances of collective evil. guilt. is different in kind from the scapegoating of entire categories of others (Jews. the logic underpinning most instances of collectively undertaken evil is such that the distinction between individual and collective is downplayed or outright denied in theory and virtually obliterated in practice. Having completed my presentation and critique of these three approaches. responsibility.

and repentance arise in the course of my account of the ideology and practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’. This contrast invites a whole series of questions. to the prospects of repentance.8 Introduction Bauman) and the form of evildoing displayed in ‘ethnic cleansing’ – even though in my vocabulary they are both instances of large-scale and collective evil. reconciliation. In developing a theoretical approach suited to addressing the many issues – and aspects – of human agency that force themselves upon us when studying the genocide that was carried out in the former Yugoslavia. shame. that of directly affected victims. There is a struggle both to rid oneself of agency (responsibility. pursuing the achievement of anonymity in the relationship between perpetrators and victims. maintaining a personalized. Is the pivotal role attributed to dehumanization of the victim in the case of the Holocaust conspicuous by its absence in ‘ethnic cleansing’? If so. the social logic underpinning the two cases in question can be described as a systemic one in the case of the Holocaust. and they take centre stage in Chapter 5. a salient difference between the two historical cases consists in the contrast between evildoing precipitated by mechanisms of distantiation and evildoing thriving on proximity. accountability) and to (re)claim it. the contrast is that between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft types of collective evil. and forgiveness? Focusing on organized rape in particular. Accordingly. organized top-down and carried out with the support of the state apparatus. trying to remain fully human even when subject to extreme humiliation and suffering. dealing with responses to collective evil. Neglecting one or the other would only be to the detriment of the task as I see it: to give a comprehensive account of the many ways in which the perspectives and actions of all ‘parties’ . in moral terms. and doing so in the very act of carrying out evil (as I shall discuss in particular with regard to the practice – a deliberate policy – of rape). and with regard to questions of guilt and shame. face-to-face relationship between perpetrator and victim. and that of bystanders and third parties (who come in many sorts). As indicated above. The issues of guilt. Sociologically put. I move back and forth between three distinct perspectives: that of perpetrators. and as a communal one in the case of ‘ethnic cleansing’. does this repudiate the widespread view that dehumanization is a necessary condition of (as well as consequence of) evildoing? Can there be such a thing as an evildoer’s upholding the fellow humanity of his chosen victim? And what about the viewpoint of the victim? Do we find differences here that somehow correspond to those mentioned between systemic and communal forms of evil? What does it matter – in experiential terms. I show how producing shame in the victims relieves the rapists of feelings of guilt.

But there is nothing novel about this sort of response. Though certainly deviating from the industrial design associated with the Holocaust. and relativism abounds. ‘ethnic cleansing’ in my understanding of it offers no clear-cut case of ‘postmodern evildoing’. modern. and postmodern elements: there is no or little hi-tech involved (knives being the preferred weapon). I am not prepared to grant an equivalent function ` to ‘ethnic cleansing’ vis-a-vis postmodernity. The moral stance of judgment and condemnation taken toward brutal instances of man-made evil in the modern paradigm is today said to have been replaced by a postmodern fascination with transgression. shifting focus from bystanders to the event itself. I am not even sure that we have made the alleged shift – in mentality. the methods applied in carrying out genocide in central Europe in the alleged heyday of cultural postmodernism represent a strange mixture of premodern. of language games all possessing intrinsic value. Moreover. it is true that the overall cultural climate of relativism played a part in shaping the response of leading Western countries to what unfolded before their eyes in the Balkans. My position is that. what can be called the modern understanding. and second.Introduction 9 (I word I dislike but cannot do without in this context) interact so as to help produce the final outcome. More to the point. while doubtless suggestive. first. and perhaps also exhausts. of not ‘preaching morality’ to anyone but instead affirming the free play of differences. on an empirical level. ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the so-called ‘postmodern’ understanding. with what appears subversive. of looking for ‘all sides’ to any given phenomenon. and on a more massive scale in Rwanda – the response being that of hesitation. the indicated oneto-one relationship between. and so indulging instead in an attitude of playfulness. It has been suggested by many authors preoccupied with the issues raised here that during the last one or two decades there has been a shift from a ‘modern’ to a ‘postmodern’ understanding of suffering. to which the perpetrators responded by proceeding with their killings. even if I grant. fails to be very instructive. thus marking a strong reluctance to judge and to condemn acts of so-called evil. with deviation from the norm. Bauman’s portrait of the Holocaust as a ‘window’ through which we can catch a rare glimpse of what modernity is like. the staunchest supporters of the . with vital reservations. Otherwise put. in type of society – from modernity to postmodernity. indecisiveness. Holocaust and the distinctly ‘modern’ understanding of evil. the postmodern understanding. Hence evil – along with everything else – is deconstructed. and inaction. This invites the question whether the Holocaust symbolizes. whereas ‘ethnic cleansing’ might be said to exemplify.

Evil has much to do with this dimension of human existence – be it as the attempt to transcend. the modern/ postmodern divide is of little help when trying to identify the differences between earlier and more recent eruptions of collective evil.10 Introduction ‘cleansing’ ideology are poorly educated peasants. to gain a sense of mastery over it. abandonment and solitude’. impotence. who. negate. and for my purposes in this book. 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. besides being a Sarajevo-based psychiatrist specializing in paranoid states. And so on. Common to these five conditions – I refer to them as basic conditions – of our existence as it is ineluctably given to us is that they point.). ‘All evil’. In this perspective. and suffering is the experience of ‘extreme passivity. Again. Philosophically. evildoing is about hurting others in order to get relief from one’s own vulnerability. In the present work. 158). mortality. dependency. irremovable. and existential loneliness (Vetlesen and Stanicke 1999: ¨ 304ff. went to New York to take a postgraduate course in ‘creative writing’ at Columbia University in the early 1980s). I pointed out that our primary access to the phenomenon of evil is through experience – be it that of doing evil or that of suffering it. a prominent philosophy professor and long-time editor of the internationally acclaimed humanist Marxist journal Praxis. My Alford-inspired thesis is that our vulnerability and dependence qua human beings play an equally fundamental part in our wishing to do evil to others and in our own susceptibility to suffering it as victims. simultaneously. each in separate ways. the frailty of interpersonal relationships. there is a large faction of intellectuals involved (the brains behind it). my position has much in common with that of Emmanuel Levinas. however. My own approach to evil places it in an unmistakably existential and experiential context. or deny boundaries and limits. I am not convinced. to boundaries and limits. most of them fairly up-to-date with Western intellectual discourse (suffice it to mention here the nationalist ideologues Mihailo Markovic. recognizing their realness for others – in the form of the ‘weakness’-inducing vulnerability of one’s victims – but denying their realness for oneself. Evil in my view touches on certain given. that Levinas’ understanding of evil – positing an absolute identity between . and with the crucial part played in his theory of evil by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. for me. All I want to say is that. and Radovan Karadzic. and hence non-optional conditions of human being-in-the-world – namely. ‘refers to suffering’. vulnerability. asserts Levinas (1988: 157. this is a vast subject in its own right. the existential dimensions to evil will be treated most fully in the chapter dealing with Alford.

As I hope to show in Chapters 4 and 5. everything is in the eyes of the beholder and thus is open to endless interpretation and manipulation. that not only accounts for our aforementioned susceptibility to suffering. that is. For those directly affected by individual or collective evildoing. matters are not that fanciful. The Levinasian streak to my notion of evil as advanced in this work is most clearly betrayed in the prominent role I accord to vulnerability. and certainly with more disastrous consequences than in many others. their plight not that open-ended. In that book I examined what I see as the major preconditions of judging and acting morally. nothing counts as an indisputable fact. however. and Judgment (1994). and so to evil. as suggested by David Morris (2001: 60) and others. Levinas is supposed to epitomize a significant break with the ‘modern’ understanding – namely. with evil and suffering as with everything else. Empathy. dealing with the psychological. a softness. in asserting that suffering is the source of evil. perpetrators (and some types of bystanders) will have good reasons to buy into the current fashion that.Introduction 11 evil and suffering – is to be looked upon as ‘postmodern’. confronting the topic of evildoing head-on proves a tough challenge to my original view on the morality-conducive character of social settings of proximity in general and the face-to-face dyad in particular. . I shall in this work be programmatically committed neither to the so-called ‘modernist’ notion of evil and suffering as intrinsically meaningless. of the universal and culture-transcending thrust of the appeal emanating from the face (to make the point with Levinas). sociological. On this view. It is a weakness in us. In this domain. whereas in the present one I shift focus from the positive to the negative. robbing it of moral authority – indeed. This vulnerability also accounts for our capacity to be affected by the affectedness of the other which I have defined as ‘empathy’ in my earlier book Perception. Whereas my earlier thesis about the indispensable role of empathy in moral perception and judgment still stands. rather than evil being the cause of suffering. is identical to evil. relativism risks siding with the ideology behind organized evildoing in that it helps ‘particularize’ the plight of victims. the ineluctably given dimension of our human existence that Levinas (1992) treats under the headings of ‘sensibility’ and ‘receptivity’. nor to the so-called postmodern notion of evil and suffering as having their sources in social structures and cultural praxis and so as boiling down to ‘a social status that we extend or withhold’ (Morris 2001: 71). and ideological preconditions for wrongdoing par excellence. as private and silent and so as equally beyond comprehension and language.

in this ‘enlightened’ world of ours. but it might also be that better understanding is put to the opposite use – to get better at doing evil. studies of collective evil risk becoming how-to manuals studied and put to use by doers. What to do with your hard-earned historical and theoretical knowledge. The conclusion seems inevitable that preventers (of all sorts) need somehow to match the non-relative nature of the phenomenon (evil) they address. But how to achieve this without becoming – or being regarded as – moral fundamentalists? Or is that the price one must be prepared to pay? . ought not to happen and can never be undone? The underlying problem is that theoretical discourses. a word of caution is required. the limit posited by the phenomenon is abolished. changeable – that some things simply. cannot help relativizing. due to the intrinsic enormity of their nature. on limits in a strict. relativization. That is one weapon too many. effaced. But do we moderns or postmoderns have any grasp on absolutes. of securing consent among all affected – in the face of genocide. In this domain. This is not a great worry in most cases. Take Bosnia. We tend to take it for granted that better understanding of how man-made evil comes about will help us to become better at preventing its occurrence in the future. but in that of genocide it is a disaster. It might. irrevocable sense? Do we recognize that not everything is eminently makeable.12 Introduction Before bringing this introduction to a close. much like diplomatic all-parties-welcome negotiations. many of whom offered academic expertise for the purpose of identifying where precisely the community of Balkan Muslims is most vulnerable? The sinister truth is that. The mismatch could not have been greater: genocide is something that is absolutely prohibited. Once you start giving that ‘other side’ to it a hearing. absolutely wrong. This disquieting fact adds weight to the more immanent paradoxes with which intellectual treatment of immorality in general and evil in particular is fertile. comparison. Knowledge about genocide is double-edged: it is exploited and put to use by perpetrators no less than by would-be preventers. Present-day ge´nocidaires are frequently themselves intellectuals to an extent that awaits fuller recognition by us intellectuals concerned with prevention. let alone moral ones. contextualizing. complexity stop being the assets they are in purely intellectual terms and become instead a most welcome ally in the hands of the perpetrators. no matter what it is in experiential terms. In the latter parts of this book. complicating their subject matter. considering the use Milosevic is known to have made of psychologists and social scientists. I shall have harsh words to say about the strategy of conducting negotiations – the fine art of compromise.

and what was actively done to prevent or stop it. where I take up the post-September 11 scenario under the heading ‘Globalization and the discontents of the self’.Introduction 13 I shall postpone a fuller discussion of this thorny issue till the concluding chapter. with how better understanding can be made to contribute to a better – or a slightly less unjust – world. Suffice it to observe here that the grotesque gap that existed between what the outside world knew about genocide in Bosnia and in Rwanda just a few years ago. continues to pose a stark challenge for all people concerned. . at some level.

the first condition that must be met is to bid farewell to the twofold premise that what happened then was fundamentally abnormal. it is to help perpetuate the very conditions which made its occurrence a historical fact in the first place. And indeed Auschwitz has come to stand for unprecedented horror. unimaginable cruelty. can we hope to reach the declared goal of the lesson: that it never happen again. as such. The doers. and that it took abnormal men to make it happen. authors of the unthinkable. though readily recognized as intellectually disturbing. must surely be – or have been – abnormal men. and start questioning the premise of abnormality. To think like this – and who tends not to? – is to close oneself off against the Holocaust. comfortable effect on us: it helps side us. if there is a lesson to be learned from the Holocaust. indeed.1 The ordinariness of modern evildoers: a critique of Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust Introduction How was the Holocaust possible? David Rousset. has a reassuring and. Zygmunt Bauman sets out to subject this premise to critical scrutiny. This lack of comprehension. the Nazi perpetrators. It is to prevent the challenge posed by that event from being fully acknowledged. normal men as we take ourselves to be. Bauman embarks on the ‘construction of a theory of morality capable of accommodating in 14 . In doing so. they. a survivor of the death camps. Having committed atrocities so outrageous in nature and scope as to explode our faculties of comprehension. are not like us. reflected that ‘normal men do not know that everything is possible’ (Arendt 1951: 436). Only if we let go of the defences we have built to the effect that the Holocaust was the making of monstrous men. Therefore. we like to think. In his book Modernity and the Holocaust. their being unlike us is the very quality which explains that they could do what they did. against the doers.

while following Max Weber in stressing the significance of the emancipation of the political state. He goes on to assert: ‘The Holocaust was not an irrational outflow of the not-yet-fully-eradicated residues of pre-modern barbarity. . so crucial to Bauman. are the wrong place to look for a historically correct explanation of how the Holocaust was possible. its immanent vision of the world’ (1989: 8). indeed. I consider his claims about the conditions facilitating this collective evil to be wholly in keeping with psychologist Stanley Milgram’s findings. Indeed. . Bauman’s central claim that the relationship between modern society and the Holocaust is one of continuity rather than negation will be shown to be mistaken. we urgently need to find an answer to the question raised by Arendt (1965a: 106) in her reflections on Eichmann: how did the perpetrators of the Endlo ¨sung overcome ‘the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering’? . Though commonly regarded as highly provocative. its priorities. but in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilization. While this is true as far as it goes. the spread of a particular type of rationality – expertly dealing with means but ignorant about ends – gives no exhaustive explanation of how the Holocaust could become a reality within modernity. It was a legitimate resident in the house of modernity. ‘‘normal’’ not in the sense of the familiar . not least because the impact of proximity between perpetrator(s) and victim(s) is more ambiguous than recognized by both Milgram and Bauman. and not just one possibility among others (Diner 1987. For that. more than fifteen years after the publication of Bauman’s book. In what follows I present a thoroughgoing critique of Bauman’s understanding of the Holocaust and what made it possible.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 15 full the new knowledge generated by the study of the Holocaust’ (1989: 169). with its attained monopoly of the means of violence and its far-reaching engineering ambitions. its guiding spirit. one who would not be at home in any other house’ (1989: 17). I agree with Bauman that the latter provides an extremely important yet largely neglected starting point for moral theory – largely neglected even today. As a consequence. The relationship is far more complex. 1988). The Holocaust as modernity’s window Early in his book. However. Bauman writes: ‘The truth is that every ‘‘ingredient’’ of the Holocaust – all those many things that rendered it possible – was normal. Bauman seems unwilling to subscribe to the famous Frankfurt School position that instrumental rationality’s colonizing spread to all domains of life is the hallmark of modernity and the sine qua non of the Holocaust. I shall argue that Milgram’s experiments.

Transformed into a technical and . historian Raul Hilberg (1985: 999) draws up the following chart to illuminate how a destruction process in a modern society will be structured: Definition # Dismissal of employees and expropriation of business firms # Concentration # Exploitation of labour and starvation measures # Annihilation # Confiscation of personal effects Hilberg observes that the stages are logically determined.16 Evil and Human Agency Arendt’s question goes to the heart of the matter. Bauman quotes Herbert Kelman’s finding that moral inhibitions against violent atrocities ‘tend to be eroded once three conditions are met. Arendt – albeit only by implication – points to a deep-seated morally relevant affective inhibition that had to be overcome. It forms a leitmotif in Bauman’s book. actions are routinized (by rule-governed practices and exact specification of roles). It is within the powers of a full-fledged modern state apparatus to produce and sustain all three conditions. much relied upon by Bauman. it invites us to inquire how mass murder can be committed by normal – as distinct from (allegedly) abnormal – men. not least because he clearly sees that it is a first step to cease seeing the perpetrators as ‘them’. inhibitions such as the instinctual-affective one against directly causing and witnessing physical suffering had to be systematically eliminated at all stages if the process of killing were to be completed without psychological breakdowns (causing loss of morale) among the personnel. In his authoritative work. were the individual to take part in the killing. and the victims of the violence are dehumanized (by ideological definitions and indoctrinations)’ (1989: 21). Arendt’s question shifts the perspective. they form a rational sequence in the sense of proving the shortest way and most efficient means to the desired end. The Destruction of the European Jews. There is nothing extraordinary about any one of them. In other words. singly or together: the violence is authorized (by official orders coming from legally entitled quarters). perfectly within reach once the central bodies of a modern state have singled out a group of people as the target for ‘special treatment’. they are. By calling attention to the feeling of pity that arises in the face of suffering. and remain.

without hearing them. morality halts. unknown. and thus possibly interfere so as to jeopardize further progression. faceless. because ‘morality did not travel that far’. of making killing them psychologically and morally easier for those taking part in it.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 17 administrative task. morality shows itself devoid of any intrinsic potential for disclosing alter to us. When at such a distance as to be virtually ‘out of sight’. we need to look closely at his use of the findings of psychologist Stanley Milgram. for making him matter to us. without seeing them. the danger that moral inhibitions will arise. more precisely. Raul Hilberg aptly sums up what is at stake: Killing is not as difficult as it used to be. concerted movements and for efficient massive killings. dehumanization of the victims is an integral and carefully thought-out element of the very process of killing them – or. objects of concrete social encounters and firsthand human experience. argues Bauman. In his famous study. Bauman stresses that ‘the successive stages are arranged according to the logic of eviction from the realm of moral duty or . Why? Because ‘morality tends to stay at home and in the present’ (1989: 190). These devices not only trap a large number of victims. . based on a series of experiments where the subjects were told by a ‘scientist’ to administer electric shocks as part of . mass destruction comes to be met with what appears the optimally rational solution. Encountering distance. from the universe of obligations’ (1989: 191). Morality does not bridge the distance increasingly separating ego from alter. Every step completed removes the targeted group increasingly from sight. they become invisible. The victims appear as elsewhere. and anonymous. morality is at a loss to do what we – as moderns taking pride in our great Judeo-Christian tradition – have learned to expect from it. The perpetrator can now kill his victims without touching them. then. In a word. Obedience to Authority. lies the moral relevance of the sequence: each step contributes to the ‘gradual silencing of moral inhibitions’. Accordingly. . Thus. (Hilberg 1985: 1187) It was crucially important for the Nazis to remove the victims from sight. decreases. and hence from ourselves: morality does not transcend whatever distance may have come between ego and alter. with the accomplishment of each step in the sequence. the moral burden too is fragmented among the participants. they cease to be men and women. Herein. and with that division of labor. they also require a greater degree of specialization. The invisible other – the other rendered invisible by mechanisms of distantiation – is a morally lost other. The modern administrative apparatus has facilities for rapid. To appreciate Bauman’s position. This ensures that the moment of actual murder is unaccompanied by human inhibitions of any kind.

and assault. In modern society others often stand between us and the final destructive act to which we contribute.’ Milgram described the fragmentation and. reveals a propensity. the state in which the agent finds himself once responsibility has been shifted away by his consent to the superior’s right to command.18 Evil and Human Agency a ‘learning program’. To be in an agentic state is to see oneself as carrying out another person’s wishes. To understand the implications of this is to grasp why it was absolutely instrumental for the organizers of the Holocaust to . killing. evaporation of responsibility that is produced by the professionalized and depersonalized action-settings of modern society. loathes stealing. who stands between me and my action. The all-important observation concerns the connection between distantiation and moral neutralization. Bauman speaks of ‘mediation of action’ to capture the phenomenon of ‘one’s action being performed for one by someone else. it is to restrict one’s sense of responsibility to the purely technical aspects of one’s action – the efficiency and cleverness with which it is being carried out – and to leave entirely outside one’s preoccupation the ends to which one’s action in fact contributes. what Milgram detected is ‘the inverse ratio of readiness to cruelty and proximity to its victim’ (1989: 155). Accordingly. their relevance now depends on how adequately he has performed the actions requested by authority. ultimately. this readiness to disavow responsibility for one’s own doings. To Milgram. Milgram (1974: 121) reached the conclusion that ‘any force or event that is placed between the subject and the consequences of shocking the victim. This means that the causal link between one’s actions and the suffering of the victims is dimmed to the point of becoming obliterated. The plight of the objects of action is completely overshadowed by the pride. At work here is what Milgram famously termed the agentic state. by an intermediate person. once the agent regards himself as someone who ‘merely’ carries out instructions coming from someone else. indeed a ‘fatal flaw’ in man which can only fill us with grave concern (Milgram 1974: 188). may find himself performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority’ (Bauman 1989: 154). Entering the agentic state means that the moral standards one subscribes to as a person come to be totally without bearing on one’s doings.or shame-eliciting character of the how – as opposed to the to whom – of one’s performance. To the extent that ordinary moral categories such as shame or pride are felt by the agent to apply at all. with inner conviction. will lead to a reduction of strain on the participant and thus lessen disobedience. In Bauman’s phrase. making it impossible for me to experience it (and its final consequences) directly’ (1989: 24). ‘the person who.

technological – for ingenious manipulation with these preconditions.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 19 subject the chosen target to various processes of abstraction. 25). 154). It is the technology of action. the specifically ‘modern’ potential – bureaucratic. It is quite easy to be cruel towards a person we neither see nor hear’ (1989: 155). Redefined as a technical task. proper or improper. Focusing on what may appear to be universal features of human behaviour. the nature of what I term the general preconditions of moral inhibition in man (the ‘animal pity’ referred to by Arendt) and. right or wrong’ (1989: 160). Distantiation is the path of abstraction. not its substance. it was no different in nature from other such tasks for which expertise and a sophisticated division of labour are required. Bauman concludes that ‘inhumanity is a matter of social relationships’ (p. Harshly criticizing Horkheimer and Adorno’s influential study The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. second. Bauman takes Milgram’s experiments to have demonstrated two things: first. following Milgram. Bauman spells out the meaning of the inverse ratio of readiness to cruelty and proximity to its victim: ‘It is difficult to harm a person we touch. The discussed increase in the physical and/or psychic distance between the act and its consequences ‘quashes the moral significance of the act and thereby pre-empts all conflict between personal standards of moral decency and immorality of the social consequences of the act’ (p. Bauman describes the morally relevant implications: ‘Bureaucracy’s double feat is the moralization of technology. Bureaucracy and technology are the central vehicles for carrying an action from its inception to its determined end point. It is somewhat easier to afflict pain upon a person we only see at a distance. What Bauman. will return once the action-setting within which they enact the ‘agentic state’ is left behind. Bauman launches his . we may expect. calls a substitute conscience develops to keep effectively at bay that other ‘private’ conscience with which the individuals used to identify themselves qua morally responsible subjects – the very conscience to which they. It is still easier in the case of a person we only hear. which is subject to assessment as good or bad. so as to prevent their emergence. coupled with the denial of the moral significance of non-technical issues. Only when the victims were turned into an invisible far-off target at the remote receiving end could the goal of killing millions be attained – this precisely because the undertaking had lost its character as downright murder. 1950) for neglecting the extra-individual factors that induce authoritarian behaviour in people otherwise devoid of an ‘authoritarian personality’.

the particular personality-based motives. the individuals involved may have. including conscience) the individual member possesses. what emerges as naive is the assumption that it makes a real difference to the act of genocide just what sort of personality. So. that it makes a difference to the operations of such an apparatus just what kind of personality (and private morality. If this is true. since these authors take for granted an assumption that has been proven invalid by twentieth-century genocide: the assumption that the personality (be it ‘authoritarian’ or not) of individuals determines their actual behaviour when performing highly specified tasks as functionaries in a bureaucratic apparatus – or. the entire psychology of the ‘authoritarian personality’ as laid bare by Horkheimer and Adorno is superfluous as well. fascist ideology. Instead of dwelling on the character of the individual participant. Bauman and Arendt concur on an idea with far-reaching implications: the idea that evil becomes banal when the motives of those involved in carrying it out become superfluous. To achieve this is the feat of bureaucratized murder. but the dead silence of . developing a structure-oriented sociological approach to such collective evil instead of a psychologicalindividualist one. and feelings (aggression and hatred included) of the individual are dissociated from the process of completing the genocide. more to the point. One of Bauman’s ways of expressing this point is to state that ‘mass destruction was accompanied not by the uproar of emotions. Specifically. they are at a loss to disclose the peculiar nature of evil dissociated from human motives.20 Evil and Human Agency thesis that ‘cruelty correlates with certain patterns of social interaction much more closely than it does with personality features or other individual idiosyncrasies of the perpetrators’. although personality studies may contribute to our understanding of the grassroots support for. Bauman insists that the hallmark of the Holocaust. 166). beliefs. it appears astonishingly naive to believe that an explanation for the Nazi annihilation of the Jews could be found by investigating the biographies and personality traits of individuals professing anti-Semitic prejudice. and what kind of beliefs. is the systematic uncoupling of large-scale evil from the vicissitudes of human psychology altogether: killing having turned abstract. indeed its necessary condition. Against this background. Approaching the Holocaust from different theoretical angles. as if the former could be accounted for by the specific features of the latter. one should look at the larger system within which they interact. Bauman’s thesis invites comparison with Hannah Arendt’s notion of the ‘banality of evil’. Hence ‘cruelty is social in its origin much more than it is characterological’ (p. say.

that ‘society promotes morally regulated behaviour and marginalizes. under which the particular cases with which they were confronted could be subsumed. . This. and they did so freely. the moral maxims which determine social behavior and the religious commandments – ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ – which guide conscience had virtually vanished. is at issue. 173). save the purely professional and task-oriented ones.) Bauman praises Arendt for raising the question of ‘moral responsibility for resisting socialization’. The destruction of the European Jews required not the mobilization of feelings of hatred but the suppression of feelings altogether. incomparably greater. since ‘in the aftermath of the Holocaust . suppresses or prevents immorality’. individually. because no rules existed for the unprecedented. The opposite is closer to the truth. . Reformulating the relationship between society and morality It is because he holds cruelty to correlate with specific patterns of social interaction that Bauman aptly calls his theory of morality a sociological one. What does this – self-consciously provocative – view of society and morality imply? Consider this passage from Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: Since the whole of respectable society had in one way or another succumbed to Hitler. humanizing factors’ (p. or characterologically. moral theory faced the . We therefore have to qualify our earlier formulation and say that motives. that society is to be regarded as a gigantic moralityproducing plant. They had to decide each instance as it arose. (Arendt 1965a: 294f. disaster than that between hate (or any other feeling springing from the human capacity for aggression against others) and immorality. elevating.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 21 unconcern’ (p. there were no rules to abide by. they are content to assess their actions exclusively in view of the purely technical performance principle. The implication is that the connection between indifference and immorality is held to be pregnant with greater. These few who were still able to tell right from wrong went really only by their own judgments. Bauman wages war on the deep-seated trust in social arrangements as ‘ennobling. and nothing less radical. he flatly rejects the assumption that has guided virtually all previous sociological accounts of morality – namely. The well-organized collective evil individuals help perform here is such that their personality qua unique individuals is dissociated from it. What they do does not reflect on them morally. 74). have become superfluous. Having entered the agentic state. if we are willing to digest the unwelcome lesson the Holocaust may teach us. that ‘morality’ is a product of society. However. in short.

in that positivistic sense. and if. the part performed by the latter is said to consist – solely – in the ‘manipulation of moral capacity’ (p. to allude to Durkheim. to tell right from wrong) ready formed. It follows that the human ability to tell right from wrong must be grounded in something other than – possibly. Indeed. To think. 177). the question Bauman has to address is: In what. ‘morality is something society manipulates – exploits. jams’ (p. We are told that the ability to tell right from wrong is ‘ready formed’.22 Evil and Human Agency possibility that morality may manifest itself in insubordination towards socially upheld principles. This may be exemplified by the infamous Nuremberg Laws. to legalize the persecution of the Jews (robbing them of the right to set up business. even at odds with – the conscience collective of society. who not coincidentally is the classic sociologist Bauman singles out for castigation. to break the established social rules and legal norms instead of obeying them. to preserve a genuine moral point of view. the premise for Bauman’s theory of morality is the bold assertion that morality is not a product of society. a course of action encouraged by the whole of society may still be immoral. and in an action openly defying social solidarity and consensus’ (p. and act morally would mean to go against the grain.). even when unanimously condemned by his own group. the question is this: On what grounds can the individual agent know what is moral and what is not? What enables him or her to distinguish between the two. escape and survive the processing. re-directs. the ability is met upon. If the ability to tell right from wrong is not grounded in society. 183). If it is the case that. conversely. As such. 178). by society and the processes of socialization. physiological needs or psychological drives’ (p. akin to man’s biological constitution. so . then? Bauman tells us that ‘Every given society faces such an ability (i. Rather. He writes: ‘The moral capacity that is manipulated entails not only certain principles which later become a passive object of social processing.e. 178). a given. etc. this strikes me as a truly startling claim. immoral – act. the right to marry Aryans. thereby making an ordinary German citizen’s overt unwillingness to support such persecution into a blatantly illegal – and. much as it faces human biological constitution. an individual’s conduct may still be moral. judge. implemented by the Nazis from 1935 onward. hence it is already there. to tell right from wrong? As indicated. with the socially maintained and legally upheld principles. It takes a break with the society at large. What is the nature of this ability? Let us review what (little) Bauman has to say about the matter. Coming from a sociologist. it includes as well the ability to resist. not brought into existence.

what is more. seeing him. the proposed distinction between the social and the societal is a strictly required one. The ability must be admitted its locus in something social. however. 179). ‘must be sought in the social. makes a vital difference to the agent.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 23 that at the end of the day the authority and the responsibility for moral choices rest where they resided at the start: with the human person’ (p. is so. If the moral ability is to exist prior to the various processes of socialization. 178). and if the ability (i. Bauman must be careful not to depict it as at odds with social impact. So it would seem strange indeed if Bauman – on top of it. the individual is subject to the impact of social forces from birth. ‘The factors responsible for the presence of moral capacity’. of ‘‘being with others’’. Bauman does take a step in this direction. per se. The many meanings of proximity Bauman argues that being close to the victim.e. but not societal sphere. hearing him. Moral behaviour is conceivable only in the context of coexistence. that is. its possessor) is to be accorded a capacity to resist and evade the social forces in question. then. besides being at the very centre of the argument I shall develop in this book. Before discussing this problem. In my view. a social context’ (p. a sociologist – were to picture the social forces in their entirety as at odds with the individual’s moral ability. proximity makes a moral . The question is whether the distinction he offers suffices to overwin the difficulties – mentioned above – associated with his notion of moral capacity. or environment. To make the nature of moral ability conceivable. and so prior to the latter’s attempts at manipulation. Such an ability seems deprived of the very conditions of its possibility if set apart from the influences of ‘the social’ in which it is from beginning to end inescapably embedded because its carrier. there is no point in an individual’s life after which this impact would cease. the human subject. a category on which Bauman’s notion of moral ability crucially rests. it never becomes clear how we are to distinguish between the social on the one hand and the societal on the other. the question arises: Under what circumstances is such resistance conceivable? Obviously. And indeed. it is necessary to clarify the meaning of ‘proximity’. In short. He needs to draw a distinction not between the ability on the one hand and everything social on the other. if Bauman is to succeed in giving moral ability a plausible grounding. but within the domain of what has till now been indiscriminately referred to as ‘the social’. he tells us. not outside of everything social – this much Bauman readily acknowledges. My view is that Bauman’s distinction is lacking in clarity.

and responsibility is proximity. it carries a strong spatial connotation. the moral attribute of social distance is lack of moral relationship. ‘Responsibility’. and touching the victim made to the subject’s performance. he asserts. care more for a person we know than for someone who is but an unknown anybody to us. On the other hand – and this challenges the thesis in the straightforward form just given – I will argue that the moral significance of proximity also derives from its non-spatial dimension.’ Conversely. hearing. ‘Responsibility is silenced once proximity is eroded. this seems to be the sense of proximity illuminated in Milgram’s experiments. Would it not make a difference to the subject’s performance if she was told that the (unseen. and placing – or removing – physical barriers between subject and victim. 184).24 Evil and Human Agency difference: it helps determine performance. we may be expected to act in a manner revealing that the factor of knowing the other overrides the factor of physical presence/absence. Bauman postulates a direct link between proximity and responsibility. Milgram was able to observe the difference seeing. By manipulating space. It depends on how that person is disclosed to us and on who he or she ‘is’ to us. Conduct – choice – depends on perception. as seems obvious. unheard) person behind the wall was in fact someone she knew? The force yielded by this emotionally charged variable – knowing the physically non-(co)present other – would diminish the impact of the spatial variable presence/absence. ‘arises out of proximity of the other. To assess Bauman’s thesis that ‘responsibility is proximity’. The degree of psychical realness/ closeness may outweigh the degree of physical closeness. I have in mind the sense in which we state that someone is ‘close’ to us. Proximity means responsibility. In perception. hence of proximity in its spatial sense. or heterophobia. it may eventually be replaced with resentment once the fellow human subject is transformed into an Other’ (p. the spatial variable is overriden by social ones such as knowing/not knowing and extra-individual ones such . Such psychic closeness signifies a meaning of human proximity that cannot be measured in terms of spatial (co)presence/absence. On the one hand. If we. This supports the thesis of an unequivocal correlation between spatial location and readiness to inflict pain. And yet its performatory moral impact is beyond doubt. we desperately need to know what Bauman fails to tell us in precise terms: What is proximity? Proximity is ambiguous. Broadly. To say this is to acknowledge that a person seen can matter less to us than one out of sight. it would inspire increased reluctance in the subject to go on obeying instructions to administer shocks known to be painful.

intransparent bureaucracy. heard. and the like – namely. so as to enable us to assess their relative significance when measured against the simple spatial variable of having the victim present or not present when ordering the subject to administer shocks. stereotypes having precisely the effect of painting that other (whose age or ethnic identity has been disclosed) in morally non-neutral colours. are not introduced. Nazi ideology (propaganda) was utilized for all it was worth to determine the perception of the ‘others’ who were cast in the role of victims: the Jews. so that the perception – whether favourable (is it really a child in there?) or not (is it really a Jew in there?) – is henceforth shaped in a way that impacts on the subject’s readiness to inflict pain. Recall that in mobilizing personnel to help take part in the killings. as it were. or the age of the victim (would it matter to learn it was a child instead of an adult?).The ordinariness of modern evildoers 25 as ideological stereotypes. In contrast to this. which is so characteristic of Milgram’s experiments. These observations help draw attention to the various ways in which Milgram’s experiments – on which Bauman almost exclusively relies as far as empirical evidence is concerned – are lacking in complexity. the spatial variables – but that nothing bearing on his identity is being disclosed). Even if we – for the sake of the argument – accept Bauman’s Milgram-inspired premise that evildoing can be reduced to obedience to authority. prejudice – about certain categories of others. or the ethnic identity (would it matter to know that the victim was a Jew. and advanced technology. or a black person?). The variables I have mentioned are highly relevant for drawing conclusions about the impact of socially exerted. the anonymity of the victim (not merely that he is not seen. that between deserving to live and deserving to die – of the person on the receiving end of the action was all over the place. is not merely about a person coming .) observes. It is regrettable that variables apt to highlight the possible impact of knowing as opposed to not knowing the victim. Hence the identity – the tendentious fashion in which it was presented as making the biggest difference in the world. as Omer Bartov (2003: 190f. and often ideologically dramatized. such obedience. It is indeed my view that Milgram’s experiments are poorly suited to throw light on the behavioural mechanisms which – supposedly – were operative to such disastrous effects in the case of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. in fact makes for a difference from the (pervasively ideological) context in which real-life participants in the Holocaust acted so great as to render the suitability of Milgram’s experiments for illuminating how the Holocaust could happen rather doubtful. stereotypes – in general. influencing the choices of the agent right from the start.

Milgram – and. constitutes the psychological underpinning of the shift of responsibility said to take place in Milgram’s agentic state. it comes from ‘accepting the fundamental ideas that guide that authority and wishing to help realize them in practice’. All the media of communication available to the Nazi ideologues and controlled by the Nazi regime were fully – and skilfully – exploited to brainwash the audience into accepting the negative nature and inferior status of that specific racial identity. the same view of the world. The result is that the victim is left to himself. Far from the victims being faceless and anonymous. Rather. emphatically. Bauman makes much of the fact that. legitimacy accompanies the actions the authority orders the subject to perform. The Jews were portrayed as radically other. typically evolves between the experimenter and the subject. Note that all dynamics – personal. and with the use to which Bauman is eager to put it. emotionally. and to focus all one’s attention on how well one performs what one is ordered to do by the authority in charge. conducive to a sense of solidarity and a spirit of loyal collaboration. of legitimacy. My objection to Bauman at this point boils down to the following. following him. is that the Holocaust did not happen like that. Why did the Nazis kill the Jews – meaning. such obedience carries a strong ideological component. especially not with Aryans. actively citing – their . the same fundamental perception of reality’.26 Evil and Human Agency to see himself as ‘the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes’. the Jews? Answer: on grounds having to do with – that is to say. This shift of attention. We need to realize that both the authority and those who obey it ‘share the same prejudices. Now Bauman will say that the absence – psychologically. then. as – ultimately – not deserving to share the earth with human beings. emotional – of possible moral import (moral in the sense of having a bearing on perception of responsibility. social. in Milgram’s experiments.) are situated within the dyad of subject and experimenter. Since this authority is regarded as legitimate. etc. to remove him or her from view. separating both of them from the victim. of being entitled to do something. The trouble with this finding of Milgram’s. Bauman – takes this to be instrumental in bringing about the subject’s shift of responsibility from himself to the authority in charge. as not belonging among us. and morally – of the victim is precisely the point: the unwelcome message to be stomached is precisely this readiness on the part of (a large majority of) the subjects to dismiss the victim. as alien. as threatening. they were for years on end stigmatized on the ground of their identity as Jews. action would unite the subject with the experimenter. whereas a morally non-neutral bond.

These he finds in Emmanuel Levinas’ teaching that responsibility is the essential. Bauman takes his study to substantiate his claim that morality is not a product of society – contra Durkheim and the received sociological wisdom. moral conduct or lack of it. 183). The all-important point for Bauman is that proximity and responsibility be regarded as two . Put structurally. But the truth of the matter is that the readiness to do what these individuals did in no small measure was determined by the victims having that identity (as opposed to an alternative one). let alone account for. Responsibility is – ineluctably. jams’ (1989: 183). re-directs. True. irrevocably – my affair. given the absolutely negative view of the latter that is a hall´ mark of the Nazi Weltanschauung. in the sense I take Bauman to understand it. He proceeds to search for the ‘pre-societal’ sources of morality.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 27 Jewishness. No moral concern for the other is inherent in proximity as spatially understood – that is to say. as opposed to a spontaneous. thereby invoking the subject–authority dyad taking centre stage in Milgram’s claims about the workings of the agentic state. this means that the context in which the evil performed by the Nazis took place is an irreducibly triadic one. primary. Bauman is convinced that ‘morality is something society manipulates – exploits. it is not dependent upon reciprocity. Uncoupling responsibility from reciprocity In depicting the Holocaust as an instance of institutionalized genocide. Societal processes start when the structure of morality (tantamount to intersubjectivity) is already there’ (p. responsibility is compromised once it is perceived as a product of exchange. calculation – indeed anything that would engage us in give and take. symmetry. I maintain that proximity interacts with a number of factors. where the victim is not lost from view but instead remains a focus – a focus whose significance is nothing less than that of lending the evil to take place its quality as something legitimate (required. and fundamental structure of subjectivity and that morality is the primary structure of intersubjective relationship. affect-based one. it does not by itself bring about. in the all-too-familiar ‘what’s in it for me?’ The wider implication is that ‘the roots of morality reach well beneath societal arrangements – like structures of domination or culture. A one-way affair. I conclude that the evidence at hand does not allow us to postulate a necessary correlation between proximity and moral conduct. necessary) to do. many Nazis would cite the cliche that they ‘merely obeyed orders’ in doing their share to exterminate the Jews. following Milgram.

If my reading is correct. The reason is that the thesis is predominantly empirical – or. be prevented from arising. The carrying out of mass murder requires that such proximity be eliminated. Bauman asserts. 185). Since the use to which Bauman puts Levinas’ notion of responsibility–proximity is clearly case-oriented. Hannah Arendt. By performatively negating Levinas’ insight into the origin and conditions of responsibility. inhibition against suffering’ (p. identified the most deep-seated obstacle to systematic. philosophical argument alone is incapable of settling the question. or heterophobia’. the thesis is vulnerable to falsification. if Levinas helps us recognize the positive inherent link between morality on the one . As far as I can see. 185). Bauman takes Levinas’ ethics to represent the thesis to which the Nazi practice of committing mass murder represents the antithesis. But is it convincing? In my view. has shown us whence responsibility springs: from proximity to the human other. It is not by subjecting Levinas’ ethics to scrutiny so as to establish its consistency or lack of such that Bauman’s thesis may be vindicated. It follows that ‘responsibility is silenced once proximity is eroded’ (p. What this helps throw into sharp relief is that the accomplishment of the Nazi regime ‘consisted first and foremost in neutralizing the moral impact of the specifically human existential mode’ (p. its corollary. The Holocaust was premised upon the Nazis regime’s success in ‘isolating the machinery of murder from the sphere where primeval moral drives arise and apply. the chief attribute of which is ‘lack of moral relationship. of rendering such drives marginal or altogether irrelevant to the task’ (p.28 Evil and Human Agency sides of the same coin. If it can be persuasively shown that the mass murder taking place in the Holocaust happened differently than postulated in Bauman’s thesis. Bauman’s gloss on this is to talk about the ‘universality of human revulsion to murder. we recall. more to the point. 188). cold-blooded murder of people in that ‘animal pity by which all men are affected in the presence of physical suffering’. To sum up. from being perceived by the agent. hence will responsibility. then the thesis must be rejected. Levinas. Bauman’s application of it is. immorality – in the form of collective evil – could take place. We can now appreciate why Levinas is the ethicist Bauman turns to. 184). This is a suggestive thesis. the logical upshot of Bauman’s employment of Levinas’ notion is that we must expect other instances of mass murder in institutionalized form to be (in part) facilitated by the same performative negation of the pair responsibility–proximity that – so the thesis has it – was a sine qua non of the Holocaust. The pair proximity–responsibility contrasts sharply with social distance.

e. We need to consult recent historical scholarship to assess the validity of Bauman’s use of Levinas’ ethics. as in ‘I am the one to judge what is good for you’. Levinas’ philosophically posited positive link between morality and proximity would have as its corollary a historically verifiable (causally operative) link between immorality and distantiation. instead of removing and suspending. If it emerges that the Holocaust retained. the danger that the recipient exploits the goodness of a giver unconcerned about rewards and returns – are not even mentioned by Bauman (though they are addressed in his later book Postmodern Ethics (1993)). Goldhagen’s challenge Though not explicitly addressed. a ‘sufficiently potent motivator’. Goldhagen’s central thesis is that what he identifies as ‘racial eliminationalist antsemitism’ was a sufficient cause. then it follows that Bauman’s via negativa use of Levinas’ positive link to help answer the question about how the Holocaust could happen is seriously undermined. I have phrased Bauman’s thesis in this fashion in order to highlight the case-studying sociologist who remains precisely that even as he embraces Levinas the philosophical ethicist. I start by considering Daniel Goldhagen’s account of the Holocaust. Given Bauman’s aims in his Holocaust book. the Holocaust serves as evidence for this in so far as it demonstrates the readiness of individuals to participate in immorality in circumstances where factors conducive to proximity have been suspended. Philosophical objections (of which there are many) to Levinas’ teaching have no purchase in Bauman’s use of it. to ‘lead Germans to kill Jews willingly’ (1996: 417). What we are dealing with in the case of the Nazis’ determination to exterminate the Jews. this philosophical omission is a permissible one. The two most obvious principal dangers of responsibility cast as non-reciprocity. It was the particular content of the antiSemitic Nazi ideology that led to the ‘singularly brutal deadly German assault upon the Jews’ (p. the danger of paternalism. as non-optional and non-symmetric – first. Goldhagen goes out of his way to distance himself in his much-discussed book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 29 hand and proximity on the other. a context of proximity (i. 418). and second. Bauman’s vulnerability in building upon Levinas is not so much theoretical as empirical. Bauman no doubt figures among the prominent scholars from whom Daniel J. between perpetrator and victim) in the actual performance of the mass murder. insists Goldhagen. is . The contrast between the two explanations offered for the Holocaust could hardly have been greater.

In rejecting the notion that ideological anti-Semitism played a key role in the Holocaust. was forced to realize that attempts to stir up anti-Semitic feelings ‘foundered on the popular repugnance of physical coercion. ‘ordinary Germans’ became ‘willing genocidal killers’ (p. For my purposes. . then. anti-Jewish sentiment and the willingness to embrace the Nazi vision of total destruction and to partake of its implementation’. 456). So much for Goldhagen’s emphasis on anti-Semitist ideology in accounting for how Germans could participate in the killing of defenceless Jews. To support his position. disappointed with the poor ‘spontaneous’ turnout by ordinary Germans during the Kristallnacht. not their mobilization’. On the evidence of the quotes brought here. rather than anonymous specimens of a type’ (p. that under cicumstances where ‘eliminationalist antisemitism’ was given free rein for years on end. and on stubborn human loyalty to their neighbours. the Nazi leadership. How can that be? Goldhagen’s study represents a corrective to the thesis of abstraction that is all-important in Bauman. 449). to people whom one knows and has charted into one’s map of the world as persons. 457). If we are to believe Bauman. Hence the SS in charge of the Endlo ¨sung ‘guarded the job’s independence from the sentiments of the population at large’ (1989: 185). Small wonder.30 Evil and Human Agency nothing short of a ‘cognitive-moral revolution’ which ‘reversed processes that had been shaping Europe for centuries’ (p. The corrective is twofold: it concerns both the theoretical-sociological explanation of how the Holocaust could happen and the empirical description of the way it was carried out. the relevance of contrasting Goldhagen with Bauman is both theoretical and empirical. 186). . Focusing on Police Battalion 101’s role in the open-air killings of hunted-down Jews of both sexes and all ages in various parts of what used to be the Soviet Union from late 1941 onward. it is difficult to believe that Bauman and Goldhagen are addressing the same issue and evaluating the same empirical material. yet differing significantly from Browning’s – strongly Milgram-inspired – interpretation of . The camp system in particular encouraged and allowed for a ‘world of unrestrained impulses and cruelty’ (p. on deep-seated inhibitions against inflicting pain and physical suffering. Goldhagen (drawing upon research pioneered by Christopher Browning. Their conclusions are completely at loggerheads. Bauman goes so far as to assert an ‘almost negative correlation between the ordinary and traditional . exempting no member of society from its ubiquitous impact. Bauman refers to ‘a growing consensus among historians of the Nazi era that the perpetration of the Holocaust required the neutralization of ordinary German attitudes toward the Jews.

if seen as a little girl by him. a woman. The Jews and Germans would then walk in parallel single file so that each killer moved in step with his victim. in certain . All of it a far cry indeed from the mechanisms of abstraction so emphasized in Bauman’s account. Did he see a little girl. This is how Goldhagen describes the proximity between a perpetrator and his victim: A squad would approach the group of Jews who had just arrived. and nurturance? Or did he see a Jew. to request transfer to less violent service without thereby risking serious sanctions. moreover. these men had previously walked through woods with their own children by their sides. or a child. With what thoughts and emotions did each of these men march. This is precisely the widespread factual occurrence of person-to-person proximity. who were indeed within eminent reach of all the senses. while Goldhagen’s tendentious and monocausal approach is in need of correction. marching gaily and inquisitively along. taking place in circumstances of proximity to the victims. each killer had a personalized. back in Germany. and so by men brought up in pre-Nazi Germany and old enough to have children.or twelve-year-old girl. and ask himself why he was about to kill this little. Thus. killings. What we need to recognize is that. finally. delicate human being who. Some of the Germans. who to the unideologized mind would have looked like any other girl? In these moments. The walk into the woods afforded each perpetrator an opportunity for reflection. of course.) Highly critical though I am of the way Goldhagen generalizes this scenario. he does succeed in drawing our attention to a dimension largely neglected in Bauman’s account. had children walking beside them. carried out with studied humiliation and cruelty. protection. until they reached a clearing for the killing where they would position themselves and await the firing order from their squad leader. he was able to imbue the human form beside him with the projections of his mind. showing no restraint in psychologizing the perpetrator’s attitude to his victim. gazing sidelong at the form of. with an average age of thirty-six years old. a young one. say. Walking side by side with his victim. face-to-face relationship to his victim. an eight. his study does capture something that I find deeply disquieting. killings. It is highly likely that. from which each member would choose his victim – a man. to his little girl. While Goldhagen concentrates too one-sidedly on face-to-face encounters such as the one depicted above. ` it is sufficiently unsettling vis-a-vis Bauman’s even if he gets only a small part of the bigger picture right. with a high factor of volunteering and with – or rather in spite of – rich and well-known opportunities to refuse participation. but a Jew nonetheless? (Goldhagen 1996: 217f.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 31 the material in his monograph Ordinary Men [1992]) paints a detailed picture of killings committed by personnel aged from twenty-one to fiftyfour. would normally have received his compassion.

for this girl. On Goldhagen’s analysis. evildoing thrives in proximity. nationalist. following Levinas. What is extraordinary in the case of Nazi ideology is not that it engages in drawing such a distinction. it thus pre-empts the display of any affection in this case.32 Evil and Human Agency circumstances. He saw a Jew. It is as if something has come between the policeman and the little girl. All cultures that we know practise some variant of teaching its individual members which objects (subjects) are entitled to what. Evildoing. does not depend on distance. in keeping with the Nazi ideology he evidently had internalized. but a Jew nonetheless’. invisibility. his affection is being subject to a specific channelling: some people are picked out as valid and worthy objects of affection. There is nothing in him that would resonate with her wordless appeal. We may realize this when we ask: What is blocked by the blocking in question? My answer is that what is blocked is not first and foremost cognitive. a subhuman creature. be it modern or postmodern. Even if her face. There is another dimension to this as well. wholly ideological in origin. may be assumed to issue an appeal – ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ – he does not experience himself as addressed by it. What is thus internalized is a structure of beliefs. So it is not as if the policeman in Goldhagen’s example is clinically incapable of affection. of care and responsibility. but affective. be it ideologized along racial. and content. religious. but the specific manner in which it does so. . It is the power of the girl’s face to trigger the policeman’s ability to be affectively moved by her plight that is quashed. Goldhagen asked if the policeman saw a little girl or if he saw ‘a Jew. or ethnic lines. He does not appear to receive anything from the girl. What has come between the two of them is a blocking. morally speaking (Vetlesen 1994: 153–217). a blocking of this kind is something cognitive. I use italics here to stress that such ideologically effected prevention of affection is highly selective in the way it works. a young one. His seeing a Jew meant that he. Let me explain. The ideologically determined cognitive manner in which the other – this other – is perceived thwarts the capacity for affection that springs from the faculty of empathy. saw an Untermensch. Rather. that is to say. of empathy-based compassion. others are not. or anonymity. a blocking produced by the policeman’s internalization of a specific Weltanschauung in which avid anti-Semitism is rock bottom. from her face. Goldhagen’s analysis is marred by the cognitivistic one-sidedness of his perspective. form. more subtle and tacit: the interplay between cognitive and emotional faculties in the perception of the other. His racist ideology ensures that this girl is excommunicated from the universe of shared humanity where empathy-based compassion is perceived as pertinent and so can be aroused.

Goldhagen concentrates on the – allegedly – overwhelming extent to which Germans of all walks of life supported. is killed without any trace of her being left on the killer. distantiation between perpetrators and victims became a sine qua non of the Holocaust. touches his victim. What survives her is what was already in place in the perception of the killer prior to the event of his meeting her: his belief and conviction that she gets what she deserves. Are they studying the same phenomenon? Not really. The essence of the whole is mirrored in each part. alright. Bauman is studying the technicalinstrumental logic that – he argues – gained ever more momentum in the course of accomplishing the Holocaust. even though Goldhagen may be right that ordinary . Why? Because no morally significant emotional and human proximity accompanies the physical one. the persecution of Jews that took place partly prior to. Bauman’s claim is that. And they deserve it. the pure extermination camps located in Poland (most of which began operating in the winter of 1942. She leaves no impression upon him. In both cases. Your group is your destiny. This is the logic that directed the Nazi leaders away from the attempted ‘popular’ and ‘spontaneous’ pogroms exemplified by the November 1938 Kristallnacht (an Aktion whose never-to-be-repeated character Bauman finds truly revealing) and toward the industrialized mass killings for which the extermination camps were designed. it apparently makes no difference. as it were: the alleged status (non-moral) of the collective determines and defines – no leeway allowed – the status of the individual (exemplar). that the concrete context of the perpetrator–victim encounter is characterized by physical proximity. The perpetrator sees. hears. By contrast. Should the different samples of empirical material upon which their studies are based bring us to conclude that Goldhagen and Bauman in fact talk past each other rather than flatly contradict each other? I suggest that.) Reassessing Bauman’s thesis in the light of recent scholarship The differences between the accounts of the Holocaust given by Bauman and Goldhagen are towering. Dehumanization – if that is the right term for this – here works deductively. from 1942 onward.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 33 What holds for the policeman’s encounter with the girl probably holds for the paramilitary Serb’s encounter with his victims as well (to anticipate my case study in Chapter 4). Why? Because she is one of them. and many for as short a period as one year). Yet he does not experience her. morally speaking. and often actively participated in. (I shall elaborate these vital points regarding the structure of collective evil in later chapters. and partly outside of.

Bauman’s major sociological thesis may still stand. The task Bauman sets himself in his book is to demonstrate that this understanding of the workings of institutions in modern society remains valid even in a case where what the institutions in fact were accomplishing. its ¨ quintessential model is Weber’s account of bureaucracy. indeed of all the mechanisms Bauman views as contributing to adiaphorization. The finding that modern institutions run most effectively by eliminating the impact and imprint of their individual members qua unique individuals (not least their capacity for aggression and hatred) is not. nullifies any difference that otherwise might be made by virtue of the peculiar substance or nature of the goal in question. the thesis is about how form prevails over content. of reaching some specific goal. . An essential feature of Weberian purposive rationality is precisely how goals (and consequences) cease to be subject to the individual’s autonomous moral evaluation in general. task-related and expertiseemploying control required in this thoroughly professionalized context. actually permitting allegedly deep-seated and violent anti-Jewish feelings to play a lead role in the way the killings took place would prove dysfunctional within such a vast and complex institutional undertaking. The latter setting is qualitatively different from the setting in which the Police Battalions studied by Goldhagen operated (a difference ignored in Goldhagen’s penchant for sweeping generalizations). understood as the creation of indifference towards the suffering of others. not only historians or political scientists such as Goldhagen. rationality is a matter of the efficiency of the selected means. was the murder of millions of human beings. day-to-day basis for years on end. considering the predictability and degree of top-down. a detection of Bauman’s but a commonplace of the social sciences going back to their founding fathers (Weber. of course. and empathy-based feelings such as pity and compassion in particular. whose enhanced perfection becomes an end in itself. To shift terminology. but also the parties directly involved are placed to offer counter-evidence to Bauman’s thesis about the importance of distantiation. Goldhagen’s case-oriented study fails to refute the sociological reasons Bauman presents to support his claim that the vehement hatred of Jews typical of violent street anti-Semitism is not what in actual fact made the extermination camps (where the largest number of killings took place) run – and run as smoothly as they did. Tonnies.34 Evil and Human Agency German men and women shared a much stronger animosity against the Jews than they are attributed at any point in Bauman’s account. However. on a routinized. instead. Simmel). how technically superior methods of doing something. Durkheim. For one thing.

and contradicting Stangl’s ‘cargo’ metaphor. there was always an ‘enormous mass’. To see the implications of this.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 35 This is not the place to engage with the enormous number of sources documenting how participants in killings evaluate the Holocaust as firstperson experience. comments such as these may appear to support Bauman’s claim about the indifference fostered by distantiation between perpetrator and victims. reflecting the humane-ness and individuality of both killers and those to be killed. almost by definition only brings out the worst in people – with the implicit corollary that. recall that Bauman comes close to suggesting that society. . commandant in Sobibor and Treblinka. was asked by the brilliant writer Gitta Sereny (1974: 201): ‘Did you not experience that they [the victims] were human beings?’ Stangl answers that ‘they were cargo’. considering the fact that Stangl was in charge of two of the biggest extermination camps and thus a major figure in the biggest genocidal project in the twentieth century. At first glance. empathy and concern with the victims in their capacity as individual human beings. rather. as we shall see below. despite overwhelming efforts in that direction. Suffice it to note that on many occasions in Sereny’s interviews with him. how could one come across a more blunt expression of how distantiation leads to wholesale dehumanization of the victims on the part of a key perpetrator? Stangl personifies the technification of killing and anonymization of the victims that go hand in hand with a total lack of identification. we take him on his word and accept his story at face value. Suffice it to indicate the significance of such accounts as a corrective to the empirical validity of Bauman’s thesis. morally speaking. However. Pace Bauman. never became a fully factory-like. Franz Stangl. Stangl reveals strong evidence that he – in contradiction to the above quote – was fully aware that it was humans he killed. if left to themselves and allowed to meet in a context of undisturbed proximity. a more questioning stance is called for. that he loathed the Jews and everything he associated with them. In interpreting him the way we just did. cargo-transporting and cargo-eliminating undertaking along the lines suggested in Bauman’s functionalist account. The Holocaust. Indeed. I do not think Stangl represents that simple a case. and that the smoothness sought for in performing the actual killing was undermined and interrupted again and again by obstacles deriving from the recalcitrant ‘messiness’ of the entire undertaking. We uncritically affirm that his response to Sereny’s question captures the truth about Stangl’s experience of what he did. He goes on to say that he ‘seldom looked upon them as individuals’. content would often prevail over form – with a vengeance.

they talk past each other. day out. it is also the case that scholars whose research is much closer to Bauman’s as far as choice of focus is concerned continue to publish studies that contradict Bauman’s thesis. Levi had focused on the gratuitous cruelty he witnessed everywhere he looked in the camp. circumstances identified by Bauman as characteristic of proximity will never be completely eradicated. set aside all forms of other. But the camps gave the personnel a free domain of action.and self-coercion characteristic of civilization. zooming in on the relation between absolutely powerful agents and absolutely powerless victims: It is true that the personnel belonged to a total organization with all the mechanisms of suppression that go with it. and. The executioners of the monopoly of violence could. to bodies. Above I pointed out that Goldhagen’s study relies on material taken from different areas of action (at a different time. For example. the German sociologist Wolfgang Sofsky. . in the course of. it will often be accompanied by cruel behaviour. There is a point beyond which the Weberian ideal types applied by Bauman to enhance our sociological understanding of how the Holocaust was possible cease to be a suitable device to let us get to grips with reality. say. That being so. The perpetrator was no mere subject. Sofsky records those of closeness. without being punished. or between immorality and distance – seldom survive empirical case studies keen on detail and attentive to the complexity of human behaviour. In real life. This bestiality becomes an end in itself. If Bauman looks for the effects of distantiation. in different regions. Such simple correlations – i. by different units) than those most relevant to Bauman’s conclusions. in his 1993 treatise Die Ordnung des Terrors (The Order of Terror). spirit. Sofsky emphasizes that the bestiality that characterized much of the killing in the camps was of a conspicuously excessive kind: it goes far beyond what can be deemed necessary for the killing of the victims. will. on the ‘useless suffering’ visited upon the inmates day in. the sequence beginning with the arrest of a particular Jew and ending with her being killed by gas in a camp.36 Evil and Human Agency individuals will act ethically towards each other.e. even when proximity does obtain. to pieces of flesh robbed of soul. He did more than he had to. it becomes an end in itself to indulge in the destruction of humans – reduced now to pure animality. Like Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi before him. exercised by individuals who realize absolute freedom. convincingly argues that the camps were arenas for what he calls ‘absolute power’. However. between morality and proximity. The many merits of Bauman’s book cannot overshadow the unfortunate consequences of projecting sociological categories onto a messy reality: too much of the latter is hidden from view.

The piles of bodies testify to the way absolute freedom turns into the destruction of humans.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 37 He did what he was permitted to do. although it is true that the SS were forbidden even to touch the bodies themselves. proximity was in many instances the preferred – meaning deliberately sustained – context of interaction. all that is needed is absolute power over others. hands-on-victims (corpses) work to the Sonderkommandos made up of a selected group of prisoners (routinely executed every three months). morally speaking. Inhumanity is always a possibility for human beings. Let me substantiate this point by pointing to the significance of performance. and a dangerous one at that (Todorov 1996: 39. Their immaculate presentation contrasted. is the technification of the agent’s performance. . . In general. Clendinnen 1999: 82f. preferred. and he was permitted to do everything. However. and always dressed to kill. The SS were always on show. Even in the camps. The point Sofsky’s study helps us recognize is that. The idea that the exceptional provides us with a privileged access to what is fundamental. far from distantiation being the soughtfor rule at all stages. and was meant to contrast. deep down. (Sofsky 1993: 318. yet ordinarily concealed. 275) Admittedly. leaving the dirty. because suited to the infliction of maximum pain that was such a crucial element of the SS personnel’s behaviour toward the victims. is suggestive but methodically unsound. Bauman would have us believe that what makes for the greatest danger. This sovereignty was transferred even to the lowest-standing guard .). Distance between perpetrator and victim was in no way the rule at every stage of the persecution ending in ‘industrialized’ killing in the camps. I urge great caution in using documentation about human behaviour under extreme circumstances to make inferences about the way humans are. plenty of direct physical encounters between the Nazi personnel and the inmates took place. In order for it to emerge. the ultimate perversion of conduct occurs when the agent allows himself to be turned into a means for purposes and ends of a blatantly immoral nature. with the . Consider the following account by Inga Clendinnen: The theatre of the Birkenau extermination complex developed its own scenarios and its own gratifications. a close look at the pride of place taken by performance among SS personnel suggests that the dramaturgical aspect often overshadows the technical. Sofsky is not at his most convincing when he starts extrapolating from his empirical findings what aspires to ‘universal’ truths about human nature (Sofsky 1998). a romantic fiction. Much of the historical material Sofsky presents speaks for itself. and it surely poses a serious challenge to Bauman’s account.

In putting it like this. we enter the territory explored so magnificently by Jack Katz in his Seductions of Crime. It is a case where technical skill and theatrical show-off are blended.) refers to it as ‘useless violence’. We see different scenarios played out and then assessed in accordance with their capacity to control and direct ‘audience response’. (Clendinnen 1999: 147f.) Is this a case of evildoing – deliberate infliction of pain and suffering – resulting from obedience to authority? Is it a case of the actors’ entering into an agentic state. Individuals specializing in crimes involving deliberate – though often misrepresented as ‘senseless’ – damage to others ‘submit to forces that transcend their subjectivity even while they tacitly control the transition’. or the grotesques in striped pyjamas who marched into the light to take charge of baggage. to produce in the individual performer the tremendous gratifications attending successful play-acting in front of an audience made up of peers and fellow connoisseurs. Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi (1988: 83ff. 10). the phenomenon at the heart of Katz’s study is sufficiently general to throw light on the Nazi behaviour under scrutiny no less than that of the street gangs analysed by Katz. yet at the same time quite gratuitous. no goading. have you got it now? That’s the way to do it!’ Again we have an example of that chilling Nazi perversity which combines a readiness to manipulate their victims with effecting their extermination as vermin. you two. arguing that ‘as unattractive morally as crime may be. and nourished by ideologically induced hatred of the victims. guns. All of which combine. It is something for which Bauman and Milgram have not prepared us. and achieve an orderly. they proudly appear to the world as astonishingly evil’ (Katz 1988: 8. I suggest. we must appreciate that there is a genuine experiential creativity in it as well’. brisk processing. After a couple of reassuring speeches. a classic of modern criminology that owes much of its status to the author’s keen eye for the dramaturgical dimensions – and gratifications – of much group-performed criminal acts.38 Evil and Human Agency dilapidated squalor of the lesser creatures who stumbled out of the boxcars. Keep in mind that the violence we talk about here was planned and chosen. ‘mimicking the ways of primordial gods as they kill. not a word of abuse passed their lips. ushered their victims through the necessary sequence with no shouting. For my purposes. In one model performance. the SS. subject to various mechanisms fostering distantiation? It is no such thing. There was a range of possible scripts in the anterooms to death. playing affable and courteous guides. Katz urges the scholar to appreciate ‘the authentic efficacy of sensual magic’. the crowd of people was successfully cozened and sealed into the gas chambers with no time-consuming fuss. mutually reinforcing each other. There is a moment of . The SS officer in charge turned to his underlings: ‘Well.

Among . I agree with Clendinnen that there is something about such episodes. How is it possible to smash a truncheon into an old woman’s face. on one day in July 1941. After this meeting the bloodbath began . answered: We have enough of our own craftsmen. as both Wasersztajn and Gross point out.) It is true that the Germans. There. they also had to sing until they brought it to the designated place. While carrying the monument. As the first victims of their devilish instincts they selected seventy-five of the youngest and healthiest Jews. . that continues to escape final diagnosis. that all Jews must be killed. on the day before. Citing the testimony of Szmul Wasersztajn. special clubs studded with nails. none should stay alive. Gross writes: On the morning of July 10. who witnessed the pogrom. For this purpose Szlezinski gave his own barn. had issued an order that all the Jews be destroyed. they burned all the Jews in the barn. but under a rain of horrible blows the Jews had to do it. it was Polish civilians who took it up and carried it out. and other instruments of torture and destruction and chased all the Jews into the street.600 men. even though the Germans gave the order. the book tells a story long untold: the story of how. and children. of self-reinforcing thrill and the intoxication brought by absolute power over absolute powerless people. which stood nearby. and even – on the inside of the gates of man` made hell a la Auschwitz – exuberance. Local hooligans armed themselves with axes. half of the population of the small Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half – some 1. whom they ordered to pick up a huge monument of Lenin that the Russians had erected in the center of town. a quality of delight. When the Gestapo asked what their plans were with respect to the Jews. using the most horrible methods. But. the sort of questions that defy easy psychological answers continue to force themselves upon us. It is the story of how civilian Poles killed their long-time neighbours. women. they were ordered to dig a hole and throw the monument in.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 39 excess. (Gross 2001: 18f. 1941. Even within the compelling frame of theatrical expectation. or to smash an infant into a wall? Let me add one more instance of empirical counter-evidence to Bauman’s account that deserves consideration: historian Jan Gross’s study Neighbors. . Mayor Karolak and everybody else agreed with his words. It was impossibly heavy. who was present. after various tortures and humiliations. local carpenter Bronislaw Szlezinski. unanimously. When the Germans proposed to leave one Jewish family from each profession. Having said this. eight Gestapo men came to town and had a meeting with representatives of the town authorities. Sparking heated controversy in Poland when it was published in 2001. such acts. Then these Jews were butchered to death and thrown into the same hole. we have to destroy all the Jews. they said.

the Germans were greeted with enthusiasm. and the murderers later kicked it around in the main square (2001: 96). or some other ‘Kalmuks’.40 Evil and Human Agency the numerous incidents of unspeakable brutality. As if to emphasize the difference between this incident and the way in which organized evildoing typically takes place if we are to believe Milgram and Bauman. it seems. is principal: he takes the fate of the Jews in Jedwabne to prove that it is simply not true – as the standard version for some fifty years has it. 123). On the other hand. she had her head cut off. Rather. there is the fate of the girl known as the most beautiful in town. nourishing the rumour of ‘innate’ Jewish collaboration with the Soviets during the period 1939–41. a conviction that Jews use for the preparation of Passover matzoh the fresh blood of innocent Christian children’. it is manifest that the local nonJewish population enthusiastically greeted entering Wehrmacht units in 1941 and ‘broadly engaged in collaboration with the Germans. however. He also directs attention to the widespread opinion among ordinary Poles that the Jews generally showed an enthusiastic response to entering Red Army units. In Jedwabne. up to and including participation in the exterminatory war against the Jews’ (p. 133). do it!’ – that the Jews could henceforth be killed with impunity. the youngest daughter of the melamed (kheyder teacher). Gitele Nadolny. not least because they were perceived by the local non-Jewish population as representing a green light – a ‘Go ahead. this notion is simply false. Gross’s main point. both in Poland and in international historiography – that Jews were murdered in Poland during the war solely by the Germans. in other words. what happened in Jedwabne was that the local population literally volunteered to carry out the killing themselves. Gross tells us to remember that in the background of anti-Jewish violence there always lurked ‘a suspicion of ritual murder. Gross states: ‘A murderer in uniform remains a state functionary acting under orders. writes Gross. a piece of standard prejudice against the Jews (p. In empirical terms. Not so a civilian. Ukrainians. occasionally assisted in the execution of their gruesome task by some auxiliary police formations composed primarily of Latvians. The point is made: Jedwabne does not fit into Bauman’s picture of how the Holocaust was carried out. killing another human being of his own free will – such an evildoer is unequivocally but a murderer’ (p. making sure that no single Jew was spared. Gross then asks: ‘Where did this explosive potential come from?’ There is no simple answer. The perpetrators were not uniformed men . and he might even be presumed to have mental reservations about what he has been ordered to do. The massacre in Jedwabne goes to show that the Nazi units in charge of the ‘final solution’ did not compel the local population to participate directly in the murder of Jews. 155).

To return to the greater picture. of all those who were near the murder scene at the time’ (p. working in tandem toward the goal of killing. fire. wooden clubs.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 41 acting under orders and trapped in an ‘agentic state’. and water. only subsequently to become used to it. iron bars. in ways demonstrating that. we must be able to see it as a mosaic composed of discrete episodes. simultaneously. where features such as anonymity. 124). that of Gemeinschaft-like collective evil. under certain circumstances. and hinging on unforced behavior. and distantiation are conspicuous by their absence. physical. considering Sofsky’s research – may be said to serve Bauman relatively well as a model of top-down organized Gesellschaftlike collective evil. he has not. it was a matter of taking recourse to primitive. Rather. Jedwabne epitomizes the opposite model. of starting out reluctantly. Sofsky. there is no denying that Jedwabne was part of the historical reality designated by the term ‘the Holocaust’. and temporal. depersonalization. hesitantly. making up the totality that is called ‘the Holocaust’. it did happen. rooted in God-knows-what motivations. Goldhagen. to quote Gross. There was an absence of the entire psychology of learning by doing. This was no top-down thing. In the case of Jedwabne. no sophisticated bureaucracy was involved. neither ideologically nor institutionally. numb in the face of committing murder. In the utter brutality of the handson violence exhibited. how can we reach a consensus – or at least a conclusion that is not fraught with contradictions? . ancient methods and murder weapons: stones. we have to be able to account for it as a system. Whereas Auschwitz – if only arguably. Therefore. axes. improvised by local decision-makers. proximity and evildoing – far from mutually exclusive – may indeed coexist. Again. many elements. no advanced technology. generational. and Gross take us. we are more inclined to make comparisons with the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda than with the Holocaust as portrayed by Hilberg or Bauman. my point is not that Bauman has got it all wrong. is seriously wanting. Whatever the historical representativeness or lack of such of Jedwabne. An account of the latter that fails – if only by omission or neglect – to accommodate the case of Jedwabne as one among many events. But. Jedwabne makes clear that we must approach the Holocaust as a ‘heterogeneous phenomenon’: ‘On the one hand. Mistaking the bureaucratic design for the reality Given the quite opposite directions in which studies such as those by Bauman. which functioned according to a preconceived (though constantly evolving) plan. the mass murder was carried out in full proximity in every sense of the word: personal.

Unsurprisingly. the sheer lust. ‘cut off from the network of personal intercourse. Sofsky is the last to stumble into the psychologistic pitfalls Goldhagen sets up for himself from page one. In Goldhagen’s sweeping account. therefore. transformed in practice into exemplars of a category. All the more forceful. transporting. or of ordering others to do it. not so much because of ideologically imbued hatred as because of the intoxication. it is utterly calculated in its how-to’s and when-to’s. to succeed in designing the ‘solution to the Jewish problem’ as a ‘rational. selecting. arresting. brought by absolute power over others. More disturbing. explicitly in Goldhagen – in all studies under consideration (save Gross. It is more disturbing than that kind of orthodox assumption. because the bestiality is exercised with a high degree of control: it is cool. Stubbornly heterogeneous and complex. it exhibits what expertise truly amounts to: an audience-gathering peak performance. it is deliberate down to the last detail. in the individual case. or of planning that it be done. The scenes he depicts from life in the camps are not about the letting loose of hatred. of feelings otherwise disallowed. who remains agnostic). The force with which this impression is conveyed to the reader in Sofsky’s book is amplified by the cool. the Jews had to be removed from the horizon of German daily life. cleverly seeking out the ideal victim and skilfully directed at his weakest points. or merely witnessing or hearing about it. of a stereotype – into the abstract concept . if ever. Bauman maintains that. are the findings of utmost bestiality brought to us by Sofsky. who enjoy every bit of evildoing they get the chance to enact. In Sofsky. Goldhagen holds that every action directed at the Jews in the complex process of discriminating. evil is a real-life phenomenon that seldom. it is more a matter of casting the perpetrators as persons who indulge in bestiality.42 Evil and Human Agency For a start. Working within a functionalist paradigm and specializing in complex organizations. Goldhagen is the most obvious case in point. this assumption is made – implicitly in Bauman and Sofsky. If I am not mistaken. we need to dismiss the assumption that all the agents involved in the totality we refer to as ‘the Holocaust’ were driven to do what they did by the same basic sort of motivation and of self-perception. differences such as these are ignored. bureaucratic task’. absolutely detached manner in which the author approaches his subject. As far as evildoing is concerned. As opposed to this scenario. and killing them. conforms to some specific theoretical model. ideologically as well as psychologically sprang from the same motivation – regardless of whether it. is a matter of physically (meaning close-up to the victims) doing one or other of these things. or of supervising some of those who did it.

Avid Jew-haters and impeccable bureaucrats. keen on procedural detail and reckless performers of unprecedented cruelty against defenceless people deemed racial enemies: these are the properties combined in the leaders of the SS Einsatzgruppen. abstraction seems to be an apt description of the manner in which most senior Nazi officials thought about the Jews. highly ideologically motivated leaders of the notorious Einsatzgruppen moved back and forth between deskwork at the headquarters in Berlin and on-the-scene presence and direct participation in the open-air shootings on the Eastern Front. Since the empirical material at hand forces us to concede that proximity – person-to-person encounters – did obtain in numerous instances of the killings. self-styled intellectuals and charismatic leaders. on the eve of the wholesale liquidation of the huge ghetto in Minsk an order was issued from Berlin to make sure that ‘all officers take part in the executions. True. there being some SS-leaders who so far have not fired a single shot’ (Wildt 2003: 599). To take a telling example. mechanisms of distantiation and abstraction must have proved – perceptually and experientially – so powerful as to overshadow the circumstance that ‘individual’ victims. inevitably displaying features of a personalized kind. established in September 1939 and headed by Heydrich – paints a picture where the well-educated. If anything. the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942. At this conference. Actions – be it downright murder – directed at an abstract or stereotyped category proved incapable of stirring people’s moral conscience. where.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 43 of the metaphysical Jew’ (1989: 189). say. and as demonstrated beyond doubt in historian Michael Wildt’s magisterial study of the RSHA leadership and in his colleague Ulrich Herbert’s equally compelling biography of SS officer . were in fact met upon all along the way. devoting themselves as they did to deskwork. But again. since the latter typically relates to persons with whom one interacts on a daily basis. even reigns supreme. to be sure. touchable) Jew. Recent German scholarship on the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) – the organization specifically set up to accomplish the ‘final solution’. For Bauman’s thesis to stand. Indeed. abstraction reigns. hence conforming to the Weberian portrait of the modern bureaucrat that Bauman throughout subscribes to. then. the decision to opt for the ‘total annihilation of European Jewry’ was formally taken. they were not encountered in such a quality in their role as the ‘object’ of discussion at. under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich. a closer look at the facts reveals that the picture is not that simple. a question arises concerning the plausibility that the ‘abstract and stereotyped category’ – the ‘metaphysical Jew’ – would prevail over the concrete (visible.

But is it true that the bureaucracy worked like that in the carrying out of the Holocaust? A strong case can be made that. whose role in the murder of the declared ‘enemies of the state’ on the Eastern Front appears to have been much more malevolent than commonly assumed (I am particularly referring to Omer Bartov’s (1992) research). Shifting attention to a different organization. apart from status and ascription. . of criminal policies and so of immorality in practice that Bauman would have us believe. the German army.44 Evil and Human Agency Werner Best. For Bauman. One of several consequences of Bauman’s tendency to neglect the crucial differences between democratic and totalitarian modern states is on show in his failure to recognize that ‘totalitarian regimes have a tendency to personalize and politicize that which modern societies have sought to depersonalize and depoliticize’. the Holocaust essentially reflects on modernity because of the way in which mass murder assumed a bureaucratized. let alone prerequisite. what facilitated and accompanied the extermination policies was a thoroughgoing process of de-bureaucratization. In short. impersonal. treating like cases in a like manner. As attested to by the bypassing of established procedural norms and by the blatant disregard for the rule of law.e. purposive-rational form. there existed no natural. In refusing to draw any distinctions between party and state. and so forth – are not the natural ally. Bauman’s account suffers a considerable loss of plausibility as a consequence of this evidence. as a matter of principle even the cadres traditionally referred to as ‘desk-murderers’ had plenty of blood on their hands. the principle that people be treated as individual cases. let alone elective. that the bureaucrat bracket his personal sympathies and antipathies. a similar case can be made for the Wehrmacht. affinity between the Nazi Party and the state bureaucracy. as sociologist Paul du Gay (2000: 53) observes. Bureaucratic forms of depersonalization – i. the German state bureau was itself subjected to vigorous assault by the National Socialists in their endeavour to create a totalitarian society where mass murder could take place as perfectly legal. the truth of the matter is that the Nazi regime parasitically and progressively transformed and (even) revolutionized the institutional apparatus it had inherited from the democratic Weimar era. far from being the technicaladministrative handmaiden of Nazism in general and the accomplishment of genocide in particular. a form cancelling out the specific human and moral content of murder. In my opinion. Contra Bauman’s argument that part of what should utterly alarm us ‘moderns’ is how smoothly bureaucracy revealed itself to be a perfect vehicle for the most criminal political undertaking modernity has witnessed.

the Holocaust. partly co-opted by a hyper-ideological Weltanschauung. at least those deemed ‘useful’ for pragmatic or utilitarian reasons. and as argued forcefully by Yehuda Bauer. Of course. ideological zeal – often bordering on fanaticism – was at the very centre of this whole undertaking. Far from representing the very epitome of ‘modernity’. a ‘fighting bureaucracy’) aptly captures the ethos that was cultivated. the lesson being that ‘a bureaucracy that becomes the slave of an elite group imbued with an anti-state ideology may be just as efficient in pursuing genocidal aims as is an ordinary state bureaucracy’ (Bauer 2002: 83). The concept of a ka ¨mpferische Verwaltung (literally. His thesis rests upon the assumption that the abstraction-feeding design – instrumental rationality . However. To the considerable extent that (precisely) Weberian bureaucracy differed from the Nazi vision. the Nazis in charge eagerly and effectively changed it. If anything. then. In essence. ‘the Nazis turned against the state’. is about procedural norms and purposive rationality being partly suppressed. there are numerous others where it clearly did not – this being the rule not the exception. The ideologically motivated centre – RSHA headquarters in Berlin – decided to murder all the Jews. As convincingly shown in Michael Wildt’s study of the RSHA. To sum up. the Nazi leadership ‘sought to turn bureaucrats into something else entirely: a cross between pre-modern serfs and political activists’ (du Gay 2000: 50). and again contrary to Bauman. The story of bureaucracy’s fate under Nazi dictatorship. The historical evidence referred to makes us realize that Bauman commits the error of mistaking the bureaucratic design for the reality. who set out to radically alter and politicize the mentality of the personnel as well as the methods employed and the goals to be pursued. even granted the existence of some bureaucratic contexts where abstraction did prevail. and thus partly blamed for. we need to realize that these institutions came to be led by persons who saw themselves as revolutionaries. then. division of labour and specification of tasks continued – following Weber – to characterize the organization of work within the various institutions. Bauer’s position is representative of much recent scholarship in arguing that bureaucracy per se cannot be linked with. The point is that such ‘conservative’ bureaucratic self-understanding was considered a nuisance by the Nazis. then.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 45 activist and official. the peculiar Nazi bureaucracy that evolved in the late 1930s and early 1940s increasingly assumed premodern features. out of principle and in utter contempt for the proceduralism as well as ‘pragmatic’ leanings of the bureaucracy. pre-Nazi-originating central bodies as well as local officialdom (especially in Poland) slowly moved toward keeping the Jews.

colleagues. (Bauman 2000c: 16) Will it do for Bauman to focus attention on the issue of how many who killed without feeling anything about those being killed? I propose we turn the tables on Bauman’s manner of speaking by arguing that. for every Heydrich and Eichmann who participated in the killing without feeling anything about their victims. So how does Bauman respond to the large number of sources who tell a different story? He says: The point is that for every villain of Goldhagen’s book. Bauman extrapolates abstraction. True. at least in a context such as this – indifference taken as the dominant stance toward something widely known to involve nothing less than murder. And the point is also that while we know quite well that prejudice threatens humanity and we even know how to fight and constrain the ill intentions of people poisoned with prejudice.46 Evil and Human Agency enjoying free rein over yet another territory ‘freed’ from the moral dynamics of personal intercourse – almost fully translated into the manner in which the killings comprising the total phenomenon – the Holocaust – were carried out. classmates. of the kind Bauman relies upon in the agents to defend his thesis. for every German who killed his victims with pleasure and enthusiasm. implying that its triumph was virtually complete. Bauman’s claim is indeed that what accompanied the Holocaust was the blurring of any recognized difference between producing dead bodies . indifferent in the sense of not developing sympathy for their plight and so resistance to the Nazi policy of annihilation. affecting collectives – is more strongly. and in the next chapters I shall argue that indifference – taken as a cultural phenomenon. projects it onto every stage of the process of killing millions of human beings. as well as toward one’s own role in the carrying out of it. we know little about how to stave off the threat of a murder which masquerades as the routine and unemotional functioning of orderly society. Indifference. Nazi ideology hammered home the message that good Germans remain indifferent to what happened to the Jews. there were dozens and hundreds of Germans and non-Germans who contributed to the mass murder no less effectively without feeling anything about their victims or about the nature of the actions involved. and disastrously. even the ones one used to know. ranging as that role might from active participation to passive tolerance and onlooking. But psychologically – can we speak of indifference here? I think not. sustained among various types of bystanders (including professional third parties) than among perpetrators. there were dozens and hundreds who were more than eager to do their share in the persecution of their Jewish neighbours. is an odd phenomenon.

nor to Konrad Lorenz’s (1966) claims about the primacy of an instinct of aggression. as determining a ‘design’. Bauman relies on Milgram to give a diagnosis that portrays such selfunderstanding as factually correct. but to contend that it captures the fashion in which acting individuals experienced what they did is quite another. how. Rendering human beings superfluous If we are to believe Stanley Milgram – and Bauman does – his experiments have revealed ‘the capacity for man to abandon his humanity. To postulate such eradication of distinct boundaries as a Nazi policy. the inevitability that he does so. though also primeval. that the individual participant was but a ´ ‘cog in the killing machine’. as a sociologist. indeed. Bauman’s invocation of ‘primeval moral drives’ invites the question whether there are not other drives which. in the form of a warning: ‘This is a fatal flaw nature has designed into us. and it makes for a much more contentious claim. that is. Milgram (1974: 188) draws the following conclusion. and which in the long run gives our species only a modest chance of survival.’ In accepting. and. to paraphrase genocide historian Dan Stone (2004). what is Bauman to make of that? One need not subscribe to Freud’s (1985) notion of an inborn death-drive (thanatos). how the rational Weberian aspects of modernity are themselves ‘the conditions which necessitate outbursts of violence such as genocide’. does not Bauman merely echo the tired cliche with which convicted perpetrators dismiss personal responsibility. someone else would have replaced them and done the very same thing? On the one hand. In particular. to find that Bauman’s implicit anthropology appears one-sided. cold-blooded purposive rationality triggers and interacts with its ‘radical other’. that is to say. Bauman seems to me to overlook the peculiar dialectic at work in collective evil such as the Holocaust: how. and purposive rationality . there being no structures in modern societies for permitting such outbursts. is one thing. if so. they just acted as ordered to and. if they had refused. and as I will later show in great detail. as capturing what social reality is like when distantiation prevails over proximity. the refusal to recognize the need for non-purposive activity ends in outbursts of affect on a grand scale. Moreover. as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures’. how state-sponsored licence to indulge in frenzied transgression of norms and laws allows for personal release and social revivification. between handling things and handling humans. are far from moral. anticipating a perspective to be elaborated in later chapters. that is to say.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 47 and producing soap.

as – sometimes – desiring to do evil. end point – for a sociological understanding of the Holocaust. following the anti-sociological ethicist par excellence Levinas. These are precisely the arenas that would enable the individual to do what Bauman. asks of him: to exercise moral responsibility for the other. for pursuing the welfare and safeguarding the rights of others. so. and so its principal casualty. and so by morality. This contradiction at the end of Bauman’s study should not be viewed as a theoretical error. throwing the predicament of morality in modern society into sharp relief. Polarizing individual and institution (social structure) so crudely as to render them antithetical is not a promising starting point – nor. Bauman is a functionalist when studying institutions and an atomist when portraying the individual. would point out that it is a real-life paradox. including the bureaucracy. whoever that other happens to be. leaving the latter without viable social arenas. too. is lost from view. for that matter. is the potential for doing good. the entity appealed to in order to reverse the process in question is simply not at hand – since destroyed by the process. Bauman relies on Levinas’ ethics to point to the single individual as the one and only locus of responsibility. given the wider environment within which Bauman the sociologist situates it? As far as I can see.48 Evil and Human Agency and instrumentality over affect and morality. I have indicated the price for which such polarization is bought: human individuals in their capacity as pursuing immorality. and so the darker side of human agency. It risks missing the pivotal difference between a pluralist. So. Bauman stakes his only hope for moral responsibility on precisely that entity – the individual in the affirmative sense – declared to have been rendered impotent and superfluous by the very development whose sole source of prevention the individual is now said to be. I suspect. In a marriage that sounds odd on paper but is in fact not altogether rare in social theory. that is upheld both by code and in practice by a number of modern institutions. if the thesis is correct in its empirically oriented. But this is hardly satisfactory. to help arrest societal processes such as spreading . sociological sense. On the other hand. dissent-encouraging modern society and a totalitarian one in which the individual’s worth is defined by – and so inseparable from – that of his group. The task with which Bauman leaves individuals – that of ‘resisting socialization’ – is seriously lacking both in the social environment in which such a capacity could be acquired and fostered. Rather Bauman. and in the guidance of sound judgment as to when and how to exercise such resistance. when addressing what follows for morality. But what are the prospects enjoyed by this individual.

for which the death camps served as the laboratories. the direct. I have argued that such emptying of existentially deep motivation on the part of those participating in collective evildoing is repudiated by recent historical and sociological research. large-scale output from small-scale input. and the result is evildoing with a clean conscience in those who did it. by unobserved irony.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 49 indifference by uncoupling consequences from intentions. is committed by a large number of individuals who. display but little or nothing of the malicious will to do evil – to inflict suffering on others – that we normally would expect in cases of grossly immoral action. thoughts. at least when attempted by the single individual. the very quality forced upon the victims. Many of Heinrich Himmler’s comments testify to a vision that – ultimately. Bauman violates the principle that there can never be more to the consquences than present in the cause(s). since it is a requirement of efficient performance that he actually not invest himself in any personal or existential way in what he does. in a totalitarian state such as Nazi Germany. More accurately. Likewise. wishes – from his performance. the better. superfluous – thus matching. on-the-spot participation of personnel reduced to an absolute minimum. making resistance virtually impossible. when all the administrative and technical means had reached perfection – the extermination of millions of human beings would proceed quasi by itself. That this can be so is in keeping with a characteristic of modernity per se: the link between desiring and doing is abolished. the more thoroughly he separates himself – his feelings. In a word. taken singly. Since the individual need not identify with what he takes part in doing. The evil that figures in Bauman’s account is an evil residing in the consequences. to recall Arendt’s (1951: 455) contention that what radical evil aims at is nothing less radical than the superfluousness of the human being. the evil allowed for in Bauman’s account is a collective evil (in the double sense of being performed by one collective and targeting another) that. not in the individual perpetrators and their motivations. the institutional arrangements conducive to placing individuals in the ‘agentic state’ described by Milgram were truly overwhelming. he depsychologizes the causes – the origins – which de facto help evil to be brought about. since what he contributes is but a technical function. paradoxical as it may seem. the aim was to develop a grand perpetuum mobile. To be sure. These remain vital insights into vital . Though intriguing. a killing machine making individual killers redundant. When everything is said and done. enormous pressure was put on individuals always to act in such a manner as to display ‘obedience to authority’.

and so on for the various professions (engineers. such symbiosis occurred as the result of a constellation of highly particular factors. brought to bear on the Holocaust and its specific ‘how’ and ‘why’. Only by hijacking pre-existing bureaucratic structures. the relevant professions (medicine. In cases too numerous to list here. what happened was that the relevant professionals – frequently acting from a combination of ideological conviction and careerism – volunteered to make their small. and as demonstrated by many studies. architects. yet indispensable contribution to the overall undertaking we identify as the Holocaust. is Robert Jay Lifton’s (1986) study of The Nazi Doctors. professions. Nevertheless. and so helping healers to become killers with a clean conscience. one compatible with the relevant empirical findings. when . and extermination cannot be held to grow out of the institutions characteristic of modern society as such. by altering and exploiting them ruthlessly for their own highly ideological objectives. Most famous. could the Nazis turn the German state apparatus into a smooth vehicle for mass destruction. following in the footsteps of research pioneered in Germany by (doctors) Mielke and Mitscherlich. these insights fail to produce a convincing answer.50 Evil and Human Agency mechanisms and tendencies. jurists). among which the racist Nazi ideology is absolutely instrumental. perhaps. genetics. Rather. anthropology). Rather than collective evil resting on an uncoupling between the single individual’s beliefs and desires. issuing as it did a licence to kill. For example. on the condition that the ideology in question resonate deeply and existentially with psychological dispositions – needs and longings. such an ideology can only motivate people to do what they in fact do. such organized evil will often occur in a situation where these individual and institutional factors meet halfway. and the goals pursued on a macro-level by the large institutions in which individuals perform the actions required of them. A complex interaction evolved between the ideologically nourished discourse of racial hygiene. desires and fears – to be found in the individual. inseparable as they may be from modern societies in general and an institution such as bureaucracy in particular. to which one could add Benno Muller-Hill’s (1988) important work on the role played by geneti¨ cists. to allude to Lifton’s work. programmes of experimentation on prisoners were not usually pushed from above but developed from below by doctors who had perceived the exceptional experimental possibilities offered by the camps. The point against Bauman is that this symbiosis between ideology. I conclude that Bauman is wrong to think that the modern bureaucratic institution per se is pregnant with the sort of immorality exhibited in the Holocaust. and the institution of the concentration camp. However.

to work in tandem in the same direction. the other begging to differ from him – Hannah Arendt and C. To investigate the more exact nature of such ordinariness among perpetrators. I shall turn to two other theorists of evil: one much admired by Bauman. if the participants in the carrying out of the Holocaust were ‘ordinary men’ partaking in extraordinary evil.The ordinariness of modern evildoers 51 they are allowed to merge. . respectively. So. Fred Alford. their ordinariness is not of a kind with which Bauman’s largely functionalist analysis would be compatible.

One searches in vain for an essay or book of hers devoted to it. coined in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1965a). Arendt’s struggle to come to terms. Her undertaking was to see how much light philosophy – meaning thinking as such. and judgment. we realize that conscience is the thematic fellow-traveller of evil in Arendt’s work from beginning to end. My thesis is not that doing so will enable us 52 . To present-day readers. and evildoing. Arendt is associated first of all with the notion ‘the banality of evil’. a connection between conscience and evil. this is not the whole truth. willing. few attempts have been made to assess Arendt’s position on evil by tracing its connection with her reflections on conscience. forced her to consider again and again the interrelation between thinking. the task I set myself is to bring the significance of conscience out into the open. so that if evil is regarded as the most constant theme in her work. conscience is no salient topic in Arendt. not the academic discipline – can throw on evil. on the one hand. one finds that she from early on explored a connection now overshadowed by the aforementioned one between thinking and evil – namely. So what about conscience? As I said. shadow. In this chapter. though often neglected. Conscience does not figure among the topics for which Arendt’s work is most known. I set out to examine the significance of such a connection. on the other. Once we appreciate this. However. with Eichmann and his kind of (doing rather than being) evil.2 Hannah Arendt on conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil Introduction Although there exists a vast literature dealing with Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on evil. philosophically if not morally. In this chapter. As soon as one starts to trace Arendt’s reflections on evil in her oeuvre. conscience accompanies that theme as its inseparable.

Arendt works out two distinct models of conscience and its link to evildoing – one associated with Socrates. its theoretical appreciation does not prevent Arendt from entangling herself in problems all her own. However. representing the multifaceted arena that mediates between the two. whereas Arendt’s position does hold some similarity to Bauman’s. .Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 53 to sort out all the puzzles and dissolve all the aporias with which Arendt’s reflections on evil are ripe. needs to be recognized as the primary arena for resisting evil. conscience – provides us with a head-on way of assessing some crucial differences between Arendt and Heidegger – contra a provocative thesis put forward by David Luban. The issue of evil – and. it entails the insight that the rigid polarization of individual and institution is very much part of the problem of modern evil – the upshot being that the public sphere. as we will see. 1978b). to be sure. By placing the role of conscience at the very centre of Arendt’s lifelong reflections. We shall see that. in light of the controversies triggered. On the reading I shall develop. the discussion that follows explores the influence exerted by St Augustine and Heidegger. Beginning with her doctoral dissertation on St Augustine and ending with her posthumously published studies in The Life of the Mind (1978a. Heidegger’s conception of conscience in his massively influential Being and Time is identified as a crucial source for understanding – so my claim holds – why Arendt found Heidegger’s philosophy particularly wanting with respect to the question of evil. This insight helps us to fill in an important category regrettably absent in Bauman’s account of the Holocaust. My claim is weaker: that drawing systematic attention to how conscience figures in the latter will help us get a better grasp not only on her view on evil but also on the nature of Arendt’s philosophical relationship to Heidegger. Arendt’s oeuvre exhibits strong thematic continuity – the triad thinking–conscience–evil forms its most enduring core – a puzzling core. especially over her notion of the ‘banality of evil’. in the course of her late meditations on The Life of the Mind. The role of ordinariness that was central in my above discussion of Bauman – in the paradox that extraordinarily evil acts may be committed by subjects conspicuous more by their ordinariness than by some detectable ‘evil-desiring’ personality – will again command our attention. revolving in large measure around her own ambiguities over the more exact relationship between the alleged ‘banality of evil’ (as exemplified by Eichmann) and the supposed ‘ordinariness’ of those who participate in such evil. the other with Heidegger.

Being is for Augustine. which he finds in himself. and it speaks so that the one addressed cannot escape: ‘An evil conscience cannot flee from itself. . . He has turned himself into a resident of this world. there can be no ‘evil’ (malum). Conscience speaks in ourselves against this alien tongue. which may merely seem evil from the transient perspective of the individual . Since no part in this universe. This alien tongue determines man’s being. As Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark (1996: 130) remind us. God is the only possible judge of good and evil. . There is no fleeing from conscience. which is of God. as it was for the Greeks. that person is wicked who tries to escape the predetermined harmony of the whole.54 Evil and Human Agency Assessing the influence of St Augustine Love and Saint Augustine is Arendt’s 1929 Heidelberg dissertation. There are only ‘goods’ (bona) in their proper order. As the voice of the Creator. . There is no togetherness and no being at home in the world that can lessen the burdens of conscience . is then as follows . rather. one who is no longer of God alone but owes what he is to this world which he helped to establish. the everlasting. the individual no longer stands in isolated relation to his very own ‘whence’. post-Manichean position on evil. The estrangement from the world is essentially an estrangement from habit. While man lives in habit. . conscience makes man’s dependence on God clear to him. it has no place to which it may go. In the testimony of conscience. The appropriate interpretation of wickedness . it pursues itself’ . What the law commands. The voice of the law summons him against what ‘habit previously entangled him in’. whether good or evil. from outside and from what man has founded. . into the presence of God. no human life and no part of this life. Conscience directs man beyond this world and away from habituation. ‘Augustine moved from a belief in the material reality of evil during his Manichean period (De Libero Arbitrio) toward his ‘‘mature’’ position in which evil is described as a bondage to habitual sin. he lives in view of the world and is subject to its judgment. Its long second part is entitled ‘Creator and Creature: The Remembered Past’. can possess its own autonomous significance. forever lawful structure and the harmony of all the parts of the universe. 60f. a worldliness that free will is powerless to break (De Natura et Gratia). conscience addresses to the one who has already succumbed to the world in habit.) We gather from these quotes that Arendt is referring to Augustine’s mature. The world and its judgments crumble before this inner testimony. (Arendt 1996: 84f. . This testimony bears witness to man’s dependence on God.’ In City of God (1984: 480). He no longer hears what he is from conscience. but from ‘another’s tongue’ (aliena lingua). I shall quote the central passages where Arendt lays out St Augustine’s understanding of conscience: In the human world established by man. . Augustine wrote that to . he lives in a world he has made jointly with other men.. Conscience puts him coram Deo. . .

no facticity at all. ontologically. (1989: 83) I have dwelled on Arendt’s detailed exegesis of. ‘covetousness constantly seeks to cover [man’s] real source by insisting that man is ‘‘of the world’’. it has no standing. Through habit. it is evil to the extent that it ‘determines man’s being.’ Hence thought. as non-being. thereby turning the world itself into the source. whether good or evil. This Augustinian notion of evil as ontologically null and void. The world’s language is another tongue than that of the law. and indeed affirmation of. evil is denied a specific reality to itself. as sheer negativity. The creature. by way of summing up Augustine’s doctrine. and habit. Arendt points out that ‘Only the good has depth and can be radical. from outside and from what man has founded’ (p. Augustine’s understanding of the nature of evil because some recent commentators argue that her approach to Adolf Eichmann is distinctly Augustinian. Trying to explain what she meant by speaking about the ‘banality’ of evil. and ‘the only contrary nature is the non-existent’ (p. 479). the evil will itself is not effective but defective’ (p. Arendt quotes Augustine’s contention in his Confessions that ‘the law of sin is the force of habit’. into evil – namely. in the search for its own being. Thus man’s own nature lures him into the service of ‘‘things made’’ instead of to the service of their Maker’ (p. The inclination to sin springs more from habit than from passion itself. To which Arendt adds. it can be . Sin springs from insistence on our own will. 82). the influence on Arendt’s thought emanating from Augustine’s description of evil as ‘a bondage to habitual sin’ is particularly significant. the ‘contrary nature’ to the supremely good God. In fact. What leads man away from God is what leads man into sin. 82). ‘the moment it concerns itself with evil.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 55 seek for the cause of evil ‘is like trying to see darkness or to hear silence’. because the world man has founded in covetousness is consolidated in habit. seeks security for its existence. is unmistakably present in Arendt’s 1963 exchange with Gershom Scholem over Eichmann. ‘is not a matter of efficiency. The claim is that her early preoccupation with Augustine commands much more than merely historical interest. For my purposes. makes it cling to the wrong past and thus gives it the wrong security. is frustrated because there is nothing’ (Arendt 1989: 78). 473). but of deficiency. of God. to succumb to the world in habit. In this way. Hence evil. by covering the utmost limit of existence itself and making today and tomorrow the same as yesterday. Arendt cites Augustine’s central claim that ‘humankind’s inclination to value its sins is not so much due to passion itself as to habit’. God is ‘existence in a supreme degree’.

They continue: ‘Augustine’s paradigm of immobilized will entrapped in habituated worldliness could perhaps be applied to Eichmann. And it is well known that the young Arendt who pursued an interest in Augustine did so while still studying with Heidegger (although personal reasons would later force her to leave Marburg and take her dissertation to Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg). there is nothing far-fetched about this suggestion. on an interpretive level. Heidegger’s 1927 magnum opus and the preparatory lectures for which Arendt attended in the mid-1920s while a student of Heidegger in Marburg. of Eichmann’s kind of evil. apart from drawing explicitly on Augustine. First.56 Evil and Human Agency seen to exert an enduring impact upon Arendt’s thinking. Allowing for all this is tantamount to conceding Luban’s claim about the no less crucial – and again enduring – impact exerted by Heidegger. perhaps even reinforced. editors Scott and Stark (1996: 120) suggest that it was Arendt’s renewed encounter with Augustine in the early 1960s which enriched her ‘examination of the paradox of evil which is not ‘‘radical’’ but pedestrian. contains phrases that ‘are straight out of Being and Time’. Augustine’s influence on Arendt is already accounted for. her debt to Augustine’s (mature) views on evil at the time of her pondering over the case of Eichmann. put to paper more than thirty years after the dissertation on Augustine. moreover. Luban (1997: 10) draws the conclusion that this idea ‘perfectly fits Arendt’s Eichmann’. 121). the routinely civilized bureaucrat incapable of the critical distance necessary for moral judgment’ (p. bourgeois. apparently affirmed by Arendt in her discussion of it (cited above). I agree with Scott and Stark that Arendt in all probability ‘renewed’. Luban makes its Heideggerian heritage into a major interpretive thesis of his. And. Luban singles out two unmistakably Heideggerian . Whereas Scott and Stark restrict themselves to a brief indication of the Heideggerian flavour to Arendt’s notion of the ‘banality’ of evil as applied to Eichmann. The bridge between these observations is the fact that Heidegger himself started out strongly influenced by Augustine. Quoting the Augustinian idea that ‘the inclination to sin springs more from habit than from passion itself’. Luban’s thesis is twofold. it holds that Arendt’s dissertation presents an account of ‘the moral psychology of sin’ that. Consider two instances of how this argument is made. Or so the claim has it. In their interpretive essay accompanying the English publication of Arendt’s dissertation. and seemingly rooted in everydayness’. The influence beginning to loom large is not only that of Augustine but that of Martin Heidegger. The second instance is David Luban’s essay ‘Banal Evil and Radical Evil’. Nowhere is this more evident than in Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann.

e. by way of summing up what being immersed in these phenomena amounts to – inauthenticity (Uneigentlichkeit). What I see as decisive is this: Heidegger situates the phenomena referred to. Heidegger introduces and explains his notions of fallenness (Verfallenheit). The second part of Luban’s thesis is that young Arendt’s Augustinian-Heideggerian account of sin ‘perfectly fits Arendt’s Eichmann’ (1997: 10). found the philosophically appropriate framework for understanding Eichmann ‘the sinner’. curiosity. idle talk. is held to be the one upon . ‘I cannot possibly want to become my own adversary’: the Socratic bottom line With this we may start to appreciate the irony contained in Luban’s thesis: that Heidegger. the link he establishes between the two – inauthenticity and the public sphere – is so intimate as to render them inseparable. albeit largely implicitly. the chains of influence in play are beyond dispute. the ‘greatness’ of his mistakes here holds both on a personal plane (i. However. his longstanding and never publicly regretted support for the Nazi regime) and on a theoretical and philosophical one. ambiguity. Why? My reasons are several. Even granted that he is a great thinker. everydayness (Allta¨glichkeit). Here.e. Against Luban’s thesis. in the public ¨ sphere (Offentlichkeit). Indeed. the Augustine–Heidegger one no less than the Heidegger–Arendt one. as well as the attitude or mode of beingin-the-world of the individual Dasein they comprise. and that ‘the sinner is seeking a secure existence and that he does so by trying to make everything routine’. I must assume their familiarity. two sides of the same coin. with the gravest consequences. of all philosophers. and – on a more existential level.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 57 ideas: that ‘the human creature masks ‘‘the utmost limit of existence’’ by everyday routines’. indeed provocative part of Luban’s thesis – i. that Arendt. The parts of Being and Time alluded to in Luban’s thesis are to be found in that work’s famous section on ‘the They’ (das Man). partly wrong. the areas of morality and politics are those in which he erred most. in Heidegger’s Being and Time – is something I find very problematic. the evildoer. my claim is that Arendt leaves the reader in no doubt as to the low esteem she holds for Heidegger as a thinker of matters moral and political. To be sure. the most interesting. as mentioned above. Space forbids me to go further into these notions here. The question is where this leaves Arendt. I think that Luban’s thesis is partly right. the latter being what matters most for my argument. like that of Being and Time in general.

there is no trace of such a methodological stance in Heidegger. that Heidegger – of all people – should stand forward as having worked out a proper framework for the appreciation of what evil is and how it is enacted in the twentieth century. criminals and such. Luban’s thesis may still be valid. For one thing. understanding would entail condemnation of the object at hand. In the important Introduction to the first volume of her posthumously published trilogy The Life of the Mind. as is brought out in. The indignation she as author feels when studying man-made evil or excessive poverty is an adequate response to the ‘inherent qualities’ of the subject matter (Arendt 1994: 403). is not only ironic.58 Evil and Human Agency whose account Arendt draws when she is searching for a philosophically satisfactory understanding of the evil brought by the Nazi regime in the gestalt of one of its chief perpetrators. Eichmann. a kind of knowledge that is actualized in every thinking process. As far as I – and. entitled Thinking. namely. Arendt provides the link between her thought-provoking encounter with Eichmann and her search for a possible answer in philosophy. the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention. To help us see the reasons why it is not. Arendt writes: The question that imposed itself was: Could the activity of thinking as such. Second. Adorno’s complaint about Heidegger’s ‘ontologization’ of ‘merely ontic’ phenomena such as human suffering. by way of an inquiry into the faculties of the mind. say. I suspect. at any rate. regardless of results and specific content. Setting aside for once her reluctance to elaborate on methodological issues. too. one must bear in mind that Arendt was determined that understanding such evil was no normatively neutral task. But so is my dismissal. while only ‘good people’ are capable of having a bad conscience? (1978a: 5) Late Arendt seems to echo early Arendt in at least one crucial respect: she cannot inquire into evil without simultaneously invoking the role of . could this activity be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing or even actually ‘condition’ them against it? (The very word ‘con-science’. It is improbable and in need of more substantiation than offered by Luban. Conditions which are against the dignity of man can only be properly studied on the condition that one permits one’s indignation to interfere. in Arendt’s 1953 reply to Eric Voegelin’s criticisms of her study of totalitarianism.) And is not this hypothesis enforced by everything we know about conscience. Though ironic. points in this direction insofar as it means ‘to know with and by myself’. Arendt – can see. she says that she ‘quite consciously parted with the tradition of sine ira et studio’ when writing on evil. that is to say. other works of Arendt must be consulted. that a ‘good conscience’ is enjoyed as a rule only by really bad people.

to be of an ad hoc nature: it became decisive for her choice of strategy that Eichmann. no essence that thought could get hold of. in her last reflections the presence of Socrates overshadows that of Augustine. ugliness consisting in lack of beauty. is not embarked upon in the course of Arendt’s philosophical struggle with the case of Eichmann. focuses on the connection between willing and evil. and so on. whereas Augustine. Her reason for deciding against this path seems. . To see this. just as. only a negative one. justice. the objects of thought can only be lovable things – beauty. 12: ‘It was by [the mind’s] will that it slipped into the habit’). then the same process must dissolve these ‘negative’ concepts into their original meaninglessness. the overall thrust of Arendt’s reflections is clearly more inspired by Socrates than by Augustine. . those who are in love with examining and thus ‘do philosophy’ would be incapable of doing evil. conversely. (1978a: 179) Dealing with Socrates rather than Augustine. The deeds were monstrous. was quite ordinary. and wisdom are incapable of thought. that is. in lack of the good. as we would say. they have no roots of their own. wisdom. Hence the characteristically Augustinian path to exploring man-made evil. It looks as though Socrates had nothing more to say about the connection between evil and lack of thought than that people who are not in love with beauty. They may turn up as deficiencies. the point highlighted by Arendt is one on which the two concur: evil possesses no positive ontological status. But this shift of explicit debt should not mislead us as far as her substantial approach to evil is concerned. commonplace. Arendt concentrates on the – initially only hypothesized – connection between thinking and evil. True. Ugliness and evil are almost by definition excluded from the thinking concern. This reasoning. based on her impressions of Eichmann’s conduct. chosen act (recall his Confessions VIII: 5. After witnessing Eichmann during the court proceedings in Jerusalem in 1961. If thinking dissolves positive concepts into their original meaning.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 59 conscience. but the doer . That is why Socrates believed no one could do evil voluntarily – because of. . into nothing for the thinking ego. kakia. in something that is not . more traditionally. consider the following passage: Because thought’s quest is a kind of desirous love. Arendt was – and forever remained – ‘struck by a manifest shallowness in the doer that made it impossible to trace the uncontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. that of willing evil. However. As such. justice. A brief reminder is in place. of doing it as a voluntary. at least at first. . evil. 4). seemingly so . led Arendt to the idea that ‘the only notable characteristic’ of his was ‘something entirely negative’: it was ‘not stupidity but thoughtlessness’ (p. its ontological status: it consists in an absence. and neither demonic nor monstrous’ (1978a: 4).

particularly. First. She built into her idea of thinking the unscrutinized axiom (a philosopher’s predilection. evil. instead of questioning or determining that end as such. rendering its absence – betrayed in moments or acts of ‘softness’ – a vice to be avoided at all costs. Arendt would have done well to consider the possibility that it might testify to a thwarted ability to ‘live with others’. Hardness against others as well as against oneself was a prime virtue. Eichmann’s failure to relate to others – save for in the depersonalized manner characteristic of a bureaucratic setting – can perhaps be traced back to his earliest experiences of living with others. I believe. lest we throw the baby out with the bath water). it is probably correct to say that Arendt. though I would add that his thoughtfulness was one constrained by the demands of purposive rationality: it was suited to technical tasks such as organizing the most efficient means to attaining a given end. the rationality implied is the restricted one of instrumental reason (an important reminder. appeared more driven by something negative than by something positive: by thoughtlessness rather than by a strong will (be it a wicked one). four brief observations. devoid as they are of moral standing. As against this. so mediocre. Hence. the ethic of unconditional obedience to authority conveyed to the child .60 Evil and Human Agency indifferent. insensitive. it must be said that Arendt from beginning to end inquired along an overly intellectualist path. or even produce. Before I proceed. if it was because Eichmann was so rational that he could be such an effective executor of evil (Bauman). to be sure) that thinking is good – if and when morally assesssed. than evidently with certain categories of others (notably non-Aryans. his failure being on the (judgment-preceding) level of moral perception and demonstrating an impaired capacity for empathy with others – if not with all others. much as Auschwitz’s Kommandant Rudolf Hoss’ (1963) autobiography ¨ reveals a lack of emotional attachment to his parents and. with no attention being given to the alternative hypothesis that Eichmann’s failure may have been one of lack of feeling (empathy) rather than lack of thinking (Vetlesen 1994): Eichmann was. in noting the peculiar remoteness of Eichmann’s personality. according to Nazi ideology). Secondly. Moreover. so unaffected by any ‘deeper’ inner motives. never entertained the thought that thinking – emphatically per se – could lead to evil: that thinking may actively side with. one could suggest (as do Zygmunt Bauman and Keith Tester (2001)) that Eichmann was an exemplarily thoughtful man. the thinker. she never pondered the hypothesis that there might exist – and indeed might be exemplified by Eichmann – a positive connection between thinking and evildoing. to find one’s place within humankind and thus identify with one’s fellow man. That is to say.

it must be some property inherent in the activity itself. 183) Arendt goes on to remind us that ‘the only criterion of Socratic thinking is agreement. Yet this does not mean that Arendt follows in Socrates’ footsteps without qualifications. they are insights. what I take to have puzzled Arendt is the blatant dissymmetry between the deed and the doers. that spontaneous emotional reactions and needs are neither to be trusted nor freely displayed. strictly speaking. Arendt takes us back to Socrates’ teaching in Gorgias. (1978a: 181. can perfectly well commit radical evil. Return now to our main concern. Banal men. Though perhaps surprising. as opposed to ` willing. but insights of experience. Finally. to be sure. .) So much for Arendt’s choice to inquire into thinking. arising out of the thinking experience as such. (I return to this issue below. multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I. In this respect. where according to her we come across the only instance in his many dialogues where we are justified in speaking of a teaching in the positive sense: The two positive Socratic propositions read as follows: ‘It is better to be wronged than to do wrong’. Arendt’s understanding of how exactly the relevance of conscience to evil is to be appreciated. the ‘banality’ Arendt speaks of in connection with the evil associated with the Holocaust does not mean that the evil committed here is banal. to be in . should be out of harmony with myself and contradict me’ . To approach the heart of the matter. The second: ‘It would be better for me that . Rather. It would be a serious mistake. . even shocking. regardless of its objects’ (1978a: 180). Hence the pair banality–evil is not meant to be an equation. . no paradox. being one. Arendt hastens to add the following to the passage quoted above: ‘If there is anything in thinking that can prevent men from doing evil. to be consistent with oneself.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 61 by a cold father. careerism) as distinct from deep-seated and monstrous ones (hatred. its opposite. I believe. since they would only betray one’s ‘weakness’ and likewise one’s receptivity to that of others. as Luban observes at the end of his essay. . Though arguably criticizing Plato more than Socrates (telling the difference is notoriously hard). wickedness) may commit it. but that men with banal motives (loyalty. both Eichmann and Hoss exemplify the ¨ ‘black pedagogics’ Alice Miller (1987) sees as widespread in this generation of German (and Austrian) men. it lacks the symmetry expected of equations. to understand these statements as the results of some cogitation about morality. when reflecting upon evil a la Eichmann. this is. men with banal motives. instilling in them from early childhood the teaching that unconditional obedience to superiors represents the supreme moral virtue.

The . and the fact that one would strongly dislike being a murderer is based on a feeling of concern for the (real or imagined) murdered person. who I am. 186). and I cannot possibly want to become my own adversary. one could say that it is not really an argument. To repeat. And that is precisely what I must will. Thinking. . actually means becoming one’s own adversary’ (p. to the spoken word addressed to someone else. an interlocutor who may be either friend or adversary] but to the discourse within the soul. to the inward discourse we cannot always object’ (p. that is. who I aspire to be. In thinking. in the external world where actions are performed. It is deemed axiomatic in that ‘we must necessarily believe it because . and though we can always raise objections to the outward word. then.62 Evil and Human Agency contradiction with oneself. it is addressed not to the outward word [exo logos. namely that I bother about the other people to whom I am related. It is inherent in the concept of ‘a murderer’ that the person has murdered some other person. I condemn myself to living in the company of a murderer for the rest of my life – and who can possibly will such a fate? Before inquiring into her response to this question. so to speak: I must will to live with myself. I always return to myself. Therefore. indeed enacting (my) ‘two-in-one’. . referred to by Socrates as my ‘being one’. Thus Socrates’ position takes something for granted. the – ineliminable and unchosen – fact is that I am forever condemned to returning to myself. Arendt’s preparedness to take over the intellectualism inherent in Socrates’ framing of the question leads her to fail to explore the connection between a person’s conscience and his or her emotional make-up. to live with myself. the Socratic bottom line is that ‘I cannot possibly want to become my own adversary’: this is Socrates’ experientally won insight into a peculiarly normative feature of the human existential predicament. but rather something like a gesture which points towards a moral intuition. because here the partner is oneself. The bottom line is that if I choose to commit murder. As I indicated above. a critical observation must be made. Whatever I do. Lene Auestad puts this objection to Arendt as follows: Socrates’ statement about not wanting to live together with a murderer is valid only to the person who already stands in a certain kind of relation to other people. and which highlights the even more peculiar fact that I can think only by way of being. since I am my own partner. is that peculiar soundless dialogue between me and myself that I am. as opposed to living against myself. which define me. This insight is won from the factual experience of the thinking ego. The principle behind this criterion is explicated in Aristotle’s formulation of the famous axiom of contradiction. 186). reconciled with myself and the acts I have done.

and this means he will never be either able or willing to account for what he says or does. as deriving from the person’s living-withothers as distinct from his or her being-with-himself (herself). just like consciousness. And this conscience is also supposed to tell us what to do and what to repent. Arendt writes: Later times have given the fellow who awaits Socrates in his home the name of ‘conscience’ . he fears him. . . or by unexamined opinions. . Everybody may come to shun that intercourse with oneself whose feasibility and importance Socrates first discovered . . roused either by a crime. A person who does not know that silent intercourse (in which we examine what we say and what we do) will not mind contradicting himself. . is supposedly always present within us. A life without thinking is quite possible. since he can count on its being forgotten the next moment. Unthinking men are like sleepwalkers . as in Richard’s own case. Here conscience appears as an after-thought. the latter being Arendt’s focus no less than it was Socrates’ in matters regarding conscience. Bad people – Aristotle to the contrary notwithstanding – are not ‘full of regrets’ . as in the case of Socrates . recognized by multitudes and agreed upon by society. it is not fully alive. What causes a man to fear it is the anticipation of the presence of a witness who awaits him only if and when he goes home. but whether I shall be able to live with myself in peace when the time has come to think about my deeds and words. the fellow Socrates is talking about has been left at home. Having pointed out the problematic intellectualism common to Socrates and Arendt. as the murderers in [Shakespeare’s] Richard III fear conscience – as something that is absent. as it is not a matter of intelligence or stupidity. . to live without [thinking]’.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 63 answer that someone would give to the question whether it is preferable to suffer or to do evil depends to a larger degree on that person’s emotional characteristics than on his or her capacity to think. as we understand it in moral or legal matters. never go home and examine things. I shall proceed with a more immanent critique. Conscience. . it then fails to develop its own essence – it is not merely meaningless. This is not a matter of wickedness or goodness. Conscience and temptation Conscience is what links up with thinking as just understood. Conscience’s criterion for action will not be the usual rules. nor will he mind committing any crime. (Auestad 2001: 103) I only wish to add that the moral intuition Auestad refers to be understood as experience-based. Unlike this everpresent conscience. . . before it became the lumen naturale or Kant’s practical reason. Conscience is the anticipation of the fellow who awaits you if and when you come home. Shakespeare’s murderer says: ‘Every man that means to live well endeavours . . it was the voice of God. . (1978a: 191) . .

to disavow its authority is only too tempting. Conscience. in committing oneself to being loyal to what conscience. let alone control where that course will eventually end. But. What she is getting at is a lesson learned by hard-earned experience: in committing oneself to thinking. As for his conscience. marks Eichmann’s proper entry into the picture. This is one reason why Socrates remains the towering historical example: in thinking. the individual takes it upon himself to think. and yet utterly precarious. not because he had none. and so of the authority yielded by conscience understood as premised upon the thinking activity as such. the individual must be prepared to carry the all-too-likely consequence: that he or she runs into severe conflict with society. although what he discovered is prior to what is optional. Yet what she does say is head-on: Eichmann’s conscience was indeed set at rest when he saw the zeal and eagerness with which ‘good society’ everywhere reacted as he did. . That there were no voices from the outside to arouse his conscience was one of Eichmann’s points . (1965a: 126) . and act according to his own standard only. through thinking. likewise is utterly demanding and uncompromising. Socrates detected a peculiarly normative feature of his human existence because he engaged in thinking. ‘Socrates’ presupposition is of course: if you are in love with wisdom and philosophizing. in following what it takes to judge and act so as to remain friends with oneself. the imperative that one not become one’s own adversary. Not that Arendt wants to restrict thinking to a small elite. Arendt does not have much to say in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. 182. This. Though man is the thinking animal. as the judgment has it. with the voice of respectable society around him. a life without it is not only possible. .64 Evil and Human Agency In display here is Arendt’s acute awareness of the precariousness of the thinking process. upholds as right and wrong. but more common than we like to think (sic). especially at times when society all around unanimously articulates a message that contradicts the silent inner voice of conscience. the by-product of thinking. but because his conscience spoke with a ‘respectable voice’. if you know what it means to examine’ (p. He did not need to ‘close his ears to the voice of conscience’. of course. thinking is extremely demanding and utterly precarious. the by-product of the activity of thinking. is not something every individual is likely to do. to engage in thinking. in the strong sense of letting thinking take its own course. he discovered an unchosen feature of his existence: the need to remain one’s own friend. my italics). To sum up. judge. without being able to tell. She is not an elitist in this respect. that by which he discovered it – thinking – is something it is possible to shun. As Arendt notes. be it philosophers or intellectuals.

evil instead has so . few have captured the enormity of the shift so clearsightedly as Arendt. The non-murderer by choice. as praiseworthy. (1965a: 150) I think that this passage reveals at least one major shortcoming in Arendt’s approach. On the positive side. instead of the murderer appearing as a breaker of expectations. Arendt demonstrates her grasp of the dramatic shift in the way evil comes about that is so crucial to understanding the Holocaust. even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous. the making into routine along so many dimensions and within so many institutions. although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. probably an overwhelming majority of them. however. God knows. so corrupted by society that it completely ceases to yield the kind of subversive authority ascribed to it in the Socratic model Arendt subscribes to. morally. she spent her entire post-Holocaust life wrestling with the consequences – politically. they had learned how to resist temptation. as legally sanctioned and sometimes outright demanded – in short. not to let their neighbors go off to their doom . rules. As indicated. and the like. is suddenly the odd one out. a matter of run-of-the-mill as opposed to something outrageous. and laws. not to rob. by conviction. Her reasoning is crucially based on the notion of temptation. Parsonian pattern-maintenance. To be sure. so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: ‘Thou shalt kill’. something subverting the integration of society and posing a severe threat to the well-entrenched sociopolitical goals of order. Many Germans and many Nazis. legally. of the multitude of decisions and actions that in sum facilitated the implementation of the ‘final solution’. Her depiction of how this happened in Nazi Germany is a classic: And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody ‘Thou shalt not kill’. and morally illicit. the novel normalcy. the one for which the individual carries the entire burden of argument. In so many ways. is that it is perfectly possible for conscience to be so co-opted. Indeed. But. must have been tempted not to murder. . Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it – the quality of temptation. philosophically. what we find is murder being given a different status altogether: as socially upheld. . the passage cited is also one where we may start recognizing the limitations to Arendt’s approach. the tables are being turned: instead of the murder counting as socially.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 65 One of the disquieting lessons to be learned from Eichmann. we find that deciding not to murder becomes the conspicuous stance. Arendt tells us. Evil having become routine. Conversely. predictability. What I have in mind is the societal normalization.

due to a more or less sinful nature. evil as normality means that evil loses its characteristic quality of temptation. My suggestion is that the prejudice she brings to bear on evil Nazi (Eichmann) style is part of a heritage from Augustine: a moral psychology of evil (or ‘sin’) centred on how the human individual. Arendt should not be so surprised that the evil orchestrated by the Nazis. It is tempting (sic) to suggest that Arendt’s expectation to find that where there is evil there will invariably. temptation would have to shift object. neglecting that created by God. to set up and cherish his own world. . also be temptation is an expectation of Christian origin. exception-like. My first claim is that temptation is not a necessary or indispensable part of (doing or not-doing) evil. In a word. In a sense.e. due to man’s nature.66 Evil and Human Agency thoroughly taken hold in the entire fabric of society as to start permeating and corrupting it to the core. to turn away from God. the Fall. the latter now representing the socially forbidden act. is constitutionally susceptible to a temptation to do wrong (evil). Supposedly the attraction exerted by (doing) evil lay precisely in its quality as something forbidden and dangerous. to say this is to repeat Arendt’s own finding. But let us try to take one point at a time. in invoking the role of temptation at both sides of the shift (before as well as after). When the latter is not found. this is so because the expectation to find it belongs within a religious outlook – and society – now dated. In phrasing it thus. With the tables turned. or – post Heidegger’s Kehre (turn) – a world eaten up by techne (skill) and Wille zur Macht (will to power) run amok. as ideologically inspired by a secular Weltanschauung – turns out to be an evil unaccompanied by the quality of temptation. is not losing track of a vital insight. secular society. we are landed in Heideggerian territory. What remains problematic. My question is whether she. come across evil without finding temptation as its corollary – but with her surprise at it. manifest in Augustine. however. Hence being forbidden can no longer be the lure of evil. My trouble is not with her finding as such – i. due to every individual’s ‘natural’ desires and inclinations. that we may. shallowness and flight. and by Eichmann in particular – representing the form evil may assume in a modern. we shall return to Heidegger in due course. at least in a totalitarian society. not only an Augustinian one: the Fall as the world permeated and levelled by idle talk. In short. and what follows in its wake. But this temptation is the one a majority of modern individuals – evidently – has learned to resist. meaning to break the law as laid down by God. as it were: it would move from murder to not-murder. is her hermeneutic prejudice that temptation is apt to lead us to where evil is. The steps in Arendt’s reasoning appear logical enough.

be they religious or secular. He lived according to the dictum that Fu¨hrerworte haben Gesetzeskraft. a law standing above all other moral or legal authorities. and that such evil may be performed without temptation.’ Needless to say. As a result. this conformism is part of the reason why Eichmann appeared so ‘terrifyingly normal’. though Arendt refuses to use the word. As Arendt puts it. that is. the suggestion is wholly negative. he was troubled only by the temptation to do good. it leaves the obvious question – What made them do it if temptation did not? – unanswered. rather it was the fact that Eichmann’s conscience did not function in the expected manner since it was based on a conflation of morality with legality. To her. Arendt concludes the following from Eichmann’s unfailing loyalty to Hitler: ‘The very uncomfortable truth of the matter probably was that it was not his fanaticism but his very conscience that prompted him to adopt his uncompromising attitude during the last year of the war’ (1965a: 146). thereby disobeying the order from his superior Himmler that he (Eichmann) stop the killings. that is. According to Dana Villa (1999: 45).Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 67 But this does not take us very far. in my opinion betrays Eichmann’s fanaticism. that he had always done his ‘‘duty’’’ (p. whether they were sentimental or inspired by interest. his undiminished preparedness to go along with. His conformity with the demands made upon him by his social environment was to persist no matter how extreme that with which he conformed. No ordeal was to prove too demanding for him. ‘The words of the Fuhrer ¨ posit the law. It suggests that the evil Eichmann participated in is secular evil. a way (perhaps) to save himself in the face of the imminent defeat of the Third Reich. the most outrageous of orders. to quote Arendt’s phrase. It holds temptation to be absent. Indeed. Eichmann was a conformist. even overdo. Thus put. she makes some observations that help illuminate it. to disregard his duty under the laws of a criminal regime and ‘‘be soft’’. Although Arendt did not pose the question in this way. no ‘temptation’ to make him yield and become a detractor. Even when tempted by Himmler to take part in finding a way out. 137). Commenting on Eichmann’s stubborn determination to proceed at all costs with the implementation of the Endlo ¨sung in the late autumn of 1944. Eichmann demonstrated what in his view amounted to his untainted and unfailing moral character.’ . Eichmann elevated the laws of the Party and the words of the Fuhrer to ¨ the status of law. ‘No exceptions – this was the proof that he had always acted against his ‘‘inclinations’’. what primarily interested Arendt in Eichmann ‘was not the absence of conscience.

(I return to these aspects of Eichmann’s personality in a later section. Kantian superego – go hand in hand with a superego which is perverted. as he understood it. The Kantian dichotomy of duty and desire. Villa’s use of ‘good’ is question-begging. What ‘tempted’ Eichmann in a manner visible in his behaviour seems to have been this: to excel. portraying the two as antagonistic. In this sense. I take this to demonstrate Eichmann’s perverted version of the phenomenon known as supererogation: Eichmann was constantly seeking to go beyond the call of duty. way represented a ‘temptation’ to him. seeing to it that he never wavered from his course once he embarked upon it. But he was never tempted to go in the opposite direction. Besides. no struggle inwards. I believe). not Kantian) law on the other. no remorse. To imply that non-participation in the extermination of the Jews would amount to doing good. and biographically correct. If we are at all to employ the term – the psychological category – of temptation to Eichmann’s behaviour. no opposition outwards. Eichmann in my view exemplifies a coinciding of what is strictly opposed in Kant (and also in Arendt. to do something that would amount to opposing the call of duty. impulses which would have been condemned by a traditional. In Freudian terms. Eichmann was two-in-one (Socrates). we would have to bend it to the other side. Hence.) . only the two were not in conflict but were allied forces. as it were. and the commands of the (Nazified. In that sense. Rather. mutually validating each other in Eichmann’s self-understanding. but on the understanding of Eichmann himself.68 Evil and Human Agency Villa’s articulation of Arendt’s position helps us spot its shortcomings. is to implicitly ascribe to Eichmann the belief that what he did do was ‘bad’ and what he did not do was (would be) morally right. as standing in essential opposition to each other. But this is to presuppose that the standard by reference to which Eichmann distinguished right from wrong is the very same standard that we – his critics – use in our very act of condemning his actions. a boundless lust for power. a vanity and a craving for praise from superiors – in short. he was a fanatic. his inclinations on the one hand. in Eichmann impulses of power and improper ambition. namely. not only by ‘our’ current standards. a person seemingly at one with himself. the one with which Villa associates temptation – namely. My counter-claim here goes in the opposite direction from Villa’s. no pangs of conscience. to do even more than expected and demanded of him by his superiors. It is not clear to me from the documentation available about Eichmann’s personality and conduct that ‘doing good’ in any meaningful. opposition between the id and the superego is replaced by an alliance: desire and duty pull in the same direction. does not appear to hold here.

then she is logically compelled to hold that he has no conscience. is not the notion suggested here – that Eichmann lacked conscience. she formulates a no less crucial question. . if we are to follow through on Arendt’s own logic. Return to my question. be it a courageous and oppositional one (Socrates springs to mind). and that this lack perhaps signifies the core of his moral failure – implausible? Does not every individual have a conscience – a conscience of some sort. ‘mere thoughtlessness’. Where does this lead us as regards my question whether Arendt is consistent in presuming a conscience in Eichmann? Recall her central claim: Eichmann was thoughtless. that no authority of the type termed ‘conscience’ is operative in him. regrettably neglected in her later work – ‘Do the inability to think and a disastrous failure of what we commonly call conscience coincide?’ (Arendt 1971: 418). Her own premise – that is. If thinking and conscience are interdependent to the point of coinciding – if. be of such a nature that it ‘‘conditions’’ men against evil-doing?’. that is. .Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 69 Did Eichmann have a conscience? The fundamental question to ask is whether Arendt is consistent when she attributes a conscience to Eichmann. as opposed to wickedness of heart. though logically consistent in this Arendtian sense. to not-engage in the soundless inner dialogue called thinking. in her view turns out to be at the core of his evildoing. be it a corrupt and conformist one (Mitla¨ufer. when Arendt holds him to be thoughtless. Hence Villa gets it plain wrong: absence of conscience is what we must assume in Eichmann. ‘fellow-travellers’ of all kinds spring to mind)? In this vein. it appears that Arendt (and later Villa) is contradicting herself when she attributes his depicted uncompromising attitude to ‘his very conscience’. in other words. The ‘banality’ of evil as epitomized by Eichmann follows from this judgment. If this is correct. Immediately preceding her often-cited question ‘Could the activity of thinking as such . her understanding of the intimate connection between thinking and conscience – disallows her (and everyone desiring to follow her) presupposing that he had a conscience. Arendt raises the same set of questions that I quoted above from her ‘Introduction’ to Thinking. conscience is the byproduct of thinking – then it seems to follow that the absence of the one must imply the absence of the other. Applied to Eichmann. Villa’s conclusion is that ‘Eichmann’s case . But. In her important 1971 lecture ‘Thinking and Moral Considerations’.

the assumption strikes us as historically naive: it has been proven wrong again and again. More recently. which he understood as the individual’s internalization of the (normative) standards of behaviour laid down in his or her society and as typically transmitted to the child by the parents. . formulated what is probably the most widespread notion of conscience in modern secular society. in recent history the tendency to view conscience as less than heroic. speaking as it were ‘within’ the individual with the voice of conscience. in linking the peculiar authority of conscience with the superego. and instead as the moral authority typically adhered to by those lacking in courage. is famously inaugurated by Nietzsche’s account of slave (as opposed to master) morality. Thus. is perverted: it no longer tells individuals what is right and what is wrong. The commands the individual obeys are not of his own making. But neither is it totally silenced. resolve. . Indeed. a host of authors working within a psychoanalytic tradition have been only too eager to apply this notion of Freud’s to the case of Nazi immorality. Nietzsche’s contempt of conscience is matched by Hitler’s.e. and by ¨ seeking to overcome their impotency by merging with the omnipotency of the Fuhrer. never to condone evil. let alone encourage or even demand participation in it. when judged by our standards). that we expect conscience to sanction against evil. is a law whose origin is heteronomous not autonomous. the Fuhrer as a factually existing authority and ¨ law-maker. that it advocates pity and softness where hardness is called for. the individual is ‘nothing’ without him. Articulated like this. Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich speak of the Fuhrer as the ‘externalized superego’ and the immensely ¨ idealized object of the loyal Nazi. to employ the Kantian distinction. for it continues to tell people like Eichmann what their ‘‘duty’’ is’ (Villa 1999: 45) – the trouble being that the duty in question entails participating in deeds that are outrageously immoral.70 Evil and Human Agency demonstrated how conscience . elevating the latter to a salient Nazi virtue. Hitler who repeatedly said that conscience is a Jewish invention. they are the commands addressed to the individual from without – i. and that the conscience assumed to be operative in Eichmann is unable to identify them as immoral (again. and life-affirming vitality. Although such an externalized superego can succeed in guiding the individual’s innermost thoughts and aspirations only in so far as it is being internalized. just like the Fuhrer is ¨ ¨ nothing without his chosen people. and so is devoid of plausibility. By investing all their moral energies into the Fuhrer. Let us examine the common assumption hinted at. as noted above. what is thus internalized. Now Freud. in their important book The Inability to Mourn. .

positively sanctioned space for a peculiar sadism – the sadism of experiencing joy by enhancing the joy of the master whose elected victims are now having inflicted pain upon them by his loyal followers-cum-instruments. in commanding evildoing. as if conscience were a thing-like entity the individual could freely choose to get rid of. as well as Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom before it. Rather. Zizek speaks of the Fuhrer as a master onto whom the individual deposits his con¨ science-cum-superego. .Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 71 Recently Slavoj Zizek has taken this model a step further. This individual is a mere instrument from beginning to end. Choosing to take up a position as a mere instrument for the will of the Big Other is termed the ‘truly perverse attitude’ by Zizek (1997: 222). More radically than in the Mitscherlich model. the master. it entails the Sartrean bad faith that ‘it’s not me doing what comes to pass. with the Fuhrer. what is psychically in play is the ¨ desire of the individual to be the obedient instrument of the desire (Lacan’s jouissance) of someone else. There is less of a need here to identify. was premised. This radicalizes the notion of relief on which the Mitscherlichs’ study. the attractiveness of totalitarianism consists in precisely this motif: the Fuhrer. the voice of conscience is effectively that of the master. to place on to others so as to obey it as emanating from something wholly external and as it were contingent (inessential) to one’s being as a human person.or herself as its mere executioner. i. thus vindicating the integrity of the latter in the face of what might be called heteronomy-driven evildoing. Such is the crucial consequence of submitting to the temptation to deposit and delegate conscience. never aspiring to any ‘higher’ status.e. According to Zizek. to the point of identity-blurring symbiosis. assumption of personal responsibility for the conscience obeyed is altogether shunned. ¨ offers the individual a perfectly legal. its internalized external source. In this scenario. The notion of conscience in Heidegger’s Being and Time My claim is that this psychoanalytically inspired analysis is entirely compatible with observations made by Arendt (despite her well-known misgivings about Freud). its whence as well as its specific demands – is deposited in the fashion proposed by Zizek. On Zizek’s analysis. this self-inflicted loss of autonomy is precisely what is strictly forbidden within Kantian ethics. the individual is its recipient in the radically passive manner of seeing him. it’s none of my responsibility’. I wish to bring this out by focusing on three points in particular. often of a kind involving self-sacrifice. When conscience – its origins as well as its substantive content.

(Arendt 1951: 452f. who was allowed by the Nazis to choose which of her three children should be killed? Through the creation of conditions under which conscience ceases to be adequate and to do good becomes utterly impossible. shall feel safe.72 Evil and Human Agency As noted above. Who could solve the moral dilemma of the Greek mother. but between murder and murder.) Note the radicalness of what is asserted: it belongs to the very logic of totalitarian terror that today’s executioner may become tomorrow’s elected victim. In her 1971 lecture as well as in Thinking. consider her account of the murder of the moral person in man in The Origins of Totalitarianism: The concentration camps. No one. Arendt notes that willing was sometimes understood as the principium individuationis. but that the distinguishing line between persecutor and persecuted. In Willing. Arendt singles out Socrates as the philosopher par excellence to exemplify that . the conscience we are dealing with is proof of the individual’s heteronomy not autonomy. . In making the ends of a master into his own ends. when even suicide would mean the immediate murder of his own family – how is he to decide? The alternative is no longer between good and evil. for whom he is in every sense responsible. regardless of sides taken so far. The second point is closely related to the first. It inverts the Kantian notion of conscience in the further respect of portraying the individual as a mere means (to ends posited by others). robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life . . the individual allows himself to turn into a mere means in his persecution and eventual killing of persons who are regarded not as (Kantian) ends in themselves but as mere means. by making death itself anonymous . To appreciate how close this is to Arendt’s own analysis. between the murderer and his victim. Arendt calls this the utmost proof of the ‘superfluousness of man’. of loyalties demonstrated and sacrifices carried out. the consciously organized complicity of all men in the crimes of totalitarian regimes is extended to the victims and thus made really total. This attack on the moral person might still have been opposed by man’s conscience which tells him that it is better to die a victim than to live as a bureaucrat of murder. to their death. the source of the person’s specific identity. the second volume of The Life of the Mind. What results is a double dehumanization. is constantly blurred. The point is not only that hatred is diverted from those who are guilty (the capos were more hated than the SS). . Totalitarian terror achieved its most terrible triumph when it succeeded in cutting the moral person off from the individualist escape and in making the decisions of conscience absolutely questionable and equivocal. When a man is faced with the alternative of betraying and thus murdering his friends or of sending his wife and children. .

attributed much the same significance to conscience as did Socrates. come what may. Inauthenticity as the characteristic sign of what it means to not-hear the ‘cry of conscience’ points to das Man. in times of conflict. existence is given. however. inauthenticity is nourished and reinforced by the individual’s membership in. which calls man back from his everyday entanglement in the ‘‘They’’ and what conscience. and the work in question is Being and Time. is thrown at each individual in a non-optional manner. [it is only called upon] to actualize authentically the ‘‘guiltiness’’ which it is anyhow’ . inauthenticity (‘Uneigentlichkeit’) is what causes the individual to ‘forget’ Being and to remain distracted by the superabundance of mere entities. it is there. according to Heidegger. (1978b: 184) What conscience demands. Of whom does this remind us. by virtue of its very existence it is indebted: Dasein – human existence inasmuch as it is – ‘has been thrown. is that the individual accept his ‘indebtedness’. To Heidegger. . He who defies the call of conscience is in effect he who takes himself to be the source of his existence. discloses as human ‘‘guilt’’. The concept of ‘being thrown into the world’ already implies that human existence owes its existence to something that it is not itself. or of the free will man is endowed with (as argued by Augustine). Arendt stresses how the self. But in Willing Arendt points to another philosopher who. defying – what society all around him hold as right and wrong. in two directions: first. of man’s very being-in-the-world. Socrates’ daimon – can function as the person’s principium individuationis. second. in its call. the ‘They’. is not the upshot of hubris. a word (‘‘Schuld’’) that in German means both being guilty of (responsible for) some deed and having debts in the sense of owing somebody something’ (1978b: 184). In actuality. but not brought into the there (‘‘da’’) by itself ’. In staying loyal to what his daimon told him. This is Heidegger. on the face of it. Socrates has gone down in history as someone who epitomizes conscience as an authority standing above – and thus. Instead. . it does not ‘need to become guilty of something through omissions or commissions. in that work.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 73 conscience – that is. Arendt explains: The main point in Heidegger’s ‘idea of guilt’ is that human existence is guilty to the extent that it ‘factually exists’. das Man. then. inauthenticity means that das Man is turned into what is . if not Augustine? What we encounter here is what I shall call Heidegger’s secularized Augustianism. and everyday partaking of. defying and denying man’s indebtedness on the fundamental level of existence. ‘becomes manifest in the ‘‘voice of conscience’’ (‘‘Ruf des Gewissens’’).

what constitutes the individual according to das Man is something vague. Why? Arendt states her reason in the following parenthesis in Willing: ‘It apparently never occurred to Heidegger that by making all men who listen to the ‘‘call of conscience’’ equally guilty. Heidegger’s notion of inauthenticity as the individual Dasein’s abandonment to das Man can be regarded as his (again secular) equivalent to the innerworldly phenomena and modes of conduct Augustine designated by the word ‘habit’. this objection. and anonymous. must be deemed equally guilty. and not Heidegger. then every human individual who ever lives. nobody is’ (1978b: 184). but the opposite: a decision such that the one who makes it conceals its status as a decision. das Man determines his every manner of conceiving his own being – including the whence. which is held to be neither some transcendent source (say. of guilt – which introduces and situates ‘guiltiness’ at so basic a level of man’s existence as to originate in the sheer fact of human existence as such. The individual exists only in the manner of das Man. principal as it is. In Being and Time. if ‘being guilty’ is a predicate of ‘factually existing in the world’. Put more simply. For the fact is that Arendt finds only Socrates. the ontological source – of that existence. Rather.74 Evil and Human Agency conceived as the only way to be in the world and to understand one’s being-in-the-world. he was actually proclaiming universal innocence: where everybody is guilty. More important than the differences from Augustine are those from Socrates. On the face of it. Heidegger reinforces this impression when he focuses on the cry of conscience and on anxiety as experiences which ‘we ourselves have neither planned nor prepared for nor voluntarily . whereas in Augustine the life of habit presupposes and thus manifests the will – the will as precisely a will free to defy the law of God. since to identify with das Man is to enact das Man – i. This is so in the sense that it takes issue with every model of conscience – and. to present a valid model of conscience as a principium individuationis. Now.e. by the same token. as in Augustine) nor the individual himself (which would entail a completely ` mundane ontology a la early Sartre). regardless of what he or she thinks and does. especially in a morally and politically relevant manner. man’s creator – in Heidegger the inauthenticity tantamount to a life in habit reveals not the individual’s capacity for strong and defiant resolve. impersonal. Such guilt is clearly unsuited to function as a principium individuationis. can easily be made to target Augustine as well as Heidegger. (a) nobody as distinguished from a somebody in particular. a creator God.

it is the other way round. The basic fault with the offered reasoning consists in locating the category of guilt on a level preceding individually made decisions and actions. with guilt as part of man’s essence. What counts is that authenticity requires a conversion from what is. Heidegger’s scenario is that of the world after the Fall. In starting out with guiltiness. the crimes in question. So.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 75 performed. ‘the lack of power with regard to one’s own being’. Arendt’s terse yet sharp remark that ‘where everybody is guilty. less crudely. i. According to Nazi (or Stalinist) logic. be it by reference to race or class (or. including the notions of responsibility and guilt. she objected that in that case nobody is. nor have we ever done so’ (Heidegger 1962: 320. collective guilt is a non-starter when it comes to understanding. meaning from what everyone equally is. that is to say. Guilt here designates collectively as opposed to individually. Arendt was convinced that in holding (all members of ) a collective to be guilty. those eager to condemn totalitarian crimes unwittingly echo the logic producing those crimes in the first place. What is effaced here in theory is only too likely to be later effaced spiritually and physically: the distinctiveness associated by . all Jews (or kulaks) are equally guilty. a kind of ‘Ursprungsmythos’ without existential relevance. To her. for all that. Though there may have been a haven-like universal innocence prior to this all-pervading guilt and inauthenticity in which we are now trapped (das Man as Heidegger’s secularized post-Fall human condition). her objection cuts deeper. The cry of conscience is the privileged access to appreciating one’s Dasein’s original guilt. But there is more. as if from a deep sleep. instead of inauthenticity prevailing as the result of authenticity having been negated.e. nobody is’ is worth dwelling upon – particularly in the context of discussing Heidegger. understood as the ‘Nichtmachtigkeit gegenuber dem ¨ ¨ eigenen Sein’ (Merker 1988: 189). ethnicity). such a state is only in abstracto. all Nazis – were equally guilty. are the experiences without which insight into the crucial ‘Schuldigsein (being guilty) des Daseins’ would be impossible. For this is the remark Arendt was to reiterate again and again when commenting on the crimes of the Nazi regime – crimes for which Heidegger. To those who proclaimed that all Germans – or. 1979: 275). but which. the long-standing Nazi Party member. As we shall see in Chapters 4 and 5 below. not to mention punishing. However. never articulated a single word of apology or regret (Wolin 1993). a world in which authenticity can be attained only by negating what is given. I propose to analyse this (genocidal) logic in terms of collectivizing the notion of human agency. The cry of conscience thus has the function of awakening individual Dasein from its factual inauthenticity. today.

This takes us to the third point I wish to make. and indeed freedom.76 Evil and Human Agency Arendt with every human being’s natality. The individuality she is after is not to be confined to the level – or area – of relatingto – i. While doubtless true. conscience and guilt are not the prerogatives of the former. this rejoinder will not satisfy Arendt. the capacity to begin something new in the world. as distinct from others.or herself. is part of what Arendt took over from Heidegger. whereas Heidegger locates individuality. not only the how but also the what of that which guilt is taken to be about. there is no prior or deeper level – say. Once we assume the existence of guilt in some individual. but which is brought into the world by way of the human capacity for action. with the Hegelian qualification that the subject be seen as constituted from the very first by its partaking of intersubjective relations. to something given. Arendt locates these notions on the level of action. so to speak. as opposed to something given. chooses to relate to a guilt that is common to all individuals because located on a generic level (the level of existence pure and simple). to refer back to. has to be something truly of the single individual’s own making.e. something that could have been otherwise. The difference is seminal. as well as authenticity. that is. ‘as a ‘‘mode of being’’ rather than as a capacity of the subject’. Freedom – as well as the series of capacities flowing from it. A ‘bad conscience’ is the paradigm. When it comes to what constitutes individuality. something he or she has brought about him. Individuality in its emphatic quality is manifested in the how – that is to say. of declared guilt. the latter is facilitated by the former. Indeed. at that. in Sartre.). on the level of being. argues that Heidegger’s advocacy of ‘thinking freedom existentially and ontologically’. each individual will relate to his predicament as a being whose ‘existence precedes its essence’. we implicitly assume a conscience. what makes it into a morally relevant category. I think he is wrong (Villa 1996: 118f. For Arendt. I take this to hold for both religious and secular/atheistic metaphysical outlooks. One could respond that there is a place for genuine individuality in Heidegger’s notion of conscience. . that is. in putting it like this we may identify a notion of individuality. in the particular way in which an individual. and given in the same basic way to each and everyone. shared by religious and secular (or outspokenly atheistic) philosophies alike: in Kierkegaard. each individual will relate to his indebtedness to God in his own distinct manner. an ontological one – to that constituted by Aristotelian-Arendtian praxis. To put it a bit too simply. in his important book Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political. When Dana Villa. judging and acting in particular – is a capacity of the subject on Arendt’s view.

Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil


Arendt’s advocacy of the Socratic model of conscience Let us turn to the specific feature of Socrates’ model anticipated above. In Thinking, Arendt makes a distinction between two types of conscience. She observes that ‘It took language a long time to separate the word ‘‘consciousness’’ from ‘‘conscience’’ . . . Conscience, as we understand it in moral or legal matters, is supposedly always present within us, just like consciousness’ (1978a: 190). She continues: ‘Unlike this ever-present conscience, the fellow Socrates is talking about has been left at home; he fears him . . . as something that is absent . . . This conscience, unlike the voice of God within us or the lumen naturale, gives no positive prescriptions (even the Socratic daimon, his divine voice, only tells him what not to do); in Shakespeare’s words ‘‘it fills a man full of obstacles’’’ (p. 190). The Socratic type of conscience is noteworthy for the crucial characteristic it shares with what Arendt elsewhere underlines about thinking: its sheer negativity, its posing a not, a Neinsagen, instead of issuing positive prescriptions that tell us what to do. ‘Thinking as such’ is ‘out of order’, writes Arendt in her 1971 lecture, citing Heidegger (1971: 424). Thinking is resultless by nature. The consequence is that ‘thinking inevitably has a destructive, undermining effect on all established criteria, values, measurements for good and evil, in short on those customs and rules of conduct we treat in morals and ethics’ (1971: 434). Instead of guiding our action, thinking paralyses it; as the saying has it, we stop and think, thinking being so demanding, so transcending of what is at hand and present thanks to our senses, as to effectively interrupt all other activities and question all certainties. Though quite possible, a life without thinking ‘is not fully alive. Unthinking men are like sleepwalkers’ (1978a: 191). This remark takes us back to Eichmann. What Eichmann lacked beyond a shade of doubt is conscience of the type epitomized in Socrates. His lack of such conscience dovetails with his lack of thinking; the two are inseparable. Thus it is that Arendt, true to these premises, was so struck in the Jerusalem court with Eichmann’s lack of spontaneity, of being real and alive in a basic human sense. It is as though his entire life had been lived devoid of the quality of negativity in the sense Arendt associates with thinking and conscience. His had been a life framed by positivity, dominated by loyalty to positivity. Unlike the Kantian moral law, which in the standard Hegelian critique is castigated for its ‘formalism’, its emptiness and indeterminacy, the laws, rules, and instructions by which Eichmann lived and to which he continued clinging long after


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doing so became dysfunctional, were always of a kind telling him what to do. Hence the laws by which Eichmann lived disallowed for phronesis, the act of judgment by which the agent endeavours to judge with a sensitivity for particulars so as to do justice to the situation at hand. In the Nazi universe such mediation-by-judgment is foreclosed. The subversive power of negation, of doubting and questioning, is sought eliminated. In Arendtian terms, the faculty of judgment is inoperative because the individuals its exercise would presuppose are non-existent. Judgment is exposed as a precarious faculty, whose flourishing in the individual depends crucially on his or her wider sociocultural environment. Not only the moral virtues, but – no less crucially – the basic faculties of cognition and emotion are, in dramatic manner, revealed to be utterly fragile capacities, no longer to be taken for granted as simply – irremovably – part of every human person’s make-up. Admittedly, if our conclusion after such a long discussion is only that Eichmann was a man without conscience in the Socratic sense, disappointment may arise. Is this all there is to it? Does not this conclusion only confirm what we expected right from the start? There is more to it. To see what, we need to return to Heidegger. David Luban’s thesis, we recall, is that Eichmann is a figure ‘straight out of Being and Time’. Eichmann, ‘wrapped in his protective shell of bureaucratic euphemism and jargon’, confirms the idea – found in Augustine and then in Heidegger – that ‘sin arises from habit rather than passion’ (Luban 1997: 10). Eichmann exemplifies what it means to ‘seek security’ for his existence by devoting himself – or abandoning himself – so thoroughly to ‘everyday routines’ that he never starts to conceive and enact his possibilities of being-in-the-world in an authentic way. On the basis of my discussion above, I do not find this part of Luban’s thesis invalid. What I question is his twofold implication that Arendt may have been inspired by Heidegger’s analysis of das Man and of the public sphere no less than by Augustine’s explanation of evil as springing from habit rather than from passion (Arendt’s ‘wickedness of heart’), and that Arendt would agree with him (Luban) that Heidegger’s analysis in Being and Time is to be regarded as a valid understanding of how evildoing comes about. I grant that Heidegger may have exerted as powerful an influence upon Arendt in the relevant parts of her dissertation as did its explicit topic, the thought of Augustine. However, the issue I wish to take with Luban’s thesis is not primarily concerned with this interpretative matter. Rather, it concerns whether Heidegger can possibly be held to have offered what

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in Arendt’s view is a valid analysis of the conditions under which evildoing takes place. (It is worth noting here that Heidegger, in Being and Time, nowhere talks about evil as such; the connection made here between habit and what Heidegger might have said about evil rests upon an interpretative extrapolation on Luban’s part. That said, Heidegger’s non-addressing evil is very much part of Arendt’s enduring problem with him.) I have already mentioned one reason for holding Luban to be mistaken. This is Arendt’s observation that it is fundamentally wrong-headed – indeed, politically and legally dangerous – to speak of guilt in a generic (collectivized) sense, as opposed to regarding guilt as a matter of a distinct individual’s doing something he ought not to have done (or not doing something he ought to have done). Clearly the notion of guilt developed in Being and Time, invoking man’s indebtedness to his very existence as something given prior to any act flowing from his intentionality and so volition, is a notion of guilt on what Arendt would deem a pre-individual level, prior to or ‘deeper’ than ethics, morals, and politics. The latter, of course, are precisely what matters for Arendt. This difference between the two philosophers’ perspectives is often overlooked by Arendt’s critics. For instance, in Richard Wolin’s otherwise instructive discussion in his book Heidegger’s Children, he – in my opinion mistakenly – writes that ‘As a result of their shared mistrust of the political capacities of average men and women, the political thought of both remains profoundly elitist and undemocratic’ (Wolin 2001: 67). Someone may retort that Heidegger, especially the early one primarily intended in Luban’s thesis, is an existentialist, and that, as part of that outlook, what he has to say about ‘care’ (Sorge) and ‘resoluteness’ (Entschlossenheit) and the like must be understood in an emphatically individualist manner (Granberg 2004). My answer is that this does not help. To the extent that it is true, interpretatively speaking, the individualism referred to in early Heidegger is of a kind Arendt unequivocally disagrees with. When we realize this, we are much closer to seeing why – on my reading – Heidegger’s analysis of das Man and the public sphere on Arendt’s view leads us astray when it comes to understanding the nature of evil and evildoing. The book by Arendt that is most relevant here is The Origins of Totalitarianism. She writes:
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships


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with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought . . . All thinking . . . is done in solitude and is a dialogue between me and myself; but this dialogue of the two-inone does not lose contact with the world of my fellow men because they are represented in the self with whom I lead the dialogue of thought. The problem of solitude is that this two-in-one needs the others in order to become one again: one unchangeable individual whose identity can never be mistaken for that of any other. For the confirmation of my identity I depend entirely upon other people; and it is the great saving grace of companionship for solitary men that it makes them ‘whole’ again, saves them from the dialogue of thought in which one remains always equivocal, restores the identity which makes them speak with the single voice of one unexchangeable person. (1951: 474, 476)

Two statements in particular are decisive for my argument. First, ideological thinking of the kind chacteristic of totalitarian Nazism or Stalinism is held by Arendt to succeed ‘when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought’ (1951: 474). In a totalitarian society, permeated by a terror which makes everyone insecure, experience and thinking are undermined to such a degree as to become well nigh impossible. For want of these faculties, and ` by implication of conscience a la Socrates as a by-product of the inner dialogue of thinking, individuals become incapable of thinking, judging, and acting for themselves, in a fashion expressing their unique individuality and manifesting their natality, their quality as beginners in the world. As Arendt stresses, man’s spontaneity is the crux of what totalitarian domination endeavours to eliminate. This comes to pass when ‘people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them’ (p. 474). There are two ways of designating the two objects of this contact in Arendt: most of the time, she locates it in the public sphere, understood as the social arena where individuals come forward before an audience to be recognized in their uniqueness, to have their words remembered and their deeds retold after the speaker and actor him- or herself has passed away. The historic model Arendt alludes to is that of the polis, of course. However, notably in The Human Condition, Arendt develops a somewhat different model to make much of the same point. In that work she speaks about ‘the common world’, the peculiarly human world set up ‘between’ men and nature, as it were, as that intermediate realm which comprises the spiritual as well as artefactual products of men’s activities in the world. The always-already-begun and always-continuing process

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whereby the multitudes of human beings contribute to erecting and maintaining a common world between them is a process in which what is in reality an ‘artificial’ (meaning thoroughly man-made) world gains permanence and cognitive solidity and objectivity. The common world is indispensable for man’s ability to orient himself in his existence; from it, every individual will draw the resources by means of which he or she creates his or her meaning, values, beliefs: ‘Being seen and heard by others derive their significance from the fact that everybody sees and hears from a different position’; ‘the destruction of the common world is usually preceded by the destruction of the many aspects in which it presents itself to a human plurality’ (Arendt 1958: 57, 58). I find it vital to point out the importance of Arendt’s notions of the public world and the common world as the two principal places in her thinking where she fleshes out her assertion that ‘for the confirmation of my identity I depend entirely upon other people’ (1951: 476). This is the second statement that I find unmistakably Hegelian in spirit. These statements testify to Arendt’s version of intersubjectivist theory of selfhood and identity, indeed even of thinking and judgment. The latter two, as well as conscience, are not faculties of the mind which belong to each and every human being independently of historical circumstance; rather, these are precarious faculties, operative in the individual only when historic and sociopolitical conditions permit them to develop – as was brought out so dramatically in the event of totalitarianism. Nor are the faculties in question to be conceived of in an individualist manner, as belonging to the individual as such, presupposing only that he or she, in existentialist manner, is ready to listen to the call of conscience so as to view and enact his or her possibilities of being-in-the-world emphatically, meaning authentically, as his or her own – that is to say, as received from and formulated by no one else, especially not das Man. My allusion to Heidegger explicates the point I am driving at: what in Heidegger is presented as the arena where habit flourishes, where inauthenticity reigns, and where evildoing finds its social basis (Luban’s thesis), is in Arendt the exact opposite – namely, the sphere where individuals are constituted as individuals at all capable of thinking and judging, thus of developing and displaying the faculties required for resisting and opposing evildoing. Of course, the issue is more complicated. Arendt was struck by Eichmann’s apparent craving for a ‘secure existence’ and by his trying, to the point of obsession and at the cost of appearing ridiculous to others, ‘to make everything routine’, to cite the features Luban points to in


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Heidegger’s account of das Man. At this point, however, caution is called for. Categorial levels and conceptual differences are involved that need to be separated, but which tend to be blurred in Luban. The chief mistake is to render Heidegger’s notions of das Man and ¨ Offentlichkeit identical with the public sphere, with the social arena where individuals meet, talk, and interact. The second mistake – also encouraged by Heidegger himself – is to view the inauthentic mode of Dasein’s being-in-the-world as the mode of being that, by conceptual definition, characterizes the activities located within the public sphere. Put in concrete terms with respect to Eichmann, Eichmann did exemplify a craving for a secure existence, an obsessional clinging to routines, and the like. Yet his having done evil does not mean – or prove – that precisely these features of his behaviour are what made him do evil, are what in some causal sense help explain his doing so. Furthermore, the features in question do not necessarily refer us to the public sphere. True, the features may be fostered in some type of public sphere, for instance that formed by Eichmann’s Nazi colleagues, in this type of environment and at this specific point in history, in Germany, but not in the public sphere as such. There are many public spheres, many arenas of social exchange and Mitsein (being-with-others), some of which may foster inauthenticity among their participants, others not. The connection made by Heidegger and unquestioned at this point of Luban’s thesis, namely between public sphere and (absence of) authenticity, is not a necessary one; it is made by conceptual fiat by Heidegger, presumably as part of his conservative Kulturkritik of contemporary mass society. Contra Richard Wolin, Arendt does not embrace this aspect of Heidegger’s thought. On my reading, her position entails a claim that Heidegger errs on two sides, as it were. On the negative side, Heidegger is wrong to associate or even identify inauthenticity with das Man, and das Man with what in Being and Time is left standing as the public sphere per se, for lack of alternative notions of public sphere and social exchange, ones with which an authentic mode of Dasein, and of Mitsein, may be associated. On the positive side, Heidegger is wrong to associate or even identify the path to an authentic mode of being Dasein with the individual’s resolve to renounce the entire series of social phenomena, values, and opinions – dismissively summed up by Heidegger as the ‘idle talk’ typical of das Man – that he associates with the public sphere. Even when viewed on its more immanent premises, the notion of care as Dasein’s worry or concern with itself, as taking care of itself in an authentic manner, especially in the face of death, is too restrictedly individualist (privatistic) to satisfy Arendt; it conceives only of responsibility for

the view I see advocated by Arendt is that the basic error consists in framing the issue as one of an either/or. and the like by way of leaving the mass and its noise behind (in more or less Nietzschean. and the noise emanating from the public(s) formed by the plurality of individuals. Yet it takes social resources in general and an intersubjectively formed identity in particular to become someone capable of standing up for what one stands for.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 83 oneself. responsibility. The remarkable thing about Arendt is that she rejects both alternatives. Standing up against evil – even the evil agreed to and carried out by all of society around one – is something the single individual does. not for others. that of developing authenticity. dialogical path to what wound up as a solitary position. again and again. then. the . between the silence of the inner dialogue. and where the voice of Socratic conscience has a prospect of being heard and being heeded. In conclusion.e. Either one wholly affirms the solitary path. elitist style). was from beginning to end a path finding its direction by way of endless encounters and profound dialogues with others. For her. or one discards the model of solitariness altogether and affirms a mode of existence that is social. it must be recalled that Socrates’ path to finding out what he stood for. If Heidegger is (doubly) mistaken. it was a social. i. If anything. That is precisely what no one can accomplish by relying only on purely inner or subjective (re)sources. meaning intersubjectively structured (Hegel) from beginning to end. necessary for each individual’s ability to know who he or she is. To those who may hold that the solitariness of Socrates. those others. is echoed in the solitariness of the authentic Dasein of Heidegger’s. Though impressive beyond comparison as a historic model. what is required of the individual is that he or she. by trial and error. so that a striking similarity is found where my argument would disallow it. develop his or her peculiar modus vivendi between the two – that is to say. Instead. and he has failed to successfully identify where and why the conditions fostering authenticity arise. and therefore fails to address the truly moral – interpersonal – dimension of human existence. though at the end of the day ending in a solitary gesture of defiance of society around him. no such either/or is involved. or fails to do. Arendt’s positive model for a conscience capable of resisting evil. Heidegger’s two mistakes appear as complementary: he has failed to successfully identify where and why the threat to authenticity arises. the optimal balance to be attained in a life of going back and forth. representing so many different perspectives. what would it take to get the connections right? To make a long answer into a very short one.

let alone a priori one-to-one. of the many. This captures why Bauman . connection between society on the one hand and evildoing on the other. the Holocaust) and the nature of the perpetrators. sought to resolve this paradox by pointing out that it is a chief characteristic of institutions of modern society to effect a division – in the radical sense of uncoupling – between the subjective intentionality of the individuals working within them and the accumulated totality of their output. makes into a philosophical axiom about society and the many. And sometimes the individual resists evil. should instead be understood as a historical and contingent matter. Double dehumanization and human agency Having completed the task I set myself at the start of this chapter. in the affirmative Arendtian plural. in particular. the burden of finding out whether fighting evil is tantamount to going along with a line of action advocated by one’s society. The result is alienation: the individual participant is at a loss to recognize his particular authorship in the ultimate outcome. What can it be? It has to do with the question addressed in my discussion of Bauman in Chapter 1. Sometimes the individual commits evil. without argument (and in that sense unphilosophically). Socrates’ ought not to be taken to represent a necessary predicament.84 Evil and Human Agency precisely historic example of Socrates should not tempt us to draw false philosophical conclusions. the abyss that apparently exists between the nature of the crime (i. or vigorously opposing it. taken as so many individual agents? Bauman. employing the general insights into the workings of modernity and. rests squarely on the shoulders of the individual agent. determined by the actions of many individual actors. namely to trace the development of Arendt’s thoughts on evil by examining how they were influenced by her responses to Augustine and Heidegger. Since this is so. bureaucracy. spelling the ‘Fall’ of das Man. Much lamented on the grounds of loss of subjective freedom and authenticity. and is in conflict with surrounding society on the grounds of that evil. reached in Weber-inspired sociology. but instead only a contingent one. an impression lurks that something important has been left unsaid. this development – gaining momentum and coming into its own with industrial capitalism – is part and parcel of the ever-growing complexity typical of modern institutional structures. which Heidegger. The almost complete corruption of society. There is no conceptual.e. and is in conflict with society on the grounds of that resistance. and so hopefully to understand. How are we to explain. varying from one case and one set of circumstances to another.

The central issue is human agency. one she never ceased struggling with. shifts from a Weberian to a Levinasian perspective once he tries to come to terms with the question of where the Holocaust. Arendt resists the sociological Weberianism that Bauman relies on. In Eichmann in Jerusalem.). rather abruptly. not from its collapse. is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the machinery out of men. and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy. as Mark Osiel (2002: 180) observes. the immorality of the undertaking as a whole. modern atrocity ‘derives precisely from the nature of social organization. and in line with her earlier study of totalitarianism. Despite the points of convergence between Bauman’s and Arendt’s accounts. especially military organization. It reflects the workings of such organization in strength. By industrializing murder. On the one hand. ‘no judicial procedure would be possible on the basis of such explanations’ (1965a: 289f. She goes on to say that modern psychology and sociology tend to ‘explain away the responsibility of the doer for his deed in terms of this or that determinism’. however transparently heinous they may seem to us in retrospect’ (Osiel 2002: 150). However. there is no full agreement between them. and thus to dehumanize them’.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 85 holds the Holocaust to be such a peculiarly modern accomplishment: it was a matter of mobilizing. the genocide could be completed with no obstacles in its way save technical and administrative ones. and so responsibility. Deliberately construed appearances of legality. . for which there would always be a solution. What is Arendt’s position? We are raising one of the most recurrent issues in her entire oeuvre. the ‘inner’ morality of the single participant in these institutions was powerless to prevail over. the entire series of institutional bodies and formal procedures that comprise a modern society. Arendt observes that ‘the essence of totalitarian government. for an admittedly extraordinary purpose. leaves the individual and the place of his or her responsibility. or to effectively interfere with. and significantly. this ‘Baumanian’ insight is borne out in Arendt’s critique of the doctrine of manifest illegality – in her contention that in cases of large-scale state brutality there are ‘distinctive circumstances that make it wrong to presume that any acts truly carry their illegality on their face. rather than in dissolution. On the grounds of the division-cum-uncoupling referred to. I shall not repeat why this shift leaves a lot to be desired. by rendering it a technical task and occluding its human-moral dimension. Indeed. We saw that Bauman. Osiel continues.’ As we have seen. understood as systemic. the court must concede that a crime such as the Holocaust could be committed only by ‘a giant bureaucracy using the resources of government’.

that is to say. it would be a serious mistake to infer from this that the category of – meaning the concrete ascription of – human agency. into human beings’ (1965a: 289. On the other hand. then. on the one hand. 293). However striking this tension. is effectively reversed under Nazi rulership. the relationship between what morality-cum-responsibility requires. examined the order issued to him for its ‘‘manifest’’ legality. no matter how insignificant. I do not think this manner of presenting the issue succeeds in making us recognize the truth about the ‘Eichmann case’. and gravely. . As Arendt remarks. are in court forthwith transformed back into perpetrators. no longer applies. 294). on the other. of course. is the premise for a trial – all the cogs in the machinery. as compared with our inherited standards for understanding these notions. In other words. Arendt’s assertion that the ‘cogs in the machinery’ be translated back into individual perpetrators. for that sake. namely regularity’ (p. simultaneously expresses a moral (and juridical) necessity and a requirement that strikes us as oddly. His. dramatically at that – in the case of crimes which in fact are ‘administrative massacres organized by the state apparatus’ (p. Eichmann acted fully within the framework of the kind of judgment required of him: ‘he acted in accordance with the rule. 148). while it is correct to speak of men being made into cogs in the machinery as part of a description of the undeniable bureaucratic shape this crime assumed. entailing that he (in the period of Nazi legal rule) would have been considered. In this sense. we find Arendt insisting that ‘insofar as it remains a crime – and that. and punished. is that. he acted in accordance with ‘all of respectable society around him’ (p.86 Evil and Human Agency ‘surely make it impossible to say that the illegality of these official regulations was manifest to all’ (p. Against the background of ‘legal’ crimes. But again. with the factual circumstances of the crime and so of any one defendant’s actions. the ‘circumstances of the crime’ may change – and indeed they have. as a criminal if he had not taken part in carrying out mass murder when ordered to do so. that is to say. In other places Arendt goes as far as saying that Eichmann had no way of knowing that what he did was morally wrong. This is not a compelling response. about the deeper problems involved. my italics). meaning responsible human agents. I will not leave it at that. hence of being found guilty and punishable for one’s specific activity as a ‘cog in the machine’. out of tune with the pertinent facts. then. is the case of a defendant who has committed ‘legal’ crimes. and what in fact represents immorality. however. Arendt’s view. 295). this factual change does nothing to alter the conventional assumption of individual responsibility. nor. and so individual responsibility.

part of the requirement that responsibility addresses to its human bearer is that he or she endeavour to keep intact the powers of agency (of judging. Morally speaking. better put. addresses the issue I have in mind by stating that ‘Such perpetrators are human beings. it has primarily to do with agency. in a perceptive essay on Arendt. . Responsibility is not first and foremost a moral and juridical notion. Indeed. as exercised. Though agreeing with Fine’s point that we must prevent a situation where the notion of personal responsibility ‘would be a mere legal fiction if it were imposed upon a recalcitrant social reality in which responsibility had no factual existence’ (2000: 29). Eichmann is to be held responsible on two counts of dehumanization: he permitted himself to be dehumanized (in that he started behaving as if those responsible for the consequences of the orders he carried out were his superiors only. is in itself no lesser sin than participating in the dehumanization of others. a loss of the capacity to enact responsibility. agency as lived. permitting oneself to be dehumanized. not cogs in a machine. and actions in the world. Recall Arendt’s observation that the essence of totalitarian government is to make ‘mere cogs in the machinery out of men. and thus to dehumanize them’ (1965a: 289). and not himself). and he took part in an ideology-based dehumanization of whole groups of others. Instead. And to become dehumanized would mean precisely to suffer a loss of responsibility or. 28). Fine does not quite follow through on his own tentative insight. ’’ quality that is so difficult to comprehend’ (Fine 2000: 28). can only remain intact and operative. its validity must entail that the individual subject to dehumanization resist it.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 87 Robert Fine. and to come up with a constructive alternative to. I find that he leaves undeveloped a vital insight implicit in the first quotation. the implication being that these sciences ‘merely mirror the illusions of the world they purport to explain’ (p. . and acting). If the notion of personal responsibility is to be applied here (and Arendt ends by insisting it does apply). as long as it is being enacted. namely. it entails permitting oneself to . Regrettably. Personal responsibility can only assert itself. yet they conceive of themselves as if they were cogs in a machine. positivistic social sciences which claim that ‘modern bureaucratic rationality has in fact deprived the perpetrators of all moral awareness’. that the perpetrators conceive of themselves as if they were cogs in a machine. choosing. choices. It is this ‘‘as if . In my view. to be robbed of one’s autonomy (Kant). Since responsibility is null and void if it does not reside in agency. he concentrates on how Arendt endeavoured to repudiate. by a concrete individual who claims for himself an authorship for his decisions.

a capacity for making judgment. for deciding something about certain others. That said. a sense of historical moment. and thereupon to act upon that decision so as to confirm it. an inner dialogue that makes a difference in what one does. in the regressed appearance they ultimately took on in the camps. and in that sense betrays. such individuals are not so much loyal to principles as to ideal selves who embody specific principles. on never letting go of. the social-communal unwantedness of many an individual’s insistence on enacting. as C. From the point of view of the modern organization – or ‘organizational power’. will always be a most unpopular creature – hence the affinity between resistance to evil and becoming a whistleblower. I will not do it’ (Alford 2001: 12f. Fred Alford terms it – the individual whose conduct is guided by his sense of responsibility. In both cases – say. and in telling the world that one’s organization is guilty of immoral acts – the protest is enacted by an individual who practises the Socratic ‘two-in-one’.). Untermenschen. I take this to demonstrate that scepticism is called for with regard to claims about how the ‘cogs in the machine’ scenario was de facto realized. such as: an imagination for consequences. in refusing an order to kill. one may ask if the former functions here as a condition for the latter. I very much believe this was the case. ‘no. less-than-human? Yes. Individuality in this Arendtian sense is ‘thought in action. of the . hence it is the whistleblower’s – or refusenik’s – ‘inability not to talk to himself’ about what he is doing that explains. why he blows the whistle or says. in the course of Nazi rule in Germany. as well as who one is’.88 Evil and Human Agency become but an instrument in the realization of ends posited by others. by his concern for the total consequences of what he is helping bring about. if anything can. From this derives the obstinacy. It also needs to be said (and no ethicist has said it better than Emmanuel Levinas) that the counter-factual quality of personal responsibility alluded to above is always one of its trademarks – though the concrete societal circumstances will vary significantly in how effectively they quell the voice of responsibility. As Alford found in his study of whistleblowers. to help make it ‘come true’ in practice – much like the Nazis endeavoured to create conditions so detrimental to leading a human existence as to render the Jews. becoming as it were a predominant social reality. Can I actively dehumanize others (deny them their standing as human beings with the kind of inviolability that goes with being a human person) without at the same time dehumanizing myself? Or is this to miss the mark? Is it rather the opposite – that to actively dehumanize others rests upon. his responsibility as emphatically his. as something not to be handed over to or controlled by some other person (superior) or by the organization as such.

And to lose the latter relationship from view would mean to repeat the loss of the very dimension that the perpetrators for their part went to such pains to remove when they committed the crime.). the kind of interpersonal proximity. and so blurring the distinction between totalitarian and democratic organizations that remained crucial to Arendt but tends to be lost in Bauman no less than in Foucault (clearly Alford’s inspiration in this analysis). if you repeat a lie often enough. the more they are likely to hold onto it. remarking that Arendt ‘knows’ this (2001: 116f. even being ashamed for the human race. ‘not very good at doubling’. What is categorically lost from view when we stay content with theorizing the agent–institution dyad is the relationship between agent and victim. I think he is transforming what for her was an empirical issue into an ontological one. At this point. Right from the start. Let us return to Robert Fine’s observation. striving to grow big enough to be taken for the truth – in the spirit of Hitler’s famous definition of the task of propaganda. they knew perfectly well that they were not. we shall see that the removal did not succeed completely.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 89 significance of one’s stance. including the failure of others to be moral. they knew that they were human beings. when Alford claims that ‘every organization is dedicated to the destruction of its members’ individuality’. However. Echoing the discussion in Chapter 1. Lessons of an unforeseen proximity: Eichmann meets Storfer Encounters between a perpetrator and an individual victim signify precisely the kind of relationship. exceptions from this policy-imposed rule emerge: proximity is never totally prevented or eliminated. coupled with refusal to identify with the aggressor. caution is needed. who is usually in a position of authority. that the crime Eichmann took part in was designed to bypass altogether (at least if we are to believe Bauman). as soon as one investigates a specific case. A case in point is Eichmann’s relationship with Kommerzialrat Bertold Storfer. people will start accepting it as the truth. identification with the victim. I suggest that Eichmann and others like him behaved toward their victims as if they were less-thanhuman. that such evil comes to pass (2001: 85). in the sense of compartmentalizing one’s various roles and actions. The ideologically concocted ascription as subhumans was one that had to be forced upon the victims: it was a blatant lie. However. a high-ranking representative of the Jewish community . and the bigger the lie. I believe that the deeper dimension to the issue is psychological. a susceptibility to shame. however ‘large-scale’ the operational design of the evildoing.

. and that we could speak with each other. and that he has the right to sit down with his broom on one of the benches. He told me all his grief and sorrow. saying to himself. and then he was given the broom and sat down on his bench. . but also morally. lies. it was heavy work. we certainly got it! What rotten luck!’ And I also said: ‘Look I really cannot help you.’ Told by Hoss that Storfer was in one of the labour gangs. ‘that German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means. but shot’ (p. . well it was normal and human. who cannot afford to face reality because his crime has become part and parcel of it?’ (p. indeed. (Arendt 1965a: 50f. that you went into hiding or wanted to bolt.) To which Arendt acidly adds: ‘Six weeks after this normal human encounter. Mr. because according to orders from the Reichsfuhrer ¨ nobody can get out. . mein lieber guter Storfer]. His mentality apparently was shaped in this manner till his death. mainly because ‘he and the world he lived in had once been in perfect harmony’. the same self-deception. I can’t get you out . which. 52). more than sixteen years after the collapse of the Third Reich. my dear old friend [Ja. as a Jewish functionary. informed Eichmann that ¨ Storfer had arrived at the camp and requested to see Eichmann.. It goes like this.).’ So I said: ‘I’ll make out a chit to the effect that ¨ Storfer has to keep the gravel paths in order with a broom . I’ll go there myself and see what is the matter with him. and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality’ (p.’ To Storfer I said: ‘Will that be all right. we had a normal. human encounter. and is reported in some detail by Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem. of lying self-deception combined with outrageous stupidity? Or is it simply the case of the eternally unrepentant criminal . He explains: With Storfer afterward. you did not need to do’ [Eichmann thought that Storfer. 51f. Storfer was dead – not gassed.90 Evil and Human Agency in Vienna. The story was related by Eichmann himself at his trial. And off he went. And then I said to Hoss: ‘Storfer won’t have to work!’ But ¨ Hoss said: ‘Everyone works here. commandant of Auschwitz. Eichmann ¨ went to talk with him under four eyes. ‘Is this a textbook case of bad faith. . Arendt’s interpretation fails to explore in depth what significance the incident with Storfer holds for assessing Eichmann – not only psychologically. Unfortunately. . Rudolf Hoss. And then I asked him how he was. that is worth my while . after all. . 50). I hear you made a mistake. . It was a great inner joy to me that I could at least see the man with whom I had worked for so many long years. I said: ‘Well. ‘O. . With good reason. this man has always behaved well. . And he said he wondered if he couldn’t be let off work. had immunity from deportation] .K. . apparently. Storfer? Will that suit you?’ Whereupon he was very pleased. Arendt poses the question. and we shook hands. Arendt’s answer is that Eichmann was a man who liked to recall the past.

as chief of ¨ the SS. that is to say. cast in different roles. some precious minutes of rest before resuming work. according to the principle guiding all life on earth. that only the strong will survive and the weak shall perish. had his orders. even Himmler. as if they had both been cast in their admittedly different roles by powers totally beyond their reach. Conversely. to be sure. everything to do with the ‘little things’ in life is elevated to supreme importance. Storfer’s lot is concerned. a meeting with an old friend. patronizingly. bringing reassurance that. as a member of a group doomed to death. This means many things: it means choosing to focus attention on the opposition between following and violating the rules (i. Eichmann is determined to safeguard the ‘normality’ of the situation. He depicts the encounter as if these were two men ‘in the same boat’. and with what ease. is being bracketed. indeed equally behind the influence of both. Eichmann confers a quality of reciprocity and symmetry upon the relationship he has with Storfer. in the quasi-metaphysical ¨ ´ sense of a leader who (to paraphrase the Nazi cliche) merely carries out on the social and political plane what nature herself has determined. also took orders in a way. Notice how rapidly. and as for the very top of the hierarchy.e. the ‘normal’ quality of a ‘human’ encounter is kept intact. the Fuhrer himself. pointing out. The implication is that executioners and victims are both passively positioned in their respective . even in difficult circumstances. namely. It is a question of finding out what little one can do. in a sense also beyond the reach of any one person. to Storfer that he (Storfer) was responsible for winding up in Auschwitz – a death camp – because he broke the rules in so far as he had tried to escape). of never asking for much. Eichmann is busy undertaking so many reversals: everything of importance as far as creating. it means at no stage to reflect for a second on the more fundamental reasons for Storfer’s status as a victim. perhaps with the sole exception of the Reichsfuhrer. The lack of an appropriate sense of reality inadvertently demonstrated by Eichmann at each and every stage of his story is astonishing. Hitler.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 91 I find Eichmann’s story about his ‘normal. shared the same values. as in Eichmann’s exclamation. of staying realistic in one’s expectations. of seeking comfort in changes (improvements) within one’s reach: a broom in one’s hand. to reflect on who in actual fact was responsible for creating a situation where someone like Storfer was persecuted in the first place. and altering. but then again. ‘We certainly got it! What rotten luck!’ As if the two of them pursued the same goals. but sharing the same interest in looking for what realistically can be done to mitigate the hardships suffered. human encounter’ with Storfer very revealing.

find themselves. therefore. did his bit to co-operate with Eichmann’s endeavour to create an atmosphere of ordinariness in the midst of the extraordinary – to maintain a human touch. since in the end what matters morally and humanly is the inclination. is the proper locus. on a human level. The only place for the enactment of human agency. someone evidently willing to let the feelings of friendship prevail. a remnant of the world outside the camp. his friend to cope with the givens of the situation in the best subjective manner possible. that the gulf between different parties can be bridged. We can imagine a shared sense of a symmetry of sorts: Eichmann epitomizing the exception from the rule in the mind of Storfer: a decent (Himmler’s favourite word. . less afraid. precisely because the other’s plight seems beyond repair. someone who. professionally. What a person can do. due to circumstances largely beyond control. someone evidently not lacking in virtues one esteems. And conversely. to be sure. no grievances. again) German officer. that even in the darkest hour. it cannot be changed. then. to be sure. someone reciprocating one’s warm feelings. but nonetheless. but nonetheless. never giving up on a relationship that. this ‘small world’ within the much bigger one beyond the reach of what a person – any person – can aspire to influence. a high-ranking representative of the political apparatus hell-bent on destroying one’s own people. and as such a representative of a people one is working long hours every day to wipe out from the European continent. a Jew. however. It is possible that he. whose objective constraints one must conform to. and from the ‘opposite’ side. chances permitting. when encountered as a person. decent man. This latter arena. the situation just ‘is’ like it is. Indeed. one will find some sympathy. once in Auschwitz he would never leave alive. we can only speculate. is try to help himself and. the attempt – to show that one is there with one’s fellow man. nothing said or done that would cause discomfort to the other. no matter the urgency of the situation in which both now. trying to do something – it does not matter how minor. is the modest and restricted one of trying to make the best of the situation. without grudges on either side: no tears.92 Evil and Human Agency roles. makes oneself feel less alone. realizing that. Storfer epitomizing the exception from the rule in the mind of Eichmann: a well-educated. on a human level. What about Storfer? Short of his version. so as to prove that inhumanity does not reign supreme. had always run well. there is valuable relief in preserving a sense that some friendships survive everything. if only for a moment. for the virtues that count so much: asking your friend how he is. to show that one understands. when encountered as a person.

to refuse would come to naught. it was ‘remoteness from reality’ and ‘thoughtlessness’. dehumanization was double – comprising the doers no less than their victims – is not to confront the perpetrators with a notion that would shock them. hence of the assumption (imputation) of responsibility for what comes to pass as a result of one’s doings. and in any case. Are we not simply reproducing the opposition between the responsible individual on the one hand and . From my perspective. The consequence of double dehumanization is that human agency – the fundamental precondition for the assumption of personal responsibility – is doubly denied. the lesson being that the latter can wreak more havoc than the former. it is a notion common among the perpetrators. his vice was not a wicked heart. This is a path to the outright denial of morality as an effective force in the world: robbed of the presupposition of human agency. I am the last to hold that such double dehumanization is not part of the big picture comprising the Holocaust – the way it happened and the way those who did it saw themselves when doing it. and how. morality is not a real force in the world. If anything. recall that the perpetrator’s dehumanization of the victims is a chief premise in scholarly accounts of the Holocaust – dehumanization as the operative sine qua non of this large-scale evil – to which is sometimes added (as I just did myself) the dehumanization the perpetrator engages in toward himself. Eichmann was no monster.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 93 So what? Have we learned anything of importance about Eichmann here. someone else would have stepped in and done the very same. To appreciate why this is important. the most intriguing aspect of the Storfer episode is Eichmann’s attempt not to dehumanize the encountered victim-in-person. one much heeded and only reluctantly given up. or more generally about the ‘new’ type of criminal Arendt takes him to exemplify? It is tempting to reply that the episode with Storfer helps validate Arendt’s statement that. My own response departs from Arendt’s. it is a notion that squares rather well – too well – with pleading ‘Not guilty. Admittedly. dehumanization cannot but cut both ways. we may not seem to make much headway. Arendt is the first to subscribe to the point just made. Why? Because it boils down to a message that lets them off the hook of personal responsibility. Moreover. and it is denied in oneself no less than in the other. contrary to expectations. Rather. or force them to reconsider events and their role in them.’ What I am getting at is that to point out that. making himself into a mere instrument and eschewing any sense of responsibility for his actions. I only received orders. Once acted out. So much for Arendt’s attempt at a conclusion.

everything in the situation that serves as a reminder of the objective. holding the promise that.94 Evil and Human Agency the cog in the machine on the other.). and coming to believe. double dehumanization is a central ingredient of Nazi ideology. there is nothing to be done about it. it may be expected. namely to translate the latter back into the former? No. Hence Arendt’s dismissal. As we saw. In short. Acceptance of the notion would carry too high a moral price. one can always take recourse in the assertion that instruments are devoid of responsibility and guilt. not least the bureaucrats). are truly dehumanizing – the circumstances are precisely those resulting from a deliberate policy of dehumanization. True. the more he or she is involved in carrying out mass murder and other atrocities. intact) humanity in a sea of inhumanity. There is more to the episode with Storfer. indeed as a decent person who upholds a non-dehumanizing attitude to the other. must be comforting indeed. if it still makes itself felt. objectively speaking. Storfer’s situation (lest we repeat an element of Eichmann’s denial) – is being bracketed. That he does so. It simply does not exist and. It seems to me that he would like others to see him in this way. . in relating the meeting. etc. that one is an instrument in some grand historical scheme. a world without classes. lest the enactment of law become impossible. the question helps us realize that the Storfer episode is a complex and ambiguous one – especially in light of the premise of double dehumanization referred to above – a commonplace in literature on the Holocaust and one subscribed to on a purely descriptive level (as ascribed to the selfunderstanding of the Nazi perpetrators. If anything. shows himself as a man at pains to come across as a human being. in spite of everything that points in the opposite direction. attests to his ‘deep’ humanity. by Arendt as well – with her vital qualification that the defendants’ claim about not being morally responsible be declared unacceptable. Part of the complexity of the scene lies in the way in which Eichmann reverses the objective relationship between the human and the inhuman. the point of the scene. contributing to some purported ‘good’ (a society without Jews. factual inhumanity of the situation – more to the point. My suggestion is that what is descriptively asserted in this notion is contradicted rather than confirmed in Eichmann’s behaviour toward Storfer. Is this borne out in Eichmann’s meeting with Storfer? Once posed. Being told. Eichmann. the stronger internalized in the single individual. doing so even in circumstances that. Yet Eichmann immerses himself in preserving an island of (shared. if the struggle turns out otherwise and one winds up losing. leaving us with the task pronounced by Arendt.

one’s decency as a moral person. everything in the encounter that serves to highlight its ‘human’ qualities is exaggerated to impress its defining mark on the scene as such. his audience (first Storfer. in the way he presents the story. in terms of the concreteness of interpersonal face-toface encounter. A ridiculous show-off? Plain stupidity? Remoteness from reality? Thoughtlessness? Shrewd play-acting? A cynical and self-conscious attempt to take the court for a ride. acting toward the other as if that is all there is to him. he has no place for it. later the court). Put differently. of there existing a symmetry between them. the more regrettable the given circumstances. substituted by the as if of being the other’s fellow human being. as if exhausting its real nature: seeing Storfer in Auschwitz is ‘really’ about meeting with an old friend. in court. rather than in the behaviour it sets out to depict? Moreover. but then again. despite Eichmann’s assurances to the contrary. the message of the episode is that of proving a rare personal ability to preserve one’s humanity. in its entirety. say. This holds in a twofold sense: in the original scene with Storfer. caring for others (be it. once proximity prevails. Conversely. that the reality of Storfer’s situation totally escapes his attention. to come across as someone simply not to be reconciled with the kind of person implied in the grave charges being brought? It is complex even here. his ‘human’ concern for Storfer is but a masquerade. is subject to derealization on Eichmann’s part. So this is the notorious Adolf Eichmann – named by many a commentator as the ‘architect of the Final Solution’ – casting himself here. instead . or himself – or both? My impression is that. inviting a negation of the dehumanizing and depersonalizing stance toward the other – this other. as nothing less than the in-flesh epitomization of human decency. a thou – Eichmann the perpetrator goes out of his way to turn himself into a human being too. in the most ‘difficult’ of circumstances). He is not really involved with the other. is he out to fool others. the more impressive the human and moral stance of the persons involved. Even if Eichmann was. the question is when? Do we mean in the meeting with Storfer. or nearly twenty years later in front of the court in Jerusalem? Or is the stupidity betrayed in his narrative. The ideologically induced as if of dehumanization and depersonalization – ‘as if’ because the objective truth that the victim is a human being (too) is suppressed by the ideological lie that he is a subhuman – is here. of having his ‘decency’ affirmed by Storfer. in Eichmann’s performance. he is only involved with himself. unfortunately. Eichmann – so my claim has it – is so preoccupied with his self-conceived project of presenting himself as ‘human’. plain stupid.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 95 humanly and morally.

Instead of compassion with the other. However. disapproving sort towards the victims’ (Herbert 2001: 319f. concluding that. in oneself as in others.’s sense (1950). in part a product of the Nazi teaching that sensitivity to the suffering of others equals ‘softness’ and is worthy only of contempt. 524). in part a widespread generational product of the ‘black pedagogy’ that induced fathers to beat their sons in order to make men of them. are convinced that they act in the name of ‘laws of life’. far from regarding such a failure as primarily a cognitive one. These men. in audience – out simply to please others. Rather. what Eichmann shows is only pity for himself. Shall we conclude that Eichmann. he maintained that he throughout had acted as an ‘idealist’ (Wojak 2004: 73. till the very end. as it were. but I think it misses the point. arguably an ‘other-directed’ individual in Riesman et al.. Since the killing was said to be dictated by nature itself. In this. the only possible way for Eichmann to be at peace with himself is by way of boundless self-deception. the implication is that murder was committed ‘without the individual persecutors harbouring motives or feelings of a personal. is always and everywhere – oblivious. besides being premature. to ‘do well’ in the eyes of those present to form an opinion about him? It is a tempting conclusion. Eichmann strikes me as eager to please himself. Eichmann’s failure – to put it in terms of human capabilities – is a failure to relate to others. eager to act in a manner compatible with the desire to be always able to ‘live in harmony with oneself’. I interpret it as an emotional failure. for it directs attention in the wrong direction. always doing what is ‘objectively necessary’. to the dramatic shift in setting. with a victim carrying a face and bearing a name. To repeat. to do so in a fashion admitting the other to prevail over concern with himself. to allude to the Socratic pronouncement of this desire. ‘He revelled in self-pity and sentimentality’. taking pride in seeing themselves as the chosen elite within the elite race. When mass murder is dictated by the ‘higher laws’ cited by the ‘total’ and uncompromising world-view to which the elite of the Nazis adhered. so that feelings arising from empathy become suppressed should they ever be engendered. 175). as the expression . one attesting to thoughtlessness (Arendt). more specifically. Eichmann surely was typical of the ‘heroic realism’ that RSHA chief Heydrich and SS chief Himmler set out to instil in their men. and even when the resulting policies are truly horrorful they will be carried out without damage to the ‘human decency’ of the individuals involved.96 Evil and Human Agency of the abyss factually brought about by the putting into practice of the ideological axioms in question. Irmtrud Wojak puts it damningly in her recent study Eichmanns Memoiren. writes historian Ulrich Herbert.

The fact that he did not admit. lending flesh to the kind of self-understanding Herbert applies collectively to a whole generation of SS and RSHA top officers – ‘the generation of the unconditional’ for which no limits exist and everything is possible. feelings of hate. ‘a perverted. one’s race. what was deemed generic and collective as opposed to optional and individual. . as someone unfailingly acting solely for the sake of ‘higher’ ideals. Recall that Israeli psychiatrists did find Eichmann to be ‘a man obsessed with a dangerous and insatiable urge to kill’. suprahuman laws. the latter motivational component but kept insisting on the exclusiveness of the former. Due to its wholly ‘objective’ nature. they would only confuse the personal with the law-like. say. let alone put on public display. ill-fitting as it is with her portrait of him as one who was no monster. at the same time. To betray ‘personal’ feelings would be a source of shame. but ‘merely thoughtless’. lest we permit Herbert’s explanation to repeat the individuality-erasing mechanism it so persuasively demonstrates is part and parcel of the Nazi ideology under scrutiny. not desk-murderer – who devoted his life to the killing of persons for whose plight he never showed the slightest moral concern. Eichmann does seem a case in point. would be out of place and so illegitimate. the pettiness or – precisely – banality of the latter would not be worthy of the task at hand and the stature of the men chosen (and deserving) to fulfil it. My point is that the two descriptions are not be taken to be mutually exclusive: Eichmann did cite ‘higher laws’ and he never stopped practising the jargon of ‘objectivity’. sadistic personality’ – a finding Arendt (1965a: 26) mentions only in passing. In some respects. a subjective motivation with an objective state of affairs. then? Yes and no. Accordingly. it would evoke suspicion that one acted for one’s own sake rather than for the higher sake of one’s blood.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 97 of impersonal. the task consisted in viewing one’s actions as ‘above’ private motives in general and personal feelings in particular. But some signs of individuality should be allowed for. the undertaking – genocide so as to rid Europe of Jews – called for a wholly ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’ attitude. he was intensely anti-Semitic. Does this serve to sum up Eichmann. must be properly understood: as Eichmann’s attempt – in the Jerusalem courtroom just like in the Berlin headquarters – to strike his audience as a dedicated professional ‘above’ personal motives. a fanatic persecutor of convic¨ tion – Uberzeugungsta¨ter. one’s Fatherland – in a word. let alone empathy-based compassion. corresponding to the impeccable and ‘unselfish’ professionalism required by the personnel on all levels. I see him as someone who combines the professionalism stressed by Herbert and strongly felt antipathy toward his victims.

and cowardice’. however. My complaint. if they ever lived or never were born’ (Arendt. and the totalitarian murderers are all the more dangerous because they do not care if they themselves are alive or dead. In Origins. that.98 Evil and Human Agency The attraction of superfluousness Arendt. greed. quoted in Bernstein 1996: 140). And then she adds: ‘The manipulators of this system believe in their own superfluousness as much as in that of all others. however. in fact. she struggled with the ‘unforgivable absolute evil which could no longer be understood by the evil motives of self-interest. It is as if what starts out as an idea is translated into (psycho-socio-political) practice in such a successful manner that the end result is. Bauman. resentment. all human beings are equally superfluous. in their ‘nature’. I particularly have in mind Arendt’s early reflections on evil as ‘radical’ (in The Origins of Totalitarianism). In assuming that most of our actions are of a utilitarian nature and that our evil deeds spring from some exaggeration of self-interest – in short. based his analysis on the conventional presupposition that there are comprehensible motives that can explain radical evil – specifically. 2002: ch. is that the latter are too often presented as constituting a reality. so that. . Even Kant. in holding that ‘the most evil things human beings can do arise from the vice of selfishness’ – the Western tradition of philosophy shows itself fatally ill-prepared to grasp the nature of this novel sort of evil. that would resist totalitarianism’s claim that ‘everything is possible’. the organized attempt to ‘eradicate the concept of the human being’ might succeed and get the last word. As Richard Bernstein points out. this is precisely the presupposition that Arendt is calling into question (1996: 143. covetousness. putting selfinterest and self-love above the categorical imperative never to treat others as means only. 8). In her early writings Arendt was looking for something deep down in human beings. ultimately. where Arendt was speaking of ‘radical evil’. truly novel sort is linked by Arendt with the ‘invention of a system in which all men are equally superfluous’. who made an honest attempt to think radically about evil. a condition where dehumanization dominates completely. Arendt found. in contrast to her later ones (triggered by the Eichmann trial). Evil of this unprecedented. and many other authors of studies of the Holocaust – and collective evil more generally – have done a good job in directing attention to the twofold character of dehumanization and depersonalization. lust for power. where evildoing is theorized in terms of ‘banality’. In saying this. finally.

as a condition imposed upon them. As against this. she included greed. as well as hurt and loss.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 99 Return to Eichmann’s meeting with Storfer. and of the crimes they help commit. viewing it in terms of self-interest going too far. To be sure. thereby . and it should not be brushed aside by labelling it elitist. resentment. I find that several of these are clearly present in Eichmann’s behaviour toward Storfer. Arendt’s departure from the tradition strikes me as warranted. he had no motives at all’. Indeed. as part of a totalitarian horror scenario most. disposable. even participants in well-organized collective evil are so many individual human beings. So. this is a persuasive theme throughout Arendt’s writings. However. When Arendt listed the evil motives of self-interest. validated here? My answer is neither a plain yes nor a plain no. But on the other hand. And this is where the proposed alternatives ‘banality’ and ‘radicalness’ enter again. purporting to dominate his or her behaviour. yes. the bureaucracy. if not all. we shall see that the individual perpetrator subscribes to an ideology and a self-understanding where sacrifice – the readiness to abandon self-interest in its prosaic sense – is elevated into the key virtue. top-down. lust for power. Arendt emphasizes the sheer attraction becoming superfluous – faceless. they are not that special or ‘novel’ considered as human beings. despite the doubtless novelty of the criminal system in which they operate. covetousness. On this descriptive and collective level. I mean this to remind us that. then. He is eager to hide behind the system. As we will have ample opportunity to see in more detail in later chapters. individuals are expected to fear. I do believe that Arendt hints at an invaluable insight into (certain forms of) evil when she uncouples evildoing from the motive of self-interest (selfishness). hence free of the burdens of responsibility and guilt. when Arendt writes that ‘Except from an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement. exchangeable. Moreover. the most radical aspect of Arendt’s reflections is her suggestion (never fully elaborated) that superfluousness represents a temptation: it holds the promise of an existence devoid of (enacted) human agency. typically a collective project and targeting another collective. Is Arendt’s criticism of the traditional approach to evil. Especially in cases of large-scale evil. he is – remains – human. initiating nothing in the world. This is provocative in that it turns the tables on the conventional view that superfluousness will strike individuals as a threat. and cowardice. Is Eichmann a case in point? In some ways. all-too-human. these motives are not ‘banal’ in Arendt’s sense of the term. his superiors. leaving nothing behind – holds for many people in modern mass society.

and even deeper down by envy. What I am suggesting.100 Evil and Human Agency intending to capture the ‘banality’ of evil exemplified by Eichmann. therefore.e. and indeed in disagreement with Arendt’s talk about the ‘banality’ of evil she meant to see in Eichmann. as a kind of altruism – ‘heroic realism’ – on behalf of his people) of a weak self: a precarious and insecure one. The question forcing itself upon us. but (perhaps primarily) in his own. did surface in Eichmann – the more so. In sum. the more scrupulously we examine a single episode. the ¨ Nation-‘Motherland’). He clearly acted cowardly when meeting one of his victims face-to-face. clinging to certainty. when a setting of proximity is allowed to prevail over distantiation. He was clearly vain and conceited. appropriate sense of the term as it is commonly understood. He clearly felt. such as the one with Storfer. . in view of my analysis of Eichmann. she flattens his personality and his mentality. This is not to say that I take this one episode to demonstrate the whole truth about Eichmann. as demonstrated in his endeavour to go beyond the call of duty. is this: If there is (still. who thereby ignores what I consider a major motivational force in many instances of evildoing (I return to envy in later chapters). In my view this has to do with collective evil never becoming completely systemic. a man desperate to be praised. is that the link between selfishness and evildoing is rarely completely abolished (absent) – provided one engages in depth with concrete individual cases. however. to overdo it so as to excel all the more visibly – not only in the eyes of his superiors. a perfectly anonymous. depersonalized undertaking on the part of the perpetrators. is it the selfishness of a strong or a weak will? The answer in keeping with my above analysis is that it is the selfishness (disguised. I am not even making the claim that the not-sobanal. I find that selfishness (or self-interest. And I suspect – last but not least – that he was driven by resentment. My above interpretation of the Storfer episode goes to show that. and was driven by. This is a motive nowhere pondered by Arendt. some) selfishness here. to be sure. selfishness-related motives and traits surfacing here total up to an adequate explanation of Eichmann’s participation in evildoing (the criteria for ever attaining such an explanation of anybody’s behaviour being an extremely complex philosophical issue). humanity – or at least a flicker of humanity – cuts through: Eichmann proved himself unable to uphold the dehumanization of the victims that his endorsement of the Nazi ideology makes us expect from him. a lust for power. in some undeniable. Dehumanization. safety. and power as soon as the latter are being promised by some superior authority (the Fuhrer. She makes Eichmann too one-dimensional. the Party. I think she is mistaken. though not identical). i.

then. proximity ones – to the effect that gestures of shared humanity were called for. His other-concern is but facade. presumably also of similar devices of evildoing. ever the obedient one. expected from him – only he failed. it transpires here as threatened with breakdown once conditions of proximity prevail. based on the enactment of responsibility and concern. Although I am not committed to a ‘one size fits all’ theory about evildoers – I insist they come . i. He acted according to expectations. only self-pity (what Sereny (1974) found in Franz Stangl and what Herbert (2001) found in Werner Best). needless to say by now. is a moral stance: with proximity in place. morality – the virtues of responsibility and concern that go with it – is seen to side with proximity. behind it there is only self-concern to be found. Proximity possesses power to call the bluff of dehumanization. it would seem we have learned nothing that we did not know at the outset. his preoccupation with his self-image so dominates his perception and judgment as to exclude genuine concern for the concrete other. They are two sides of the same coin – precisely as asserted by Bauman. Storfer is of no interest to Eichmann qua Storfer. as it were. But. He tried to face up to the humanity and the concern that the situation. concomitant with this. once proximity prevailed and he found himself face-to-face with an individual victim. Now. talking to (rather than with) Storfer provides Eichmann with just another opportunity to keep on being busy impressing himself.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 101 precisely on grounds of its remaining a chosen human (social) undertaking. with retaining a sense of inner balance. there is only sentimentality. obeyed. Eichmann sensed a kind of constraint. following the inherent logic of such situations – face-toface ones. proves itself precarious. the dyad. Thus Eichmann’s encounter with Storfer reinforces a point made when discussing the Socratic model of conscience that Arendt subscribes to: as against this model’s privileging of the subject’s relationship with himself. The most we can say is that. this thesis holds. In a word. on Eichmann’s part it was all fake. for Storfer. And Eichmann. of being at one with oneself. But are they? Is this the lesson of the Storfer episode – that the nowfamiliar thesis of the interconnection between morality/responsibility and proximity is borne out? If so. the opposite is closer to the truth about what has been demonstrated. Instead of any genuine other-directed feelings. a kind of expectation coming at him from the situation per se. we see that Eichmann’s moral failure is instead to be located in his relations-withothers.e. the stance taken by the persons involved will be an ethical one. In fact. and if there is pity. a thou. following Levinas’ ethics. Consequently.

he is staging a symmetry and solidarity where there is no such thing. at most. priding itself not on autonomy or genuine ego-strength but on what psychologists would label ego-weakness. we need to inquire into its dynamics – psychological. Put in Sartrean terms. This is a main reason why I consider it unsound to take dehumanization at face value as an accomplished reality. This goes to show that proximity. as fit not for the large majority of humankind but for the privileged elite one sees oneself as belonging to. whereby these others and these ends are viewed. bluntly put. shunning every sign that he is a perpetrator and as such responsible for Storfer’s imminent death. invites responsibility and concern with the encountered other. But then again. In doing so in a type of human situation where morality and other-related pity are in the cards. Eichmann allows us a rare glimpse into a profound cruelty. Eichmann turns the scene instead into one shot through with falsity and deceit. complete dehumanization of oneself is an impossible and futile project.102 Evil and Human Agency in many kinds. paradoxically. He instead opts for the opposite: in indicating that they are ‘in it together’. my answer is that Eichmann demonstrated his wickedness in a particularly revealing manner in the encounter with Storfer. one undertaken in bad faith: it cannot but presuppose what it tries to deny. that is. Dodging that challenge. in part because his behaviour took place in a setting of proximity. so to speak. or at least as something more ‘difficult’ to perform. and moral – as a complex and multi-layered process (I shall return to this important point in later chapters). Eichmann’s response is to fake what is expected from him. working on oneself to become more and more like a mere instrument in the service of ends set by others. given that proximity defines the context of action? Well. The meeting with a direct victim of his policies could have been seized upon as a ‘moment of truth’. This conclusion is of systematic importance as far as my purpose in subsequent chapters is concerned. significantly. presupposing and reflecting on a minimal sense of agency even in the very act of seeking to deny that there is (still) such a thing. And as for evil – evil as precluded by proximity. even working on oneself with the purported objective of rendering this self a radically non-autonomous one remains a sort of activity. We have seen that Bauman works with . sociological. Responsibility in a sense worthy of the name would mean for Eichmann to express his part in (his responsibility for) bringing about the very circumstances which define his ‘friend’s’ plight – in killing him. forming a heterogeneous group and acting from different motives – a common finding when studying the biographies of prominent Nazi criminals is that concern with the other is totally eclipsed by concern with self – a self. Instead of looking upon dehumanization as a finished product or end-state.

by the ‘systemic’ (Bauman) or ‘legal’ (Arendt) nature of the crimes in question. that both wrestle with the moral requirement of transforming ‘cogs’ back into so many punishable perpetrators – a requirement problematized. moreover. . and Arendt with one of radical evil versus banality of evil (of depth versus shallowness in evildoers). and. the pairing of immorality (evildoing) with distance that we have seen to be so influential in contemporary studies of evil – not least due to Bauman and Levinas. though more as a matter of complementing and enlarging their perspectives than completely departing from them.Conscience and the ‘banality’ of evil 103 a dichotomy of proximity versus distantiation. in sociology and in philosophical ethics respectively. and on the reasons thereby produced to put into question the pairing of morality (responsibility) with proximity and. I propose in what follows to theorize evil by focusing in particular on the self-understanding of evildoers (whereby mechanisms of denial and deception are crucial). In contrast to this. on the relationship between an individual perpetrator and an individual victim (hence the lasting importance of the Storfer episode). we have seen. correspondingly.

I shall argue that this type of approach partly puts into question and partly supplements those of Bauman and Arendt. Alford directs attention at the social micro-level on which evil takes place most of the time. this makes for a bottom-up approach.3 The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others: An assessment of C. Instead. in particular concepts and insights developed by Melanie Klein. the American philosopher C. This micro-oriented approach sharply contrasts with the macro-sociological analysis of organized evil given by Bauman. My distinction between individual and collective evil will be theorized in a novel manner. In several books. Alford’s point of departure is not informed by such conspicuous embodiments of evil. To recall. Fred Alford’s work on evil Introduction I now turn to a theoretical approach to evil quite different from those considered so far. as a theme confronted and (somehow) tackled in every human individual’s life. Alford’s largely Klein-inspired take on the relationship between individual and group will be of special usefulness when we turn to the evildoing characteristic of so-called ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the next two chapters. it also differs from Arendt’s philosophical reflections. Alford invites his readers to take a fresh look at Milgram’s famous experiment. Alford’s contribution makes for a fresh start: by focusing on evildoing as performed in a faceto-face. Contrary to all 104 . centring on the Holocaust and on Eichmann. being a personal and emotionally charged affair. Though interesting in its own right. In his book What Evil Means to Us. the ‘teachers’ were instructed to deliver electrical shocks to a ‘learner’ (actually a confederate of Milgram’s) when he failed to memorize word pairs. Sociologically. his focus is on evil in its existential dimension. more or less ‘private’ context. in Alford’s case thoroughly informed by psychoanalytic theory. Fred Alford engages with the phenomenon of evil.

But not really. ‘Go ahead. Alford explains: Permission does not just mean someone’s saying. tentative step toward connecting the two. is permission to hurt someone’. They have to be virtually forced to do it. while allowing them to express it .) Here a number of claims are put forward. they know it is not. making us recognize how collective evil (evildoing as organized top-down . . and you will be struck by something else – ‘the grotesque nervous laughter. thus knowingly causing great pain in another person.’ The teachers have a conscience. Alford means to state the big unsaid in Milgram’s most shocking finding: what is unsaid by those actually delivering the severe shocks. It’s okay. In other words. compelled by authority. 26). it turned out that as many as 62 per cent of the teachers delivered the full battery of shocks. some relevant for my own notion of ‘individual evil’. then. and what is unsaid. by the thousands of psychologists and social scientists who have commented upon the study. . Could it be the psychological function of leaders to provide plausible psychological deniability to their followers. there is a persistent consensus that the experiment ‘has nothing to do with sadism and everything with obedience’. do the contributors to a 1995 edition of the Journal of Social Issues devoted to assessing the famous study more than three decades after Milgram conducted it. Alford begs to differ. as well as to shelter them from the consequences of their desires? (1997a: 26f. thus helping the teachers deny not only their motivation but also its consequences. the giggling fits at the shock generator’ – whereupon Alford launches the following interpretation: ‘What if these men are giggling in embarrassed pleasure at being given permission to inflict pain and suffering on an innocent and vulnerable man? Milgram rejects this interpretation but offers no reason’ (p. Most important is that Alford takes a first. It is the suggestion that ‘what the teachers really want. What is displayed. he adds. Alford points out that Milgram. neither. what satisfies. what they long for. is obedience of a sort teaching us a terrifying lesson about man’s ‘potential for slavish groupishness’ (Alford 1997a: 26). some relevant for ‘collective evil’. In this light we should consider whether much of what passes as the result of leaders’ orders is actually leaders’ granting permission to their followers to do what they want to do anyway but are too guilty and embarrassed to know it. Take a second look at the film of the experiment. The structure of the Milgram experiment protects them from knowledge of their own sadism. never seriously considered the possibility that the subjects (‘teachers’) might have enjoyed shocking the victim. It is a situation (actually a defense) reinforced by the assertion of the experimenter that he will assume all consequences for any harm to the learner. nearly forty years on.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 105 predictions. shocked by his findings.

Sadism is the joy of avoiding victimhood. when an agent does something that is clearly bad or harmful to others. American sociologist Thomas Cushman formulates the target of Alford’s attack well when he writes that ‘if evil appears at all in mainstream sociological theory. but by exploiting. the initiator of the still hegemonic understanding of evil. badness. negativity are explored only as patterned departures from normatively regulated conduct’. at work. present in the sense of resonating with deep existential concerns and conditions lived – and needing to be tackled – by every human being. it does so as a ‘‘falling away’’ from the good’. the inclination of the social scientist is to interpret the act as a ‘failure’ to do what is good. Psychological relief from existential burden is what is being sought. what is socially and morally endorsed. Better to say that ‘sadism is the joy of having taken control of the experience of victimhood by inflicting it upon another’ . to recall my definition of evil. Hence. provided the case is extreme – a matter of looking upon the act as a successful carrying-out of some purpose on the part of the agent – namely. For Durkheim. be it a person or an institution or the state) is carried out not by bypassing (Bauman). I have wanted to set out this larger theoretical background before discussing Alford’s understanding of evil. ‘Evil is pleasure in hurting and lack of remorse’ What Alford proposes is that evil be conceived as intimately connected with sadism. it is the attempt to make external what originates as internal. and by launching it now. Alford observes that ‘what distinguishes sadism from aggression is not the sexualization of domination and destruction but the sadist’s intense identification with his victim’. Accordingly. or initiative. Evil in general and sadism in particular are about the relief sought in placing the sense of vulnerability and the fear of dread onto another person. for example. It is vital to bear in mind the provocation intended by that understanding. It is never – or very rarely. though this is putting it too passively. what is expected.106 Evil and Human Agency and as sanctioned by some authority. in the other. In flatly contradicting Milgram. the motivation that is present in single individuals. so as to be rid of it and be able to control it ‘out there’. although it will be a task for later sections to explore the exact nature of the disagreement. the intention to ‘inflict pain and suffering on someone else’. Alford by implication challenges the approach taken by Bauman and Arendt as well. evil is theorized as ‘the absence of the good instead of the presence of something unto itself’ (Cushman 2001: 80f.). missing out on the sheer activity. ‘social notions of evil.

they hunger for believable words that dress life in convincing meaning’ (1975: 141f. Becker also comments on Arendt’s thesis about the banality of evil: The ease and remoteness of modern killing by bespectacled. Ernest Becker explains its intellectual context: In his confrontation of Le Bon and Trotter. suffering. having placed it there. one tries to overcome it by projecting it onto another. Relief is sought actively. and not the men.’ The motives and the needs are in men and not in situations or surroundings. . He moves in to kill the sacrificial scapegoat with the wave of the crowd. It is that man (and the examples go to show that the male is intended) kills in order to feel alive. by placing it there as something thing-like.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 107 (1997a: 27f. The path upon which sadism – the pleasure felt when causing another’s pain – takes the agent is one ultimately ending in murder. Freud asked the question. Why the contagion from the herd? And he found the motive in the person and not in the character of the herd . of one’s capacity to do something onto others. anxiety. of ‘hiding’ this condition from oneself. Freud had explained how the mob identifies with the leader. colorless men seem to make it a disinterested bureaucratic matter. the propaganda and artificial belief system. in which case one is tempted. what is intolerable in life is got rid of. rather than a mere mental matter of denial. . He gives in to the magic transformation of the group because he wants relief of conflict and guilt.). intolerable as it is found. and. exposed to pain. in killing.). manipulating it according to one’s wishes and as proof of one’s vitality. Otto Rank. disposable and transportable. Sadism is about seeking relief from the existentially given condition that as a human person one is vulnerable. He follows the leader’s initiatory act because he needs priority magic so that he can delight in holy aggression. subjecting it to control. Thus placed onto another. This idea is known from the works of Sigmund Freud. like Koestler. (Becker 1975: 138f. not me. The killing of another person is the logical end point of the undertaking. unwanted as it is. loss. but evil is not as banal as Arendt . but because he likes the psychological barter of another life for his own: ‘You die. Becker continues his argument: ‘It is true that most men will not usually kill unless it is under the banner of some kind of fight against evil. not because he is carried along by the wave. and Elias Canetti. He is suggestible and submissive because he is waiting for the magical helper. to blame the banner. he cheats his own mortality and vulnerability. the early theorists of ‘mental contagion’ and the ‘herd mind’. But banners don’t wrap themselves around men: men invent banners and clutch at them. But beyond that we also saw that man brings his motives in with him when he identifies with power figures.) In a later passage in Escape from Evil. dread.

The dead lie helpless. Rank observed that ‘the death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing. of being killed’ (Rank. many of them his comrades. inviting comparison with authors such as Ernst Junger. provided it is the sacrifice of someone else and provided that the leader of the group approve of it. Taking his lead from Rank. quoted in Becker 1975: 108). through the death of the other. . 108). . while countless others have died. 132). In his Crowds and Power. Moreover. existential approach to evil. and for each individual this is literally a life-and-death matter for which any sacrifice is not too great. the sacrifice. . he is still alive. and ‘so are all disputes about who really is dirty’. what Alford retains from this position is the individual-oriented. the survivor stands in the midst of the fallen. All man’s designs on immortality contain something of this design for survival. who romanticizes the one who remains alive when all others ¨ (comrades and foes alike. (Canetti 1973: 265f. it must be said that Alford is far from such valorizing of the experience of killing.) As we gather from these quotations. He does not only want to exist for always.108 Evil and Human Agency claimed: evil rests on the passionate person motive to perpetuate oneself. Canetti puts it as follows: Fortunate and favoured. Becker appropriates the view that ‘what each person wants is to be a survivor. opposed to the paradigm that sees evil as a situational attribute (launched in Milgram’s study. to cheat death and to remain standing no matter how many others have fallen around him’ (p. since existentially speaking the distinction ceases to matter) lie dead around one. viewed by Alford as rooted more in fear of life than in fear of death. For him there is one tremendous fact. of the other. Alford is not primarily concerned with killing but with ‘the thousand ways evil aims to sacrifice the soul of another’ (Alford 1997a: 10). Becker states that ‘all wars are conducted as ‘‘holy’’ wars and that all ideology is about one’s qualification for eternity’. If one is struck by the reference to the World War I Fronterlebnis conveyed in the image of the survivor in the quote from Canetti. and endorsed by Bauman). he stands upright amongst them. there is a tradition (in a very loose sense) that theorizes evil as a profoundly existential issue. From Canetti. (1975: 122) The intellectual debt of Becker’s understanding of evil is to Otto Rank and Elias Canetti. Although Alford can hardly be said to embrace the sweeping claims about evil put forward by Ernest Becker. one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying. A difference between Alford and Becker is the former’s strong emphasis on dread. Essentially. ‘the target of one’s righteous hatred is always called ‘‘dirt’’’ (p. but to exist when others are no longer there. and it is as though the battle had been fought in order for him to survive it . he explicitly positions himself in the same camp.

and gestures there displayed as so many proofs that this knowledge is now exploited to maximum effect. as deliberate. let us dwell on the basic urge to find it. by way of targeting another individual so as to make him or her suffer. his anxiety over being exposed to hurt. and fantasies about what such hurting would mean in terms of attaining relief from the burden of being human and so vulnerable. Only such objects as are (co-) subjects will do. it is to assert that the actor devotes his entire energies to inflicting pain upon the other. In that sense the impulse to do evil is devoid of innocence: it is an act that knows what it is doing. Why emphasize this? Because influential theoretical discussions of evil tend to suggest that dehumanization of the victim is a necessary condition of evildoing. Above I mentioned the role of projection in sadism the way Alford understands it. his sense of dread. it is not a matter of being evil. It is a matter of doing unto another what one is most afraid of experiencing oneself. and must be. More strongly. the thesis is that to be a human being entails being in a relationship with evil: with the impulse to hurt others. It is not that evil is what we (all) are. who knows what pains the most. another human being.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 109 inviting his readers to scenes where evil is something experiential: not a ‘problem’ for thinking. Before asking whether such relief can be attained. The very psycho-logic of performing evil is held to be intimately connected with factors which render the victim less-than-human.e. And this fits well with the common view of the sadist: in making another person suffer. This is not simply to maintain the act’s quality as intentional. he applies his human understanding as someone who knows what pain is. images. other person – at hand. but evil understood as pointing to. and this diminished – or outright denied – moral standing of the victim is said to be crucial to explaining that evildoing could take place: it was possible for the agent to do what he did ‘because’ he had come to regard the victim as not a . The crucial point here is that the ‘object’ of evil – evil conceived psychologically as the attempt to get relief from vulnerability-induced dread by placing vulnerability to suffering in another and so outside of oneself – is. Evil has to do with the attempt on the part of an individual to ‘flee his doom’. on the existential and experiential level intended. in the sense of actually carrying out acts that intentionally make others suffer. screams. albeit rarely a sufficient one. Rather. even constituting a dimension of experience. in order to understand why it arises in the first place. to clarify and resolve. viewing the sweat. for judgment. of our being-in-the-world that is so integral to our existence as to help define us. with thoughts. to the ‘object’ – i. The humanity shared with the targeted object is recognized throughout.

so pertinent to the academic. If evil is a project. was ‘prior to such normal. rape. In doing evil. Doing evil. hurt. On my reading. prior to the categories by which we normally know the world’ (1997a: 10f. ‘feelings’ and ‘reality’ would be robustly separated from each other. can it succeed? Alford’s answer is categorical: evil is not something that sometimes succeeds. ‘I felt evil. vulnerability. Alford suggests. a dimension of experience that is a source not only of dread but also a source of vitality and meaning in life. the evildoer seeks vitalizing contact with the autistic-contiguous dimension of experience while avoiding its price. and so to fearing all of these.). But it is not only that. man and world. from being caught up in the experiential mode that suffering such formlessness assumes – on others. Matt C. that there are no boundaries. Alford’s book What Evil Means to Us is partly based on empirical investigations. rich in both theoretical and empirical implications. His experience. says Alford. is also ‘an attempt to shortcut our access to the autistic-contiguous position. The experience of dread. and death’ (p. or that he felt that evil was around him? This question. for instance. the existential dimension to Alford’s notion of evil is closely connected with his claim that it is precisely the fact the sought-out victim is recognized as fully human in all relevant existential and experiential respects of being a human being (too) that marks the suitability of the other as the chosen target of the relief-seeking project that evildoing basically is. an awareness of human pain. makes no sense to Matt.. suffering. It is an experience that will be called precategorical. no solid demarcation. Let me try to explain what is involved here in several steps. ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. said. which so many of the inmates Alford interviewed would return to. If the chosen target were not the kind of object in the world that is exposed to affliction. sometimes fails. Alford conducted interviews on the topic of evil with a number of inmates in an American prison. 9f. No. This is a provocative claim. then it would be wholly unfit to meet any desire to achieve relief from the burdens following from this fact. the fear that the self is dissolving. In a manner of speaking typical for the group as a whole.). Doing evil is about inflicting this dread – springing from formlessness. . by which ‘self’ and ‘world’. preverbal experience: the autistic-contiguous position. These would be persons who were convicted for murder.’ Does this mean that he felt that he was evil. stems from what psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden calls the ‘formless dread’ of our presymbolic. as unlike himself with respect to human and moral standing. wide-awake distinctions as subject and object. and other severe atrocities.110 Evil and Human Agency member of a shared humanity. it fails.

to cope with it without engaging in evil. and so define its boundaries. Fundamentally. as agents here. remarking that evil is a version of cutting: ‘In evil we cut another rather than ourselves. a self-deception on the part of the agent undertaking the project. it is also that we reify. . We may do it literally or figuratively. Since we cannot get rid of this state of affairs. The truth thus denied is that as humans we are both: vitality and mortality. In real life. He mentions the fascination shown for knives and razor blades by many of the prisoners he interviewed. so we might live’. is enacted (stressing the active over the passive. These are the basic conditions that define us. all you are is suffering. At its core. our anxiety over being such radically unwelcome and discomforting conditions. I myself am (no longer. He uses this to liken evil to cutting. so as to deposit it there and thus be rid of it. Exactly. and dread springs from our vulnerability and mortality. Only this ‘thus’ is false. but the goal is the same: to implant our dread within another. by seeking to absolutize the former so as to cancel out the latter. or – anyway – right now. containing the uncontainable in the form of another so we might live’ (p. A person who tries to get rid of the sources of existential discomfort by placing them in another person is one who attempts to transform the physical separation between himself and his victim into a psychic one – now that I have seen to it that all you feel is pain. our vitality and everything that flows from it – by means of putting it to use in such a manner as to tackle the negative in life by transferring it onto another. its limits. Since evil springs from dread. as in a cutting remark. it is a flawed inference or. evil cannot be tackled by means of excommunication but only by symbolic communication. render thing-like and eminently physical – hence transportable.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 111 Period. less logically and more existentially put. mobile. presuppose the very thing we wish to deny in the very act of denying it. actions never conform to the purity of such theoretical demarcations. Why? Because evil is cheating. removable – something not possessing that quality at all because psychic and therefore open only to symbolic transfer or trafficking. the deliberate over the coerced) – when one alternative is pursued at the expense of the other. rather. Alford’s book reads like so many variations on this theme. . But the point remains. It is not only that we. what we can – and should do – is to try to live with it. ‘. evil is cheating because it involves the agent in an attempt to retain life qua vitality while denying life qua mortality – namely. It is an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too. evil is about keeping the positive in life – in a word. Evil occurs – or. 101). This leaves two alternatives for trying to tackle the dread in question. ineluctably so. of course. as long as I make this last) nothing of .

making it grand and glorious so as to master it. and importantly. even less a desired outcome. activity over passivity. He downplays the boundary-drawing between self and other. Rank. However. springing from the inability to bear the isolation and weakness of one’s own self’. Fromm’s (1960: 136. since identification with the victim is so central to the act of hurting as to be pointless without it. psychically. ‘‘Flip side’’. in my place. me alive. that is. exhibit my vitality. the reason analysts call it sadomasochism’ (p. to get rid of the burden of freedom’ – on my reading marks an important difference: whereas Fromm identifies the ‘unbearable’ condition of individual freedom as the deepest source from . You are the one who suffers. However. my capacity to negate mortality: me subject. make myself not-A.112 Evil and Human Agency the sort: by forcing you to be A. to lose oneself. 131) central thesis – that sadistic and masochistic strivings have one aim: ‘to get rid of the individual self. ‘the sadistic person needs his object just as much as the masochistic one needs his. Accordingly. your body-in-pain. he gains it by swallowing somebody else’. making it appear less real. you sensing life dwindle. By stark contrast. the proof of control lies in the locus of suffering. For the sadist. there is only this absolute either–or: either I bear the suffering myself. you object. Alford goes beyond this perspective. I. or I force you to bear it ‘for me’. both are instances of an unconscious longing for symbiosis. Fromm argues that ‘both tendencies are the outcomes of one basic need. who has the origin of mortality in you. I liberate myself from everything to do with being A. me controlling the whole process. Alford takes this step when he emphasizes that the sadism he speaks of is best understood as sadomasochism. I effectively. The premise is that all pain that I do not inflict upon others I am doomed to carry myself. though Fromm is not referred to. Discussing sadism and masochism. life over death – to recall Alford’s debt to Becker. He explains: ‘Imposing one’s pain on another so as to control it there is the flip side of embracing one’s suffering. you are the very embodiment of vulnerability to suffering. The logic of sadomasochism is such that idealization of one’s own suffering translates into the idealization of inflicting suffering on others. whereas I am wholly mind over body. Readers familiar with Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom will recognize many of Alford’s claims. and Canetti. There is an obsession with control of suffering. Only instead of seeking security by being swallowed. because one flips over to become the other so readily. being the one who makes you suffer. with its locus alternating between self and other and back again. you being controlled by it to the point of losing control over yourself altogether: you eventually merge with your pain. 127).

hence to unfreedom. Alford points to the less ‘moral’ condition arising from our exposedness to pain (in a rich psychological sense). If evil is cheating. wholly susceptibility to suffering. is to be trapped in splitting. if one can never successfully eradicate the mortality and vulnerability that one is. In putting it like this. is ‘life itself’. to be overburdened by it and so brought to stumble and fall under the burden I have laid on you. I am not body.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 113 which the urge to hurt (and totally control) others stems. and the fantasy of omnipotence that goes with it. by anything limiting my powers. The cost of engaging in evil as a method for coming to terms with being human. It is to engage in a zero-sum-game: the more you experience of what I find intolerable. It is as if this person says to his victim: you are your body now. The freedom enjoyed by way of condemning the other to suffering. it metaphorically catches the overwhelmingly bodily concrete fashion in which evil is conceived by persons who seek to get rid of pain by producing it in others. what is the cost? The cost. the fantasy of having the power and the right to manipulate any object (including human subjects) as if they were only there to conform to one’s narcissistic aims. deceptively. and you are wholly body. . It is to be committed to the belief that the only way I can handle my pain is by causing pain to another so that pain becomes exclusively an attribute of you. Since I am not you. is the freedom achieved by someone who believes himself ‘above’ the bodily predicament. Klein’s positions of experience But what about the other path to be taken in order to deal with existential conditions found intolerable? Since Alford argues that the bodily concrete fashion of tackling existential pain (transferring it onto another so as to get rid of it) is what is behind much evildoing – rather than trying to get rid of one’s freedom. the greater the vengeance with which it will return. and it does so with all the pent-up force of the repressed (to allude to Freud’s remark about the unconscious). nor am I constrained by anything bodily. I anticipate themes to come: narcissism of a primitive kind. as Fromm argues – it is crucial to see how such pain can be dealt with in an alternative way. Alford states philosophically. by way of placing and manipulating these features in others. the less of it I will have to bear myself. to physically merge with it. ‘Bear’ is an apt word. You are ‘heavy’ because I have forced you to carry my pain. It means to try. then. and the more one tries to deny the reality of what is found intolerable. to rid oneself of a dimension of human existence that in fact is not open to removal.

and if this impulse as such cannot be eliminated (it is bound to arise anew). In Alford’s opinion. it consists of ‘an unspeakable terror of the dissolution of boundedness resulting in feelings of leaking. meaning. ‘Position’ must be understood the way Melanie Klein did. as the loss of context. Most of them seemed to lack words. they don’t just fancy it. in their own minds. as possessing facticity. touchable. to allow them to imagine evil (both causing it and suffering it). shapeless space’ (Ogden 1989: 80.114 Evil and Human Agency Discussing evil with the inmates. ‘if we can learn to express our evil more abstractly. Thomas Ogden’s autistic-contiguous position is employed by Alford to clarify his thesis. onto others: in directing the desire to erect boundaries where none are felt. we shall be less likely to do it. The language of the autistic-contiguous position is mimesis. as part of their communication with themselves. and so undeniable point of fixation – the more eminently physical the better. Alford seizes upon this to launch his central thesis that ‘the ability to imagine evil. The inmates he interviewed were badly lacking in the abilities to let their dread assume symbolic form. Unlike sequential stages of development. metaphors. If the impulse to do evil is the impulse to inflict our dread on others rather than to know it in ourselves. something to be left behind once and for all. significantly. The anxiety in question is expressed by Ogden as ‘a feeling of entrapment in a world of sensation that is almost completely unmediated and undefined by symbols’. 81). in it. pictures. marking the journey from a . or dissolving into endless. and stories to communicate their associations – but also. ‘living out one’s ineffable experiences in and on the body of another’. is an alternative to doing it’ (1997a: 12). 12). Alford was soon struck by their symbolic poverty. as solid. The point is not that the autistic-contiguous position is all bad. in stories and pictures. It is misunderstood if seen as pathological. the body of the other appears to allow a visible. the anxiety springing from the autistic-contiguous state is sought overcome by forcing form onto the world. falling. For lack of symbolic abilities – and available cultural resources – to give form to what is sensed as formless. It is tempting to comment that these are persons who do their evil. their capacity to symbolize is restricted to the body. This position is a presymbolic state. It is the task of culture to provide symbolic forms by which we may contain and express our evil in ways that do not inflict it on others’ (p. then the crucial issue becomes: How can we live with it? Alford’s answer is that we can live with it by giving it symbolic form. giving it symbolic form. because less evasive. fantasize its being done. or are felt as ‘real’. bodily experience takes the place of symbols. their crime – resorting to violence – is a physical acting-out of their dread. and containment.

yet precarious sense of wholeness and permanence of the ego. it is also experienced as a breast that bites. fear of disintegration is the deepest human fear. However. Klein asserts that the ego is present at birth. However. while the bad object is perceived as fragmented. whereby one position dominates all the others. Alford 1988: 29ff. Ogden and Alford) speaks of are positions of experience. what it in fact depends upon for its very existence. Important for my purposes is Klein’s claim that everything perceived to threaten the ego and the goodness with which it has started to identify is taken to come from without. penetrates. To allow us to appreciate the great importance of Klein’s positions for Alford’s theory about evil – which. . projection. and soils the infant. the nascent ego is terribly weak and unintegrated. What is rightly considered a problem. These are the first defence mechanisms employed by the infant.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 115 primitive beginning of maturity. then. following her. it easily fragments and disintegrates through anxiety. is held to be external to the ego. Ogden’s autistic-contiguous position is a third position. staying with us all our lives. To Klein. everything that would jeopardize wholeness and goodness. This allows the good breast to become the core of the ego: the good object is felt to be whole and intact. as such they are never outgrown. is also a theory of culture – it is useful to present them in some detail (cf. the infantile ego seeks to introject and identify with the good breast (good object). is the collapse of positions. It does so by splitting: the world is split into what Klein terms the good breast and the bad breast. Rejecting Freud’s view that the ego is a later outgrowth of the id. supplementing the two famously set out in Klein’s writings. in terms of psychopathology and of propensity for evildoing. A central theme is how the infant is to cope with the anxiety generated by its own aggression. as we shall see. In a word. the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. To lessen anxiety and to stabilize itself as an entity not risking dissolution. anxiety arises that persecutors will destroy it and thereby undermine the achieved. while keeping the devouring persecuting bad objects at bay. and so the events characterized by a position may be contemporaneous with those associated with other positions. aggression and persecution. and introjection. thus denying the intrapsychic origins of aggression altogether. Klein holds that the infant experiences a vast conflict between its life and death drives from the beginning of life.). the bad breast is experienced as not merely withholding what is precious for the infant. The paranoid-schizoid position is characterized by splitting. once the good object is introjected. By way of what Klein calls projective identification. the positions Klein (and.

The depressive position commences when the infant realizes that the good and the bad breast in fact are one: they belong to an integrated object. and this in two crucial respects: the infant now recognizes that. Crucially. the paranoidschizoid position is a necessary developmental stage. it gives rise to the wish to make reparation to the object. There are three aspects to projective identification: first. the infant not only regrets and feels guilty about its capacity for aggression. the wholeness of oneself and the wholeness of others. and third. the very object that is the source of goodness. its mother. Alford 1989: 30f. omipotence being an illusion. however out of tune they occasionally might be in light of the infant’s needs. independent . it must be checked by another position of experience. a mere fantasy. father) are entities in their own right. Correspondingly. parts of the ego) capable of expressing aggression. thoughts. providing what the infant crucially depends on for its survival. of parts of ourselves. the infant projects onto the bad breast not only its rage but also those bodily parts (i. The second. Though terrifying. one makes the other a holder. feelings of loss also emerge.). one cannot project impulses without projecting parts of the ego. one the person needs to be in contact with throughout his or her life. from some source wholly external to it. strongly related respect in which wholeness is achieved here is that it is seen to include both what is good and what is bad: to be a separate. one bringing much destruction at that.116 Evil and Human Agency Denying that anything bad stems from oneself. then. to make it whole again. impulses do not just vanish when projected – they go into the object (the other). Recognizing that such impulses stem from within itself fills the infant with guilt at having placed them in an outside object – in fact. from within. in the strong invading sense of forcing parts of the ego into the other in order to take over its contents or to control it. second. other objects (mother. On the other hand. after having murderously destroyed it in fantasy a thousand times. psychically no less than physically. fed by the recognition that the source of goodness is outside the infant’s self and so beyond its craving for omnipotent control. precisely because it stems from within. or container. feelings all their own. It facilitates the working through of guilt and loss. However. Realizing this. The depressive position is the path to wholeness. The depressive position.e. not only existing independently from the infant but possessing desires. is about lost illusions. It becomes clear to the infant that it has engaged in projection when it sensed that everything aggressive and bad threatening its wholeness and goodness was being directed at it from without. it also fears it. it is in fact separate from all other objects. and they distort the perception of the object (Hinshelwood 1989: 182.

as opposed to denies (or ignores). If we inquire about the conditions necessary to foster the capacity to feel guilt for one’s acts. empathy in its human environment. and censor the entire not-loving. and cruelty. it is readily agreed that it is a lifelong process. the decisive context for acquiring such capacities is the interaction between the infant (child) and its most significant others (mother. while Klein is criticized by many for positing it much too early in life (at three months of age). Having been met with what is at best a selective. because aggression-tabooing. this child is likely to grow up with a diminished ability to face and come to grips with outbursts of hatred. such a child will perceive him. by way of interaction. father). badness-betraying part of his or her psychic and affective experience. an important condition is the individual’s readiness to acknowledge his or her own aggression. . If the existence of such aggression is disallowed. The persistence of the positions. goes for oneself as well as for others. the child’s aggressive impulses as part of its (as well as one’s own) psychic-emotional repertoire. including as it does fantasies as well as actual feelings. is precisely a major claim of hers.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 117 entity in the world is to contain within oneself the ability to give and to do good onto others as well as the ability to withhold the good and to do bad onto others.or herself as having to suppress. I find it worthwhile to dwell upon some implications of Klein’s theory not elaborated by Alford. hide. rage. not only as someone capable of loving but also as someone capable of hating. On this relational view of how moral capacities are being developed – namely. Fairbairn. and. this both–and. if it is invariably met with all-out disapproval and so thoroughly repressed in the child (conforming to the message conveyed to it that aggression is unwanted and forbidden). twofold recognition presupposes a relatively integrated ego. but the fully empathic person is also a person who readily acknowledges. replacing the either–or. Winnicott. Kohut) in particular. Following developmental psychology in general and object relations theory (Klein. and as heavily influenced (coloured) by the specific psychic-emotional quality of that interaction – the empathic caregiver is not only a person who displays recognition of the child by giving it love and affection. we recall. allor-nothing of the paranoid-schizoid position. The ability to concede the existence of aggressive urges and to relate to their manifestation – in oneself as well as in others – as representing an undeniable part of human life is vital to the development of moral-emotional capacities. of wishing to hurt and destroy. black-and-white. The caregiver’s capacity for empathy is thus required to direct itself to the child. Such advanced.

This is a truly precious experience. as having been really cruel to you’). Yet evildoing and aggression are phenomena possessing some mutual affinity. We need to investigate the connection between Klein’s position and the propensity to evildoing. This is so because the child here experiences that the person – and so also the dyadic relationship – at whom these violent feelings are directed in fact survives them (Winnicott 1980: 101ff. and there is a limit to how long we can theorize about evil without taking up the issue of aggression. It is tempting to say that aggression is part of the ‘unsaid’ in Milgram’s interpretation of his experiments. I understand that’s how you feel about my leaving you alone’) and confirms their experiential validity (‘Yes. that they can be handled. even hatred. with Bauman following suit in that in his Holocaust book he mentions aggression only to deny it any significant motivational role. Evildoing as such is no topic in Klein. to act on them so as to physically hurt their human object is not allowed. given the situation in which they arose. the demarcation between thinking and feeling ‘bad’ on the one hand and physically doing it on the other must be clearly communicated. and thus do not spell disaster. Rage and jealousy.). experientially speaking. it helps to show that such impulses are ‘possible to live with’. or is exhausted in acts springing from aggression. The child who experiences being left alone by mother. The connection between Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position and evil is plain. In this position. It allows the destructive impulses to appear less threatening. even forgiven. Nonetheless. if mother meets these negative feelings in the child. Expressing pain and bad feelings about someone is not tantamount to destroying the relationship. although the feelings expressed are understandable.118 Evil and Human Agency The self-directed acknowledgement of aggression therefore needs to be supported by close others’ recognition of it in its outward-directed form. if she addresses their reality (‘OK. is shattered by separation anxiety. mother (of course) needs to go on to explain to the child that. However. To say this is not to suggest that evil reduces to aggression. the child is permitted to experience that it is loved and cared for even though it may feel – and openly express – hatred. I see that you regard me as having done you very bad. and who is forced to face the painful fact that it is not the sole focus of mother’s attention. her theoretical work – based on her clinical work with children as young as two years of age – is tremendously rich in clinical illustrations as well as theoretical reflections on the pivotal role of aggression in human life. we fear for ourselves and all that is valuable to us at the hands of what is seen as malevolent external persecutors intent on . are the child’s natural reaction to being abandoned. Having communicated this.

nourished as it is by an extreme vulnerability to invasion and appropriation. it is as though ‘the whole world were but a mirror of one’s own passions’. from other human subjects) as well as its (and others’) containing both good and bad. a vulnerability. recognizing the difference between them. the other’s body giving presymbolic form . our rage. nonphysical alternatives – left to being enacted in the autistic-contiguous and paranoid-schizoid positions. The problem is serious enough. Alford suggests that ‘evil is a paranoidschizoid attempt to evacuate the formless dread by giving it form via violent intrusion into another. spelling. Perceiving something or someone as ‘absolute evil’. the psycho-logic of lex talionis. proclaiming Thomas Hobbes the philosopher who best describes this logic. are not depressive constructs. a robust and integrated self – acknowledging its separateness from other objects (i. in which we ‘fear everything we would have done to others’ (Alford 1997a: 40). as well as ambivalence. but paranoid-schizoid ones. Alford remarks. the best defense may be to attack first’ (p. the connection to evil is no longer direct. is tolerated. then. love and aggression – mediates in non-rigid fashion between symbol and symbolized. and the like. It is only in this position that ambiguity. the world being perceived only in terms of how it makes us feel (Alford 1991: 94ff. In it. Instead it is a matter of attaining a ground enabling one to imagine what is more or less completely – for lack of non-concrete. 40).e. they are our own projections. in which symbol and reality are one. Klein stresses that these persecutors are our own making. Accordingly. Alford has elucidated this in greater detail in The Self in Social Theory. moreover. We realize how readily evil may be enacted out of paranoid-schizoid anxiety: ‘If one experiences the world as the source of perpetual attack. When we move to the depressive position. only we are unprepared to admit it. all bad. and envy come back to haunt us. not easily overcome since there is no clear (robust) distinction between self and world. Drawing on Klein and Ogden. In this scenario. the fundamental fear is not fear of death but rather fear of narcissistic injury. Take this away and the paranoid-schizoid position is characterized by what Klein’s associate Hanna Segal (1986) calls the ‘symbolic equation’.). however – it is that symbol and reality are likely to become confused. showing (in Leviathan) how pre-emptive attack is the best defence in the state of nature. the absence of symbolization is not as total here as it is in the autistic-contiguous position theorized by Ogden. The depressive position is the realm of genuine symbolization.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 119 destroying us. What is lacking here is a well-established experiencing self capable of mediating symbol and reality. jealousy.

Psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel puts the point like this: ‘Symbol formation derives from the need of the child to protect his object. books. For Winnicott. Its theoretical source is the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. or parts of the object. As Hanna Segal (1986: 55) observes. and the like – be it in ourselves. in others. for the relief doing so is thought (hoped) to bring. Enter culture. music. so that feelings of guilt are reduced to the extent that the object escapes the aggression. loss. My sketch above. Culture in the sense intended here is no conceptual innovation on Alford’s part. envy. icons. In fact we have been in Winnicottian territory for some time. Culture is the sum total of the symbolic resources a given society provides for its individual members to provide them with access to so many ways conducive to giving form to what is otherwise threatening to remain formless. we feel rage. more indirectly.120 Evil and Human Agency to the dread that is evacuated there’ (1997a: 43). to hurt and cause pain for the sake of that pain or. belonging to neither. and hate. following Ogden. As human beings. it presupposes finding a form to express it ‘that does not involve using the body or mind of another in order to contain it’ (1997a: 44). Symbols – pictures. or in life as such. ‘Culture’ in Winnicott’s sense comprises experiences that are made in the open space between the individual and his or her environment. anxiety. he says. we experience . owes much to Winnicott. be it in others). what Alford. stories. ‘depends on the ability to symbolize dread’. this entails that cultural experience is in direct continuity with the child’s play. yet one we should be able to comprehend. Imagining evil as the alternative to doing it: the role of culture I now turn to Alford’s position on how evil can be avoided. paintings. Cultural experience occurs in the medium of symbols. aiming to stress the irreducibly intersubjective character of the process of coming to acknowledge one’s own aggression as one’s own. terms ‘dread’. and as not tantamount to destruction of all that is good in the world (be it in oneself. Avoiding evil. from the effects of its attacks’ (quoted in Alford 1997a: 113). This is also the very stuff that (sometimes) causes the strongest impulse to do evil. destructive. films – constitute the cultural reservoir we draw upon whenever we imagine the kind of things that are associated with our strongest fear. Culture is conceived of as a transitional object (a technical term of Winnicott’s). A dense formulation. uncontrollable. symbols are required to move aggression away from the original object. it exists ‘somewhere’ in the domain that stretches out between self and world.

to give it symbolic form. often in exaggerated form. that is. the lesser will be the need to act out destructive impulses against concrete others. not the same thing’ (1997a: 13). ‘cultural forces are psychological forces. repeated within the symbolic medium. to construct – symbolic substitutes for our fear and rage. ‘culture as psychological defense will reflect. as it were. As Alford argues in The Psychoanalytic Theory of Greek Tragedy. and so mediated. This is the partly Kleinian. from being given shape by nonconcrete means. to create. albeit frequently in a distorted fashion. But equally human is the need to find – better. as his investigation comes to an end. imagine. Culture allows us to sense. is an alternative to doing it’ (1997a: 12). becoming such via projection and introjection’. instead of being given an abstract. bloody detail is not the symbolic containment of evil. a given culture begins to assume the form of a psyche.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 121 ourselves as insecure and persecuted. culture is itself psyche. enter into non-physical contact with. we remember him observing – to which we now add that. and their reintrojection in the human projectors. this ability stands out as our only alternative to doing evil. But what if culture fails to fulfil this function? The result may be an acting-out of psychic-affective content precluded from symbols-deploying mediation and presentation. and generally the most intense. Culture offers forms and modes through which we may relate ourselves affirmatively to all aspects (including the darkest and most dangerous) of our repertoire as humans – not in the sense of approving of what certain such aspects may spur us to do. but in the sense of validating the reality quality of even the most discomforting affects and thoughts. the modal. in the sense that evil is being imitated and thus. partly Winnicottian insight that Alford radicalizes when he sets out to show its relevance for evildoing. A typical way in which culture may fail is by offering individuals narratives and images of evil which are too concrete. Alford’s Kleinian point is that the richer and more elastic the internal images of destructiveness in an individual. This does not mean that the culture lives its own life. that it acts like a group-self. In creativity by cultural-symbolic means. It is the imitation of evil. ‘a voice is given the creature for its woe’. Says Alford: ‘The verbal and imagistic reenactment of evil in all its graphic. the basic dimensions to our humanness. Rarely has culture been accorded a more crucial role in human life and society. Through cycles of projective identification with gods and other cultural ideals and artefacts. ‘The ability to imagine evil. actively. All of this is part of being a human being. and we perceive others as dangerous and as harbouring evil objectives. Thus understood. Klein’s premise is that knowledge of an outside world . psychic conflicts and defenses of its members’ (1992: 63). form.

other. the shorter will be the path to bodily action. the poorer the inner symbolic universe.). It is by finding a symbolic expression for its unconscious fantasy that the child – and later the adult – learns how relate to and explore the world. Fantasy and creativity are not only capacities in the single individual. by surviving the attempt to destroy it) still intact and thus proved to exist in its own right. the attempt to handle. i. and so forth (that is. at the start the symbolic relationship is extremely concrete: inner A ¼ outer B. Not only an outer B (mother’s body). to give some form to. as possessing a reality as well as specific properties independently of the child’s fantasies about them – symbolism will become looser. increasingly abstract. but also an outer C. In the early phases of life. Such abilities evolve thanks to the stimulation provided by the symbols-using culture outside the subject. more developed in some than in others. and vice versa. in persons who are lacking in ability – and/or available cultural resources – to engage in Kleinian loose symbolization. an inner A. render more abstract the sense of intolerability at being oneself a source of the impulse to do evil. the impulse becomes easier to live with because the urge to hurt and destroy can be reintrojected in us in a controlled manner in so far as we have allowed it to ‘go visiting’ (Arendt’s phrase) to symbolic objects which qua . the more important will be the relation between symbols with respect to the designating (denotative) relationship between symbol and external reality (Klein 1988b: 232.122 Evil and Human Agency stems from the symbolic equation of a fantasied internal object with an external one. durability. gradually. Alford 1989: 146f. Artistic thematizations of evil. to test the solidity. bodily (violent) out-acting being the result – be it turned inwards (as in self-infliction) or outwards (targeting others). The body becomes the over-concrete instrument for coping with the need to hurt. the infant’s relating to the outside world will occur through symbolism in this rigid. impulses to destruction will be connected to the body. If this sounds too technical. partly produces. understood as a physical externalization of impulses for which no room was found in an inner world of imagination. of the fears evil partly stems from. The symbolic equation originally assumes the form of A (an object in the internal world) ¼ B (an aspect of mother’s body). the point worth noting is that. additional aspects of the world). as fantasy is modified by contact with outer reality – by what Winnicott terms use. trying to destroy. The looser the symbolic equation becomes. recalcitrance of what is thereby (namely. one-to-one sense. D. As we said. mirroring. in the sense of symbolically standing for. However. are now allowed to represent. To sum up. and which inhabits the space between the individual’s psychic inner life and the external world.e.

to remain a merely imagined potentiality as opposed to an acted-out actuality. But culture permits this impulse to remain within a world consisting of fantasies and images. it is so not because of humans’ aggressiveness. but rather because of the suppression of the individuals’ personal aggressiveness’ (quoted in Storr 1995: 23f. What is vital is that the destructive impulses be uncoupled from concrete. will have little inclination to direct the latter against actually existing objects.) view as a major psychological force in anti-Semitism. The two main alternatives carry paramount significance with respect to the fate of human society: either the individuals comprising society have developed an ability to recognize that aggression is something that stems from within. specific persons (objects). as directly – without any mediation. Persons with well-developed abilities to use symbolic objects – the objects which constitute the output of culture – so as to play out. situations. to the ‘Jew’. but instead as open and flexible. or the individuals place aggression as such out in the world. Winnicott puts it with characteristic density: ‘If society is threatened. any detour – tied to mother. Since the impulses do not appear as object-bound (for example. whereby these are symbolic rather than physical-real. As Anthony Storr explains. provide grounds for the defence mechanism according to which one’s own aggression invariably is perceived as that of (certain) others. perceiving it as always coming from without and having its origin in others. etc.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 123 symbolic give form to an urge to destroy that in its origin is raw and formless.). Again. to one’s rival. the impulse as such will no longer trigger fears that the object does not tolerate them or. modify. I mentioned Horkheimer and Adorno’s discussion of anti-Semitism in Dialectic of Enlightenment. and reintroject their destructive impulses. and actions. it is only when personal aggressiveness is suppressed that it becomes transformed into societal destructiveness and violence. the larger – more flexible and elastic – will be the space in which it comes to terms with this potential by means of fantasies and images. to the ‘Muslim’. such as is the case in the ‘false projection’ that Horkheimer and Adorno (1979: 201ff. There is a Kleinian flavour to their analysis . the less concretistic an individual’s handling of its own potential for aggression. only to cite this alleged fact to justify one’s own subsequent evil. for that matter. Alford’s thesis can be explicated by invoking Klein’s notion of ‘loose’ symbolization. The impulse to hurt so as to flee one’s own pain will never cease to be an aspect of the human individual’s psyche.). The social relevance of the individual-psychological insights of Klein and Winnicott drawn upon by Alford can now be fully appreciated. as allowing for a manifold of possible objects. having its origin in each and every one of us.

than is jealousy. or has something. Horkheimer and Adorno’s claim is that the renunciation demanded by modern forms of social life may easily become the breeding ground for explosions of rage against anyone in a society who appears – if only in the delusions of the attacker. to envy someone implies (or. The type of evil that most typically springs from envy entails devaluing. The experience. or does something. The perceived fact that there exists outside the self something or someone that is good – ultimately. as something that should not be allowed to be. Jealousy by definition involves a triad: aggression is directed against what is perceived as a threat from some other person against one’s relationship with a loved or cherished object (person). because it is experienced as intolerable. I do not want anybody else to have it either. She considers envy as the desire to destroy what is perceived as good. In other words. more accurately. for example. do not have. presupposes) a recognition. entails that this other is someone who is something. or have not done. and ridiculing the features in the other which arouse envy in the first place. Envy is rarely admitted – more rarely. let alone flourish and speak its name. Klein asserts nothing less – envy is the root of all evil. To appear as different is to be at risk – this holds for entire groups no less than for the single individual who for some reason stands out from the rest as conspicuous. that I myself am not. in envy no triad is necessarily involved. but stubbornly denied. By contrast. This risk is made into a lethal one in fascism: ‘Fascism’. the sheer fact that there is goodness in the world – is what is sought destroyed. they tell us.124 Evil and Human Agency that merits emphasis. nor is love or some relationship perceived as precious. denigrating. with the result that the one who makes the comparison emerges as inferior. Evil as envy One phenomenon of paramount importance when discussing the psychological grounds from which evil may spring has yet to be examined: envy. however. envy involves the agent in a comparison with something or someone that is perceived as different. ‘is also totalitarian in that it seeks to make the rebellion of suppressed nature against domination directly useful to domination’ (Horkheimer and Adorno 1979: 185). Envy thematizes the elemental relationship between a person and the world. envy relies on a positive evaluation of some quality in the other. In terms of logic. This may happen in four ways. even though this recognitionbased evaluation is not expressed. the projector – to have somehow escaped such demands. progressively serious in moral terms: . as lacking in some quality that is deemed valuable. Initially. and since I lack this.

humiliated. making them disappear altogether. On the other hand. the encountered Jew will be indistinguishable from the constructed stereotype ‘Jew’. Although the illustration is mine. Every trait. as we shall see later) emerges as someone who has nothing positive. or one acts as if they are non-existent. of what is worthy of recognition in them. envy-based evil that seeks to deny all positive otherness in the other may take the form of mistreatment – initially psychically. for all other sins are sins only against one virtue. This view is consistent with the view described by Chaucer in The Parson’s Tale: ‘It is certain that envy is the worst sin there is. because it spoils and harms the good object which is the source of life. must be removed. only to exclaim.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 125 either the features in question are silenced in the sense that they are ignored. whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness. compulsively brought into unison with the theory. We know that the Nazis spent considerable energy placing the Jews in circumstances designed to force them to regress to a non-human. freezing Jews squatting around at some railway station en route to the death camps. a proof. In the end. The empirical is forcefully. Alford) writes about envy. naked. As a result. as if triumphantly. I would even suggest that it is unconsciously felt to be the greatest sin of all.’ (Klein 1988a: 189) . the targeted person (or group. it’s clear as the light of day’. appearance will correspond to underlying essence. symbolic violence becomes total and unfalsifiable. but animals. animal-like level. By means of physical violence. and worthwhile to show for himself or herself. I have departed from the way in which Klein (and. The aim is to deny everything about the victim that would serve to falsify the ideological assertions about him or her. in the victims that would be a reminder. the ‘Jew’ observed will ‘be’ just like the ideology asserts he is. nothing that would merit the affirmation of others and so justify the existence of the otherness in question. this is an instance of evildoing as self-fulfilling prophecy. Admittedly. these are not human beings (like us). such as to highlight their partaking in a common humanity. Klein herself minces no words in pronouncing the utter danger envy represents: There are very pertinent psychological reasons why envy ranks among the seven ‘deadly sins’. excreting in full view of an audience of people. as is the direct manner in which it connects envy with evildoing. ‘See. down to the very last remnant. later also physically – whose goal it is to bring the other into a condition that is claimed to expose his ‘real’ character. When SS officers pointed at starved. following her. admirable. even denying that they ever existed. when the process of humiliation is complete. or condemned (think of children bullying someone). or they are subject to a more or less overt attempt to remove them. or they are ridiculed. in short.

to develop a sense that there is something within him that matches and so helps protect the goodness encountered in the outside world. those we love and hate because they mean so much to us. exceeding what the subject needs and what the object is able and willing to give. his is a failure to build up a good object in the first place. it is merely felt to be endangered through some rival out to snatch away what is one’s due. too. A central feature of evil is the absence of feelings of guilt. only here one desires having it so much that others are prevented from sharing it. Envy is the desire to destroy goodness for its own sake. ‘full identification with a good object goes with a feeling of the self possessing goodness of its own’ (p. devouring it. And finally. Greed. It is not that the envious person is lacking in goodness in a moral sense. and therefore may disappoint and ‘destroy’ us. it is about ensuring that no one else gets access to the good. In wishing to make reparation. envy with projection. the very existence of goodness outside the self is an intolerable insult. to restore the object to a state of wholeness . because it is good. Here. ‘he can never be satisfied because his envy stems from within and therefore always finds an object to focus on’ (1988a: 182). Goodness being no standard in light of which to assess oneself. The envious person’s self is grandiose but empty. that the good is completely had for oneself only. Envy recoils from good itself. the direction of aggressive impulses at the good-bad object – that is. turning our dependence upon their goodness against us – goes hand in hand with wishes to make reparation to the thus targeted object. because. where goodness remains affirmed as something positive and worthy of existing. by contrast. sucking it dry. dealing a tremendous narcissistic blow to a self that is haunted by inferiority. the recognition that one is the source of aggressive impulses against others. as indicated earlier. even (indeed. the object is deemed bad because it possesses goodness – does not trigger guilt or loss. thus depriving it of its goodness and so making sure that the world is emptied of goodness altogether – which of course is very different from the egoism at work in greed. is an insatiable craving. but also to put badness (bad parts of itself) into the (good) object in order to spoil it. while very dangerous and destructive.126 Evil and Human Agency Klein points out that the very envious person is insatiable. goodness – in the form of love and affection – is not sought destroyed. 192). Greed is bound up with introjection. the subject not only seeks to rob in this way. It follows that envy is a serious barrier to the working through characteristic of the depressive position. Greed is about being the winner and taking it all. As Klein says. that is. In envy. Hence the radicalness of evil when compared to jealousy and greed. especially) loved others – that is. on the other hand. in jealousy. More to the point.

then. it seems the only logical account: if that which is intentionally hurt. a form in which evildoing frequently comes. But it is not within miles of capturing evil in its radicalness. for that matter. is evildoing that seeks to negate.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 127 and goodness. I am not saying that evil is never like that. evil). too. there is a concomitant admission of guilt and so of responsibility: of having done something one should rather not have done. removed. Feindbilder (portraits of the enemy) of the kind produced by ideologies and. it follows that envy enjoys a particularly close relationship with evil. and which captures what is commonly viewed as defining evil. or destroyed is not deemed bad (i. damaged. what is deemed bad by the agent. His notion is a great improvement over the simplistic one just discussed in that he focuses on the agent’s insistence that what he does is ‘good’. is justified. unworthy. with the inclination to hurt. Kant probed deeper when he spoke of ‘radical evil’ (1960). and responsibility. even though it may appear that way only thanks to efforts to deceive oneself about the – morally questionable – character of the action done. reluctantly conceding that the propensity to do evil is a very deep-seated one in human nature. Since envy. over evil as a negation of the good. why want to target it in the first place? This commonsensical notion of what evildoing is and what spurs it only touches the surface of the phenomenon. more than any other particular feeling (or attitude) that is part of our repertoire. are they not? Psychologically. Let me elaborate by suggesting a continuum: from evil understood as fighting what is bad. more personal views about the victim as articulated by the evildoer. are all about such badness. on the face of. Envy as understood by Klein helps radicalize our understanding of evil. is the feeling that is most deprived of capacity for guilt. ugly. to evil as destruction of the good. The alleged ‘badness’ of the object targeted is commonly cited as both explanation (by observers) and justification (by the agent) for the evil committed. threatening. And indeed. Kant does his best to look evil in the eye without blinking. reparation. The difference is seminal. and of blaming no one else for the harm done to others. We realize that wanting to do evil is not to engage in a negation of what is good but rather to want the destruction of the good. First. as representing some badness without which the world would be a better place. a propensity (‘Hang zum Bo ¨sen’) that has fatefully been laid down in us and that is virtually ineradicable from our make-up as .e. it sounds reasonable that someone who deliberately hurts or even kills another does so because he looks upon that other as in some respect bad. filthy. or even destroy.

what is even more radical than the negation of the good is the destruction of the good because it is good – that is. more precisely (bearing Kant in mind). as superior to the morality posited by the categorical imperative. As Alford puts her insight. thus denying the conflict between the two – going back as it does.128 Evil and Human Agency human agents. of destroying what is good. the attempt to make what is really morally bad look good so as to be able to do wrong with a good conscience. the desires flowing from self-interest. or by. namely between autonomy (freedom) and heteronomy (determinedness) – that essentially defines our predicament as human and moral agents. This is the quality of evil Klein helps us recognize. Problems with Alford’s theory To be sure. Evil is more than just the negation of the good or. not bad. takes this point further when he states that. Kant’s concept of radical evil is not radical enough. not for any spin-off for the agent’: the badness of the act. it lands us in a very difficult situation. so that what is ‘good’ to do and what enhances one’s self-interest come to be but two sides of the same coin. provides the very reason for performing the act. evil is about making morality a servant of desire. without there being any attempt (be it one involving self-deception and pretence) to deny or in any way detract from the goodness of what is deliberately sought destroyed. The result is that ‘morality’ is instrumentalized for. commanding us as it does to treat others as ends in themselves and never merely as means. But. in the purest of all cases of evil. The deception hinted at consists in presenting to oneself the ‘morality’ in the service of one’s desires. ‘the agent seeks the other’s pain simply for what it does to the other. The lack of any demonstrable positive spin-off for the evildoing agent is a remarkable feature of evildoing at its most evil – yet frequently overlooked in studies of evil. as Alford remarks. Though not entertained by Kant. Nor will it do for the . to the dualism that we are. ‘evil is not just the devaluation of otherness because otherness is scary and bad. if this is a correct hypothesis. hence one’s self-interest. Colin McGinn (1997: 82). though defending a much too hedonistic-utilitarian general notion of evil. In a nutshell. Evil is the destruction of the other because the other is good’ (1997a: 71). in Kant. For how are we now to prevent and avoid evil? It will not do to convince perpetrators (or would-be ones) that the people they are targeting are ‘really’ good. Self-deception here aims at a reversal: the principle of self-interest is made trump over any other principle. tending as they do to be wedded to the premise that actions – even evil ones – flow from self-interest.

. etc. That the doom is self-inflicted. we might even treat others worse’ (Alford 2002: 22). evidence of goodness would in fact only reinforce it. the aura of one’s own aggression. As I see it. informed. articulated in Alford’s book on Levinas. Alford is vulnerable to an objection often directed at existential philosophy: that too much emphasis is placed on the single individual. ‘It will do no good to implore people not to demonize others. Far from solving the problem. These are only so many negative answers. Nor. or tolerant perceptions of the other is an ill-conceived strategy from the very start.g. nationalism. But it also poses a problem for the dyadic person-to-person evildoing that from beginning to end is at the centre of Alford’s analysis. sexism) and religion as well. People demonize the other not out of ignorance or intolerance but to protect their own threatened goodness. but ‘‘I need you in order to be me’’. Alford is remarkably silent about the role of historical. social. economic. Perhaps we should take this as a hint that the question has not been raised in the most appropriate manner.). of the ‘irreducible otherness of the other’ as the solution. But Alford. rendering the danger that evildoing will ensue even more imminent. factors in contributing to induce concrete individuals to perform evil. theorizing it via the different positions of experience. that they are good and possess traits worthy of recognition.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 129 victims themselves to make efforts to demonstrate. beyond dispute. In a Kleinian perspective. will it do to transform evil into a problem of political correctness. Extraindividual sources and causes of evildoing are not taken into consideration. and anticipating a central concern of later parts of my discussion: ‘What if the human problem were really our terrible dependence on others? Not ‘‘I want my place in the sun’’. his silence in fact comprises ideational factors such as the impact of ideology (e. makes this defense more poignant but no less destructive’ (1997a: 71f. Demonization of the other is a defense against doom. tends in the end to present evil as a problem both in and for the self. following Klein. and putting special emphasis on the urge to flee dread. this omission in Alford’s theoretical framework marks a limit to his theory’s potential to throw light upon instances of evildoing comprising whole groups of individuals. If this were the human problem. seems to hold that developing more positive. True. finally. racism. some strategies must be judged better than others to minimize the danger that evildoing come to pass. As Alford writes. Add to this the following thought. to cite the goodness of the object would only serve to whet the appetite of the perpetrator. preaching tolerance of difference. His Kleinian approach to evil. to the detriment of factors in his wider environment over which she has little or no control.

is an ‘intense object relationship’. self-psychological) perspective: ‘Projective identification emphasizes the way in which our fears and desires make the environment. Indeed. pays more attention to the effect of the environment on the self’ (1991: 196 n. anxiety. where individual and system mutually reinforce each other in the pursuit of a common target for persecution and destruction. A related problem with Alford’s book is that the other recedes into the background. exerting a pressure upon us such that cannot be rooted out or silenced by being discharged against objects in the outside world.130 Evil and Human Agency In a word. and fear. If I am not mistaken. whereas evil is intersubjective in its extension. Alford holds that trying to avoid evildoing is not primarily about coming to see the other in a more favourable light. as I argued in my critique of Bauman in Chapter 1. But the price he pays in his monograph on evil is that extra-individual. making a difference and carrying consequences that are real for real others – is a problematic within each single human subject: in speaking of doom. In a footnote in The Self in Social Theory. environmental factors tend to disappear from sight altogether. What originates within . Alford aptly describes the contrast between a Kleinian and a Kohutian (that is. intense connection of power and control to manage the cold. Alford never lets us forget. attention is directed at psychic and affective states that stem from within. isolated dread within’ (1997a: 119). the upshot is that. To work out a comprehensive framework for the study of evil. the individual as depicted in Alford’s book is insufficiently situated. dread. As we saw. it consists in seeking ‘a hot. on the other hand. To be sure. Alford makes a sound choice as far as exploring the intrasubjective and intrapsychic origins of evil is concerned. in choosing Klein over Kohut. concerned to the point of obsession with existential matters of life and death. It is so because the entire existential problematic that gives rise to doing evil – that is. if only to exploit the human ‘objects’ encountered there for purposes all its own. to act in the world. I would say that. 26). evil is intrasubjective in its origin. Evil. the nakedness of the individual and the rawness of its deepest concerns is part of the Kleinian heritage Alford self-consciously draws upon. necessarily involving the agent with another subject and hence engaging the agent with the world outside him. Kohut. historical experience has taught us that evil often results from a particularly explosive mixture of individual desires and needs on the one hand and institutional commands on the other: in situations where the existential psycho-logic and the organizational socio-logic meet halfway. the interaction between intrasubjective origins and extra-individual forces and influences needs to be properly addressed: there is no either–or. the individual forms a kind of world unto itself.

Alas. this is not the whole story. as part of what and who we are. So much for the synthesis of Klein and Winnicott attempted by Alford. Winnicott is drawn upon to help us recognize that the dramas originating within us must be sought thematized – ‘imagined’ is Alford’s word – outside us. Yet. is what sort of cultural objects. Alford is less helpful here than one would have hoped. though. in a way allowing for Kulturkritik: taking a look at current tendencies. Alford’s . It is not that he has nothing to offer. Alford regards as conducive to the task he grants culture in enabling us to cope with our inner demons. is evidently regarded by Alford as the most appropriate one in disclosing the sources from which evil springs. her many critics on this point claim). between psychic and physical reality. are neither to be located in our inner or in the outer world but instead occupy the space between them. In other words. Alford transcends Klein’s restricted focus on intrapsychic dynamics as soon as he starts employing Winnicott’s notion of culture as a ‘transitional object’. as soon as we widen our concerns and wish to explore how best to tackle the discomfort located within us. what he offers is reasonable enough. ruling out a simple answer to the misleadingly simple question of where they come from in the first place. What we need to hear more about. In fairness to Alford. actually depend upon the existence of this admittedly evasive in-between. concentrating almost exclusively on the intrapsychic dramas Klein takes to be present in the infant (reading her ‘positions’ back into very early phases of psychological development – much too early ones. strictly speaking. I mentioned that Alford warns against symbols-using thematizations of evil and the series of dread-related feelings giving rise to it becoming overly concrete: symbols-using imitations of real-life evildoing are no suitable device against the inclination to go out and do it oneself. especially in (US-dominated) popular culture. Such existential discomfort can only be coped with by way of engaging with symbols that are not of our individual making but communally available to us. the Kleinian perspective. by the traffic of symbols. Fantasy and imagination in particular. Winnicott (1980: 1–30) maintains.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 131 must be dealt with there: this is the Kleinian petitio principii that Alford never brings out into the open to address as such. namely in the domain set up by culture. We must go visiting to cultural sources outside ourselves in order to live with pressures arising within ourselves – sources that. or symbols (including narratives). Alford deploys his Winnicottian concept of what culture should do for its members. The urgency of this question is born of the obvious fact that not any version of culture will do. but insufficient.

ways. be they individuals or whole . I think it important to observe that this. if expressing a correct diagnosis. and the like. The implicit message in such narratives. where goodness is conspicuous by its absence. there is no longer a balanced struggle between good and evil (recall that Satan supposedly only makes sense as a figure set against some goodness-representing counterpart. is that vulnerability and dependence are conveyed to the reader. as so many how-to tips on the level of doing. When vampires replace Satan in one narrative (book. and nonetheless prove dangerous for specific others. Rather. or viewer as even more threatening and dangerous than before. A far cry indeed from the mediated. subtle. concrete.e. that is. The message is that it is a jungle out there. This is fine as far as it goes but the problem is. Images and narratives thematizing the existential anxieties prone to give rise to evildoing can be abstract. A major consequence is that the need to get rid of such unwished-for weaknesses within oneself becomes ever more precarious. as captured in Christopher Lasch’s (1984) talk of the ‘minimal’ self characteristic of contemporary society: a self that has lost faith in the outside world as a safe place. whereby the outcome of their struggle remains open). the tendency is for some evil persecutor to take full control of the action and to threaten everyone coming in his way with being devoured (literally sucked dry). physical) forms. fantasy-stimulating. there are other ways of employing symbols for a given culture to engage in. film. defensive pursuits. of acting-out. bent on withdrawing into itself and to engage as little as possible in projects transcending its largely self-preoccupied. while – importantly – not fulfilling his further criterion of containing (Klein) or holding (Winnicott) the individual members’ inner demons in such a manner as to preclude their being directed outwards. crushed.132 Evil and Human Agency verdict is that ours is not for the time being a culture that comes anywhere near to fulfilling its positive mission. The end point of this tendency is action movies functioning as a more or less sophisticated user’s manual for the audience. most likely will exacerbate the creation of ‘weak’ selves. bodily. these aspects of one’s existence now count as tantamount to weakness. video) after the other. indirect. abstract fashion of learning to come to terms with inner sources of exposedness advocated in Winnicott’s and Alford’s notion of the task of culture. against all-too-real and vulnerable others. in which the images and narratives employed fulfil Alford’s criterion of being abstract. to something that makes one exposed to all sorts of dangers that are likely to lurk behind every corner in the outside world. taking on ever more direct (i. listener. If anything. or otherwise done away with.

than are presentations of existential motifs which employ loose symbolization in Klein’s sense. and (last but not least) collective suffering (victimization) so as to mobilize by means of symbols (narratives) for subsequent misdeeds using violence. and that the world can be acted upon so as to conform to some grand vision or scheme. to the point of the unbelievable. To be sure. In other words. What I am getting at is that the degree of abstraction – the more or less sophisticated use of symbols and images – is a flawed criterion by which to judge this danger. the conviction that the only adequate way to tackle inner A is by resorting to violent attack against outer B (standing here for a specific individual or group) is doubtless conveyed in its most direct form when symbolization is rigid and static. whereby actual others are targeted. Suffice it to say here that the central architects of this collective . thus easily falsified once measured against their concrete referents in real life. Since such ideologies have been instrumental in helping to bring about so much evildoing in recent history. especially when these are eager to stir the melting pot of a given group’s collective history. incredible. with whom he otherwise disagrees). Of course. one settling all the old scores and promising a vigorous future for the in-group whose narcissistic injuries will henceforth be healed. It is therefore a pity that he neglects discussing them (just as does Bauman. uncoupling inner A from outer B. making it seem that now ‘everything falls into place’. and all of a sudden. Alford is perfectly right that symbolically primitive and concretistic presentations are more fitted to violence-applying exploitation. along comes someone who connects these fantasies with named and very specific others. or they rely on lies so big as to retain no resemblance whatsoever with the persons or events they pretend to designate.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 133 groups – contra the claims about the positive ethical potential of narratives in general and literature (novels) in particular made by such an influential philosopher as Martha Nussbaum (1990). Abstraction may even in some cases lend itself to exploitation by charismatic leaders. their relevance for Alford’s topic is beyond dispute. concentrating instead on culture in its most general aspects. Especially in light of the discussion of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the next chapters. Alford’s silence must be regarded as regrettable. that ambiguities and doubts will be finally overcome. collective memory. The point is that the very looseness or elasticity of fantasy-fed and fantasy-feeding Feindbilder may make them susceptible to all sorts of arbitrary – meaning reality-distorting or reality-denying – exploitation. But Feindbilder are sometimes (literally) fantastic. I have no quarrel with Alford as to the danger this implies. this is the territory inhabited by ideologies. or they are gross distortions of the true nature of the phenomena and entities they purport to portray.

let alone accounted for. by Sorbonne-educated Pol Pot. yet . and political parties. contradicting rather directly Alford’s endeavour to set symbols and violence apart. for example when he states that a ‘cutting’ remark represents a way to hurt others. non-physical means: ‘symbolic violence’ may be seen as an appropriate label for the phenomenon I have in mind. this historical fact – epitomized by numerous Nazi professors and doctoral degrees held by SS officers. The affinity between the thousand inventive ways in which people hurt each other by humiliation. I suspect that this omission. individuals holding leading positions in the media. knowing as we do only too well how enthusiastically intellectuals – rich in symbolic repertoire – may take the lead in mobilizing for evildoing that. the affinity between intellectuality (intellectuals) and evil is an old story. evil spans a much wider human-experiential territory than that specifically involving being victim to physical violence and bodily abuse. What are curiously left out of Alford’s picture are the multiple ways in which we can do evil to each other by non-bodily. To be sure. this lack of fine distinctions within the overarching concept of culture. conceives the inclination to do evil as the inclination to seek discharge for one’s inner anxieties and conflicts. In my view. is connected with another feature of Alford’s theory that strikes me as wanting. he focuses rather one-sidedly – tendentiously? in keeping with a philosopher’s prejudice? – on the ‘symbolic poverty’ he encountered in most of the prisoners he interviewed. Instead. is eminently concrete in its consequences. hence physical.134 Evil and Human Agency evil often are intellectuals. in Alford’s analysis: they do not seem to fit there. on the other. and so dichotomizing them. action against some concrete other. is not paid enough attention to by Alford. This outward-directed discharge immediately assumes the form of bodily. Alford. and evil. so as to hurt him or her. if anything. But he does not dwell upon this non-physical dimension to evil as a vital dimension of it in its own right. hurting others psychically instead of physically. or – correspondingly – wishing to do such abuse. Alford should not let intellectuals – his likely readers – that easily off the hook. I find it unfortunate that it leaves the impression that a highly developed capacity for symbolsemploying abstract thinking counts unequivocally as a prerequisite against evildoing. in academic institutions. and psychiatrist and poet Radovan Karadzic. spoken – expressions of evil. failing to dwell on the psychic – frequently. to pick a few examples – is not mentioned. In all fairness. Though not disputing this finding. society’s professional symbols-users. it must be said that at times Alford does talk about evil in this sense. His analysis prematurely moves from the inner to the outer. we have seen. However. on the one hand.

To begin with. and so perhaps naturally inclined to identify with the agent in the example). what was taken for granted. Let us ask what went unaddressed in the replies given. a sympathetic counterpart to hubris. to the degree that the persons interviewed are at all willing to identify with someone when pondering the evil Eichmann exemplifies. Such an attitude attests to a capacity for self-knowledge. But this impression risks focusing only on the surface. to be bothered – a form that our wish to hurt often takes. the point can be reinforced: Is not deliberate non-action or non-engagement towards another person – ignoring someone.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 135 for all that hurting them no less badly. a kind of moral modesty. For a start. to imagine oneself in Eichmann’s situation. it is striking that. The refrain frequently repeated is that I possibly could have done the same thing. there is something humble. Likewise. At first glance this way of looking at it may appear sympathetic. he would not). In both groups. we must bear in mind that he was acting within a hierarchical organization. In both groups. not least in a moral perspective. but also among the free informers Alford talked with (1997a: 74ff. it soon transpired that nearly everybody asked to reflect on the question identified with Eichmann – a finding that holds not only among the prisoners (themselves ‘doers’. receiving orders from his superiors. And then. the replies would take the following form: ‘Before we eventually judge Eichmann. refusing to take notice. to offer a final thought – actually. and surely he would have been killed if he had refused to do these things that others now call bad’ (let me add: in fact. an angry counter-question – ‘Who among us can really be sure what we would have done in his place?’ This response merits thorough examination and reflection. producing psychic and emotional scars no less real and damaging for their entirely non-physical nature? Identifying with Eichmann One of the questions Alford put to those he interviewed was: Was Eichmann evil? Much to Alford’s surprise. Alford was confronted with a strong urge to put into question the notion that Eichmann was evil. On this reading. in this readiness to make oneself so ‘alike’ an agent who did what Eichmann did. there was a deep reluctance to make – or accept – any attempt to judge Eichmann’s actions from a moral point of view. then. and in effect to realize one’s own imperfection with respect to doing what is morally right.). they choose to identify with Eichmann in a manner marking very little – if any – distance to him. Indeed. it is as though Alford’s question – Was Eichmann evil? – may be .

at least. where the power once exercised by the persecutor left them). It is as though present-day individuals have nothing to add to the silence the original deed forced upon the victims. so as to mark. The stance taken by imaginatively putting oneself in the shoes of the persecutor is retained throughout. Otherwise put: Why do Alford’s respondents tacitly presuppose that shame is something that becomes a theme only when (if) victims become a theme. the entire mental space for reflection over evil. This is because his material is particularly suited to throw light upon a later topic: shame. To bring the points together: the absence of shame coincides with the absence of the victims. Now. parties merely subject to power are left in the dark (that is. it is so because it rests upon the presupposition. The one party commanding attention is the party who exercised power. and no attempt is undertaken to give them a voice. what strikes me the most. It is as though the question posed involves but this one person. and delimit. that for there to be shame. as it were naturally and obviously. the basic fact that the evil one is asked to reflect about comprises a party beyond the named agent. What I find conspicuous in Alford’s material is the implicit view that evil can be reflected upon and sought judged from one’s own factual viewpoint and in combination with a counter-factual ‘imagining’ of the viewpoint of the agent. Let me put it like this. that shame. Those who already have been forced into silence shall remain silent. they are mute. there must be victims.136 Evil and Human Agency adequately answered by reflecting about and referring to Eichmann alone. When shame does not become a topic in the reflection over whether Eichmann was evil. namely the party who suffers the evil done. the agent – as though it does not essentially involve Eichmann’s victims. This. If this formulation is correct. that is to say. Those who experience the evil done form an unnameable party. I have highlighted my own reading of Alford’s finding rather than Alford’s. however tacit in those offering their replies. In short. is the apparently total absence of shame. the responses immediately and exclusively address the agent – hence they leave his victims completely aside. I take this to be closely related to the fact that the reflection fails to take the victims into account. not the perpetrator? Is it not – or should it not . only via the perspective of the victims will shame appear and lay claim to becoming an issue for reflection. of their perspective. is linked with the victims. their invisibility is effectively perpetuated. The position occupied by the victims is conspicuous by absence. they just do not figure. is the way I interpret it. The intriguing question provoked by this is why focusing upon the agent (the evildoer) should be tantamount to ignoring all aspects having to do with shame.

being a victim is no different from never having existed at all. is the background against which Alford proposes that. who wants to be pitied these days? And who wants to show it? Who wants to openly identify with the source from which the need for pity is taken to arise – namely weakness and vulnerability. But what about pity? Well. to be existentially (if not ethically) validated. there are no innocents. Why worse? Because it is taken for granted. only victims and executioners. to being devoid of agency. the important feature in this outlook is that informants have great difficulty finding a third path (option) between that of executioner and victim. This. that being a victim is meaningless. Suffice it to comment here on the way the shift is viewed from Alford’s perspective. It is tantamount to utter powerlessness – and this is a destiny too terrible to contemplate. In the perpetual war that ‘is’ society these days. Contemporary Western society is experienced not as the well-ordered society Rawls talks about. having implicitly been shifted from doer to victim. to be seen. but in categories reminding one of the Hobbesian ‘state of nature’. then. to make a difference in the world. not in those who suffer? Is shame not a prerogative of the guilty one. Ultimately. and possibly to receive recognition from others. I shall take them up at length in Chapter 4 and 5. A major premise in the outlook articulated by the majority of Alford’s prisoner informers (apparently shared to a large degree by his free informants as well) is that we live in a world of ‘war of all against all’. not the victims? These are questions too big to settle here. since ours is a world where power is the only currency. the very dimension about us that marks the limit of our self-sufficiency and that makes us so utterly dependent beings. often also vehemently defending him. some capacity to choose. By contrast.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 137 be – the other way around: that shame is found in the person who causes suffering. Be that as it may. significantly. Being a persecutor at least confirms some power of agency. domination and submission. My present purpose is only that we appreciate that. they do so not because they want to but because there is only one alternative to identifying with the doer and that alternative is even worse: it is to identify with the victims. to be in the role of the victim is considered as tantamount to being nobody. as illustrated in Alford’s material. indeed of anything that would induce respect from others. as a simple fact about how things are. and on the face of it counter-intuitively and mysteriously. dependent . when so many people answer the question whether Eichmann was evil by identifying with him. an evidently common propensity to identify with the evildoer – and so ignore the victims – goes hand in hand with ignoring shame – shame.

I think convincingly. his was a life which had meaning only as long as people wished to remember. it does not exactly strike contemporary individuals as a priority. that’s what we call ourselves these days’ (p. and Richard Sennett. That this is so is aptly captured in a statement made by one of Alford’s informants: ‘Don’t call me a crime victim! I’m a survivor. identity politics. above all the dread of what it is to be truly human. the mentality expressed by Alford’s informants highlights the trend of individualization that in recent years has been thematized by sociologists such as Zygmunt Bauman. in other words. Levi had said that he would take his life if he no longer felt this to be the case. Ulrich Beck. We are all victims. a central one certainly has to do with current tendencies to transform societal (macrolevel. upon their capacity for identification. to be reminded about the plight of victims. with groups competing with another for public sympathy to compensate for some specific suffering. systemic) contradictions into (so many) individual-biographical problems: the individual is affected. is different in kind from the experience of individual victimhood that forms his focus. victimized. empathy. by developments and problems not of his making. victims of life and death. It is how MacIntyre should be interpreted in After Virtue. A precursor to this discussion is Christopher Lasch’s books The Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. It has lost the narrative resources to make sense of the experience of victimhood. What the culture has lost is not just a narrative unity that makes sense of values. Levi is a survivor of Auschwitz who wrote books about what he experienced there. lost the sense of tragedy. yet he is affected by them alone. that the phenomenon thus alluded to. Alford invokes Primo Levi to substantiate his harsh judgment. The self held to be characteristic of contemporary society is preoccupied to the point of obsession with surviving in a hostile world. (1997a: 80) Alford is aware that his diagnosis invites the counter-argument that ours is – precisely – a culture of ‘victimhood’ these days.138 Evil and Human Agency upon others. But he argues. . Alford proceeds to declare that The problem is not the failure of memory per se. 80). as it were. It is against the victimhood of being merely human that evil is dedicated. As we shall see in the next chapters. so that the meaning might be available to make the memory meaningful. It is the failure of the culture to preserve those categories of experience which make victimhood meaningful. Why has sheer survival become such a paramount issue in the individual’s life? While there are many aspects to this question. Anthony Giddens. and concern? On either side. and kill himself he eventually did. It has.

I mention this in the context of Alford’s theory because it provides a sorely needed sociological background to Alford’s overwhelmingly psychological perspective. then it is only to be expected that ‘evil’ comes to stand for something terrible. Is not this once again to do with Alford’s approach to evil being too individualistic? Holding evil to be a relational concept. or otherwise disabled to make the best of his options. Small wonder. that his portrait of evildoing differs so radically from that of. and a strongly individualistic one at that. pity as at work in responding to the other’s exposed vulnerability by declaring. say. how can one respect oneself in it? Again. stable. Being the victim of evil is associated with utter passivity. Bauman. so humans might care for each other for a little while’.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 139 all on his own. and if he fails to meet the currently valid standards of ‘success’ – success now being almost synonymous with individual success – he has only himself to blame. in order to at least make some attempt at ‘tackling’ the phenomenon of evil. . although it would appear more terrible to be victim to it than to do it oneself. and good (Klein) objects outside themselves. doomed to suffer such victimhood alone. to the point of paralysis. to paraphrase Neoptolemus (Alford 2002: 140f. It goes without saying. therefore. the only relationship Alford seems to concentrate on is the person-to-person. If the leading sociologists just referred to are right in their diagnosis about ‘weak’ and narcissistic selves suffering from lack of belief in safe. expecting nobody else to stand up for one. it seems. lazy. no third alternative is regarded as available. or survive it only to bear the stigma of the victim in a society where people supposedly only want to hear about winners. objects to rely upon and to be nourished by in building a self daring to venture outside itself so as to both encounter and help create goodness there. having proven too inept. The only option left. For it goes without saying that ending up as a victim is somehow to be a loser. The mechanisms of distantiation so stressed by Bauman do not figure at all in Alford’s account. that ours is a world without pity – pity understood as ‘a sheltering sky that keeps inhuman otherness out. If one is respected in that role by no one else. survivors. and at the same time what they fear succumbing to and detest when encountering it in others. He has to fend for himself in struggling to cope with them. with being crushed by forces against which one is completely helpless. Better to do it and survive than suffer it and die. as Alford observes. therefore. face-to-face one. is that of making sure that one positions oneself at the executing rather than receiving end of it. Passivity is what such individuals drift toward. ‘I am in pain for you: I am in sorrow for your pain’.).

by shaping reality according to his ideas about it. by verifying what started out as expressions of personal lunacy. his perspective nevertheless allows him to briefly explain it ‘by the conjunction of human maliciousness with the failure of cultural containment. the formula for collective evil is the conjunction of the two elements placed at the centre of Alford’s analysis: the conjunction of individuals whose dread is uncontained with a culture that. at the time and given the circumstances. Even more to the point. that is. by realizing them on a social level. however. is that he overcame the isolation of his madness by successfully socializing it: he succeeded. is unable to help contain it (or ‘hold’ it. . In holding that ‘evil is a refusal to submit to the conditions of being . given optimal social circumstances. . in the extreme case. (Safranski 1999: 276. to isolate him. collective evil. 283). In the chapter to follow. Normally the madness of a distinct individual will serve to separate him from his environment. a culture regressed to providing directions for the obliteration of scapegoats under the ideology of a medical procedure’ (p. Rather. To make his point. in Winnicott’s sense). as well as by the ability of society to draw upon and use people deficient in symbolic resources of their own but not so crazy as to be unable to use the culture’s scapegoats as their own’ (1997a: 143). may obtain in historical instances of the conjunction proposed by Alford. What is exceptional in the case of Hitler. in his attempt to make a truth out of his mad ideas. we shall explore what this amounts to. devoted to ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia. is the German philosopher Rudiger Safranski’s description of the conjunction at work in the ¨ case of Hitler: Hitler’s rhetorical talent and the general Zeitstimmung combined to make his private lunacy into an exponent of collective madness . The limitations of Alford’s approach A more valid criticism is that Alford locates evil on too fundamental a level. then. The ‘perfect fit’ between Fu ¨hrer and Volk of which Hitler boasted is not mere fiction.140 Evil and Human Agency There is some truth to the objection that Alford’s approach is excessively individualistic. it exemplifies with particular force the explosive quality that. is in fact bent on preventing any effective containment of the inner dread of its individual members. or. But it is not completely so. 143). In this perspective. Although Alford has little to say about large-scale. perhaps. Alford picks a well-known example: what turned the infamous Josef Mengele into ‘Dr Auschwitz’ was ‘the conjunction of his uncontained dread with a culture that was no longer able to contain it either.

precisely this existential dimension will be systematically invoked. though philosophically provocative and empirically fruitful. cultivated. it is not obvious that a person who participates in organized mass rapes does so for the individual-psychological reasons highlighted in Alford’s Kleininspired approach. runs into difficulties as soon as one concentrates on instances of evildoing where processes of dehumanization indisputably do occur. and predictability often necessitate a neutralization of the individual-existential twist to partaking in evil that Alford takes as his principal focus. The implication is that evil becomes something that is. then at least omnipresent in human life. At other times. as a feature of the human condition as such. or ordered. however. and evil of which the doer is one among many. if not exactly inevitable. evil as a genuine ‘individual’ project. Alford risks eternalizing evil in as much as he views it sub specie aeternitatis. In saying this. Alford risks making evil such a deep-seated and elemental dimension in human existence as to render it inseparate from being human. In particular. allowing individual and system to meet halfway and work in tandem to strike out against a common enemy. Thus. evil as an undertaking launched. one illuminating what another ignores. it might be that such a case has much more to do with feeling forced to display ‘strength’ before an audience of (male) co-persecutors than it has to do with a sadistic desire to hurt the victim in question as a kind of existential goal in its own right. thus robbing the performance of the existential quality with which Alford so emphatically associates it from the very beginning. thereby ignoring the structural and situational conditions of specific instances of evil (especially collective evil) where in-group pressure and the request for obedience. control. the heterogeneity of psychological motives in the agent must be recognized. mortality) of his selected victim. if you like. and exploited for all it is worth by the prevailing extra-individual power structures. as I demonstrated in my discussion of Bauman. to take an example. I think that Alford’s emphasis on an individual evildoer’s presupposing and sustaining the shared humanity (vulnerability. Let me make the point by way of comparison with Bauman: if Bauman risks neglecting the deep-seated existential basis from which evildoing springs. Accordingly. Due to the heterogeneous nature of the phenomenon – evildoing – different theoretical approaches are called for. transforming the victim into precisely the ‘mere means’ Kant viewed as a salient feature in evil. by others. we get a sense of the importance of distinguishing between evil of which the doer is himself the initiator.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 141 human’ (1997a: 119). explicitly (since ideologically) excluding the victim(s) from a shared human and moral .

Although Kant was wrong to hold such reduction to mere means to be what evil essentially boils down to. with only secondary ontological status. namely as non-elemental. as it were. to regard it as a wholly derivative phenomenon. even such an established category of collective evil as genocide may come in many – quite distinct – forms. This is not to suggest that he is too grim: the issue is not optimism versus pessimism. etc. As we shall see in the next chapter. The first step is to acknowledge this inner (intrasubjective) origin of what spurs – or may spur – evildoing as a reality. in empirical terms evil is such a manifold and heterogeneous phenomenon in social life as to frustrate various theoretical attempts (not only Alford’s. an ethnic group. who we are. as non sui generis. Evil in this sense comprises a dimension of what we are. or willingness. that is to say. to be sure) to let one ‘form’ or one feature speak for all. Alford has yet to devote a book to goodness. as emerging only when something generically or logically prior to it falters. a nation. While I agree with Alford’s opposition to such trivialization and underestimation of the reality (ontologically. conflicts that we have to come to terms with. and one may wonder whether it would produce a thick or a slim volume. Alford is eager to contradict the tendency in current social sciences to marginalize evil as a sociocultural as well as an individual issue. Alford is just as wrong in denying dehumanization as a major component in many cases of evil. frequently a ‘tempered’ egoism is a better barrier against evildoing than is altruism (altruism. empirically seldom emerging without ambiguity. as well as motivationally) of evil in social life. both goodness and evil are more complex phenomena than that. in the form of communal self-sacrifice and various forms of martyrdom for the sake of a religious faith. it is about inner forces. not merely – or even primarily – of what we do.142 Evil and Human Agency universe. he must be cautious not to err in the opposite direction and end up presenting evil as the single most powerful force in our life. Despite my earlier complaint about the neglect of extra-individual factors. consequently ending up regarding evildoing as but welldoing gone wrong. When we proceed to do evil. much like it is not altruism versus egoism. anxieties. hence as happening only – or almost only – by default. Indeed. without some mixing with its ‘other’. it has to do with a lack of ability. I insist that the really vital insight to be retained from Alford’s work is that evil is a major existential issue: evil is about something within ourselves. As we shall see in great detail in Chapters 4 and 5. .). to tackle what we are – beings for whom being vulnerable triggers dread – in a manner not hurting others.

It reminds me of Bauman’s largely unmediated move from (atomized. what it takes to make sure that evildoing does not occur. one sharing one’s own anxieties and concerns. meaning pointing to an existential quest for which the individual is not self-sufficient. culture represents. Since Alford’s framework is a crude dichotomic one – human individual juxtaposed with outer reality (following Klein) – the category of communication is conspicuously missing in Alford’s account. the alternative to doing evil. Culture thus understood fulfils the function. lonely) individual to society at large. especially the dyadic one. would seem to provide the missing link from which Bauman’s account suffers: a link. as what is drawn upon communicatively. when Alford singles out Emmanuel Levinas for a surprisingly vehement critique in his recent book Levinas. fantasies. or better facilitates. On Alford’s account. of providing the general symbolic resources required to create – and sustain – meaning in one’s life. etc. While I have no quarrel with this – it is a truly vital insight – there is nonetheless a sense in which Alford moves too quickly here: he fails to dwell on the significance of interpersonal relationships. qua acts in the outside world (as opposed to evil thoughts. a communicatively attained relief that is not the work of the single individual who successfully employs the required cultural resources at hand.The psycho-logic of wanting to hurt others 143 What is curious in Alford is his quick move from individual to culture. asserting that freedom-with and . Culture does provide Alford with an intermediate category absent in Bauman. This is fine as far as it goes. or from individual to organization (striking in his book Whistleblowers). and Psychoanalysis. in evildoing) or someone protected against such action thanks to the employment of symbols made accessible by culture. Alford too onesidedly focuses on the either–or of individual and culture (whereby evil is contained) and individual and human other (whereby evil is uncontained and the other is targeted). a co-subject in the world. in Alford’s Winnicottian sense of a transitional object. but is instead a collaborative effort by two individuals in which culture functions as a go-between. Communication with the other who commands a space ‘between’ inner reality and public culture (Winnicott). the Frankfurt School. is nowhere properly thematized. and. the human other is someone that is either acted against (as in the existential ‘relief’ sought by hurting. conversely. What is absent is the other as someone to interact with. Indeed. In a nutshell. Culture. so crucial for the individual.). mediating between the single individual and the entire outside world. one with whom sharing them will facilitate a non-damaging relief from the inner demons in question. it does go some way toward explaining both how evil comes to occur. or the outside world as such (Klein). that is.

that is to say. and intersubjective communication in particular. I cannot help thinking that a similar objection can be levelled against Alford himself – meaning his book on evil. more specifically. In an earlier book. says Alford (1992: 173). thus permitted to make a difference within his or her ‘inner reality’. that is. to be sure. I suspect that this neglect of intersubjective relationships in general. to ignore actual responses of parents). doesn’t it? Alford’s reaction is twofold: first he concedes the validity of the criticism. . commits the same kind of downplaying. She will say that what is ‘outer’ and ‘external’ possesses no psychological significance in its own right. thus losing sight of outside reality and external objects. of course. external objects (be it persons. It certainly sounds like a serious criticism against a psychoanalytic theory. My impression is that Alford. be it events) only gain significance in so far as they are introjected by the subject. Alford mentions this tendency of Klein’s to ignore the reality of relationships (or.’ In this. Klein. is to do with Alford’s enormous intellectual debt to Melanie Klein. ‘There is’. albeit in a different context and addressing a different topic. from a paranoidschizoid or from a depressive position). ‘much to be said for a psychoanalytic perspective that places responsibility for negative emotions and experiences directly on the shoulders of the analysand. the latter being the psychic-affective basis from which we conduct any affairs with whatever is deemed external to us. Klein and Alford are right. Klein’s point is a valid one. then he lets Klein have the last word against her theoretical rivals.144 Evil and Human Agency sharing are categories as well as perspectives largely missing in Levinas’ ethics. An objection often raised against Klein is that she makes ‘inner reality’ tantamount to all the reality there is. has her own psychoanalytic rejoinder to this. it captures the basis from which object-relations theory springs – nothing less. But it led her to downplay real-life others and their specific role in modifying both the introjections developed by the concrete individual and his or her characteristic manner of perceiving and treating these introjections (that is. that psychologically counts.

in a truly critical fashion. and Alford. postulates a link between moral conduct and proximity. It shifts the emphasis from the theoretical to the empirical. and correspondingly between immoral conduct and distantiation. In my vocabulary this amounts to claiming that evil requires distantiation.4 The logic and practice of collective evil: ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia Introduction In relation to the three preceding chapters. But I shall not do so in a pedantic manner. analyse the historical events referred to by drawing on theoretical work on evil. the issue of proximity will occupy centre stage. Arendt. and it shifts the emphasis from individual to collective evil. I shall in the present chapter. it will be recalled. In the two historically oriented chapters now following. these shifts should not be understood in an absolute sense. concentrating on specific historical cases. I shall make use of the insights gained in the chapters where I assessed the contributions of Bauman. that once (or as long as) proximity is allowed to prevail over the various processes and mechanisms of distantiation between an 145 . However. Among these. and conversely. Just as I have been drawing on empirical material (mainly from the Holocaust) to develop my criticisms of Zygmunt Bauman’s and Hannah Arendt’s positions. Instead I will employ concepts and insights developed earlier in the book for the chief purpose of illuminating the issues that will prove to be the singularly most challenging. ones. and disturbing. Bauman in particular. this chapter marks a twofold shift. as well as in the next. Theory and practice mutually illuminate each other – and I intend them to mutually question each other too. I am not interested in bringing all three positions to bear on all – or nearly all – the issues thrown up by the historical material at hand.

simply put. We must keep in mind that even massive collective evildoing consists of so many acts performed by distinct individuals – meaning morally and legally accountable individuals – though. To anticipate one of my most important findings in the two chapters following. I shall further explore the dynamics of group-think that we looked at in Chapter 3 on Alford. I have had occasion to suggest as much already. that it. perverting the latter so as to make them into an ally of extreme wrongdoing. I will show that suppressing and bracketing individual agency when performing collective evil is both a crucial psychological precondition and a ‘lived’ consequence of such evildoing. having internalized the ideological notion that the . not least because there is a strong inclination to disavow and downright deny agency in general and responsibility in particular in both types of evildoing. Indeed. the expected consequence will be that evildoing (the intentional infliction of suffering on another and against his or her will) ceases to thrive. operative in both respects to the extent that the acting individual starts behaving as though he is not responsible for what he does. thereby representing a truly unexpected and puzzling novelty as compared with Bauman’s perspective: collective evil thriving in conditions of proximity.146 Evil and Human Agency agent and his victim(s). Programmatically. Not that this should come as a big surprise. the evildoing in question would prove much more difficult – psychologically as well as morally – to take part in. their desire as well as psychological ability to actually experience themselves as distinct separate actors when committing the collective evil tend to be lacking or at least considerably hampered in situ. In this and the next chapter. In particular. the suggestive assumption of a positive link between proximity and moral conduct will be questioned in a less abstract manner. the perspective I develop can be described as arguing the case for a synthesis between intentionalist and functionalist approaches to. becomes less likely. both as part of my critique of Bauman’s rather general sociological theory and in my exposition of blind spots in Arendt’s reflections on Eichmann. how evildoing comes about and which specific elements of human agency committing evil partly presuppose and partly suppress and deny. were it not. and understandings of. I hope to show that collective evil of the kind carried out in Bosnia combines – indeed exploits – elements of both proximity and distantiation. one highlighting the collective psycho-logic in play. While the answer to the latter question differs in cases of individual and collective evildoing. my position is that it differs less than often thought. as we shall see in great detail. this Bauman-inspired – and I would think commonsensical – claim does not stand up to closer scrutiny.

discussed in Chapter 1).The logic and practice of collective evil 147 individual’s agency-based freedom counts for nothing. This requires the elaboration of a group perspective. calling it into question in each concrete instance the way I did with regard to Eichmann above. calling for subtle analysis in so far as we need both – so I argue – to recognize the evident persuasiveness of the notion that one is not ‘personally’ responsible for the evil done against ideologically selected others as well as to go beyond it. and shame. Genocide provides us with the most severe and challenging instance of large-scale evil as performed by a collective. I shall start by setting out a broad historical and cultural context for the events that took place in the 1990s in (what is now the former) Yugoslavia. more to the point. and his or her collective identity-cum-destiny for everything. To explore this question it will be necessary to elaborate the notion of collective evil in more detail. that of the victims. This is surely a most complex issue. Different notions of human agency will form the core of this discussion. rather – and this holds even more for collective evil than for individual evil – deliberate evildoing must be regarded as the conjunction of human maliciousness with the failure of cultural containment (to allude to a central conclusion reached in the discussion above) or. This is especially true about top-down orchestrated instances of collective evil. . The central question is: In what ways and for what reasons do individual evil and collective evil differ? I shall discuss this question in the light of three distinct viewpoints: that of the perpetrators. we turn to my choice of historical case: the collective evil that was performed in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s. suited to identifying the basic dynamics at work in evil carried out by one group against another. My premise is that evil never takes place in a cultural vacuum. guilt. not optional and avoidable (to allude to Eichmann. and that of the bystanders. and discussed in the previous chapter. thus shifting the perspective from the individualoriented one advanced by C. whereby (collective) evil is made out to be imperative and necessary. with the deliberate and systematic production of conditions which undermine whatever positive cultural containment is in place. to remind us that it is a conceptual innovation on the part of the perpetrators and so a reflection of their ominous ideology). Having established the continuity between the first three and the last two chapters of this book. particularly with respect to the categories of responsibility. Fred Alford. The most basic question to be raised concerns what kind of light the ideology and practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’ sheds on our understanding of evil (I have decided to put this notion in scare quotes whenever employed. as well as to Ulrich Herbert’s (2001) study of Heydrich’s deputy Werner Best.

Approaches to ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia Let me begin. The aggression unleashed in ‘ethnic cleansing’. not Europe’s history. pluralism. referred to as ‘genocidal rape’. Special attention will be given to the absolutely essential function of organized mass rape. and if we take this epoch to be the present one. is the soil of a ‘Balkan’ mentality characterized by primitive and deep-seated hatreds. According to this simple logic. however. religious. I will examine the specific elements of this particular case. be they defined according to national. as for the role of modernity. is to let modernity off the hook as far as complicity is concerned. One could. it may be argued. the view I have described resembles the Sonderweg theory about the Nazi genocide against the Jews. that is. the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of recent years is in some sense a product of modernity and thus a problem for it. to inquire into the particularities of German history in order to identify the factors that. According to this theory. The effect of this approach. or ethnic criteria. And. Bauman-like. by asking: How does this recent catastrophe reflect on modernity? The answer depends on what we understand by modernity. the more one will come to recognize how specifically German this genocide was. Yugoslavia. the better the grasp one succeeds in getting on these particular German factors. then. Indeed. take a very different approach. the causes explaining the latter will be specifically German causes. The logical implication of this version of the Sonderweg theory is unequivocal. has a long prehistory that is characteristically part of the Balkans’ history. produced genocide German style.148 Evil and Human Agency genocide in Bosnia being a case in point. being the psychological product as it were of many centuries of antagonism – ‘ancient hatreds’ – between different groups. If we take modernity to denote an historical epoch. Having established its wider context. Rejecting that modernity as defined above is suitable to explaining genocide in the former Yugoslavia. it would seem. the historical fact is that we are talking about a region where the political ideals on which modernity prides itself – democracy. it will suffice. it follows that everything that takes place now is part of modernity and thus reflects on it. If Germany’s deviation from the evolutionary path of modernity of the rest of Europe helped facilitate genocide German . this event cannot be taken to be a genuine product of modernity. tolerance – have never really taken hold in the population’s mentality. Hence. when genocide emerges in this particular part of Europe. in sum.

its status is that of a non-official plea for the safeguarding of Serbian autonomy and integrity in times of crisis. What were these tasks? The major complaint expressed by the intellectuals behind the Memorandum concerns the fate of the Serbian people under the 1974 Constitution of Yugoslavia. Work on the text began in June 1985. causing what has been described by journalists as a ‘political earthquake’ in the whole of Yugoslavia. but the entire public order of the country has come into a deep crisis’ (Covic 1993: 289). and pessimistic Zeitdiagnose. The Constitution had made Yugoslavia into a federation consisting of eight quasi-autonomous provinces. one may suppose that if Germany – ex hypothesi – had been more thoroughly penetrated by the ideals of political modernity. too. To sum up. The first two sentences read as follows: ‘There has been a growing concern in our country over the stagnation of social development. it would have had a political culture resistant to a totalitarian regime and its proclaimed genocidal objectives. It is tempting to apply the same approach to genocide Yugoslavian (or rather Serbian) style. and historians. disillusioned. Specifically. The tenor of the text is that of a conservative. Under the charismatic leadership of the famous novelistpolitician Dobrica Cosic. the connection is a purely negative one. including economists. Indeed. the document was drawn up by sixteen (mostly Belgrade-based) academics. and disintegration in post-Tito (post1980) Yugoslavia. the so-called Memorandum is a key document in the ideological preparation for the campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’.The logic and practice of collective evil 149 style. scientists. regionalization. Let us consider in some detail the role and content of this much-cited document. it is difficult to understand why it has attained such a legendary status. On 25 September 1986 the Belgrade newspaper Vecernje Novosti leaked extracts of the unfinished Memorandum. economic difficulties. if one wants to speak of a connection between the Holocaust and political modernity. Although the Memorandum was conceived under the aegis of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts (SANU). The text ends on this note: ‘The Serbian Academy of Science and Arts. 337). Reading this fifty-page document today. on this occasion. The complaint is that this ‘weakening of the unity of the Yugoslav nation’ has proved particularly damaging for the Serbian people within the different parts of the country: ‘Not all nations are equal: the Serbian nation. the material at hand confirming the Sonderweg thesis with respect to Yugoslavia seems overwhelming. expresses its readiness to give its whole-hearted best and devote all its strength to these fateful and historic tasks of our generation’ (p. the growth of social tensions and open ethnic conflicts. for . Not only the political and economic system.

Serbia must not be passive and wait and see what the others will say. . moral and psychological reign of terror. did not gain the right to its own state. or what has come to be called a ‘Greater Serbia’. where (according to the census of 1981) 24 per cent of Serbs lived outside Serbia and 40. The propaganda utilized in constructing the enemy portrait is structurally similar in the two cases. to develop the unique culture of their nation’ (p. legal and cultural genocide of the Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija is the worst defeat in the battles for liberation that Serbia waged from 1804 (Orasac) until the revolution in 1941’ (p.e. nationalist. it is presented in the . 326). as it has done so often in the past’ (p. Naturally. To the extent that aggression is exhibited. The authors repeatedly return to the fate of the Serbs living in Kosovo. 324). In this situation. who in considerable numbers live in the other republics. In pursuing a genocidal aim. it appears to make only a minor difference whether the ideology underpinning the genocidal project is of a racist. that is precisely the word used) they see as threatening Serb minorities everywhere with virtual extinction. political. In all cases of genocide in the twentieth century. to get politically and culturally organized. but according to all evidence. Taking an alleged Albanian (Tirana-led) plan to create an ‘ethnically cleansed’ and nationally homogeneous Kosovo as their prime example (i. the Republic of) Serbia. The response advocated by the authors is the achievement of a ‘territorial unity’ in the form of a sovereign Serb nation-state. This is the only viable solution in the face of the genocide (as we saw. unlike the national minorities. a Kosovo that would be part of a ‘Great-Albania’ rid of Serbs). ‘the Serbian people cannot idly stand by and wait for the future in such a state of uncertainty . 313). the central message of the Memorandum is that Serbs are everywhere threatened by a hostile and powerful anti-Serbian environment. do not have the right. or ethnicist nature. 336). A direct line is drawn from the migrations led by Patriarch Arsenije in 1690 to the present.150 Evil and Human Agency example. to use their own language and alphabet. .3 per cent outside ‘inner’ (read. The impression evoked in the reader is that what is contended here about the historical fate of the Serbs is similar in kind to what the Nazis used to claim about the Germans. and the Memorandum proceeds to declare: ‘The physical. exploiting it to strike their grim warning about all Serbs living in diasporas. faced with a physical. the action taken by one’s own group typically assumes the character of selfdefence. they seem to be preparing for their final exodus’ (p. Parts of the Serbian people. as a persecuted and vulnerable minority in the various republics: ‘It is not just that the last of the remnants of the Serbian nation are leaving their homes at an unabated rate.

this manner of perceiving the self/other. or about to contaminate the purity of Aryan blood. or rather in-group/out-group. alongside obsession with the strength. respectively). us-or-them scenario. this is highly telling. it is that of self-righteousness. In psychological terms. As for the logic set in motion here. partly outnumbering the ‘genuine’ Slavic people. what we find when comparing the propaganda material produced by. The ‘badness’ of the other causes persecutory anxiety and is used as a constant reference point to justify extreme measures against the threat that comes from without. witnesses began to notice a pattern in the atrocities by Serbian forces: ‘A massacre would take place in a village immediately after the . we note an obsession with external and internal enemies (or one prime enemy. In 1992. the charge of genocide became a signal to begin genocide. or about to take Serbian girls and women captive into harems). solidarity. and moral determination required of the entire population in the historic confrontation with its arch-enemy that is now to take place and to decide its destiny. German Nazis in the 1930s and extremist nationalist Serbs in the late 1980s and early 1990s is that the two pieces of ideological material are essentially similar. What we find is the same all-or-nothing. In both cases. Granted that the form and content of the ideologies preparing for genocide are so similar. The will to genocide is accompanied by a sense of historical and moral entitlement to what is secured for one’s own group. say. with defeats suffered in the remote or recent past (World War I or the battle at Kosovo Polje in 1389. what follows for the Sonderweg perspective I have stuck to this far in order to grasp the ideologies in question? The difficulty is this. notes Michael Sells in his book The Bridge Betrayed. as we shall explore below. with imminent threats in the present (Jews about to take over German financial interests. In the case of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia.The logic and practice of collective evil 151 propaganda as but a mirror of the aggression once performed – or now about to be unleashed – by the chosen target group. Muslims about to wipe out Serbian culture by partly mixing with. If there is a mentality characteristic of genocidal perpetrators. the same Manicheism fostered by fanatical ideologues and carried over into practice in the form of launching genocide against the selected enemy. including both retrospective vengeance (righting previous wrongs) and pre-emptive aggression (preventing future attacks). relationship demonstrates many of the features characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position worked out by Melanie Klein: experiences are split between wholly good ones with all-good objects and wholly bad experiences with allbad objects. Starting out from premises advocated by the Sonderweg approach. be it the Jews or the Muslims).

it expresses and helps reinforce both anti-Balkan and anti-Islamic sentiments in a Western population largely ignorant about the history of Yugoslavia and its different ethnic and religious groups. ignorant. Balkanism relies upon the domestic audience’s prejudices against non-Christians in general and Muslims in particular. When it was pointed out that the Slavic Muslims were just as indigenous to the religion as Orthodox Christians or Catholics. When it was pointed out that the largely Muslim population selected for extermination had nothing to do with the Croat army and indeed had been attacked by the Croat army in 1993. This perspective may be termed ‘Balkanism’ in that it portrays the people of Bosnia as Balkan tribal haters outside the realm of reason and civilization. and the world should allow the people involved to solve their own problems. is aptly captured by Sells: In justifying the atrocities in Bosnia. there were no angels.152 Evil and Human Agency local news announced that the Croats and Muslims were about to exterminate Serbs’ (Sells 1996: 6). the Serb nationalist would move to the final fallback position: that this was a civil war in which all sides were guilty. is inevitable there and part of the local culture’ (Sells 1996: 125). When it was pointed out that most Bosnian Muslims were antifundamentalist by tradition and character. (Sells 1996: 66f. a powerful advocate of this view).) I mentioned that Western diplomats and commentators would typically refer to the atrocities taking place in Bosnia as the discharge of mutual ‘ancient hatreds’ between the three groups in question (for instance. then-President Bill Clinton would base his policies on Bosnia on a book he read by Robert Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts). that is to say. about Bosnia’s history as a multiethnic and multi-religious society. even genocide. The impression given is that the people affected by ‘ethnic cleansing’ need not concern us because they are ‘other’. When it was pointed out that many of the families who suffered worst in the Serb army onslaught in Bosnia were families of World War II Partisans who fought against the Ustashe. strikingly different from our Western civilized ways. The logic according to which the present aggressor portrays himself as the original victim. and the present victim as the original aggressor. Serb nationalists would shift to blaming all Muslims for the acts of those who fought with the Ustashe in World War II. In effect. the discussion would then shift to allegations that the Bosnian Muslims were fundamentalists and that Serbia was defending the West against the fundamentalist threat of radical Islam. Balkanism is ‘the distorted depiction of the people of south-eastern Europe as barbaric with the implication that violence. Serb nationalists would shift to claims of Ottoman depravity and treat the Muslims as Turks. The message of Balkanism as paid lip service to by Western political leaders and top diplomatic envoys is plain: as . Serb nationalists would point to atrocities by Croatian army forces in World War II or in the 1991 Serb–Croat war.

Serb President Slobodan Milosevic was equally desperate to play up to Western leaders and be accepted by them. and of drawing up lists of viziers (ministers in the Ottoman Sultanate) to rule the country. of plotting to steal Serb women for their harems (in fact. But the full impact of this crude Orientalism can only be appreciated when we observe the way it was connected to Europeanization. to Civilization with a capital C. he had taken his mission to Europeanize Bosnian Muslims from the expressed desires of Western European leaders. ‘bad things will continue to happen’ (Sells 1996: 127). a polarization between ‘the West’ and ‘Europe’ on the one hand and Islam on the other. exploits Orientalist stereotypes and helps to amplify the Balkanism widespread in Western governments. or. that Serbia was the bastion of European culture and religion. It must have come as a piece of powerful evidence of the success of the two presidents’ strategy when no less an authority than Henry Kissinger. Within the perspective I have referred to as Balkanism. one can distinguish between the component of Orientalism and that of Europeanization. to modernity. partly radicalize. Bosnian Muslims do not take more than one wife). and that Serbia’s future actions would demonstrate that now as in the past. we can only feel alienation when confronted with the blood-letting in the Balkans. in the autumn of 1995. put differently. Sells explains: As Croatian President Franjo Tudjman noted. the common strategy of Tudjman and Milosevic in this case is to partly postulate. between modernity and fundamentalism. ‘Until these folks get tired of killing each other’. Bosnian Muslims were accused of desiring a state based on Islamic religious law (sharia). In his 1989 Kosovo speech Milosevic stated that Prince Lazar’s battle six hundred years before had been a battle to defend Europe from Islam. (Sells 1996: 122) The appeal by Tudjman and Milosevic to the values of Europe. President Clinton said in a statement representative of Western politicians. meaning to Christianity. Orientalism represents the Muslim as an alien ‘other’. Extremist Bosnian Serbs charged that Bosnians were Islamists plotting to recreate the Ottoman rule over Bosnia. proclaimed that ‘there is no Bosnian culture’. In a manner reminiscent of the influential American political scientist Samuel Huntington.The logic and practice of collective evil 153 Westerners and people of the civilized world. Serbia was always a part of Europe. To imply that Bosnia is a kind of ‘artificial’ political entity fit only for dissolution into its putatively elemental parts flies in the . Tudjman and Milosevic felt a duty as Europeans to destroy the Bosnian Muslims and felt that doing so would facilitate their acceptance by Europe.

yet precisely to the extent. much too numerous to be cited. At the end of the day. the accumulated effect is that so many Sonderwege can be seen to have led to one and the same thing: genocide. a final logical observation regarding the Sonderweg perspective is called for. True. and likewise particularly Serbian reasons why extremist Serbs exterminated Muslims. and concerted intervention. I do not deny that there may be sound historical reasons for focusing upon such particularities. what strikes us is what the instances of genocide on European soil in this century have in common. In this case as in others. to which I will return in Chapter 5. Balkanism. I suggest. Still.) What is genocide? Before I discuss. which existed for about seventy years. of the groups and group leaders involved in the so-called ‘civil war’ in the Balkans. the special nature this approach started out by claiming for each case under consideration begins to evaporate. about which most of Kissinger’s audience will be ignorant: the truth is that. as now I must. I briefly anticipated this effect above when talking about Balkanism. (How it came to be that leading diplomats and intellectuals accepted the Serbian definition of reality at face value and converted it into academic discourse is an important issue in its own right. The fact is that focusing upon peculiarity is apt to foster alienation: instead of coming to see ourselves as sharing a common . But this logical point is only of minor importance compared with the effect of the Sonderweg approach in terms of alienation. This being so. I want to warn against focusing too one-sidedly upon what makes ‘them’ ‘out there’ so special – so special as to place them beyond the reach of comprehension. that the campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ succeeds in making it into an empirical truth. If the different Sonderwege in form and content as far as the practice of genocide is concerned can be seen to exhibit more similarities than differences. compassion. Bosnia has enjoyed an uninterrupted existence as a political entity since the tenth century. if not idiosyncrasies. there may still be particularly German reasons why the Nazis exterminated Jews. unlike Yugoslavia. then.154 Evil and Human Agency face of the truth. Be this as it may. words pronounced by a top-level expert in the Western world in a bafflingly accurate way mirror the reality forcefully created by ongoing genocide. the statement ‘there is no Bosnian culture’ is true only to the extent. except for the 1929–45 period (Anzulovic 1999: 172). is true to the Sonderweg approach in its penchant for listing the many particularities. the precise nature of genocide.

such extrinsic criteria.The logic and practice of collective evil 155 humanity and common human aspirations with people affected by genocide. He made the important observation that a group did not have to be physically eliminated to suffer genocide. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. attempts to commit genocide. the Convention also establishes state responsibility. genocide is defined as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy. international legal responsibility of the state itself for breaching its obligations under the Convention. as bystanders to the atrocities unfolding. and the Latin term for killing. quoted in Power 2002: 43). In addition to the crime of genocide itself. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. the nationality in question. Lemkin fashioned the term from the Greek word genos. that collective identity counts for everything and individual identity for nothing. as such: killing members of the group. In addition to individual criminal responsibility for genocide. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. As pointed out by Raphael Lemkin. accept a vital element of genocidal logic: namely. They could be stripped of all cultural traces of their identity – whereby identity goes much deeper than. cide. coined the phrase ‘genocide’ and inaugurated its present use. if only on the level of description. Genocide is this generic attribution made into an ideology and then turned into a practice. as recently as in the late 1930s. and complicity in genocide. the Polish legal scholar who. but as so many representatives of a collective defined by purely extrinsic criteria. genocide has two phases: one. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. meaning ‘race’ or ‘tribe’. It is crucial to bear in mind that the main criterion of genocide is that it is directed at individuals ‘not in . a national. direct and public incitement to commit genocide. like fire can destroy a building in an hour’ (Lemkin. imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group. we come to see them not as unique individuals at all. By accepting. ‘Genocide can destroy a culture instantly. ethnical. (Gutman and Rieff 1999: 154). we.e. the other. According to the formulation adopted in the 1948 Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. the 1948 Convention provides that the following acts shall be punishable: conspiracy to commit genocide. The Genocide Convention imposes a general duty on states that are parties to the Convention ‘to prevent and to punish’ genocide. racial or religious group. in whole or in part. i. say.

The imposition of the national – or more widely and deeply. there is not one – homogeneous – national group that is being threatened. quasi-exclusivist identity classification practised in words and deeds in ‘ethnic cleansing’. or religiously specific to have status according to the Convention. then. one reproduces (and so terminologically subscribes to) the kind of one-criterion. after removal of the population and colonization of the area by the oppressor’s own nationals. in short. or. is . I cannot. I shall briefly note the problems created for nations of a genuinely multinational and multi-religious kind by the conceptual nationalist bias implicit in the Lemkin-inspired Genocide Convention. a multicultural state. in acknowledging no Bosniaks but instead only so many (stereotypically depicted) Serbs. that is. This being so. better put. For in describing the individuals associated with the different groups living in Bosnia as ‘Bosnian Serbs’. and so non-homogeneous identity. multicultural polity. As David Campbell argues. multiple. cultural – pattern of the oppressor that Lemkin talks about may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain. where there is no such thing. or religious] group’ (Power 2002: 62). would have to ‘submit itself to the very identity politics and territorial division it is seeking to resist’ (Campbell 1998: 108). in order to protect itself from partition. racially. give sociologically valid descriptions of how ‘ethnic cleansing’ was conceived and carried out without myself using the onecriterion identity classification that is part and parcel of it – yet which I desire to resist. or ‘Bosnian Muslims’. In a state such as Bosnia. where there is rather a lifeworld consisting of and upheld by individuals perceiving themselves as Bosniaks first and foremost – that is. What the bias in favour of the homogeneous. or ‘Bosnian Croats’. In my opinion.156 Evil and Human Agency their capacities as individuals but as members of the national [or ethnic. exclusivist identity built into the very premises of the Genocide Convention cannot properly accommodate. doing justice to this latter circumstance in Bosnia raises a conceptual challenge. I admit being unable to solve this problem in a satisfactory manner. are threats to a hybrid. or upon the territory alone. and Muslims within the same state. I maintain that what ‘ethnic cleansing’ imposes. one where each person is the carrier of multiple identities. one suggests three mutually ‘exclusive’ homogeneous identities (corresponding to three groups/collectivities). set apart from each other along an ‘ethnonationalist’ dimension. as carriers of a hybrid. racial. Croats. because a ‘national’ group has to be ethnically. Since our present context is genocide in the former Yugoslavia. thus defying any one-criterion identity mark.

people were pinned to the wall of nationhood and so robbed of alternative ways of identifying themselves and others – knowing as we do that how we identify people shapes our perception of them and.e. the given reality will be completely altered so as to conform to ideological axioms.’ When visiting Zagreb. as homogeneous and exclusivist) and identity as lived by a majority of the Bosnian population (i. a shared sentiment. say. This is where the nation-state-aspiring. how. but they are really Croats’ (Bringa 1995: 30). a separation-enforcing identity that. and already-at-hand fit between identity as constructed by the (genocidal) ideology (i. she would typically be told that ‘They claim they are Muslims. The symbol of blood referring to common descent is. the Muslims referred to their collective identity in an idiom which de-emphasized descent (‘ethnicity’) and focused instead on a shared environment. inspired by Arendt) and reality clash. clear-cut. (1995: 30) . as heterogeneous and hybrid. If need be. as not primarily a matter of. it is to the cost of the latter. Among the latter. had to be imposed upon them by violence – initially symbolic. which is so often invoked in discourses on ethnic or national identity by other European peoples. later eminently physical. but they are really Serbs. for example.e. and common experiences. used by Bosnian Serbs. Tone Bringa. cultural practices. whenever ideology (in the strong sense intended here. that is to say. knowing one’s identity. ethnically focused Serbs and Croats differed from the Bosnian Muslims. an anthropologist who in 1987–8 and in 1993 did field work in a mixed Muslim/Catholic Bosnian village. they just say they are Muslims. Bringa helps us see why both claims are misleading: For the Muslims with whom I lived it was not a question of not wanting to admit who they really were – they knew very well who they were – but rather that a myth of origins was neither a part of. By contrast. the way we act towards them. accordingly. it is crucial that we realize exactly how the issue of collective identity came to play such an instrumental role in the genocide that took place in former Yugoslavia. precisely on grounds of not being already recognized and acted upon by the real-life individual members of the state. Indeed.The logic and practice of collective evil 157 an ideologically concocted construct. It is an old truth that. relates being told by people in Belgrade that ‘The Muslims will not tell you this. For my purposes. as we shall explore below. blood-based descent) that forced the practitioners of ‘ethnic cleansing’ to go to such extremes in order to remove the nearly ubiquitous signs that their version of identity politics in fact flew in the face of the reality at hand. shared collective identity was not perceived through the idiom of shared blood and a myth of common origins. nor necessary to. it is this very lack of ‘natural’.

or ethnic criteria. and open to change in a way deeply contrasting with the fixed. Such eternalization of victimhood goes hand in hand with the essentialization of identity that is a salient feature of genocidal ideologies. be it defined by national. then. What generic attribution does is to collectivize agency and its various properties and dimensions – be they moral. Typically. Once collectivized. The consequence of collectivizing agency is that the distinction between individual and group is blurred to the point of being obliterated. The guilt of one group and the victimhood of the other are both eternalized. fit for life or not so – is purely collective. in-group differences evaporate and inter-group differences are polarized in the extreme. form an ethnic community where kin relationships through blood (along patrilineal lines) give way to religious-cultural factors. or in simply failing to question. the perpetrator group will . this means that Bosnian Muslims. religious. what I shall call the logic of generic attribution. partly excluded from the ethnonationalist discourse which revolves around descent understood as common blood. the group is made to answer for everything a single individual member of it has done. When the murder of a five-yearold Bosnian Muslim child is legitimized by reference to harms Muslims allegedly did to Serbs some six hundred years ago. Having established the precise meaning of genocide as well as that of collective identity in the present context. conversely. the logic employed is one according to which an individual’s destiny is predetermined: it makes no difference what a particular individual (be it a child) says. or is said to be about to do. extra-individual factors wholly extrinsic to the individual in question. legal. planned. human agency is conceived in such a way that the individual is compelled to answer for everything ‘his’ group does. we can now begin to see more clearly the danger entailed in accepting. The defined target of genocide is another group. the latter being ‘loose’. static. by a group. does. were partly foreign to. When human agency is thoroughly collectivized. organized. It is contemplated. or is said to contemplate doing. they are placed beyond the reach of individuals who choose freely and in their capacity as individuals acting on their own behalf as distinct from that of ‘their’ particular group. what makes a difference – in terms of categories such as friend or enemy. and carried out by a specific organized collective. or means. has done. and inflexible conception of collective identity – as ‘ethnic identity’ – espoused by nationalist Serbs and Croats since the late 1980s.158 Evil and Human Agency According to Bringa. or spatiotemporal. as far as their self-understanding is concerned. multiplex. Genocide is a collective action. feels. The Muslims of Bosnia.

or sex. The typically cited ‘common descent’ of members of an ethnic group points to common place(s) and history. identity is something that has to get started without givens. and with that from a feature allegedly being of a strict genetic nature (a ‘given’ not open to modification by means of the will or actions of its human carrier) to features of an undeniable cultural kind. as a filler of content. where the point is precisely that the generic-hereditary element of identity is being radically downplayed as far as its significance as a marker. The target group will be defined by the perpetrator group by the same set of (collectivist. everything to do with identity is to do with . is concerned. indeed a highly precarious task. to grasp the difference). In keeping with what I take to be the dominant mentality today. the shift of identificatory focus from race to ethnicity has important consequences: it entails a shift from the relative ‘hardness’ of biology to the relative ‘softness’ of culture. This. since I find these labels of little help. Let us appreciate the difference. features that ‘are’ what they are. mores. thanks to the creative and interpretative activities of members of concrete communities. be it defined by reference to nation. ethnicity. In ‘ethnic cleansing’. the allegedly threatened purity of the ethnic identity constituted the ideological focus. The explosive dialectic of individualization and collectivism Although the one-to-one relationship applies to this latter case as well. and so the part played by the past. clothing – everything that symbolizes it as a ‘tradition’ and way of life to distinguish it from others. ‘blood and soil’. Instead. a project. yet what truly matters in ideological terms is the ‘characteristic’ cultural praxis of the group in question. race. indeed have come into being and are reproduced. often essentialist) criteria. without anything that is fixed and substantial at the same time (think of Hitler’s emphasis on Blut und Boden. religion. is what occurred in Nazism. of course. The antagonism that is produced by this type of identificatory reference takes the form of a one-to-one relationship: if the perpetrator group focuses its identificatory attention upon the race identity of the target group. Instead. the ideological message conveyed is that the race identity of one’s own group is what is first and foremost threatened by the other group. I shall not attempt to settle whether ‘ethnic cleansing’ is genocide ‘postmodern’ rather than ‘modern’ style.The logic and practice of collective evil 159 define itself by reference to the individual members’ common identity. I wish to suggest that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is identity politics against a sociohistorical background where identity – be it that of the single individual or of a collective – has become a deeply existential issue. encompassing faith.

or sexual one – in no way determines the worth (the moral. Pointing out – correctly – that actual acts of recognition of the individual’s worth typically occur within a community is one thing.160 Evil and Human Agency its building. A human individual ‘is’ not his or her collective. in my opinion the major weakness of present-day communitarianism consists precisely in the tendency to derive the worth and standing of individuals from their actual and recognized belongingness to a collective of some specific kind. again. indeed lethal. with its active. for some reason often beyond the single individual’s control. as opposed to clinging to it in some belief that it has power to (pre)determine the present and the future. are excluded from and so come to stand outside of such a collective (MacIntyre 1981). religious. For my present purposes. as elaborated most famously by Anthony Giddens (1991) and Ulrich Beck (1986) under the heading ‘individualization’. legal. perpetual. thus leaving individuals morally and politically unprotected once they. Quite another is to infer. since the understanding of identity now takes as its key premise that identity is thoroughly future-oriented. whereby the abandonment of everything past is what is striven for. There is a short step from holding that the moral standing of an individual derives from his or her community to the notion that some communities possess more worth than others. The specific sort of group identity an individual is born into – be it. Indeed. circle of generic attribution. from this Hegelinspired insight into the intersubjective nature of recognition. as a function of which community or group they . however. A fortiori. a national. or political standing) of that individual. and open-ended construction. ethnic. symbolic) work required nowadays for ethnicity to mark a supposedly unequivocal and exhaustive identity of individuals and whole groups. that the community in question is the source of the moral worth of the individual member. it comes to play a major role in how such individuals are likely to interpret and assess the identity that they can be said to develop as members of larger groups – ethnic groups being a case in point. The worth of a human individual is not derived from the particular collective it is born as a member of. True enough. the implication being that so do some individuals too. The central normative task before us consists in breaking the vicious. To accept such a view would imply that the worth of the individual is made directly dependent on membership. this current understanding of identity is taken to apply first and foremost to contemporary (Western) individuals. pointing out this difference between ideologies focusing on race and those focusing on ethnicity is to call attention to the enormous amount of cultural (and. in that sense. and from this there is but a short path to the view that membership of some collective(s) makes for more worth than membership of others.

thus neglecting the intra-individual dimension. by which I have in mind in-group as well as out-group individuals. in espousing the opposite primacy. The crucial lesson is that belonging to a particular community (be it religious. Consequently. tends to recognize plurality of identities as something that obtains – and indeed ought to obtain – between groups only. in discussing essentializing ideologies: here. that worth is a matter of merit. or deny. is that each human individual is a carrier of multiple identities. liberalism stops short of recognizing the extent to which differences between same-group individuals help to create and sustain differences within each one of them. represents a justified critique of the individualism or even atomism of much liberal thought and practice. On the other hand. The normative implication consists in holding that every human individual be allowed to express this multiplicity – to express it freely and openly. Rather my point is that the category of moral worth as applied to human individuals does not allow of hierarchy – be it construed collectively (as in nationalist or ethnicist ideologies) or individually (as in libertarian meritocracy). The (extreme) alternative notion is the one identified above. liberalism. racial. So. liberalism underplays what communitarianism exaggerates: the significance of others in the development of individual identities. albeit for opposite reasons. namely that of the individual over any community or collective he or she may belong to (viewing belongingness as contingent rather than essential). at least up to a point. thus defying any one-criterion identity mark. Whereas communitarianism. Unfortunately. so that some individuals attain greater moral worth than others. In opposing such a view.The logic and practice of collective evil 161 belong to. say. both communitarianism and liberalism have difficulties appreciating the peculiar kind of multi-identity that is threatened both communally and individually in cases where homogenization of identity. by way of fusing type of identity with degree of worth (moral status). of individual achievement. or ethnic) cannot be made into a condition of . it pays the price of failing to appreciate the positive value of the differences between individuals. thus pluralizing their commitments and loyalties and so freeing the latter from any strong normative link to one particular community or group that the individual may belong to. What needs to be recognized. therefore. what carries normative weight is the demand that the individual yield to social pressures to withhold. is made into a practical-political objective – the former Yugoslavia being a case in point. since it is deemed a threat to the ideal of homogeneity. or efface. national. my position is not. such intrasubjective multiplicity. This general point exposes a weakness not only in communitarianism but in its philosophical rival liberalism as well.

which ceases to be perceived as a political-societal problem and instead is conceived of as a problem for the individuals affected. say. In a word. The social control over the individual exerted in industrial society by way of class.162 Evil and Human Agency possessing moral worth. family. as a task and burden on the shoulders of the single individual. a stable neighbourhood. and communality and placed instead. Such optionalization of identity implies its individualization: the issue of identity is taken out of the powers of tradition. and a stable workplace. the worth as such is not a property of the community but something inherent in every individual. not a prerogative of particular groups. An example is the problem of mass unemployment. existentialistlike. Deprived of the certainties provided by a stable family (kin in a wide sense). In present-day detraditionalized life-forms there emerges a new kind of immediacy between individual and society. Here. a problem each and every one has to sort out for him. thus instilling in each child-cum-adult member a sense of self-esteem indispensable to the building of non-abusive social relationships. Though in many respects ‘liberating’ the individual member of society. history. Although existing communities do play an indispensable role in enacting recognition towards individual members. What light does this discussion throw on the connection between modernity and genocide? It is a commonplace that a major difference between premodern and modern (or postmodern) society is that of identity as derived (given) and identity as chosen. and so on is rapidly declining. others affected by the same systemic problem are not perceived as natural allies in a solidary struggle against. Such worth is absolute. the waning hold of traditional forms of social control means that the individual becomes increasingly vulnerable in the face of social change. an immediacy of crisis and pathology in the sense that societal crises appear and are suffered as individual ones. universal to mankind. the individual thus ‘free’ to stake out a life-course all by his or her own choosing is in fact all the more ruthlessly affected by macro-social forces (especially economic ones in the wake of globalization) he or she is dramatically dependent upon. the societal character of the crises is experienced only in a very indirect and vague manner.or herself. gender roles. but instead as so many competitors for goods . The two instances of genocide on European soil in the twentieth century under discussion here can be regarded as protests against and negations of the development of political modernity in which identity is rendered optional for each individual. compelled to develop what may hopefully prove the most adequate coping strategies. not gradual. the identity of the modern individual has become an object of choice. the commanding heights of the economy.

parenthood. The differences making a difference in moral terms between individuals are not individual differences. a huge market is created for the answer factories. and mission or vision of a collective movement led by charismatic leaders. a reflection of individuality not collectivity. ‘life. in short ‘flexibility’ as the most-favoured capacity on the part of the individual. Sociologist Ulrich Beck talks about how ‘external causes are transformed into personal failure. everything must be decided’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1996: 31). religion. for Homo optionis. National. claimed to be taken care of by the leaders in charge. gender. As Beck puts it. For anti-modern this latter notion of identity clearly is. Since the individual is overburdened and at a loss to constantly make decisions and choose anew in a world where change is the only permanent feature and everything is up for grabs. in the modern notion is instead maintained as static and given once and for all in the anti-modern notion. identity. death. The more confused. the psycho-boom. so that the more comprehensive their powers. the more attractive will be the quasi-organic belongingness. in the sense of individually authored differences. this new individualized private existence is becoming more and more dependent upon processes and conditions which evade the individual’s range of influence. alone. however. not derived.The logic and practice of collective evil 163 growing scarce and demanding optimal willingness to adjust. once fragmented into options. The shift to individualized society is accompanied by a distinct and increasingly widespread (culturally globalized) ideology contending that the identities – indeed. In times of rapid change and crisis. instead they are . directedness. the advice literature. promising the overburdened individual clear answers to all his qualms and a firm place of belonging. social ties – all are becoming decidable down to the small print. a matter of changeability. religious. The attempt to find a ‘biographical solution to systemic contradictions’ (Beck) means that individuals now try to fight back the unprepossessing consequences of global processes by local means and with local resources – ultimately with utterly private ones. and weak the individual. systemic problems into personal shortcomings’ (Beck 1986: 150). survival can swiftly be transformed from a dominant concern of the powerless individual to the predominant issue of a whole society (or collective). the better. What is rendered dynamic. and ethnicist ideologies pursuing genocidal aims join company in rejecting wholesale such optionalization-cumindividualization of identity. collectivist kind. and (partly by way of compensation and relief) for identity politics of a communal. corporeality. marriage. In reality. life-choices in general – that matter are individually chosen.

The idea I have in mind should be familiar. it is only a question of time before a reversal sets in: feeling overburdened. to allude to Fromm’s famous book title. The rest is history: along comes a charismatic leader claiming to represent an organic Volksgemeinschaft of some version or the other. the individuals are offered a unitary direction in which they may collectively march. the fear of freedom leads in its turn to the attempt – at first individually longed for. such atomized individuals start craving for the return to what they increasingly feel deprived of. impotent. ‘organic’. Put differently. identity. being many. yet feeling as one. identity. and confused. responding as such ideologies and their leaders do to undernourished longings for . and exclusivist ideologies pitting the pure against the impure. We should beware of conceiving the two notions as simply contradicting and mutually excluding each other. and moral values. Take Hannah Arendt’s. then collectively undertaken – to escape from freedom. What does this mean? There is a dialectic between individualization and collectivism. Individuals liberated from the shackles of tradition arrive at a point where they stop cherishing their newly attained freedom and start fearing it instead.164 Evil and Human Agency differences awaiting the individual upon his or her birth into some specific collective. as soon as the existentialist individual portrayed by early Sartre and Camus starts to be perceived as a historic reality. a community which would furnish each member with a substantial package of ready-to-use meaning. but dynamic. My claim is that the dialectic between individualization and collectivism needs to be recognized as acutely relevant if we wish to understand the situation in the USA and in western Europe as well as in former Yugoslavia and countries that until recently were controlled by Soviet communism. The relationship between them is precisely not static. the lure of ‘deep’. is not to be underestimated. the cherished in-group against the loathed out-group. scapegoating the latter. or Erich Fromm’s. Their claim is that the atomism of modern secularized mass society reaches a point where the isolated and alienated individuals long for a sense of belonging to some sort of organic community in which they will be relieved of the burden of having to create all meaning. In extremely market-driven and individualized societies. between optionalism and essentialism at work in various phases of epochal modernity. no longer feeling isolated. namely. attempt to understand the triumph of totalitarian fascism and Nazism. and moral values out of themselves in their sheer capacity as unique individuals. with all the metaphysical loneliness that goes with such a development.

places the individual man and woman at the mercy of all-powerful forces of change (Klein 2000).The logic and practice of collective evil 165 belongingness and meaning. not only – or even primarily – in ‘backward-looking’ ones. If the admittedly crude sociological diagnosis put forward here is correct. the trend towards increasing mobility and flexibility in globalized capitalism leaves the question ‘Who needs me?’ without a clear answer. outsourcing. As a consequence of the destruction of the past. a ‘corrosion of character’ (Sennett) begins to take its toll among the younger generations. I shall therefore concentrate on other factors than those characteristic of the ‘market-driven’ societies on which sociologists such as Beck and Sennett mainly focus. among millions of individuals in the Western world feeling alone. Communitarianism is good at laying bare the emptiness of the present-day self and at pointing to the dangers of ‘freeing’ it completely from the commitments and duties that necessarily go with being attributed a role and a place within larger sociocultural structures and communal networks. it follows that fertile soil for ideologies promising to provide remedies for the discontents of (post)modern individuals is created in the most ‘advanced’ Western societies. (In analysing the case of former Yugoslavia in greater detail below. Its warnings against the hollowness of the victory thought to be won by ideologically rejecting and politically eroding such structures are entirely justified. quoted in Bauman 1999: 14). and the erosion of that continuity in personal and professional relationships upon which trust so profoundly depends. By advocating a notion as well as existential function of tradition that strikes many a (post)modern individual as . downsizing. indeed for something to live and (if need be) die for. cities and localities’ (Sennett. and valueless. the uprooting of what used to be lasting ties and long-standing solidarities. The wholesale marketization which modern or postmodern societies are currently pervaded by. Sennett’s general observation is that. fuelling civil or rather uncivil wars of nearly unprecedented vehemence. scared. As sociologist Richard Sennett (1998) points out. ‘As the shifting institutions of the economy diminish the experience of belonging somewhere special at work. Especially relevant to our concern with genocide is Sennett’s indication of a connection between the processes of economic globalization and the recent emergence of aggressive nationalism. and deskilling the ordinary workforce. people’s commitments increase to geographic places like nations.) One reason why this is becoming such an urgent problem is that neither communitarianism nor liberalism offers a satisfactory response to it. But communitarianism has so far been less sensitive to the opposite danger – that of cultivating tradition for its own sake.

the growth of such longings for collective identity now provides populist and nationalist ‘protest movements’ with many of their foot soldiers. liberalism has so far largely neglected the costs of the societal transition to which ‘identity’ has been subject.166 Evil and Human Agency backward-looking. the costs of identity having ceased to be a matter largely predetermined by one’s community and becoming instead something optional and truly individualized. Over the past decades. But it is the failure of current liberalism to take seriously the extent to which longings for collective identity now evolve in individuals frustrated or made into losers by neoliberalism’s brutal roll-back of the welfare state and the kinds of securities it upheld – a policy that produces an enormous amount of social suffering. promising as they do to offer people something deeper. it has had little to offer by way of countering the general trends which nourish a hunger for ‘organic’ we-identities: the trend toward a wholesale reduction of agent to consumer. The overall societal swing in the individualist direction today has reached a point where the attractions of the other extreme – collectivism in essentialistic and xenophobic versions – are felt by a growing number of people. something that is open to an endless series of modifications as both facilitated and communicated to others by means of consumer choices. something richer in commitment and meaning. Making identity into a commodity just like any other is part of the triumph of free-market capitalism over the more ‘traditional’ and static type of society favoured by communitarianism. In short. and even reactionary.) . present-day liberalism lacks resources to put into question the idea that identity is something that can be purchased and discarded. (I return to this in Chapter 6. As I see it. Liberalism hardly fares any better. and so are at a loss to benefit from it in their search for identity and meaning. 1999). not a given. communitarians such as MacIntyre risk that most present-day individuals feel alienated by such normative emphasis on tradition. and that can indeed be deemed evil to the extent that this suffering is both predictable and preventable (Bourdieu et al. fixed system of needs and desires which for their part exist only for the sake of being ‘addressed’ and ‘met’ by what is offered on the marketplace. Today’s liberalism lacks proper recognition of the fact that the self itself is learned and evolved. than the consuming brands that otherwise appear to be the favoured identity markers offered in globalized capitalism. of humiliation and powerlessness. and toward seeing the self as nothing but an abstract consuming machine (Williams 2000: 31–52). the trend toward the sovereignty of market metaphors in every corner of social and cultural life. nostalgic. That is to say.

or the religion (threatened worship). as it were. for the sake of the collective he claims to be intent on protecting. Highlighted in the events in former Yugoslavia is a ‘reevaluation of communal identity as national. but rather for the sake of his own concern with retaining power at all costs. say. the undeniable popular success with which he played the nationalist card – be it as anti-Croat. It is but mere pretence. The sheer existence. My analysis will draw upon a theoretical perspective developed by the so-called Copenhagen School in security studies. depending on whether the assertion is made on behalf of the state (in which case. On the other hand. For one thing. and of national identity as congruent with that of a state’ (Allen 1996: 133). this appeal in turn triggers different dynamics and paths of action . or anti-Kosovo-Albanian nationalism – highlights the vast political potential collectivism-qua-nationalism appears to carry in the Balkans. or the nation (threatened community). The assertion that the object is threatened takes the form of an appeal. the leader role assumed by Milosevic will be examined in the context of securitization. this is not a country where. Due to this generality.The logic and practice of collective evil 167 ‘Ethnic cleansing’ as a case of securitization The perspective just offered is meant to be of a most general kind. one may question how far such a ‘dialectic’ between individualization and collectivism can be made to apply to what took place in former Yugoslavia. anti-Muslim. Having said this. Beck’s cultural diagnosis – stressing individualization as promoted by consumerism and marketization – appears valid. its sovereignty typically will be said to be in jeopardy). In what follows. whereby the genocidal frenzy is fed by one identity fearing annihilation by another. The Copenhagen School’s notion of ‘securitization’ is of great help to understand how a particular object is presented as threatened and how extraordinary measures are justified to defend it. a card he repeatedly found it useful to play – not. of alien identity is pictured as a threat. the identities rendered all-important in these events function as categories for the mobilization for action – always portrayed as warranted self-defence. the nationalism of a leader such as Slobodan Milosevic should be put in scare quotes. And to be sure. or the global market economy (threatened freedom of establishment). Moreover. The assertion that a particularly significant object is threatened can be put forward in different ways. in this case other factors than those referred to played (and continue to play) an important role. regardless of the degree of aggression directed at the target group in question – and as categories for the distribution of fear. or co-presence.

those charged with dealing with the issue must be granted unlimited powers. their what. Ideologies stimulate fantasies in the sense of scenarios that construct objects of desire. The issue of the destiny of a selected and particularly significant (meaning both symbolladen and indispensable) object is made into an existential issue whose resolution will be decisive for the destiny of all those in the group (the national community. their whence. only distance qua projection. it will be necessary to implement extraordinary measures in order to protect it. Hence all other concerns must be put aside.) who are associated with the object. . Since the alleged threat is existential. hence they ‘flatten out’ what in an inalterable manner is presented as transcendent in religious discourse. For instance. extramundane) that the human subject by default stands opposed to. and accordingly wanes or disappears when satisfied. etc. it is what determines and confirms their essence. ideologies anchor being and constitute identity. Such desires are different from needs.168 Evil and Human Agency depending on the properties of the referent object. while ideological objects are seen as the thing itself. the ideology of National Socialism is identity-constitutive for its followers in an all-comprehensive. ideologies articulate the promise that full and perfect being is attainable in mundane existence. The Danish political scientists Carsten Bagge Laustsen and Ole Wæver write: ‘Securitization is the intersubjective establishment of an existential threat with a saliency sufficient to have substantial political effects’ (Bagge Laustsen and Wæver 2000: 708). we may ask: Why desire the relics of Lazar? The answer is: Because they contain the essence of being Serb. In ideology no transcendence is involved. in keeping with the action-compelling logic according to which ‘if not dealt with in time. thus differing from religion. Declaring something a ‘security issue’ in this sense entails that a specific issue is lifted above ordinary political discourse. it is by labelling something a security issue that it becomes one. Following Slavoj Zizek. it is elevated to a higher plane. which typically emphasizes that there is something ‘higher’ (transcendent. The appropriation and protection/preservation of the sublime object designated as such by an ideology is the path to security and safety. To take an example. existential sense. the religious community. Religious objects are viewed as mediators. their who. it will be too late’. ideology is what anchors the individuals in being. a desire remains unfulfilled. By contrast. and their why. The decisive feature of ideologies in the sense intended here is that they create illusive fantasies of ‘full’ or perfect being. Security is here a self-referential practice. Ideologies exemplify this. whereas a need can be fulfilled. and their measures will appear as legitimate in light of the utmost seriousness of their task. reflecting its importance and urgency.

the desired object is regarded as a substitute for the primordially lost object. these objects are perceived as a filler that can heal the subject. the more mighty the forces said to be intent on its destruction – the more extreme will the counter-measures be. turning the distinction into a potent source for political mobilization – mobilization. In short. I shall show below that intellectuals form an absolutely crucial group in the activities amounting to such incitement. The point is that individuals (not singly. but communally and collectively. meticulous preparation spanning many years prior to the action taken). make it whole. but desire to be – onto objects. with the parallel aims of protecting the precious object and fighting those said to pose a threat to it. unite it with its essence. In virtue of the popular impact exerted by . outsiders. that is. The ideological preparation often also aims at gathering support from the outside world and thus from among the audience of the bystanders in the ordinary sense of the word as non-party. and ending with what Hutus did against Tutsis and ‘moderate’ Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 – is that ‘a war of words precedes a war of bodies’. ideologies work through securitization. What does this have to do with collective evil? I have proposed that collective evil such as genocide be understood as a sophisticated and highly organized undertaking. as dictated by self-defence. We can easily see how this logic may function as a recipe for escalation: the higher the stakes – the more precious the object under threat. In accordance with the articulation cultivated by ideology. in which some people will be direct participants in the event and others passive (Mitla ¨ufer of various strands) and more or less distant bystanders. creating illusive fantasies of (re)gaining them. To construct and present an object as threatened is the paramount example of how this is done. in rituals and by means of narratives and symbols employed for the task by the ideology) project what they lack – what they are not. but primarily ideological preparation. A common finding in well-documented twentieth-century instances – beginning with what the Turks did against the Armenians in 1915. The crucial part played by ideological preparation is captured in Article III of the 1948 Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. They revolve around and exploit the security/insecurity distinction. by which I mean not only practical. and the more justified. it is stated that ‘direct and public incitement to commit genocide’ is punishable. logistical. Whatever aggression is unleashed against the latter will be considered legitimate.The logic and practice of collective evil 169 In psychoanalytic terms. to the event. The chief objective of the latter is to mobilize support for the action that will ensue. strategic preparation. Here. This includes first and foremost support among members of the in-group. Genocide does not occur without preparation (most often.

the sense that everything that is ‘good’ and worthy of protection is coming under severe threat from hostile forces in the outside world. in particular. and the like. hatred. creating a psychological condition of persecutory anxiety simultaneously based on and perpetuating a rigid and obsessive splitting between all that is deemed ‘bad’ and all that is deemed ‘good’. I suggest that cultivating these features of the paranoid-schizoid position is a central element in what I label genocidal ideologies – i. movies. The differences between individual and collective evil Significantly. the greater is their complicity in the consequences that follow for those targeted. existentially. and conversations. The creation of a genocidal atmosphere – one in which the actual translation of words into deeds comes to be perceived as only a matter of time. A big issue in its own right. books. hoping thereby to clarify the so far largely implicit distinction between individual and collective evildoing. distrust. as we shall see in rich empirical detail below. they carry a major responsibility for creating what may be deemed a genocidal atmosphere – i.e. contempt.e. ideologies systematically pursuing destruction of large numbers of individuals. speeches. of the group singled out for destruction in so many articles. I shall now try to explain more precisely my understanding of this relationship.170 Evil and Human Agency prominent academics and writers of various kinds (including television and radio journalists – a group that proved to be particularly instrumental in mobilizing for the genocide in Rwanda). Using Melanie Klein’s notion (explained in Chapter 3). with respect to a distinct individual. as inevitable and ‘waiting to happen’ – depends upon rendering common and deeply. Indeed. so that the more strongly individuals are involved in these ideological activities. whereby everything associated with badness (including these very parts of the projector him. The drumming up of such an atmosphere is a sine qua non for the atrocities to follow. the tremendous mobilizing force of the (genocidal) ideology under discussion here. the atmosphere thus deliberately brought about bears many of the features of the paranoidschizoid position. an atmosphere pervaded by fear. each of whom is identified and targeted by virtue of group membership. shared the splitting and persecutory anxiety Klein originally had introduced intrasubjectively.or herself) is projected onto the out-group and everything associated with goodness is viewed as the prerogative of one’s own group (Klein 1988b). . To propose that Klein’s key notions are crucially relevant to explore the nature of collective evil such as genocide is to bring up the issue of the relationship between individual and group.

then. should be regarded as outside a group or lacking in active manifestations of group psychology’. Individual evil in the sense intended is proximity-based. reasons not involving group membership and group identity either as applying to oneself as actor or to the other as victim. for my purposes in what follows. another is the tendency for an individual’s emotions to become extraordinarily intensified in a group. i. when feeling. as well as physical and spatiotemporal. ‘the individual is.e. reminding us that ‘love is no stranger to evil’ (Alford 1997a: 9). On these grounds. while his intellectual ability – the ability to ‘think for himself’ – is significantly reduced. experiencing. and acting emphatically in his capacity as a group member. is to be viewed as the typical case. because the psychology of the individual is itself a function of the relationship between one person and another. is at the centre of Alford’s approach to evil in What Evil Means to Us. so that ‘no individual.The logic and practice of collective evil 171 employing the method of securitization as well as that of allocating guilt by means of scapegoating – that is. Hence. I shall proceed in concurrence with Freud’s position that individual and group psychology cannot be absolutely differentiated. being relatively independent vis-a-vis ideological influences and group-related concerns. to his or her concerns and insecurities over identity. As far as the distinction between individual and collective evil is concerned. and so someone with whom the agent has some sort of established relationship. a member of a group’. meaning of proximity discussed in Chapter 1. the former is about a concrete individual that chooses to hurt a particular other person as a decision made and an action taken for emphatically his or her reasons. and has always been. in the full psychological-emotional. when taking part in various forms of collective action. and survival in times of societal change and upheaval. This is not to deny that. belongingness. A case in point is the loss of individual distinctiveness so frequently remarked upon by group members and commentators alike. Bion endorses Freud’s rejection of the idea of a ‘herd instinct’ and of various other theories which hold that a group is more than the sum of its members. by selecting certain ‘surrogate victims’ so as to combat the allegedly imminent danger of ‘impurity’ (see below) – must be understood as due to the ability of this ideology to speak directly to the individual. Hurting someone known qua individual. however isolated in time and space. the individual will exhibit features that otherwise will remain hidden or simply lie dormant. It is aptly captured in his remark that ‘the most relative thing about evil is that it is frequently committed by relatives’. Such person-to` person evildoing. . As observed by Wilfred Bion (1989: 168).

bracketing the kind of ‘special personality traits’ and idiosyncrasies of unique individuals that play such a major role in many instances of person-to-person aggression and are frequently cited as the personbound reasons for the attack. as distinct from by definition – this stance of the agent will correspond to his targeting his victim (that particular person) in her capacity as a representative of her group. is an unconscious process in which part of the self is attributed to an object (other). much as the mother helps the child defend against its paranoid-schizoid fears through . in the spirit of Bion. alternatively. Indeed. say. though introduced by Klein on the level of the individual. i. helps defend against anxiety (especially persecutory anxiety) of a paranoidschizoid character could mean at least two different things: the group helps the individual against his own paranoid-schizoid fears. As mere representatives of their respective groups or collectivities. is what we deal with in cases of evildoing where the individual agent from the very start sees himself as acting on behalf of his group.172 Evil and Human Agency Collective evil. Let me exemplify what this implies. hatred. the crucial role of projective identification in both individual and collective evil serves as a valuable reminder of the considerable extent to which evildoing is propelled by unconscious forces. and again in agreement with Bion. In most cases – this is meant empirically. As Bion (1989: 149) found in his pioneering work with groups. Hence collective evil owes much of its vehemence to the skilful manner in which a charismatic leader exploits and channels unconscious psychic material in his followers. such as unwelcome anger. by contrast. Thus part of the ego – a mental state. Projective identification.e. and so genuinely in his capacity as a group member (or. I find Klein’s positions (paranoid-schizoid and depressive) to be of great value in shedding light on the behaviour of individuals who act in their capacity (and self-understanding) as members of groups. the agent’s reasons for acting are not emphatically personal reasons (reasons touching on him alone. To say. the persons occupying the roles of perpetrator and victim are essentially anonymous to each other. the fellow members of the group. and correspondingly seen as involving that one other person only) but instead reasons shared with others. we recall. that the group is psychologically vital for the individual because it. acting as he does so as to qualify – prove himself – as a fully fledged member of some group). narrative) means. for instance. The collective action at work in collective evil typically identifies the victims by ideological (symbolic. is a mechanism that plays a very important role in groups. In this perspective. Here. concentrating on what they have done or are about to do against us. projective identification. or other bad feeling – is seen in another person (or group) and quite disowned (denied).

and hence as not created by the group’s ideology/culture but always as seized upon by it. the reasons for hurting other(s) will vary in accordance with the concrete personality of the doer and the specific nature of his or her relationship with the other person. explained in Chapter 3) – as the anxieties and fantasies of the individual members. in an anxiety-reducing manner employing symbols and discouraging actingout. such as ` persecutory anxiety about the welfare of his group vis-a-vis other groups. In this category of individual-initiated and individual-performed evil. the fact is that the group helps the individual defend against both kinds of anxiety. To put it simply. feels. exploited by it. as far as I can see. Specifically. A further difference between individual and collective evil must be noted. using them to build his own psychological defences. no conspicuous formula or logic of self-understanding and justification that would be valid across the whole spectrum of individual acts. states. the agent thinks. channelled by it. as opposed to actively promoting it – as a troublesome psychic material that. that of reducing the likelihood that physical evildoing will ensue. the group helps the individual project his anxiety outward. or alternatively – to point to the positive potential. is experienced by its individual carriers as being held and so appropriately contained by the group’s shared culture (Winnicott 1980). hence the logic peculiar to the latter is more easily conceptualized. In individual evil. The premise of ideology is that the individual internalizes the values and beliefs of the group. In methodological terms. where it may be confronted as an objective threat to the goodness of the group’ (Alford 1989: 58). Individuals come in more stubbornly different forms than do organized groups.The logic and practice of collective evil 173 her love and concern. obligations. In contrast to the genuine empirical manifold characteristic of emphatically individual behaviour. and acts in a manner giving primacy to his relationship (bond) with his co-actors over his relationship with his victims. this way of understanding groups and their behaviour can adhere to the principle of methodological individualism. there is. or culture (in Winnicott’s sense. as it were (Klein). ‘by transforming private anxieties into shared ones. As Alford. and there are anxieties of a paranoid-schizoid nature that the individual has only as a member of a group. entitlements) is his relationship with . as coming from within. who suggests we make this distinction. since it sees the anxieties and fantasies organized and given shape and meaning by the group – or rather by the group’s distinct ideology. when we turn to instances of collective evil. my claim is that. for such an agent the only relationship that he recognizes as placing demands upon him (not least moral ones: duties.

Morality is exclusively an intra-group phenomenon. of the power to issue moral demands of a sort the agent would see himself as entitled to respond to. It is so because the other party to this dyadic relationship – the individual victim – is regarded as in him. ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ Therefore. they are seen as the unquestionable. It is the ‘one thought too many’ for the perpetrator.174 Evil and Human Agency fellow group members. In his speech to SS leaders on 6 October 1943 in Posen (Poland). The implication is that the agent’s relationship with his victims is perceived as devoid of moral import. This is the logical corollary to my thesis that collective evil typically portrays itself (its deeds) not as bad. to the extent that ‘moral’ attitudes. it would be putting it too mildly to say that the agent’s relationship with his fellow group members gains the upper hand over his de facto relationship with his victims.or herself devoid of moral status. In other words. a single time) succumb to the temptation to steal as much as a single cigarette (or any other item) from those to be murdered. over unselfishness (the altruism of putting always the group’s survival above one’s personal well-being) to a sense of ‘distributive justice’ – are at all invoked within the perspective of the perpetrator group (and indeed. since these belongings in toto were regarded as the legitimate collective property of the Reich. quasi-inherent prerogative of this group only. ‘Morality’ in the emphatic. meaning as addressed by in Levinas’ sense of the face issuing the demand. render it null and void as far as morality is concerned. whereas it was their moral duty – a duty toward their Vaterland and their Fu ¨hrer – to contribute to the elimination of their common enemy. Nay. or as morally neutral. The ‘logic’ at work in such absolutizing of the one relationship to the complete detriment of the other is captured with great precision in Heinrich Himmler’s message to the personnel assigned with the carrying out of the extermination of the Jews (Sereny 2000: 295). it likewise was their duty to make sure that nobody among them (not a single one. Herbert 2001). Himmler made it clear that. and principles – ranging from solidarity. profoundly and completely irrelevant. That the deeds are not so for the victims is. as we have seen. the truth of the matter is much starker. . values. a hallmark of this perspective’s self-understanding is precisely that it subscribes to a morality of sorts). affirmative sense is held to be as ‘naturally’ inherent to the perpetrator group alone as it is simultaneously seen as totally absent in and non-applicable to the group formed by the victims. but as essentially ‘good’ and legitimate. within this perspective. more absolute: it is that the former relationship prevails to such an extent as to effectively cancel out the latter. and so – apparently – in most cases never entertained for even the flicker of a second (Cohen 2001.

to be killed. Rather. or contemplate doing. In particular. This is a vital point. By genocidal logic I understand a type of socio-logic that. In most cases. In both cases. the historical past is manipulated so as to become thoroughly mythologized. as distinguished from individual. I will now address the more specific features of genocidal logic. To imitate here means to legitimize – as I indicated earlier. it is invoked as a licence to hunt down and kill precisely those deserving. They are deemed guilty for what their forefathers are said to have done some 600 years ago. aims to construct. agency. it is this: the perpetrator group does exactly what it castigates the target for having done (in some remote or recent past) or for being now about to do against one’s own group. beliefs. the past is transformed into an arena of collective. and fantasies of concrete individuals. unto oneself – this is the core of the logic of imitation characteristic of genocide. justification for the action now taken assumes the form of retaliation. Central to the notion of collectivizing agency I propose here is that the categories of agency. cultural. given that Serbian ideologues have picked the battle against the Ottomans (Turks) at Kosovo Polje in 1389 as their ‘chosen trauma’. An example we shall return to below is that of the Muslims living in Bosnia in the 1980s and 1990s. Self-defence provides a most-favoured – most-cited – moral justification for acts of organized aggression. Above I pointed out that genocide is not something spontaneous. genocide is reactive. and put into action this ‘individual’ material as constituting the total perspective on the world (and particularly on the us/them distinction) shared within a specific group or collective. not empirical history). Doing unto the other what one holds the other to have done. If there is one Gedankenfigur that is common to most well-known instances of genocidal logic.The logic and practice of collective evil 175 Genocidal logic and the collectivization of agency Having clarified the distinction between individual and collective evil along general lines. it even self-consciously presents itself as reactive in the strong and direct sense of imitation (I say this with respect to ideological presentation. while feeding on more or less unconscious feelings. including guilt and . I noted that genocide is not spontaneous: it never occurs in a social. when the focus of attention is on past wrongs caused by the target group. represent. Thus gestalted. or historical vacuum. when the selected focus is on the wrongs (allegedly) planned and about to be performed by the target group. justification assumes the form of pre-emption. the ideologically produced message is that the action to be taken has the character of self-defence. for purportedly objective and indisputable reasons.

good. has done. once talk about it starts. or is alleged to be about to do. so as to protect something benevolent. political. of the essence of the group. has done. Such evil invariably pursues a proclaimed goal: to remove something deemed malevolent. The obsession with historical sites and dates noteworthy in leading ideologues and in the grand narratives they indulge in must not be misunderstood: historical sites and dates are not significant per se. for instance. In a word. matters inextricably linked. . as someone who commits wrong. religious. Collectivizing human agency in the manner typical of genocidal ideologies is tantamount to obliterating the morally and legally crucial distinction between individual and group. but as moral. these categories are altogether abstracted from the original (factual) contextuality of events and made to travel as though freely through the centuries that have passed. not as immoral. and unworthy of life. Once collectivized. For law to be enacted. For these reasons. carries significance for the group in question only in so far as it is seen to mark the beginning (birth). threatening. it creates a logic that severely undermines the enactment of law. the property of (certain) others: they are evil (meaning the enemy – other ethnic. it is in the vast majority of cases a man. human agency in all its (moral as well as spatiotemporal) dimensions is conceived of in such a way that the individual is compelled to answer for everything ‘his’ group does. is persistently perceived to be elsewhere. More comprehensively still. the group is made to answer for everything ‘his’ group does. national.176 Evil and Human Agency complicity. but as good. or is held to be about to do. not a female) as an evildoer. and worthy. of what constitutes the group’s core identity. with respect to their particularities. pure. conversely. so that the ‘protection’ part cannot be accomplished without the ‘destruction’ part. or alternatively the end (death). etc. are freed not only from the uniqueness and particularity of the actual individual agents (to allude to Arendt’s preoccupation with the totalitarian elimination of human individuality and spontaneity). impure. whereby identity is regarded as transcending the particularities of time (history) and space (geography). or the paramount ordeal. Evil. they are only attributed symbolic (heavily emotions-laden) significance in as much as they serve as markers of essence: a date. disaggregation is required so as to reinstall agency as a property of individuals as distinct from collectivities (more on this aspect in Chapter 5). groups). the individual perpetrator of collective evil as defined here will not perceive himself (yes. Ideologically thought-out and collectively enacted evil conceives of itself not as evil. This is a seminal point. rather they are two-in-one. Notice again that these are not (logically or practically) separate matters. deriving as they do from the crucial role played by ideological preparation.

the original responsibility for any atrocities committed is placed squarely on the victim. Accordingly. shame. . as opposed to malignant. the self-understanding of the average perpetrator is closely linked to the notion of warranted self-defence. The reversal within the aggressor– victim relationship is psychologically most efficient when an all-pervasive and ubiquitous atmosphere of fear and insecurity has been created – and. as destruction that has become an end in itself. and so also as justifying them in a moral perspective. or remorse with regard to those who are to be killed. come what may in utilitarian terms. to participate on the ‘right’ side in such a lifeand-death struggle is perceived as honourable. My claim is that. Evil is thus the obverse side of [the] good’ (Habermas 1998: 56). conversely. perceives the victim as the (original) aggressor. Speaking about the typical Serbian militia man. Irrespective of specific ideological content. The original guilt. in some version (allowing room for the complexity inherent in individuals’ individuality). and worthy – as meriting the extreme measures taken against the threat. and what made him able to respect himself was the belief that everything he had done had been in self-defense’ (Rieff 1995: 111). the key aim of ideological manipulation is always the same: to make sure that in the actor’s eyes he is on the right side of the boundary – on the side of defensive. the enemy needs to come across as a threat against something perceived as especially good. aggression. making the destruction of the enemy primarily into a means for this end. for a common enemy to be fought tooth and nail. but an aggression the perpetrator views as justified. rather than guilt. The point I wish to stress is that. worthy of admiration. to invoke a distinction made by Erich Fromm (1977). precious. ‘Blaming the victim’ means that the aggressor is self-perceived as victim and. I nonetheless believe that popular support as well as active participation among millions of Germans could not have been mobilized like it was. journalist David Rieff remarks. were it not for the element of purported ‘protection’ of the ‘good’ essence of the Aryan race (leaving aside for now the extent to which this element was conceived of in ‘bad faith’ and so as a form of self-deception among leaders as well as ordinary followers of the ideology). Habermas offers a good formulation: ‘Evil is not pure aggression as such. ‘What animated him was fear. Such role reversal emerges as perhaps the lowest common denominator for genocides in the twentieth century. it entails feeling pride in what is one’s own. Although I agree with Arendt’s (early) thesis about the unprecedented and truly radical nature of the Nazi genocide against the Jews.The logic and practice of collective evil 177 I am well aware that some historical instances of collective evil (especially the Holocaust) are often looked upon as ‘evil for evil’s sake’. and deserving protection from penalty.

it is self-congratulatory. the perpetrators taking pride in the killing of the ‘original’ sinners. Serbophobia was explicitly made into an anti-Semitism for Serbs to highlight their sorry plight as innocent victims of aggression throughout history. and children back home. We are a people who are considered guilty. and intellectuals who composed memos. In this situation.178 Evil and Human Agency once in place. thanking God that their menfolk were fighting for Serbian survival and had the courage to stand up against the lethal danger posed by ‘fundamentalist Muslims’. nicknamed ‘Ustasha’ to allude to the Croats’ role as ally to Hitler (Cohen 1996. Only later did the ethnonationalist ideology propagated by Radovan Karadzic in the Serbian parliament in Pale emerge. In this guise – orchestrated genocide in the wake of propaganda that reaps the ideological harvest it has taken such efforts to sow among the population – evil never asks for forgiveness. The more stereotypical and frightening the portrait of the enemy. This – pointing as it does once more to the crucial function ˆ of ideology – holds for passive bystanders as well as for the militia men directly involved in atrocities. the more imminent the enemy’s alleged plans to remove and destroy all that one holds dear. and drew up plans for genocide while convening in Belgrade from 1986 onwards. Judah 1997). wives. since the latter typically will perceive such an atmosphere as its raison d’etre. The young Serbs serving under the notorious paramilitary leader Arkan in the ‘Tigers’ and under Vojislav Seselj in the ‘White Eagles’ were fed for years on Milosevic-controlled television broadcasts. the greater the psychological readiness to take part in assaults represented as acts of self-defence. this type of collective evil is self-righteousness par excellence. Today. generals. and to a somewhat lesser degree by nationalist Croats. It was exactly this atmosphere of fear and insecurity that was created top-down by leading Serbian politicians. no less than were their non-fighting but enthusiastically supportive parents. It is a matter of pre-emptively averting the (mis)deed the enemy is about to enact by instead enacting it oneself. The respected writer Dobrica Cosic could thus claim: ‘We Serbs feel today as the Jews did in Hitler’s day. Serbophobia in Europe is a concept and an attitude with the same ideological motivation and fury as anti-Semitism had during the Nazi era’ (Cosic. instead. For this reason. The concept of securitization introduced above allows us to recognize the strategy deployed by Slobodan Milosevic to build his base of power. quoted in MacDonald 2002: 83). It is generally agreed that Milosevic made the most crucial and farreaching move of his entire political career while on a visit to Kosovo . is sustained by all means at the disposal of the regime in power. wrote newspaper articles.

and channel these long-standing worries about the very survival of the Serbs. In his famous speech at Kosovo Polje on 24 April 1987. intensify. According to Vamik Volkan. There were stories and anecdotes about violent beatings and all sorts of oppression. at Kosovo Polje in 1389 as the Serbs’ chosen trauma. The crux of the grand narrative articulated by Milosevic ‘on behalf’ of his people is the way in which present-day Albanians. Milosevic and other prominent politicians and self-made ideologues. Struck by the Kosovar Serbs’ description of their situation. this experience made a huge impression on Milosevic: it helped turn him into a Serb nationalist (Varvin 1997: 78). and helplessness be reversed. seized upon the memory of the collective traumatization at Kosovo Polje and transformed it into a ‘sacred sorrow’ at the heart of Serb nationalist rhetoric. While the police attempted to stop them. or alternatively Bosnian Muslims. and with undeniable skill. Volkan aptly describes the battle. Milosevic made public his decisive move: he used the tensions in Kosovo to effect a transformation of his own identity from a dull communist apparatchik to nationalist ‘saviour of the Serbian people’. he ended up spending the whole night talking with them. listening to their worries about being a threatened minority in a Kosovo allegedly turning more and more into a wholesale Muslim society. then as now. Milosevic decided to go to see them. and loss. Milosevic engaged in an articulation of Serbian history as that of centuries-long victimization. In keeping with our theoretical considerations above. During the meeting a crowd of Serbs tried to force themselves into the building. are looked upon as ‘Turk-surrogates’. a victimization that emerges through the long period of domination of foreign peoples by enemies of all ideological stripes and that continues to the present. what Milosevic did. were Albanian Muslims. he saw it as his task to ensure that the shame. the vast majority. In a highly potent fashion. humiliation. most recently embodied in the nascent movements for autonomy taking place in other parts of Yugoslavia.The logic and practice of collective evil 179 in April 1987. was to exploit. At that time a mere 10 per cent of the population were Serbs. He assured his almost 1-million-strong audience that Serbs in Kosovo are not a minority because ‘Kosovo is Serbia and will always remain Serbia’.’ In this and a series of related . as symbolic stand-ins for the real Turks (Ottomans) who defeated (Serb) Prince Lazar 600 years ago in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo. of their culture as a people and their identity as individuals spread throughout territories where they were (and for centuries had been) in danger of extinction at the hands of various non-Serb ethnic groups. that is. such as Karadzic and Seselj. The absolutely central message from Milosevic to ‘his’ people is his declaration. ‘You will not be beaten again.

They are not armed battles. Milosevic plays the card of securitization. to be Serbian. . they have liberated themselves and. quoted in Cushman 2001: 89). Serb-essence now being mythologically elevated to the simultaneously all-important and precarious status of sublime object). their fellow-feeling and hence self-identity qua collective. significantly. it is transferred through the generations as a core experience that marks. they are ‘liberators’ who do whatever they can to help their brethren (wherever they are) and who are thwarted in this by the hostility of those others. (Milosevic. A collective trauma of the kind represented by a major defeat against an alleged arch-enemy still around to perpetuate the oppression of Serb culture and identity is a trauma that lingers on. By being the object of massive symbolic attention. when they could. again we are in battles and quarrels. the trauma is actively made into the ‘difference that makes a difference’ between all Serbs that have ever lived and their ‘others’. even guarantees. while at the same time providing a . . though such things should not be excluded yet. The Kosovo heroism does not allow us to forget that at one time we were brave and dignified and one of the few who went into battle undefeated . and an indication of what type of ‘defensive’ measures must be taken to protect what is threatened. Serbs in their history have never conquered or exploited others. a defeat is much more potent as an object of ideological-mythological mobilization than victory (recall Hitler’s successful exploitation of Germany’s defeat in World War I and of the humiliation of the Versailles peace treaty).e. the mythic status accorded to Prince Lazar in Serbian culture was exploited to lend meaning to a serious of historic defeats and setbacks suffered through the centuries. by being ritualized and memorized again and again. Though at first sight surprising. . and against whom it will be necessary to implement extraordinary measures. they also helped others to liberate themselves . is a performative one: What he does. he points to something as threatened (i. and someone who stands behind this grave threat. consists in a securitization of a threatened object.180 Evil and Human Agency declarations. in one swift strike. Through two world wars. a place where the entity (object) now threatened faces its possible destruction. All the key elements introduced above are brought together in Milosevic’s speech act. or rather effects in virtue of what he says. Six centuries later. In particular. which. Recalling our above analysis. In his speech on this occasion. . Milosevic fleshed out the major motifs that were to legitimate the war soon to follow: the Serbs are never aggressors (though a hostile environment all around them is hell-bent on presenting them that way). a pointing to a threatening group. we can see how.

a safe haven for everything and everyone associated with the essence of being Serb. only in the latter is splitting of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ into different objects overcome.’ In fact. the potency of focusing on a chosen collective trauma is explained in terms of his central claim that people need their enemies as much as their allies. Volkan goes so far as to suggest that without . self-conscious stance toward out-groups viewed as hostile. that symbol. the child will put experiences that remain unintegrated into ‘reservoirs’ in the real world. never something ‘given’ or ‘objective’. It is easy to recognize how potent this chosen collective trauma is for securing in-group unity and solidarity and a solid. interpreted. Volkan argues that the young child develops mental images of himself and the world in a bipolar fashion. always socioculturally constructed. In order to avoid inner conflict. giving way to acknowledgement that all objects (including the self. ‘that bridge the distance between individual and group psychology. suitable targets are targets shared by a given collective. and assessed. for fears and anxieties.’ Alford stresses that shared targets bind groups. they constitute their glue. to reverse the roles of aggressor and victim by way of launching a plan to let the centuries-old dream of a ‘Greater Serbia’ come true. says Volkan. ‘It is these suitable targets’. Volkan’s Kleinian point is that this developmental task is never completed. what Volkan calls ‘suitable targets of externalization’. This will relieve your anxiety by allowing you to disown bad parts of yourself. Working from a Kleinian perspective. In the psychoanalytic approach of Vamik Volkan. families and individuals that look and act differently (an example that springs to mind is Hitler’s depiction in Mein Kampf of how encountering orthodox Jews in Vienna had a tremendous emotional impact upon him. these reservoirs will later be something the child shares with others. would be an alien religion. a kind of shock henceforth providing him with a suitable target for externalizing all ‘badness’ and all fears inside him). Starting out as private and idiosyncratic.The logic and practice of collective evil 181 collective basis for the desire to ‘turn the tables’. Emotional development is about putting these opposite experiences together: realizing that both are me. Examples of suitable targets for bad feelings. they form part of a culture that in effect says to the individual. including others) are both good and bad. while at the same time allowing you to bond more securely with the good group that is us. much in the spirit of passing from Klein’s paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. ‘Put your unintegrated and intolerable fear and hate into this group. As pointed out by Alford. so that he originally experiences himself as virtually a different person when sad and hungry than when happy and fulfilled. the smells of foreign cooking.

182 Evil and Human Agency external enemies in the form of shared targets. insanity may be defined as the individual’s inability to use shared targets of externalization (Alford 1994: 41). Existence outside the group or otherwise in defiance of the group appears impossible. the group would fall apart into warring tribes. Girard sets out to show how it is that organized acts of violence play an indispensable role in the birth and maintenance of communities. more precisely. In order to be regarded as suitable to be sacrificed. there thus arises a need to channel the urge to violence beyond the boundaries of community. Girard’s theory of the surrogate victim A theoretical framework suited to understanding the basic principles of group behaviour in connection with collective evil would be incomplete without mention of Rene Girard’s seminal work Violence and the Sacred. its perpetual and recurrently reactualized precariousness – that makes violence an indispensable mechanism of integration. since within it violence is prohibited. the surrogate victim – be selected in the right manner. the identity of the members is confirmed as unequivocally linked with the group. an inaccessible and non-desirable option. The purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony within the community and to reinforce integration: the group is confirmed as unison and homogeneous. violence is ‘recycled’ into the chief weapon defending the unity of the group. and quarrels within the community that the sacrifices are designed to suppress. jealousies. So. ritual sacrifices have the aim of preserving the memory of the group’s unity and precariousness. the potential object must ‘bear a sharp resemblance to the human categories excluded from the ranks of . it is precisely the circumstance that the unity of the group is not obvious and cannot be taken for granted – that is. I shall confine my discussion to the aspects of Girard’s (very general) theory which I find most pertinent in illuminating the perpetrator group that engages in ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the kind witnessed in former Yugoslavia. In order to achieve this. instead of representing a threat against the group’s future. The continued unity of the group is made into an existential concern for everyone within the group. The atmosphere is such that outbursts of violence seem imminent. and the members would go crazy. According to Girard. In such a context. The danger of outbursts of internal violence derives from all the rivalries. it is necessary that the sacrifice – or. there is a dialectic between threatening internal violence and sacrificial rites. Indeed.

the humans assumed to be the insiders of the community] while still maintaining a degree of difference that forbids all possible confusion’ (Girard 1988: 12). Moreover. Like many before him. intact) unity of the community is encountered and selected outside its ranks – though not completely or unambiguously so. The victim must be neither too familiar to the community nor too foreign to it. and only if. thus ensuring that these elements ‘take the hint’ and remain at their proper place within the community. but marginal to it. says Girard – with the significant proviso mentioned above about the crucial role of ambiguity. As we shall see below. Girard’s thesis is that the surrogate victim is ‘suitable’ to the task set for it if.) To sum up. provide the least unsatisfactory compromise. (1988: 271f. The human candidate for the sacrifice that is regarded as symbolizing the (continued. the principle identified by Girard – that the surrogate victim be one whose relationship to the community is neither too close nor too distant – is crucially important for understanding the peculiar vehemence of collective evil qua ‘ethnic cleansing’ in a multiethnic and multi-religious society such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. There must also be discontinuity. . . This ambiguity is essential to the cathartic functioning of the sacrifice . What Girard terms the only ‘strictly’ ritualistic substitution is that of a victim for the surrogate victim.The logic and practice of collective evil 183 the ‘‘sacrificeable’’ [i. Situated as they are between the inside and the outside.e. it is essential that this victim be drawn from outside the community. . they can perhaps be said to belong to both the interior and the exterior of the community. in generative violence a single victim is substituted for all the members of the community. each and everyone ‘inside’ can prove their belongingness for all to see by joining in the violent ritual sacrifices directed at specific objects . Girard hastens to add. Girard merits quoting on this point: If the victim is to polarize the aggressive tendencies of the community and effect their transfer to himself. continuity must be maintained. Girard is struck by the historical fact that ritual victims tend to be drawn from categories that are neither – unambiguously – outside nor inside the community. The marginal categories from which these victims are generally drawn . There must be a ‘metonymic’ relationship between members of the community and ritual victims. and the latter is a member of the community. . in order to fulfil its integrative function the candidate surrogate victim needs to appear as possessing a semblance with subversive or erosive elements within the community. it serves to prevent confusion about who belongs where. a semblance that is of precisely appropriate degree to serve as a warning. observing that ‘this marginal quality is crucial to the proper functioning of the sacrifice’. In this way.


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outside the community. Since the objects chosen will enjoy no established relationships with the ‘legitimate’ members of the community, the violence can be enacted with impunity and without risk of retaliation. The sacrificial acts are seen as successful when what remain in their wake are tight and intransgressible boundaries between the community’s inside and outside. It should be clear from what has been said that the victim is a scapegoat. The premise in Girard’s theory is that the surrogate victim is an ‘object’ that assumes ‘the very real (though often hidden) hostilities that all the members of the community feel for one another’; in other words, ‘the source of the evil is the community itself ’ (1988: 99). Sacrificial substitution, then, is about protecting all the members of the community from their respective violence – always through the intermediary of the surrogate victim. Girard’s overarching argument – perhaps at first sight surprising – is that the rite’s essential orientation is peaceful: ‘Even the most violent rites are specifically designed to abolish violence. To see these rites as expressions of man’s pathological morbidity is to miss the point’ (1988: 103). Thus Girard and Klein/Alford concur in the view that aggression (understood as the urge to destruction) in an elementary manner comes from within. In both cases – that of the single individual (Klein) as well as that of a given community (Girard) – the same objective is sought in violent behaviour against a chosen human victim: that of finding relief for inner (intrasubjective or intracommunal) anxieties and conflicts by way of channelling them against objects outside the self (community), hoping to get rid of the sources of ‘badness’ by first externalizing them and thereupon destroying them by violently targeting their presumed human carrier(s). Invoking Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position, we can appreciate the extent to which that position of experience is at the heart of violent ritual sacrifice as theorized by Girard. In Kleinian language, such rituals have the task of being limited to an attack on the ‘bad’ and concomitantly of not becoming so extreme (by escalation into the uncontrolled and unpredicted) as to spill over onto the ‘good’ and contaminate (and thus spoil) precisely what is most precious and precarious. Alford succinctly depicts the ritual in this perspective:
The participants in the ritual seem to say, ‘The violence we have committed or observed (or merely imagined) threatens to destroy the entire community and all that we care about. Let us reenact this violence in a highly circumscribed fashion, so that we may convince ourselves that it can be contained within limits. In particular, we shall focus upon, and control, the spilling of blood, that symbol of the contained

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becoming uncontained. In letting the blood fall onto the altars, and even onto ourselves, we shall demonstrate to ourselves that what is apparently uncontained and unstructured is actually controlled by the ritual itself.’ In a word, ritual reinforces psychological defenses aimed at reestablishing firm, paranoid-schizoid defenses against violence, rage, and hatred that threaten to spill over to contaminate the good. (Alford 1992: 74)

As Alford notes, the two most acclaimed studies of rituals of purification in the anthropological literature – Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process (1969) and Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger (1966) – both support the conclusions just expressed in Kleinian terminology. Turner argues that, in spite of the reversal and confusion associated with ritual (one thinks here also of Bakhtin’s analysis of the reversal of ‘high’ and ‘low’), its goal is to establish firmer boundaries between things that should be held separate. And Douglas argues that pollution punishes a symbolic breaking of what should be joined, or a symbolic joining of what should be separate. Conversely, ritual seeks to preserve order, structure, and boundaries, even if doing so requires disorder, even reversal. In my opinion, there are two closely related points to stress here, and also to bear in mind when I shortly turn to empirical material from ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia. I take both points to be of a general nature; hence I do not consider them tailor-made to illuminate my particular selection of historical material. The first point is that communally enacted, collective evil, to the extent that it comes to the fore in Girard’s analysis, is always seen to be a deliberate action carried out for the sake of protecting some superior yet threatened ‘good’ – i.e. the unity and cohesion of the group, especially at times of crisis for the group, a crisis often sensed as – or rather, by group leaders presented as – putting the sheer survival of the group into question. As we shall see in greater detail below, as soon as survival has been elevated to the main issue (or even to the only issue) at stake for the group as such, readiness among its members to go to extreme measures in ensuring its existence as against the (alleged) imminent threats to it posed by another group will be rapidly growing, in effect making the effort displayed in fighting to defend the group (the ‘good’ that the group – its essence, its identity – represents a sign of supreme morality, of altruism on behalf of the well-being of one’s collectivity). Evildoing as unleashed in violent assaults against specific others never emerges qua evil, meaning qua bad, or immoral; instead it is dressed up as done for the sake of protecting the good. The second point is that organized communal violence (Girard) – a species of collective evil in my parlance – is performed as occurring for the


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sake of retaining some order or structure that is presented as being under threat. Premeditated rather than spontaneous, the violence occurs as parcelled out, since there is always a danger that things get out of hand. We shall see that the drawing and maintenance of boundaries such as pertain to identity is of paramount importance here. It would be tempting, given my distinction between individual and group, to suggest that the ‘identity’ issue assumes distinct forms, depending on whether identity is held to be a property of individual or group. But, in what follows, the point is precisely that the identity issue is turned into the paramount communal issue – entailing that there is no identity to be had for the single individual apart from that bestowed and secured by a given community and, in times of upheaval and conflict, endangered by some given other community. In short, the identity of the individual is a chief concern for the community with which he or she is associated; it is not an issue that can be dealt with – i.e. something that can be developed, changed, abandoned, or lost – by the individual as such. For all that, identity continues to be a profoundly existential issue, only now the high stakes of this existential concern come to permeate the fabric – indeed, the very being – of the group or collective as such. The perceived threat against identity is the core of the prospect for survival; to protect identity (as pure, uncontaminated) and to survive qua group become but two sides of the same coin, admitting only of ‘analytic’ distinction. In real life, they amount to one and the same thing – or so the claim has it, the claim whence a large potential for violence derives. If this line of argument is granted, ritual as anthropologically understood and the paranoid-schizoid position introduced in Kleinian psychoanalysis have a common core: they both deal with the contamination of good by bad, of love by hate, of the pure by the impure. Ritual is a cultural group’s attempt to re-establish firm boundaries between polarities, generally by reinforcing paranoid-schizoid distinctions. Hence pollution may be described as a form of paranoid-schizoid anxiety over breaching the distinction between good and bad, or pure and impure. More accurately still, pollution is contamination of such polarities. Ritual responds to this anxiety by aiming to restore the breached or threatened boundary (Alford 1992: 67). My claim is that, in ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, deep-seated collective anxieties over contamination-cum-pollution – that is, the danger that something good and pure be spoiled by something bad and impure – were psychologically activated by being linked (by group leaders, by ideology) with the existential issue of identity, understood as the question of one’s ‘essence’ as member of a specific group (as defined by a highly

The logic and practice of collective evil


idiosyncratic mix of nationalist, religious, and ethnic criteria, a mix reflecting the complexity, indeed the ambiguities, of establishing identity in a ‘multi-culti’ society such as the Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s). Identity (seen as non-optional, as reflecting quasi-ahistorical ‘essence’) was singled out as that which is threatened with contamination, with being spoiled and destroyed. The individual’s future was made one with the future and destiny of his or her group; and this future and destiny was made into the issue of identity in such an existentially dramatized manner that the identity issue became identical with the issue of sheer survival: when identity is endangered, ultimately life itself is. Such are the stakes. We now need to explore the exact relevance of Girard’s notion of the ‘surrogate victim’ that is such a crucial element in his theory of ritual sacrifice. There are two questions here. The first question is whether the selected victims of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (in Bosnia in particular) satisfy Girard’s criteria for the status of ‘surrogate victims’. I think they do, as far as the ideological function of symbolically and violently targeting them is concerned. Girard makes two observations that support my view. First, he stresses the marginality of the suitable surrogate victim: only by being neither too close nor too distant can such a victim permit the community to relieve its burden of violence and so effect its purification (Girard’s term). I find the affinity between ‘cleansing’ on the one hand and ‘purification’ on the other indisputable. Indeed, the ideologically deliberate, and so in no way arbitrary, choice of designating the campaign against non-Serbs one of ‘cleansing’ to my mind is a conceptual demonstration of the extent to which the violence promoted is presented as being carried out in the service of preventing contamination-cum-pollution. On these grounds, ‘ethnic cleansing’ is clearly an historical instance of the motives Girard claims inform ritual sacrifice. As for the issue of the chosen ‘surrogate victims’, in Bosnia these were evidently close enough to pose a plausible threat against the goodness and purity of Serbian identity/essence, yet distant enough to permit them to be identified and located in a manner just unambiguous enough to send an effective message to both friend and foe as to who belongs where. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that Girard ascribes plenty of flexibility to the actual methods for selecting the suitable victim – most notably between that of making appear more foreign a victim who is too much a part of the community, and that of reintegrating into the community a victim who is too foreign to it (1988: 272). In both instances, the principal function of finding a surrogate victim is fulfilled – namely, to find someone who can draw to his person


Evil and Human Agency

all the community’s inner tensions, all its accumulated bitterness and hatred. In fact, the pertinence of Girard’s analysis becomes most horrifying at one specific point – namely, where he states that ‘the surrogate victim is fundamentally a member of the community, a neighbour of those destined to kill him’ (1988: 278; my italics). The atrocities in Bosnia bore this out with extreme horror. The second question that needs to be addressed is whether the violence performed by the groups engaged in ‘ethnic cleansing’ can appropriately be called ritual violence, and one crucially involving ‘sacrifice’ at that. There are two aspects to this. The first is already attended to: there is no doubt that the ‘cleansing’ performed had as one of its major aims the destruction of the ‘elements’ within the Yugoslav community that, though close and indeed located within it, were alleged to threaten its (ethnic) purity with contamination, this being a sufficient reason why they had to be subjected to the violent measures of ‘cleansing’. Again, as far as the status of the chosen victims is concerned, there can be no doubt as to the empirical validity of Girard’s findings. But this leaves unaddressed the question of whether these atrocities inhabit a ritual character in the rigorous social-anthropological sense. Though admittedly more difficult to settle than the earlier questions, I do think that the documentation of the ways in which the atrocities were most typically carried out does confirm their ‘ritual’ character, if only in a somewhat looser sense than found in most rituals studied in anthropology. As we shall see in detail below, the rape and the killings are typically carried out in a highly premeditated, organized, and controlled manner; they are also multiple and endlessly repeated (to allude to Girard’s criteria). In other words, although the precise (empirical) manner may differ somewhat, the ideological and communal functions of these organized atrocities do seem to be of the same kind as claimed for them in Girard’s theory. The design of genocide as ‘ethnic cleansing’ Having established the key categories of a framework intended to help us understand the nature of the collective evil carried out in Bosnia, it is time to turn more directly to some central empirical aspects. A key to the particular manner in which the collective evil of ‘ethnic cleansing’ was carried out in Bosnia is the so-called Ram Plan (dating back to August 1991), later referred to as the Brana Plan. Headed by General Blagoje Adzic (formerly commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav army and chief of military security, and a long-time close associate of

The logic and practice of collective evil


Milosevic), the plan was drawn up in secrecy in a closed meeting in Belgrade; in this it invites comparison with the Wannsee Conference chaired by Reinhard Heydrich in Berlin in January 1942, where the decision about an Endlo ¨sung der Judenfrage by means of physical extermination in death camps was formally endorsed, following verbal instructions from Hitler and Himmler. A central passage of the Ram Plan is worth quoting at length:
Our analysis of the behavior of the Muslim communities demonstrates that the morale, will, and bellicose nature of their groups can be undermined only if we aim our action at the point where the religious and social structure is most fragile. We refer to the women, especially adolescents, and to the children. Decisive intervention on these social figures would spread confusion among the communities, thus causing first of all fear and then panic, leading to a probable [Muslim] retreat from the territories involved in war activity. In this case, we must add a wide propaganda campaign to our well-organized, incisive actions so that panic will increase. We have determined that the coordination between decisive interventions and a wellplanned information campaign can provoke the spontaneous flight of many communities. (Allen 1996: 57)

This passage is, verbatim, as close to a blueprint for genocide as a document of this type may come. The actions planned clearly fall within the 1948 Genocide Convention; Article II, it will be recalled, refers to ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’. We know that mass rape from early on formed a crucial and meticulously thought-out part of ‘ethnic cleansing’. A letter from the commander of the third battalion of the Serb army, Milan Dedic, to the chief of the secret police in Belgrade, Mihajlo Kertes, contains the following information:
Sixteen hundred and eighty Muslim women of ages ranging from twelve to sixty years are now gathered in the centers for displaced persons within our territory. A large number of these are pregnant, especially those ranging in age from fifteen to thirty years. In the estimation of Bosko Kelevic and Smiljan Geric, the psychological effect is strong, and therefore we must continue [the practice of genocidal rape]. (Allen 1996: 59f.)

Extremist Serbs, in making mass rape a programmatic goal and a systematic part of their genocide (and precisely not a by-product of it), appear to have sought a prolongation of the suffering they brought upon their victims. They made sure that the enforced pregnancies of their victims were brought to completion, ensuring that the raped women were forced to give birth to what this ideology designated as a Serb son or daughter – that is, to suffer the utmost humiliation of giving birth to

How can this happen? Whence the intensity of such person-to-person violence? Does this intensity emerge despite the closeness between perpetrator and victim. illogically. the identity of the mother that marked her as a victim – an ethnic alien – in the first place is effaced. and even lovers. family members. This aspect of genocide as ‘ethnic cleansing’. former close friends. as were all the links that till then had connected killer and victim with one another. Rather it is about killing neighbours. convictions. It is telling that when the survivors of rape camps began to reach Zagreb from the hinterlands of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the spring of 1992. A few observations must suffice. Bauman 2000b: 37) and scientific management as embodied in the bureaucratic organization (‘the ability to co-ordinate actions of a great number of people and make the overall result independent of the personal idiosyncrasies. To the contrary. never known. I shall not go into the details of the atrocities committed in particular – but not only – by Serb forces – recall that the CIA concluded that 90 per cent of the atrocities committed during the three-and-a-half-year war were the handiwork of Serb military and paramilitary forces (Power 2002: 310). this violence was close up. The atrocities performed as part of ‘ethnic cleansing’ took place in a setting of physical as well as psychic proximity between perpetrator and victim: the former wanted to be seen and heard by the latter. it is not about killing persons never met. members of one’s family. Hence two of Zygmunt Bauman’s proposed characteristics of genocide modern style are conspicuously absent: technological tools (‘as necessary for mass murder as they are indispensable for mass industrial production’. pointing to its sexist character (in practice scarcely less crucial than the emphasis on ethnicity). whereby. colleagues. recent colleagues. lovers. the genocide that took place in Bosnia was not hi-tech. it did not rely on mechanisms setting perpetrator and victim apart and increasing the distance between them in so many senses of that word.190 Evil and Human Agency and thus sustaining their tormentors. the better. the more up-front. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is not about killing at a distance. friends. one-time classmates.). one of them made it very clear that ‘we have fled not from bombs and bullets but from rape and the knife’ (Allen 1996: 81f. 37). or because of it? . p. reducing her to a mere sexual container by way of absolutizing the male’s (father’s) genetic contribution so as to completely cancel out that of the child’s mother (Allen 1996: 97ff. may represent a novelty when compared with other recent instances of genocide.). beliefs and emotions of individual performers’. To begin with. The relationships from which such links emerged would typically be those of long-standing neighbours.

bureaucracy. (Eide 1998: 35) Analysts of genocide tend to say that distantiation (be it by way of technology. This phenomenon has been perceptively theorized by Freud. I note that. or ideology) produces dehumanization. all of a sudden come to be seen as depersonalized ‘representatives’ of a group now said to pose a deadly threat to one’s own. but what will emerge is a purer. whereas in the case of the Nazi genocide we have been used to thinking that the murder had (double) depersonalization – of perpetrator no less than victim – as a crucial condition? I find it difficult to answer these questions. and in desperate need of explanation. having struggled with them for years. not his former classmate Amira or his brother-in-law Ramiz? Or is the real horror of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that the known individuality of the victim at hand remained acknowledged. The ‘otherness’ of the enemy needs to be asserted. the functionalist approach of Raul Hilberg (1985). in cases not rare in a multiethnic and multi-religious society such as Bosnia. who coined for it the phrase ‘the narcissism of small differences’ (Freud 1985: 305). One has actively drawn a line in blood. and this in turn insensitivity to the suffering of the victims and so a readiness to take part in causing it (Vetlesen 1994: ch. so that a Serb would only perceive a Muslim. or a lifetime. not only between two groups. has been close in all the sociological senses of that word. even if. 5). friends. even perverse. though undoubtedly highly .The logic and practice of collective evil 191 Perhaps the latter – and this is precisely what is so shocking. one may kill a small part of oneself. Can we really believe that stereotypes of the crudest sort in almost no time at all reigned supreme and effaced all dimensions of longrecognized human individuality and uniqueness. or lovers. say. Demarcation then has to be established and maintained all the more visibly and violently: the so-called impure must prove his or her purity by renouncing that in him. giving a truly personal twist to the atrocities. I take this to express a widely held view. But does the emphasis on distantiation hold for Bosnia? To ask this question is to ponder whether it is plausible that individuals with whom one for years. nay displayed and quasi proven more vehemently in cases where at the start the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are hard to spot. more worthy not only of the respect of others in one’s ‘own’ group but also more worthy of self-respect. more whole person. one not exclusive to. The political scientist Espen Barth Eide explains: By killing a member of the other group. this meant being prepared to kill members of one’s own family. but in oneself – and in an irrevocable manner. or neighbours. ‘one of them’.or herself which points to impurity.

Arkan’s ‘Tigers’ approached their victims clad in impeccable militia uniforms. it was made an integral feature of the methods used. the kalashnikovs and knives (knives were preferred over guns) eager for action. It was one thing to lay siege to Sarajevo. he had taken that step across the line the Chetniks [the Serb forces] had been aiming for. As reported by Michael Sells. Serb militants killed a Serb officer who objected to atrocities against cilivilans. provided they could summon up the necessary ruthlessness. Serb militia men slit the throat of a seventeen-year-old Serbian girl who protested the shooting of Muslim civilians (Sells 1996: 73). Then you repeated the process with the next Serb householder.192 Evil and Human Agency ideologized from above (meaning top-down). American journalist covering the so-called war. in a Serb-army-occupied area of Sarajevo. their faces half-heartedly covered. the fighters could not pursue ethnic cleansing successfully on their own. If he refused. illegitimately ‘occupying’ land which ‘historically’ belonged to the Serbs and which will henceforth be ‘cleansed’ of ‘alien’ elements so as to be ‘liberated’ for those truly entitled to it. you shot him. As General Ratko Mladic used to tell Western journalists: ‘I have not conquered anything in this war. If he did so. as many did. eliciting shocks of recognition in their victims: ‘So it’s you!’ This violence took the form of merciless. (Rieff 1995: 110) It is a general finding that Serbs who refused to participate in the persecution of Muslims – regardless of the closeness of their links with them – were killed. Hence. well-thought-out raids against villages in particular. but in the ethnically mixed villages of Bosnia. notoriously. The natural impulse for self preservation was the fighters’ greatest ally. In Zvornik. and order the man living there to come with them to the house of his Muslim neighbour. What they in any case could not successfully hide was their voices. not . I only liberated that which was always Serbian. To spread complicity was a deliberate goal of the ‘cleansing’. You shot him on the spot. zooming in on its victims: unarmed civilian non-Serbs of all ages and both sexes suddenly became ‘Islamic fundamentalists’. the solution was simple. They had to transform these local Serbs who were either still undecided about joining the fight or frankly opposed to it into their accomplices. One common method used was for a group of Serb fighters to enter a village. As the other villagers watched. the genocide that took place in former Yugoslavia was highly personalized on the ground. go to a Serb house. The Chetniks rarely had to kill a third Serb. Then the Serb would be handed a Kalashnikov assault rifle or a knife – knives were better – and ordered to kill the Muslim.’ David Rieff. he was marched over and the Muslim brought out. writes: The Bosnian Serb forces tailored their tactics to the kind of area in which they were operating. But if he refused. they left his body on the street for over a week as an object lesson.

‘Then why were the Muslims arrested?’ ‘Because they were planning to take over the village. ‘Why. appliances. Members of such a family now had a vested interest in a policy whose principal aim was the complete removal (partly by enforced expulsion. consider Washington Post journalist Peter Maass’ account of a conversation he had with two Serbian women who had moved into a ‘vacant’ (read formerly Muslim-owned) flat in the city Banja Luka in the wake of its ‘liberation’ in 1992: I asked out of politeness whether the fighting in the village was heavy.’ (Maass 1996: 113f. As Sells points out. the one-day return of their Muslim neighbours would be of a personal disadvantage to them. ‘No. I asked. as long as the people in question are deprived of any chance to return. Our military had uncovered their plans.’ She wiped her brow.’ ‘Harems?’ ‘Yes. feelings held in check.’ ‘How do you know the radio was telling the truth?’. ‘Once a family had in their home something that had belonged to a neighbor. Every town and village ‘cleansed’ meant the availability of cars. and that’s what they were planning to do once they had killed our men. I asked.The logic and practice of collective evil 193 only in that most violent of senses mentioned by Rieff above. stereo and television equipment. she said. ‘How do you know they were planning to kill the Serb men and create harems for themselves?’ ‘It was on the radio. she demanded to know. partly by direct killings) of the original owners of the flats. harems. They were very nice people. there was no fighting between Muslims and Serbs in the village’. They had already drawn up lists with the names of the Serb women who were to be taken into harems for the Muslim men. the far-reaching psychological and moral effects of taking part in the distribution of stolen and abandoned goods should not be underestimated. It is testimony to the subtle psycho-logic of the latter.) . In short. cars. To restrict myself to just one illustration of the atmosphere being created. and various other goods they had acquired for themselves. ‘My relations with Muslims in the village were always very good.’ ‘Did any Muslim ever do anything bad to you?’ ‘No. Thank God they were arrested first. but also in the domain of material goods. however. softly. they were less likely to object to ‘‘ethnic cleansing’’’ (1996: 73).’ She seemed offended. ‘Why’. no. and the fact that they often would have known these persons for many years gives rise to guilt and embarrassment. Making the possible return of their onetime neighbours into a personal disadvantage and a source of moral discomfort is a feat of this complicity-building aspect of ‘ethnic cleansing’. ‘would the radio lie?’ ‘Did any of the Muslims in the village harm you?’. It was announced on the radio. Though innocent in comparison with the method of forcing reluctant Serbs to become killers. Their Bible says men can have harems.

whole families were forced to be witnesses to torture. whenever proximity was met upon. complete (as we heard) with harems for which Serb women of all ages would be taken captive. In this superpersonalized violence. rapes. Returning to the main discussion. even evolving into a quasiroutinized ritual (Girard) in the concentration camps of Omarska. and the supreme kind of humiliation was to force relatives to rape. seizes upon and maintains existing conditions of proximity between perpetrator and victim and in fact creates such conditions if they are not present and prolongs them as a matter of principle whenever they seem to wane. Trnopolje. wound. Such enforced intrafamilial – hence intravictim – violence was in fact a speciality among extremist Serbs. and Kerasame. My claim is that ‘ethnic cleansing’. or kill each other. A systematic feature of the latter was precisely the separation of family members (husbands and wives.194 Evil and Human Agency One is reminded of Arendt’s question apropos Eichmann’s account of his meeting with Storfer in Auschwitz. discussed in Chapter 2). Robbed of all traces of individuality. Serb militia men often made a point of singling out for particularly cruel mistreatment persons known to them beforehand. In keeping with this . the peculiar character of collective evil in the guise of ‘ethnic cleansing’ can be put into relief by a crude comparison with the carrying out of the Holocaust. the Nazi genocide of the Jews carried out in the extermination camps in Poland methodically shunned proximity and. perpetrator and victim ended up as equally alienated and exchangeable (recall Arendt’s argument. Granting that scholars such as Hilberg and Bauman have succeeded in capturing the main picture. and killings. in both cases one is struck by the great care taken to point out that. The gullibility (if that is what it is) of the women cited by Maass is the result of years on end with propaganda that broadcasts an image of Muslim Bosnian civilians harbouring plans for a ‘Serb-free’ fundamentalist Islamic state. of lying self-deception combined with outrageous stupidity?’ (Arendt 1965a: 51). parents and children) immediately upon arrival in the death camp. by contrast. replaced it with mechanisms of distantiation so as to reduce it to a minimum (for the twofold reason of efficiency of killing and the methods used being ‘humane’ for the Nazi personnel most directly involved). To my knowledge we find no parallel to this in the Nazi genocide. in personal terms. one has no unfinished antagonistic business with those directly concerned (expelled or downright murdered) on the ‘other side’ by the policies pursued by one’s own side and from which one is presently reaping the harvest. discussed in Chapter 2: ‘Is this a textbook case of bad faith. Despite the vital differences between these peasant Serb women and the infamous SS officer.

Sociologically. ‘the community born of the initiatory crime remains the only refuge for the perpetrators’ (p. person-to-person. I cannot say with absolute certainty – but it seems a viable working hypothesis. in large measure even cultivated and exploited amongst the victims themselves. What seems beyond doubt. On top of this no exit scenario for those trapped comes the personalized twist given to killing. A police chief in Banja Luka puts it bluntly: ‘In ethnic warfare everybody is guilty. Zygmunt Bauman notes that since the membership of the community is in no way preordained nor institutionally endorsed. The best way to meet these . and abuse. (Bauman 2000a: 198) A salient consequence is that this leaves the individual member with a ` no-exit situation vis-a-vis his community. it matters more. simple (single-criterion) identity where there used to be a plurality. we usually expect communities involved in violence to be threatened with disintegration. Now. in what may be viewed as extremist Serbs’ favoured variation on the well-known theme of enforcing self-denigration and humiliation among the victims. Such individuals are ‘glued together by joint vested interest in contesting the criminal and punishable nature of their crime. The violence bred by the policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is communally all-inclusive and ubiquitous by its own inherent logic. turns the received wisdom upside down. is that communities involved in cycles of violence at some point start to become communities where the solidarity between its individual members feeds on violence. however. . village-to-village killings in Bosnia. torture. the kind of genocide which is the birth-act of explosive communities cannot be entrusted to experts or delegated to specialized offices and units. the ‘baptism by fire’ – a personal participation in collective crime – is the sole way of joining and the sole legitimation of continuous membership. . of attaining homogeneity where there is mixture. 20). and non-ceasing. But ‘ethnic cleansing’ as a communal activity. violence precisely as non-secret. having the victims themselves finishing the job started by the perpetrators. It matters less how many ‘enemies’ are killed. is what fosters the blatant sadism and sheer perversion of much of the up-front. secrecy seems to have been much more important to the Nazis than to the extremist Serbs. no-one is innocent’ (Honig and Both 1996: 177). all-inclusive. much more. Labelling the kind of community we speak of here ‘explosive community’. involving civilians from all walks of life among its perpetrators (not only among its victims). Unlike in the case of state-administered genocide .The logic and practice of collective evil 195 difference of method. how numerous are the killers. whether the role played by seeking to prove purity where impurity has long prevailed. making participation in violence into a device of integration.

the other is the anthology War Violence. Three main forms exist: (1) Chetniks or other irregular forces enter a Bosnian-Herzegovinian or Croatian village. and Croatian Serb soldiers and the militias and irregular forces known as Chetniks arrest Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian . what is genocidal rape? Beverly Allen’s definition is worth quoting in extenso: Genocidal rape is a military policy of rape for the purpose of genocide currently practiced in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia by the Yugoslav Army. leaving the village abandoned to the Serbs and thus furthering the genocidal plan of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The news of this atrocious event spreads rapidly throughout the village. I shall rely in particular on two sources: one is Beverly Allen’s book Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. there is at least one further aspect that merits discussion. (2) Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian persons being held in Serb concentration camps are chosen at random to be raped.196 Evil and Human Agency conditions is not to allow the spilt blood to dry up: to (periodically or continually) refresh the memory of crime and the fear of punishment by topping the old crimes with new ones’ (p. lest my account be seriously wanting. In doing so. the aims it serves. and the traumas it causes – in as accurate a manner as possible. Several days later. I am thinking of the policy and atrocities now commonly referred to as ‘genocidal rape’. the Bosnian Serb forces. (3) Serb. and the irregular Serb militia known as Chetniks. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ accomplished by this procedure is the clockwork-precise. Bosnian Serb. and depart. being unarmed except for their farm implements and a rusty rifle or two. I wish to set out the facts about genocidal rape – what it is. Trauma and the Coping Process. often as part of torture preceding death. Genocidal rape: its nature and function Although my aim in this chapter is not the hopelessly ambitious one of presenting a comprehensive account of the policies and atrocities that combine to make up collective evil in the guise of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Thus the Serbs – in a collaboration between their Chetnik and their regular military forces – accomplish the rout of the BosnianHerzegovinian population of still another village with very little cost to themselves. regular Bosnian Serb soldiers or Serbs from the Yugoslav Army arrive and offer the now-terrified residents safe passage out of the village on the condition that they never return. It is hard to imagine that they could do otherwise. rape them in public view. Most accept. First. take several women of varying ages from their homes. edited by Libby Tata Arcel and containing contributions from psychologists and psychiatrists who have been working directly with rape victims targeted in ‘ethnic cleansing’. 20). logical putting-into-practice of the Ram and Brana plans the Serb commanders wrote in 1991.

and when allowed to survive. It is to condemn the survivor to a life in constant fear of the return of the catastrophe (Edkins 2003: 8). Far from individually felt and acted-upon sexual desire. a central consequence of trauma – one aimed at by the oppressors – is to rob the survivor of her trust in the world. of ontological security and basic trust in humankind. genocidal rape as just defined serves as a major means to accomplish it. in many cases as part of a psychological and physical torture preceding their being eventually killed. (Allen 1996: 62f. what determines these instances of rape are the aims of power: victims are raped as a means to humiliate. Victims who do not become pregnant are often murdered. All forms of genocidal rape constitute the crime of genocide as described in Article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Such rapes are either part of torture preceding death or part of torture leading to forced pregnancy. it is tantamount to having been marked so thoroughly – on body and mind – by one’s victimization. or ‘spontaneous’ urge on the part of the individual rapists. Victims who do become pregnant are raped consistently and subjected to severe psychological abuse and other forms of torture until such time as their pregnancies have progressed beyond the stage when a safe abortion would be possible. by one’s enforced complete powerlessness at the hands of perpetrators who are absolutely free to do whatever they consider conducive to reinforcing and prolonging one’s suffering. and rape them systematically for extended periods of time. at which point they are released. subjugate. even if they have the chance to return from exile’. the policy of rape is an essential ingredient of the genocide performed in – or as – ‘ethnic cleansing’. traumatize. that one is doomed: ‘Victims of rape will never come back to the place of their traumatic experience. the victim of rape will have been deprived of the elements that normally constitute prospects for the future – relatives to return to.) If by ‘ethnic cleansing’ we understand the systematic policy of rendering an area ‘ethnically homogeneous’ by using force or intimidation (including killings) to remove persons of given groups from the area. Seada Vranic observes (Vranic 1996: 195). I stress this so strongly to establish from the very start that the rape we are talking about in this historical case represents a deliberate and systematically organized policy and so would be fundamentally misinterpreted if looked upon as occurring randomly and/or as the result of some ostensibly ‘deep-seated’. and to be allowed to survive. a home to return to.The logic and practice of collective evil 197 women. and dominate them. not to mention the multifaceted psychological sufferings. In short. ‘natural’. To have been raped as part of the policy of genocidal rape. is meant to represent a destiny scarcely preferable to that of being killed after the rapes. imprison them in a rape/death camp. . As we shall see below.

one’s original life-world henceforth be forever associated with the trauma inflicted. ‘Gang-rapes with spectators. forcing as many relatives as could be rounded up to be eyewitnesses. It is tempting to conclude that these rapes are all about ethnicity – the ‘ethnic’ identity of the victim and rapist being the only thing that matters. Its role must be located in the dynamics of power that attend the commission of atrocities. or in front of their houses. one does not have to be a female in order to be raped.198 Evil and Human Agency In many cases the rapes were directly connected by the perpetrators themselves with a motive of expulsion: ‘You must leave now or we will come back and rape you again. furthermore. family or strangers. the only characteristic that is given significance and symbolic value by the persons behind the policy and its practitioners on the ground. It is not only that they were not random. It is also that they targeted male as well as female victims. and one does not have to be adult (or relatively young) either: there are reports of rapes against under-ten-year-olds. It does. As Beverly Allen points out. What is now part of the past is meant to wholly determine the future. But this is untrue. attributes of masculinity always adhere to the perpetrator. and so forth. This explains why the Serb militia made it a matter of principle to rape a large number of the victims in their homes. and. The conspicuous fact that male as well as female persons are targeted should not lead us to conclude that gender identity plays no systematic role here. whether that person is male or female. and future. precisely because of that person’s dominance over another person . The rape is meant to define one.’ Telling the outside world about the rapes was said to entail signing one’s own death warrant. The ultimate aim is to ensure that one will never again be (become) the person one used to be prior to the rape. Several factors combine to endow these rapes with their devastating quality. taking turns. present. The temporality of the atrocity of rape is – psychologically – such as to span past. doom one. exposing the woman (or man) to maximal humiliation and traumatization’ (Arcel 1998: 195). but instead pre-planned and encouraged (frequently ordered) as a crucial element in a genocidal campaign. and so tainted beyond repair. including genocidal rapes. of trustworthiness (to put it in Kleinian terms). Libby Tata Arcel comments. spoiled of its sense of goodness. This is to make sure that one’s home. that they sometimes occurred with victims in both roles (an old man being forced to rape his granddaughter). In short. as well as over-eighty-year-olds. men of the same targeted ‘ethnic’ group being forced to rape and perform various sexual perversions on each other. one’s neighbourhood. turns one of the most private and intimate human acts into a public affair. forever.

independence. Allen does not spell out precisely what masculinity and femininity mean. quick in being inflicted. and culture. it was an articulated aim of the rapes that the women targeted (to the less-thantotal extent that they were women) get pregnant and that they subsequently were forced to give birth to the baby. For the fact is that this policy of mass rapes had pregnancies as a key aim (as distinct from a ‘by-product’ of the rape. How can forcing one’s targeted victims to give birth to more babies be a means to removing them. invulnerability. In the present case. It is tempting to say that enforced pregnancy as a method of genocide makes sense only if you are ignorant about genetics. as it were – seems utterly ludicrous.The logic and practice of collective evil 199 or group of persons and because that person is immune from prosecution. In a patriarchy. whereas femininity – the counterpart in this binary opposition – is associated with heteronomy. thanks to centuries of cultural construction and assessment of gender identity in our type of society. transcendence. By the same token. In a patriarchy. is a fact about rape that has come to be widely recognized. The idea that Serbs could kill off the Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian peoples by producing more of them. yet so unbearably slow in healing (will they ever?). these are feminine attributes. Since we know that these rapes formed part of a deliberate plan of genocide. there is an additional characteristic. whether female or male. that is. Such ignorance is expressed by . by fathering babies – babies who would objectively be halfnon-Serb and half-Serb. not least thanks to feminists. is associated with autonomy. as Allen remarks. meaning the removal (by expulsion or killings) of a certain group of persons. a paradox emerges. puzzling. the equation ‘more babies equals genocide’ is a glaring example of faulty logic. genocidal rape in Bosnia. (Allen 1996: 28) Regrettably. easily overlooked and. as such devoid of significance as far as the rapists are concerned). strength as opposed to weakness. attributes of femininity always adhere to the victim. to eliminating them and everything they stand for? How can one engage in genocidal assault and at the same time – as a deliberate part of that assault – enforce a numerical increase within the targeted population? To be sure. vulnerability. these are masculine attributes. My suggestion is that masculinity. precisely because of that person’s subjugation to another person or group of persons and because that person has no recourse to justice. That rape is an assault on a human person that leaves particularly deep scars. in short. immanence. the power to control as opposed to the powerlessness of being controlled. dependency. that is to say. and nature. when noticed.

To approach genocidal rape as just another misdeed originating in patriarchy and so as a type of atrocity which patriarchy. Libby Tata Arcel’s nuanced and. Brownmiller’s view that war rape reveals ‘the male psyche in its boldest form’ is essentialistic and entails naturalizing ‘men’ as rapists. in logical terms. implying that war serves to bring out a ‘natural’ propensity (otherwise restrained) in men qua men. it implies that victims of such rapes will invariably be women. in my view. in a quasitranshistorical and transcultural way. ‘‘ethnic’’. drawing upon a combination of ethnonationalistic superiority feelings and a macho cult of male superiority in which everything ‘feminine’ is devalued (in a well-known psycho-logic according to which the more a man attacks human carriers of ‘feminine’ traits. the more he hopes to negate and distance himself from such traits within himself).200 Evil and Human Agency the advocates of this method of genocide when they claim that the babies born from these rapes will be ‘only Serb’. In other words. Rather. genocidal rape) is about using sexuality as a means to political ends set by certain leaders. How could such an idea develop? How could it be spread and – even – believed in? The answer. Second. religious. First. thereby ignoring that ‘the violent crime of rape can be perpetrated on anyone. As Allen came to realize. convincing hypothesis is that ‘masculinity constructions and nationalist identities can be and are exploited and put in service of a . will give birth to a Serb is the very premise on which this case of genocidal rape is based. regardless of sex’. is simple. the Serb policy ‘erases the victim’s cultural identity and treats her as nothing more than a kind of biological box’ (1996: 87). Recall that the Ram Plan cited above emphasizes the importance of attacking Bosnian society at its supposedly weakest point. war rape (here. For that is precisely what they claim: the idea that raped female non-Serbs. The man’s psyche is the wrong place to seek for an explanation. the equation ‘more babies equals genocide’ is possible ‘on the condition that they cancel every aspect of the mother’s identity – her national. I would like to add that this is the utmost form of reducing human persons to mere means – of their instrumentalization. in effect. that rape in war is simply the way it is in patriarchy. ‘women and children’. and as anticipated above. always harbours – as does the prominent American feminist Susan Brownmiller – is to miss the genuine novelty of the bent logic of the Serbian policy on two counts. to its perpetrators. and even genetic identities – other than that as a sexual container’ (1996: xiii). alternatively. it means naturalizing ‘women’ as victims (Allen 1996: 90). What we are dealing with is not simply one more instance of ‘mass rape in war’ or. as a result of being forced to complete their enforced pregnancies.

or nationality that the Serb military and the Bosnian Serbs used to justify their aggression in the first place’ (Allen 1996: 97). and corrupt and exploit many men. in acts they would not commit during peace (Arcel 1998: 199f. Add to this the practice of free delivery of alcohol to the men taking part in the gang rapes. the overly cultural identity of the targeted persons. As sexual container and biological box. in a process designed to destroy an entire culture – and this is something genuinely new. is completely erased when a pregnancy has been (by force) commenced. the pregnancies. a child . a Serb. ideologically all-important – to the point of determining who is to live and who is to die – in identifying persons as to-be-targeted in the first place. that is. At some level. creating the bizarre notion that the baby to be born will be a fully fledged Serb as far as its identity is concerned. they begin to subscribe to the very reasoning that seeks to erase their cultural identity: they are convinced that the pregnancy they carry will result in the birth of a Chetnik. The second count on which special care is needed to grasp the actual nature of genocidal rape has to do with a paradox that is even more bizarre than the one mentioned earlier. but they can also be disciplined and redirected under a different war strategy’. no identity beyond sex – on women. as observed by Allen and other commentators who have been in contact with the rape victims. Unfortunately. ‘for purposes of the Serb father equals Serb baby equation. are ready to believe that procreation of Muslim–Serb or Catholic–Serb offspring equals the destruction of the Bosnian and Croatian populations and the ‘purification’ of the Serb one. religion. often do so believing the Serb illogic. If the formula of killing off people by forcing them to give birth to babies is to work. adding a novel dimension to the role mass rape has played in earlier conflicts and wars. especially the young and poorly educated. the mother to the child is perceived – and treated – as nothing else: as solely container. one of the most tragic results of this policy is that the victims. and not the rapes alone. That is to say. if they survive. as an entirely interchangeable instrument. its logical blunders are easy to spot.). Arcel stresses that the main responsibility lies with ‘those identified leaders and their followers who conceived and allowed the war rapes’. as long as we take a detached perspective on this policy. change the norms. Again. who in theory no longer bear the marks of ethnicity.The logic and practice of collective evil 201 male chauvinist and racist military strategy during war. and to ridicule. it must be performed on women who have. It is tempting to think that only the perpetrators themselves. that is. are employed as a major weapon of the genocide. Third. aiming as they did to lower the borders of acceptable behaviour. and only the most brainwashed among them.

The dissociation the ideology behind genocidal rape aims for – that between mother and child – is designed to effect a sense of alienation in the minds of these raped women with respect to their capacity for giving birth to new beginners. this attempt at distancing is but perfectly understandable. the identity characteristic of one’s tormentor by way of giving birth to his child. that the raped woman would in the future give birth to a Serb child. quite simply.202 Evil and Human Agency who will bear none of his or her mother’s characteristics. and slit the throats of her loved ones’ (1996: 99). challenged – to the point of erasing – her core identity. harmed her. ‘is’ the enemy. To invoke a central notion of Hannah Arendt (1958). she hates it and wants to destroy it. Hence this mother has her own reasons for adopting the conviction (spread by the perpetrators for their reasons) that her offspring. denying them actualization of the dimension of their basic humanity that touches on their capacity to provide a ‘new beginning in the world’ by giving birth to new beginners. second. and so in an elementary sense to strengthen. this attempt to distance oneself from what in such a violent and direct – what could be more direct than something innerbodily. ‘at some level. that is to say. It is as though the things told them by their rapists have borne fruit. cutting short their essential future-oriented capacity. to prolong into the future. there is the trauma of having been raped. The destiny to which she is doomed is that of being reduced to a mere means to ensure the reproduction and so future existence of her enemy. one could propose that the overall aim of pregnancy-producing genocidal rape is to rob the victims of their natality. tortured. As Allen says. there is the trauma of being forced to help reproduce. What is at stake here can be stated in philosophical terms. maimed. have become a selffulfilling prophecy – namely. something (precisely not a thing but a life) inside oneself that one cannot flee – manner is psychologically and emotionally associated in the woman’s mind with the very event that so has traumatized her. And indeed. The subtlety of this traumatization is to do with it being a double one: first. beginners greeted as both their bona fide offspring and as representing something . of the very people (persons) who have taken everything away from her that constituted her identity and sustained her self-worth: everything valuable to her and a source of her being valued by her dear ones. The several senses in which this is a subtle psychological device to inflict maximal humiliation and suffering on the victim should not escape us. as emphatically not hers. It has changed her life. It is part of what has so dreadfully destroyed her town. on top of that. For the child is now perceived by the woman (mother) herself as ‘his’. her sense of who she is.

even more than the quiet death of that tiny being who no one will ever know existed.) Here shame enters the picture. rape represents a shame-producing form of evil: evil carried out in such a manner as to inflict maximal shame on the victims. and betrayal. When the child is no . . Drakulic’s novel captures the state of mind expressed by many survivors of the organized rapes.’ In some cases. But. some of them being raped day in. day out for months on end. this is no successful method for putting an end to one’s pain. I am convinced that I am now evil. and agency In her novel As If I Am Not There. as indicated in the passage from Drakulic’s novel. or her newborn child. yet they could not imagine having a child conceived in this way. These raped women struggle with feelings of shame. They themselves are becoming capable of killing and that is the victory of the logic of war. such a woman will make a desperate attempt to get rid of her disgrace by dealing with it physically – that is. they will say: ‘My body is ruined. the women acquiesce to the same logic of violence which says that ours means life and theirs means death. Talking to psychologists. filled with terrible things. When I was raped. Slavenka Drakulic depicts the thoughts and feelings of women who are held captive in a camp in Bosnia.The logic and practice of collective evil 203 wholly novel in and to the world (in Arendt’s sense of natality as the principle of novelty). Not a breath in this world. Rape. ‘impurity’. by deciding to kill the baby inside her. She attended the murder of a child who had done nothing wrong. guilt. To give birth to a child conceived by rape would be more disgraceful than betrayal for them. Why did she say that it is better this way? (Drakulic 1999: 141f. shame. whereby the rapists take the signs of the ‘success’ of this strategy – involving signs of its adoption among the victims – as a ground for feeling relief from guilt and remorse. it doesn’t allow me to go on with my life. As if they had not seen enough death. is the cruelty of the girl’s mother. a fate worse than death . My thesis is that. the evil moved into my body. in the context of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Evil has since then taken place within me. feelings nourished by experiencing having been raped as synonymous with disgrace. We need to examine what follows for feelings of shame and guilt and so for the general issue of human agency. . Their helplessness was total. What hurts S. it had met its death even before taking a breath. the disgrace being felt as something they carry physically. Drakulic writes: There was no way to terminate a pregnancy. They were constantly concerned about whether they would leave the camp with a swelling stomach.

such that one. Tzvetan Todorov remarks that ‘often. for they succeed in transforming normal individuals into human beings prepared to do absolutely anything in the name of one single thing. compares the shame of what was done to him (during torture) with the shame felt by a raped woman: ‘Logically. the shame of having been unable to prevent terrible things from happening to others as well as to oneself. Hers is an inscribed body. Jean Amery. irremovable whatever this woman thinks. the shame of having sunk so far below one’s original standards of conduct. The shame is as though pasted onto the person. is intolerable. Shame accompanies the attempted transposition from the role of victim to that of actor. and as such inextricably constituent of who the person is (Kirkengen 2001). in contexts radically different from that of rapes as both a means and an aim of ‘ethnic cleansing’. to a total dissociation from her will’ (Amery 1979: 87). survivor of Auschwitz. . more deserving of life) perished – these are so many varieties of shame that in many instances will haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. survival’ (Todorov 1996: 263). the guards emerge as the true victors. a feeling of complicity in events that ought never to have taken place. but the victim (Russell 1984). The powerlessness of having been acted upon (in a literal sense) is sought overcome by a decision to oneself act upon what was forcefully imposed. feels. The shame connected with having been helplessly exposed to torture and humiliation of an enormity unknown to most of us. It is sought eliminated by resorting to an active act. generally speaking. wherever she may go. Moreover. for she cannot forget that she was reduced to powerlessness. it is not the perpetrator who feels shame. We know that. does. Elaborating on Amery’s observation.204 Evil and Human Agency more because one has killed it oneself. There is but a short step from assault embodiment to sickness. shame remaining the significance of that inscription from without. even in the eyes of the inmates. the passivity of shame. with selfrespect. But this act – killing the evidence of what caused the pain in the first place – only helps create new guilt and reinforced shame. it is a shame that easily turns into guilt. it is the rapist who ought to feel shame. the shame of remembering such unnameable things. The shame of passivity. the shame and guilt at having taken his or her life remains. the shame of having witnessed something that should never have come to pass between human beings (most vividly articulated in the work of Primo Levi (1988)). of having oneself survived them when so many others (often ‘better’ than oneself. but in reality it is the victim who does. to types of psychosomatic suffering peculiar to the way the sexual violation experience is and remains an embodied experience. simply by having been present. It is felt as incompatible with dignity.

may order him to transgress. mainly involving Muslim women. the victims of genocidal rape in Bosnia.) who. to allude to Karl Jaspers’ powerful notion of ‘metaphysical guilt’ (May 1992: 146ff. the assault communicates to all present that the perpetrator is ready to transgress all the previously established moral and social norms that his leaders. namely. that the female victim is a mere instrument. However. were exposed to utter helplessness and paralysis with respect to fulfilling their ‘masculine’ role – prescribed both by religion and by traditional culture – as protectors of the(ir) women. looking on the scene that will traumatize them forever? Third. When Serbian paramilitary units participate in organized mass rapes against Muslim women in Bosnia (and later in Kosovo). placing as it does a premium on virginity. grandfathers. nor in those of their relatives. being frequently forced to witness the rapes. brothers.The logic and practice of collective evil 205 walks around as a living sign of something about which contemporary and future humans better be – deserve to be – ignorant.). Fourth. First. the shame is reinforced by the fact that their religion so strongly stresses the dignity that is lost and so the disgrace that is created by being a victim of rape. etc. and how can they expect others to forgive them – even though they felt that there was nothing they could do. acts like the others and for the sake of their community and their common cause. In light of what has been documented about the policy of genocidal rape. or restricted to. Let me expand on the latter. Again. I noted that the shame felt by the individual victim is not a phenomenon novel with. in that particular case. that the perpetrator is one of the group. fathers. the violent assault communicates that the victim is devoid of value. as well as in their men (husbands. there is reason to assume that the shame and disgrace were deliberately created – planted – in the women directly assaulted. the perpetrator communicates something to . Second. on the basis of an ideological claim about ‘ethnic’ superiority. the assault communicates a severe blow against the dignity and self-respect of the male members (including husband) of the woman’s family. Male pride was meant to suffer a blow from which the males involved would never fully be able to recover – not in their own eyes. Fifth. functioning as container for the Serb’s semen. the assault communicates something horizontally in addition to the vertical dimension just mentioned. this is just another aspect of the sense in which the Ram and Brana plans sought to ‘aim action at the point where the religious and social structure [of the Muslim communities] is most fragile’. a blow from which they most likely never will recover – for how can they forgive themselves for their own passivity. the physical assault can be regarded as a subtle symbolic communication along at least five dimensions. except stand by. sons.

This connects with issues discussed extensively in Chapter 1. then. or at last) the perpetrator meets his – emphatically his – victim face to face. For all these reasons. Instead. empathy and the concomitant chargedness of the face-to-face. I suggest that the dynamics laid bare here. as it were. It is precisely the proximity – in broad psychological meaning as well as physical – characteristic of the misdeed that so forcefully serves the goal of inflicting maximum psychic trauma. and that I accept this. that the transgression I presently perform is of such magnitude as to make me into another person. proximity signifies that now (for once. as a physically co-present fellow human being. Now.206 Evil and Human Agency himself – namely. that the moral as well as affective chargedness characteristic of the face-to-face encounter between a perpetrator and his victim will prove favourable to feelings of compassion and care. that this is a boundary I am willing to cross. is that empathy will side with morality. Precisely because the parties saw each other in the eyes on the occasion of the . with the consequence that the psychologically emotionally ‘high temperature’ of the encounter – in short. triggering and reinforcing feelings of shame and guilt in the victims. person-to-person encounter are being turned inside out. since performing it is now perceived as arousing shame and guilt (Vetlesen 1993. the assault undoes all established psychological identities and social certainties. they are transposed into their counterparts. When the assault is performed in a context of proximity – I am perpetually inclined to say. in spite of this context – the implication is that the atrocity is profoundly deprived of the prospect of future forgiving and reconciliation. with all the possibilities this entails with respect to humanizing persons who otherwise (in the stereotypes about ‘the Muslim’ or ‘the Jew’ nourished by ideology) are subject to dehumanization and depersonalization. we normally expect that. 1994). The common assumption is that the proximity marking the meeting between perpetrator and victim will elicit empathy. just as I accept that this transgression is likely to damage – forever and beyond repair – the relationship I have up till now had with concrete (known) persons within the enemy group. or is allowed to prevail over distantiation. once proximity obtains. too. Its total effects and repercussions are tantamount to a revolution for all affected. The normative aspect of the assumption. in effect triggering emotional and moral inhibitions. so that the assault will appear more ‘difficult’ to perform. This – and that is the point – is a far cry from what confronts us in ‘ethnic cleansing’. empathy will do. could not exert such a tremendous impact were it not for the circumstance(s) of proximity. all that makes for the absence of indifference on the part of the perpetrator – comes to side with immorality.

the kick as well as the shock of transgression – is a natural defence mechanism against unwelcome memories. and numbing – allowing indifference and fatigue to prevail where at first there was great tension. like they once used to. (Stiglmayer 1992: 155) In other words. a shared past – the deeper and more lasting will be the psychological and emotional impact of the assault on the relationship between the two parties. It is typical that he always describes his victims as ‘tall. unselfconsciously – in the mind of the individual perpetrator. Alexandra Stiglmayer comments upon her interviews with Herak: He seems to have raped automatically. they become so – at first very gradually. Or rather. the guilt of their aggressors. how old and frail were others? Having crossed the boundary the first time. its quality as transgression and as irrevocable. For these reasons alone. There exists. a shared place. recall them as unique persons. The closer the perpetrator is to his victim – in terms of kinship. starkly opposed. having taken the first and decisive step so as to do ‘that’. without wasting any time thinking about his victims. ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a particularly subtle and cruel form of evil. They have both seen something that nobody should have seen. a sisterhood of shame and a brotherhood of guilt: the shame of the raped victims.The logic and practice of collective evil 207 assault. It is typical of gang-rapes that the perpetrators hardly perceive their victims as concrete persons. face to face and person to person. Why should he recall his victims’ faces. is meant to radically subvert the prospect that the parties will ever be able to – or want to – live together again. It is this type of peculiar mutuality in what came to pass. that I suggest we consider a deliberate ` goal in evil a la ‘ethnic cleansing’ and that. they will scarcely be able to see each other in the eyes again – ever. It is a brotherhood of guilt in a first potency when Borislav Herak and other named and arrested perpetrators admit gang rapes in a sort of Sartrean ‘series’. Chances are that their relationship will be shattered forever. even though the setting of these assaults is eminently physical. something that should never have occurred – something irrevocable for both. perpetrator and victim are nonetheless depersonalized. later routinely. unless they knew them beforehand. between 20 and 25 years old’ – there is no way in which he more eloquently could have expressed how little they meant to him. friendship. so as to become one of ‘them’. recall how young. dark-haired. as neighbours. how terrified were some of them. and that they are unable to describe them afterwards. there is no return. in psychological terms. looking upon themselves (no less than their victims) as perfectly interchangeable. against possible feelings of guilt at things done .

defining its new meaning. the consequences of the assault. remain with the victim. of Serb masculinity. including all feelings of badness.208 Evil and Human Agency to specific persons. portraying what they are doing as a show-off of masculinity. display no signs of shame. the assault signifies the placing of the sting (Canetti). because the imposed is not separable from the body but is now the body. These young men put up a different face from that burdened by shame – namely that of pride. If she notices him. in short. as an imposed heaviness. a need for hiding – concealing what is done. onto whom they were projected in the first place . What about guilt – the guilt of the perpetrator? Does he feel any such thing? Is it only something attributed to him by others? Is the ascription of guilt at all compatible with his self-understanding? A relevant indicator here is that detained and interviewed rapists. The misdeed against the victim makes the victim impure and proves the purity of the perpetrator: the rape assault is a ‘two-in-one’ in that it marks self-identity and other-identity in one and the same act. as a life implanted within one’s own body. much as his violent assault is inscribed into her body. to him she is only a number in an endless series. as forming an audience. Not so in this case. not covertly. not in secrecy. a character test. in short. he does not notice her. With shame we associate a desire for. it condemns the victim to carry the sting forever – initially in a physical sense. The selfunderstanding of the perpetrators is informed by an ideological message. in no psychologically meaningful sense one’s own. In other words. whereas his face is burned into her memory. in the form of the newborn child. an urge not to be seen because being seen would betray one. of boasting. living proof of the enemy. as the fate of having been made heavy. as a part of the body. such as twenty-twoyear-old Herak. The picture that emerges in these interviews is one of persons who were faces to each other – but. Beyond that. The absence of shame points to an absence of personally sensed guilt. a spectacular performance in front of an audience whereby the weak and feeble will be distinguished from the strong. the unworthy from the worthy perpetrators. granted the logic according to which such a child is wholly ‘alien’. Here the deed takes place out in the open. of exposure of (and in view of) all involved on both sides of the perpetrator/victim divide brings them together in a shared role as attendants. and later as the physical reminder. a face in a mere physical sense. of the reality of the deed. it takes place as a deliberately staged event where the aspect of display. immobile with respect to what has been imposed. in an attempt to escape the look of others. not in a psychic or emotional one. her body’s memory. convicted of a large number of rapes and the murder of several dozen Muslim civilians of both sexes and all ages.

but more on that below). I suspect. inevitable. having seen for themselves that refusal was a perfectly available option. perhaps a totally different life. but most of these men instinctively tried to tone down the criticism of their comrades . Here. at least one situation in which shame may evolve in a person taking part in atrocities performed by a group. namely the open-air shooting of Jews on the Eastern Front.The logic and practice of collective evil 209 (to invoke Alford) – unconsciously or not. It should be added that there is. let alone try for a second to imagine what happened as experienced from their vantage point. by contrast – and allowing for a significant number of exceptions (perpetrators’ post-traumatic disorder) from this general trend – is relatively unmarked. one’s actions. and torturers. like: Why did so few men refuse to murder. In keeping with Alford’s analysis. better not encounter the victims. necessary. as in so many other instances. whereas powerlessness spells immobility. But I believe it is suited to illuminating a phenomenon seen in both cases. He has invested his sense of identity and self-worth in the notion that what he did was essentially right. past misdeeds take on the character of something placed far away and left there. The empirical example I have in mind is not from Bosnia but from the Holocaust. and to give up this notion – having always been in the right – would mean to start seeing oneself. To sustain this notion. and it henceforth is the business of those afflicted – solely. the American historian Christopher Browning notes that some members of Police Battalion 101 refused to carry out their assignment. one not followed by punishment? Or (more to the point in the present context) why did those few who refused do so? How did they think and feel about it? Browning’s comment is worth quoting: The danger of personal isolation was probably reinforced by the circumstance that the ‘no’ voiced could be perceived by the comrades as a moral reproach – as though those who refused considered themselves ‘too good’ to do such things. and the like. with few or no physical reminders or scars pointing to what happened. There are several questions worth asking here. the rule is that power (exercised as violence) is dynamic and eminently mobile. Not all. collectively or individually (to the extent that the distinction can be made here. in a completely novel light. a prospect likely to be shunned by most killers. busying himself elsewhere and with new projects. The important point is that the policemen who refused to participate in the killings received no severe punishment (they were mostly given administrative work and allowed to move to a different region). In his acclaimed study Ordinary Men. The perpetrator. rapists. since of a general nature.

They did not feel up to the task expected of them. to participate. as indicated in Browning’s comment. ‘hardness’ was legitimized and affirmed as superior property. than they felt themselves able to muster in situ. the instinctive pity they had to overcome within themselves to be able to kill. in as much as a ‘morality of sorts’ is operative in the minds of these policemen. It was just that the task demanded more of them. women. then. In other words. as noted earlier. to quote from Himmler’s infamous speech in October 1943 (Sereny 2000: 295). (Browning 1992: 241f. a problem was that the difference between being ‘weak’ and being a ‘coward’ was small. Hence their refusal was completely devoid of the moral pride and outrage we might be tempted to attribute to their motives. However. but instead ‘too weak’. the task of killing was conceived as noble. a genuinely moral motivation was indeed decisive – only pragmatic reasons forced them to downplay this quality. the attitude of their comrades was not put into question. Be that as it may. elderly. at least for some of the refusers. In refusing. If anything. to have remained decent men’. It is possible that. the successful overcoming of which would be testimony to their having ‘persisted and at the same time .210 Evil and Human Agency that was associated with their stance. they did not mean to articulate a protest to the effect that they deemed the killing as such morally wrong. Even though their fellow officers are reported to have looked upon their refusal with understanding (as opposed to the scorn or fury we might have expected). as we again might have expected. in forgiving those who did participate.) Browning’s analysis is instructive in the context of ‘ethnic cleansing’. . this interpretation is tendentious and one-sided. For worried individuals this also had the advantage of not casting doubt upon the murderous policy of the regime. the men in question apparently had great trouble forgiving themselves – and not. ‘too weak’ to participate. rather. in conditions of utter proximity. one from which victims are perfectly precluded. in terms of psychological character and moral resolve. precisely on grounds of being a group phenomenon and so . In this way. since it demonstrates that when shame does appear within the group of perpetrators. the point I wish to make is that collective evil. even unprecedented order – just think of the ‘natural weakness’. They did not claim to be ‘too good’ to kill. the refusers did not consider themselves too decent. To be sure. . it does so as a feeling experienced by those who refused to murder – not by those who murdered. as representing a psychological ordeal of a supreme. morally and psychologically speaking. defenceless children. morally speaking. rather they considered themselves. it is of a wholly (closed) intra-group kind.

we may say that what occurs amounts to psychological suicide: the man kills himself as his wife’s husband. and subsequently be granted status as pure. a category hopelessly in between identities that are presented as allowing either for what is unambiguously pure (own. and . This shame. his suggestion that sometimes the most suitable victim is the neighbour – is borne out in the case under discussion. we have seen. by doing what good Serbs have to do in a situation of conflict – they can step across a boundary. there is a possibility that they might become pure Serbs. meaning good. refusers probably tended to feel just as shameful as did those reported by Browning. This is the point where Girard’s notion of the surrogate victim – most ominously. As such they combine in persona what is ideologically proclaimed to be mutually exclusive.The logic and practice of collective evil 211 setting in motion psychological responses not shown in individuals acting on their own. In addition to the cases where a man was forced to rape one or several of his female family members. In the extreme case of a man who is ordered to kill his own wife. Put otherwise. meaning bad. abandonment. intolerable. such persons are a thorn in the side of the ideology hell-bent on ‘cleansing’ whatever is found to be ‘dirty’. there is the case of the Serb man who is given the so-called choice between killing his Muslim wife or being killed himself (by the Serbs). very significantly. that they show themselves worthy of their ethnic identity. Serbs who are (or who are suspected of being) against ‘ethnic cleansing’ of defined categories of non-Serbs are regarded as ‘impure’ Serbs. the more emotionally charged and truly person-bound will be the boundary he is asked to cross. namely. Above I indicated that the intrafamilial character of some of this (enforced) violence in fact forms a separate and highly significant category of the total violence performed under the banner of ‘ethnic cleansing’. a violence he performs against himself. unworthy of life). making them a living aporia and. and refusal betrays his weakness. However. Here the play on purity/impurity reaches its peak. shame as felt by perpetrators at atrocities they did not take part in is a feeling based on an interpretation which in fact affirms the ideologized viewpoint according to which killing and raping bring out the ‘strength’ in man. as such. In an atmosphere conducive to the flourishing of ‘macho’ values and behaviour such as prevailed in the performance of gang rapes in Bosnia. is a perversion as far as its bearing on positive morality is concerned. worthy of life) or unambiguously impure (alien. that of taking non-Serb lives. creates its own type of shame. The killing is the enforced denial. Forming an anomaly. The closer the Serb man’s links with ‘impure elements’. It is vital to see that the kind of intrafamilial violence discussed is not only a violence that the agent performs against his victim: it is also.

Why? Why must this bond be removed. the alien ones. with those one’s ‘own’. Ethnicity as marker of pure/impure. properly understood only in a wide sociocultural context. according to this ideology. reality and the woman’s true injury are sacrificed: rape begins to look like seduction with ‘just a little persuading’ rather than a massive and brutal assault on the body and psyche. N. of this particular and intimate person-to-person tie. difference from the others. The non-permitted and so ‘outrageous’ is precisely the ethnically neutral person-to-person bond or. C. physicalpsychic carriers of ethnic identity and. quoted in Arcel 1998: 207) . the bond between persons whose ethnicity may differ but to whom this difference makes no difference and possesses no negative significance. are not only (let alone first and foremost) persons – noteworthy and commanding of respect on account of their individual uniqueness. hence of the future of that community and all those who are its members. by presenting honour as the interest to be protected. I think it is because the ideology behind ‘ethnic cleansing’ has no conceptual room for a bond between persons that is ‘only’ a personal bond. In short. Third. In this fashion. Rather. Specifically. one stressing in particular the role played by religion for those directly afflicted. Rather. friend/enemy is a marker that leaves nothing untouched. violations of honour and modesty are wholly inadequate concepts to express the suffering of women raped during war. that is. As reports from the former Yugoslavia indicate. Persons. a note on the limits of this approach is called for.212 Evil and Human Agency annihilation of the husband–wife bond. markers of a similarity and a difference: similarity with the ‘same’ (to allude to Levinas). First. as such. the injury is defined from society’s viewpoint. own/alien. conflicts based on ethnic identity permit no one to be neutral. more precisely. Second. this concerns the theorist’s penchant for regarding such rapes as a special type of ‘symbolic violence’. unaffected. (Niarchos. even by a physical act? Is it because this couple embodies the ‘multi-culti’ life-form the cleansers loathe and seek to wipe out whenever met upon? Not primarily. and the notion that the raped woman is soiled or disgraced is resurrected. to be a person is to mark purity/impurity. of the purity and sancity of life. to the ideology in question persons are ethnic identities. Niarchos has offered the following comment: The pitfalls in linking rape and honour are many. identifying honour as what these rapes are most fundamentally about – destroying pride and dignity within a whole community by way of attacking the female body as the symbol par excellence of virginity. on the scale of wartime violence. After everything that has been said about the crucial function given to rape by the ideology behind ‘ethnic cleansing’. rape as a mere injury to honour or reputation appears less worthy of prosecution than injuries to the person.

In 1999. The latter element completes the denial of pain. punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed. It certainly has taken a long time for the well-rehearsed dichotomy between war rape and torture to be discarded. when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent of or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Scarry (1985: 51f. whether physical or mental. rapes during warfare have gone from being understood as a sexually motivated ‘by-product of war’ to being (also in the legal setting) understood as a politically motivated act. thus contributing. to less stigmatization of the victim in her social context’ (Arcel 1998: 206). it is an act of self-blinding that permits a shift back to the first step.The logic and practice of collective evil 213 In recent decades. One could say that the injury achieves invisibility by way of denying the human import of what is being done to the victim: torture is a matter of actively doing precisely what ought not to . While acts of rape have been condemned as violations of human rights. mainly the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment from 1984 (the Convention Against Torture). the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda made an historic determination that systematic rape is a crime against humanity and that sexual violence constitutes genocide in the same way as any other act (Melvern 2004: 251). It is useful to bear in mind the definition of torture (as put in Article 1): . (Arcel 1998: 207) Add to this that the essence of torture (following Elaine Scarry) consists in the denial of pain. the infliction of still more pain. victims of torture are entitled internationally to broader protection than victims of sexual assault. the objectification of the subjective attribution of pain. or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind. . sexually motivated one. In her groundbreaking study The Body in Pain. is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession. and second. and war rape as a personally. defined as sexual torture. the importance of the legal understanding of war rape as ‘wilful torture’ cannot be overvalued. for at least two reasons: ‘First. . it is hoped. an understanding of war rape as wilful torture moves the responsibility from the survivor to the perpetrator. and the translation of the objectified attributes of pain into the insignia of power. whereby torture counted as a politically motivated crime. or intimidating or coercing him or a third person. any act by which severe pain or suffering. torture has been directly prohibited by war treaties and conventions.) suggests that the structure of torture consists of three elements: the infliction of pain. As Libby Tata Arcel notes.

On the contrary. It is a pacific opposition. violence consists in ignoring this opposition. war rape constitutes intimidation. ignoring the face of a being. They are so many cases of an act of destruction. torture aims at the obliteration of the subjectivity of the subject being tortured. at absolutizing the power of the torturer by way of silencing the voice and crushing the world (all held values and all pursued projects) that used to belong to the victim now demonstrably reduced to sheer animality. . is not a hostility. savage. of ‘authority without force’. is that which they had to erase in order to be able to go on doing what they did. The perpetrators are public officials. but one where peace is not a suspended war or a violence simply contained. If Levinas is right. The opposition of the face. and discrimination. at making the tortured body become – exhaust in toto – the person tortured. . avoiding the gaze. The relationship with things. in what is not properly speaking it. Perhaps no philosopher has captured the crux of this phenomenon better than Levinas: What characterizes violent action. It is a matter of recognizing the victim’s subjectivity only for the instrumental purpose of using insight into that subjectivity to negate it. is that one does not face what the action is being applied to. coercion. it aims at the elimination of all powers of agency. Rape of the kind discussed in this section counts as torture (Levinas: violence) in this sense as well as in the given legal one. (Levinas 1993: 19) So much for an extended commentary on Herak and other interviewed rapists’ failure to remember the face of a single victim of theirs. the domination of things. One does not see the face in the other. ordering or personally committing rapes in that capacity and not as some act performed spontaneously or for personal-sexual reasons. were its human import for the affected one taken into account. which is not the opposition of a force. one identifies the absolute character of the other with his force . of taking hold of it in its absence. what characterizes tyranny. to effect its destruction all the more perfectly. a physical act of violence causing severe pain and suffering at the mental and societal level as well as the physical. the face qua individuality signifies precisely what they negated when doing what they did to their victim(s) – proximity notwithstanding. As borne out by the material.214 Evil and Human Agency be done. this way of being over them. the face in Levinas’ sense of ‘opposition’. In this sense. one sees the other freedom as a force. consists in fact in never approaching them in their individuality. Violence is a way of taking hold of a being by surprise. . and catching sight of an angle whereby the no inscribed on a face by the very fact that it is a face becomes a hostile or submissive force.

The logic and practice of collective evil


Even though the fact that war rape has recently been redefined as sexual torture is to be greeted as a significant step in the recognition of the extremely severe nature of this crime, the suffering inflicted on its direct victims remains undiminished in human terms. Earlier sections have paid attention to the phenomenon of collective trauma, and how it is transferred transgenerationally. Experience has taught us that under certain circumstances, when there has not been any other satisfaction or compensation for the suffered atrocities, the ground is laid for the next round of aggression. In cases where the perpetrators enjoy impunity, or where arresting and punishing them (for whatever reasons) are given no priority, thus allowing them to remain at large, aggression will be seen by many as the only way of seeking justice. Libby Tata Arcel, working as a psychologist among the rape victims, reports that a Bosnian politician told her that it was necessary for the perpetrators to be punished by the International Tribunal, ‘otherwise the burden remains on our shoulders, so we have to take revenge sooner or later’ (Arcel 1998: 203). It seems that, despite the progress made with respect to the legal understanding of war rape, shame and guilt linger on as common feelings in the victims. As we saw, it is shameful to have been raped; in addition, it is perceived as shameful if the raped women relate their experiences (psychologists have found that the intra-group victimization of both Catholic and Muslim women is most frequent amongst traditional communities). Accordingly, these women have to be mute and suffer in silence; this is the most dignified position. ‘Nobody forgets and nobody forgives but most practice silence’, Arcel (1998: 204) reports from her work. (Arcel does not address how the men who were raped cope with what happened to them, or how they are met by others. I can only speculate that the stigma (sic) of ‘femininity’ that was meant to go with the experience of being raped in the context of ‘ethnic cleansing’ helps make their reluctance to talk about it even greater than the women’s.) This conspiracy of silence is not only to be regretted on the grounds of the obvious psychological costs to those involved. It is also lamentable in that it prolongs the traumatization at a sociocultural level. Not to speak about it, or not to be willing to hear about it, in fact means to seal the wounds inflicted by the rapists and thus to validate their deeds by contributing (however unwittingly) to their prolongation. It means sharing complicity in the next round of aggression – if it occurs, depending precisely on whether the wounds have been ‘stored’ in the psyche of those afflicted, thus constituting a trauma for which an external outlet is bound to be sought if a symbolic one is not found (to allude to Alford).


Evil and Human Agency

One of the most upsetting aspects of the rapes is the phenomenon of self-blaming, of assuming responsibility for what happened to one, and thus not only shame but fully fledged guilt. Arcel and her colleagues report that many of the raped women (especially from the countryside) were faced with suspicion and asked by other women who had been taken captive as well, but who had been spared the experience of being raped, ‘Why you and not me? You must have asked for it.’ What is particularly regrettable is that in the cases of some of the raped women, the suspicion and hostility they are met with (even from co-victims) translate into the assumption of blame, sometimes even outright guilt for what happened. It is not that they start embracing the notion that they in some sense must have ‘willed’ what happened to them, popular with some of the women who were not raped and who use this fact to challenge those who were, saying to them, ‘Why were you raped when I was not? You must have asked for it since you were selected.’ Though not necessarily accepting this version, some of the raped women become convinced that ‘I had a choice. I have some guilt for what happened. I really, at a deeper level, chose to let it happen to me.’ Why take this line? Why blame herself, in effect letting the real offenders off the hook? A plausible psychological explanation is that she is trying to empower herself. She tries, that is, to reclaim some minimal agency: better to be guilty and responsible than to have been rendered totally powerless and helpless; better to convince oneself that one could have escaped, could have offered more resistance – in short, could have acted differently (a key criterion of free will) – than to admit total lack (bereavement) of agency. It is a matter of reclaiming at least some subjectivity after having been made into a mere object and been told over and over again that one is totally devoid of worth, of feelings, of a capacity for willing and for acting. It is a desperate attempt to rehumanize oneself after having been dehumanized. The practice of self-blaming thus appears somewhat less of a paradox: it represents an act of defying the perpetrator’s intentions by displaying to the world that one is, despite everything that happened, still capable of taking a stand, of saying, ‘Here I am, this is me, this is what happened and this is my active role in it.’ It thus defies the perpetrator even when the price paid for doing so seems to be claiming as one’s own the guilt, shame, and responsibility that truly belong to him and him alone. Having said this, self-blaming must also be understood dialectically, not merely as an intrasubjective defence mechanism, an attempt at coping, at creating some order when there is only chaos. It seems to me that, as long as the rapists go free and are not arrested and punished, it is as

The logic and practice of collective evil


though the whole effort of restoring some moral order in the wake of all the destruction and suffering rests on the victims themselves – it rests on them for lack of resting elsewhere, in a visible and effective manner. It is as though these raped women say to themselves, ‘At least someone must assume responsibility for what happened. If no one does – not the perpetrators, nor some ‘‘third party’’ – then I guess I have to do it myself; there is no one else and, at least, being a survivor, I am free to do something that symbolizes that I have survived with my human and moral agency intact – that they didn’t succeed in taking away from me, although they tried, and although they took everything else. But still, what they took, they took by force; I gave them nothing.’ Self-blaming among victims corresponds with perpetrators’ declaring, ‘I had no choice. I did what I did because I was forced to. Refusing would have cost me my life.’ The need on the part of the once-powerless victim to empower herself has a parallel in the perpetrator’s need to disempower himself, to claim that he was just an instrument for the carrying out of the will of others. Alternatively, he may claim that ‘The victim wanted it, she brought it upon herself; it didn’t happen to everybody, only to those who somehow stood out and behaved in a conspicuous manner.’ Indeed, the methods employed to belittle the consequences of one’s actions, to shift blame onto others, are legion; and there is no denying perpetrators’ need to believe in the (self-)deceptions they endlessly engage in. There is nothing new here: blaming the victim is known as the oldest method of escaping – at least in one’s own eyes – responsibility for wrongs done to others. What is less known, and historically more rare, is the Serbs’ practice of asking – with clear sanctions attached to not complying – a particular woman held captive in the camp to go to another man and tell him she wanted him to do ‘it’ to her. This is a subtle strategy for creating complicity, a sense that the victim is responsible for what is done to her. It means rendering her a ‘free subject’, one making autonomous choices and, correspondingly, casting the perpetrator as an instrument who merely carried out her ‘secret’ wishes. The effect of this make-believe arrangement is a reversal of the roles of subject and object, shifting guilt and shame from perpetrator to victim. Indeed, according to Elaine Scarry’s (1985: 27–59) impressive analysis, this is a crucial characteristic of torture, highlighted by the way the torturer will attempt to render his victim responsible for confessing or refusing to do so – as if ‘information’ not power and pain is (zero-sumlike) the heart of the matter, of the relationship, of the maltreatment; as if the alternatives of succumbing to the pain inflicted by the torturer or resisting it (remaining silent, betraying no one, come what may) aptly


Evil and Human Agency

reflect on and attest to the agency (power) of the victim, representing his or her ‘moral choice’, instead of the responsibility for the whole sequence (including the positing of the pseudo-alternatives mentioned) resting squarely on the shoulders of the torturer and the powerful individuals and institutions behind him. In short, shifting the powers of agency from oneself as tormentor to one’s individual victim is a much-practised strategy among perpetrators of all kinds – hoping that not only the victim in question but the outside world as well will take the bait – namely by blaming the ‘weakness’ of those who talk and admiring the ‘strength’ of those who resist (sometimes to the point of paying with their life). To effect such a shift of attention from persecutor to victim, thereby transferring agency in general and responsibility in particular from the former to the latter, is a salient characteristic of both individual and collective evildoing. What is difficult for all victims of rape and other forms of torture is made particularly difficult in cases such as this – namely, to preserve (after the assault) an ability to ‘differentiate between herself as an object of violence and as a subject who had no complicity in what happened’, to quote Arcel (1998: 186). She points out that very few of the victims manage to make this distinction. The majority cannot continue living with what happened to them without splitting their mind from their body; without developing a sense that a foreign body-self has invaded their soul, so that they can only live with their body on the condition that it is not seen as belonging to the ego. For fear of being wholly eaten up, taken over, and controlled by the ‘alien’ thing that attacked their body – the thing that is now perceived as identical with their body because having conquered it – the woman disowns her body, her very sense of being a body, of being at one with her body, thus effecting a body/mind split where everything truly ‘herself’ is associated with the bodyless mind. A form of self-protection, this splitting on the part of the raped woman again touches on the role of shame. It is widely accepted that, at about the age of three, a human person develops a feeling of pride over his or her self-control of his or her body. However, if the body is rendered helpless, powerless, ultimately a mere instrument of intentions not one’s own, the feeling of shame will be evoked. No longer a natural and trustworthy source of pride, of self-esteem and self-identity, the body is all of a sudden turned into the opposite: a thing-like ‘object’ that one drags around, reminding oneself only of the body’s fall from grace; a transition, that is, from a subject of willed action in the world whose every move exhibits her sovereignty to an object of abuse at the hands of an alien will. To conclude, the creation of feelings of shame in the individual victim stands forward as both a central aim of the rapes and as a common

The logic and practice of collective evil


psychological consequence of them – and a long-term one at that. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is crucially about a type of evil that produces shame. When shame abounds in the victims, when shame is what remains with them and continues to haunt them, seemingly the price to be paid for survival, the perpetrators may feel that they have succeeded in reaching their goal. However, the attempts made by many victims to seize some command over their fate, over their victimhood, by claiming some elementary responsibility for what they suffered – while nonsensical in the eyes of many a detached observer – in my opinion poignantly attest to their humanity, and thus help deny their perpetrators total victory.


Responses to collective evil

Introduction In the previous chapter, I elaborated a framework suited to exploring how collective evil may come about. While attention was mainly paid to the mentality and practice of perpetrators, we also looked closely at how such evil is experienced by the victims, especially in the case of rape. In this final chapter, I shall employ as well as expand this framework. Collective evil of the kind I have been studying is a triadic phenomenon, not merely a dyadic one involving perpetrators and victims. It is triadic because the large-scale atrocities making up collective evil are tolerated or condemned, abetted or minimized by what is vaguely called third parties. To be sure, this is a vast and diffuse category, comprising individuals who, in their capacity as representatives of various bodies and institutions, may be: physically present on the scene (witnesses); assigned to monitor or inspect what unfolds (fact-finders); assigned to negotiate and possibly help influence the chains of events (diplomats); on peacekeeping or law-enforcing assignments; pursuing a political and/or moral interest (NGOs, intellectuals, engaged citizens); and, finally, the huge category of individuals who passively know that atrocities are taking place. My point is that the stance taken by each and every one of such third parties significantly impacts on the quality (intensity, extent, duration) of the collective evil in question. In fact, it is a very slight exaggeration to say – as I hope to show – that the doings of third parties, especially when taken combined, are just as decisive for the outcome of events as the actions of direct perpetrators. Responses to evildoing come in many kinds, depending of course on the identity, resources, and policies of the various responding parties. In what follows, I shall begin philosophically, asking what it means to pass

Fair judgment aims at justice. And justice is measured by its capacity to speak for all and hold equally for all. impartial. and those victimized. guilt. ‘fair’ means objective. in a case-related manner. The conclusion is inevitable: an external viewpoint is required for the acclaimed criteria of (moral. What remains is the third party. I proceed to conduct the discussion in an increasingly empirical and sociological manner. Yet we need always to have in mind that those responsible. i.e. do? Or to demand that victims forgive their tormentors? These are some of the questions addressed in the final sections of this chapter. the more exact nature of that involvement. or rather cultural condition. above partiality of every sort. hence both should be deemed unfit to judge. and reconciliation. legal) judgment to be met. and the task set for this chapter is to explore. as opposed to something subjective. It is. focusing on the phenomenon. The doer may wish to deny the deed and the victim is party to the event (or conflict) in question. The . communities. are distinct individuals. ` The neutrality of the institution of law vis-a-vis the two opposed parties is an invaluable principle and an historic achievement in our society. According to traditional usage. which by its very nature is deemed partial. bystanders of different kinds. Does it make sense to attribute guilt to entire groups? Or to feel ashamed for something that one’s group – or parents – did.Responses to collective evil 221 judgment on evil. and must always be safeguarded as. How to pass judgment on evil? I start by asking a philosophical question: What is the viewpoint from which evil may be judged? That of the doer. or did not. sometimes whole nations) are implicated. or some external ‘third’ party? The answer seems simple. refuting the pre-moral principle that right is might. Collective evil in the sense intended here is something in which collectivities (groups. one not directly involved in that which took place and is now awaiting fair judgment. That is why justice is passed on the affected parties from on high: to achieve fair judgment. and on issues of responsibility. and the perspectives of all those directly involved are necessarily limited because interest-based. of indifference. the victim. objectivity and impartiality. This raises the many-faceted topic of the relationship between individual and group. one needs to transcend the context in which the offence took place. My argument is that these issues deeply involve specific third parties.

the law intervenes and seeks an end to the conflict by peaceful means. to give witness before the court. And such impartiality is to be found on condition that we bracket the viewpoints of the parties concerned. each party has a right as well as a duty to testify. But is it? First. The viewpoint required is that which embodies impartial judgment. evil has the form of suffering. and disagreements otherwise separating the parties constitutes the true privilege of law as justice and justice as impartial. Evil – the phenomenon – does not belong in the domain of thought. So far I have presented a purely formal answer. What we know about evil.222 Evil and Human Agency all-important implication is that the parties be prevented from having to fight the matter out among themselves. It is not an upshot of our intellect. and nowadays almost universally agreed-upon. It is something we suffer or make others suffer. which are infected by partiality because weighted by interest. As to the assessment of this information with a view to the actual verdict to be arrived at. and it is ill-suited as an object of contemplation. Accordingly. criteria of moral and legal judgment. As experienced. I started by asking: What is the viewpoint from which evil may be judged? It would seem that the question has already been answered beyond doubt. thus effectively ruling out blood-letting revenge as the offended party’s way to right the wrongs suffered. a brief recognition of what sort of phenomenon evil is. But the sole purpose of such testimony is to provide the court with a multiplicity of aspects of the material on which it is eventually to pass legal judgment. the court alone has a say. Evil speaks louder than words. differences. we know from experience. Its presence in the world is experiential. I have restricted myself to the general. Since the law is in principle not a party. The tacit assumption is that passing judgment on evil is just another instance of passing moral and legal judgment in general. And. Such suffering is never . In keeping with established rules of fair procedure. it may claim the recognition of all parties concerned. although it may happen that evil generates in abstraction – Arendt once quipped that ‘abstract thinking is strictly comparable to the inhumanity of abstract emotions’ (Ignatieff 2001: 214) – evil does not materialize as abstraction. Evil is concrete. By this I mean that evil as suffered is not a product of our consciousness. The parties are given a hearing only in their function as sources of information that may help throw light on the matter to be judged. The response given implies that what holds for judgment in general will hold for passing judgment on evil as well. a recognition that cuts across all boundaries. instead. a traditional goal of the criminal justice system is to substitute institutional justice for private revenge. Having a claim to recognition from offender and victim alike.

looking at the ‘symptoms’ and ‘results’ of pain infliction from a wholly objectifying perspective. True. this flies in the face of the conditions for judgment sketched above. it does so only indirectly. by men than by women. as such. as beings constitutionally and ineluctably in lack. hence from a dimension of our existence in the world ineluctably given to us and. and independency for which we crave (just as involuntarily. concentrating his entire effort instead on cognitively registering how his victim reacts to the pain inflicted. human. represent the standard against which outsiders’ attempts to understand what came to pass must be measured. as well as record it once done. Our vulnerability stems not from our intellect – our intellect being precisely what allows us to indulge in fantasies of overcoming it – but from our existence as sensuous. crucially. irremovable by thought. assess. evaluate. my present claim is that there can be no genuine appreciation of evil save that gained by the direct route of suffering – that is. If I am correct in saying that evil is something we suffer or make others suffer. lacking the invulnerability. plan evil. at least in contemporary Western culture. immortality. Indeed. and for which unanimity was claimed. signifies precisely the capacity in which the torturer is lacking. Whereas the conventional wisdom claims that sound judgment. as dependent – in short. but our capacity for thought is not the dimension in us that essentially makes us susceptible to the experience of evil qua reality. put less strictly. that is to say. bodily. irrespective of the particular subject matter. of firsthand experience – or. gendered. then there seems to be no entry to comprehending and assessing evil other than that peculiar to the victim – the victim’s viewpoint would. a matter for our powers of intellect to contemplate. experiential . of the capacity to be affected by the affectedness of the other – which. the contradiction could not be more blatant. intolerable as it is found to be – though more so. it seems). such visiting is primarily a question of empathy. and emotional beings. In my view.Responses to collective evil 223 confined to what is merely cerebral. of ‘going visiting’ (Arendt) to the viewpoint of those affected by the evil in question. which for us – sentient beings – takes the form of suffering. Indeed. it seems to me. However. however. one from which their specifically lived. there is no access to evil save that gained by some type of vicarious suffering. requires an impartial third party (the party that emphatically is a ‘non-party’ to the matter at hand). by way of afflictions we suffer as sentient and vulnerable beings – as mortal. If and when thinking devotes itself to evil. I strongly believe that much evildoing must be looked upon as representing a protest against this vulnerability. thought may contemplate evil. so to speak. where independence (the autonomy of the individual) is the ideal and dependency but its negation and threat.

It is the complexity of the object – there being more to it than . Thinking’s unique capacity for penetration seeks more than depth. Being involved. as it is given in time and space. Thinking is radical in the sense of craving to go to the roots. a change of position will entail that we see. vantage points of those directly concerned. a disparity. touch. thoughts defy the defining – I should say. and thus partial. Thinking seeks depth. for judgment to be impartial. a spectator as distinct from a participant. to exercise judgment is to achieve meaning from a past event – albeit a meaning often lost on those directly involved at the time. and taste the same object in a different manner. sensuous experience will always be bound up with our position in time and space. Ultimately the aim of passing judgment is to attain reconciliation with what came to pass. To judge impartially means to be able to take into account the views of all parties without identifying with any of them. caught in the evolvement of the phenomenon or event to be judged would only blind one. as Arendt was fond of saying. the better – much as judgment strives for the illumination of its object from as many angles as possible. in medias res. Such judgment presupposes the privilege of being a non-party. never to rest content with surface and appearance. The second required privilege is that of hindsight. it has to achieve a balance with regard to the always limited. birth and death.224 Evil and Human Agency quality is denied (indeed. The Cartesian view typical of Western philosophy holds that. Moreover. that is. when we think. between thinking and evil. In short. The dominant position on the matter holds that. Its temporal dimension is that of the past. as distinct from thinking. standing apart from our everyday human existence as shot through with vulnerability and finitude. This is because. selective. we occupy no place in particular. and uncertainty (Descartes) held to be endemic to bodily sensuous experience. our bodily sensuous experience maintains itself on the surface of things. thinking points to a sphere of reality all its own. judgment is exercised post festum. delimiting – characteristics of human existence on earth – i. Thinking’s peculiar transcendence of everything given. passively recording what impinges on our senses.e. hear. By the same token thoughts are deemed eternal. This leaves us with an incongruity. consequently. Thinking operates in a no-man’s land. Thinking craves complexity – the more. Thinking prides itself on transcending the epistemic selectivity. its ambition is to penetrate what is merely (sensorily) given. denied even the slightest entry along the route of empathy). smell. For Arendt. it would inevitably put one’s ‘balancing’ abilities into jeopardy. however. lies in its total freedom of movement. unreliability (Plato).

in Eichmann’s declared motives for doing what he did. All we know is that we can neither punish nor forgive such offenses and that they therefore transcend the realm of human affairs and the potentialities of human power . a structural element in the realm of human affairs. to punish radical evil. as opposed to survivors. equipped as she was with the philosopher’s talent for seeking depth and finding complexity in the object of interest. since Kant. let alone complexity. always proceed. we can only repeat with Jesus: ‘It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck. How then to explain the resulting gulf between the doer’s perfectly ‘normal’ (even ‘banal’) motives and ambitions on the one hand. their henchmen? Would they want us to . even to us who have been exposed to one of their rare outbursts on the public scene. If this is the upshot.’ (Arendt 1958: 241) Arendt betrays doubts about the possibility of punishing criminals such as Eichmann in a remotely adequate manner. we reach an impasse. Arendt’s presence at Eichmann’s trial profoundly frustrated her philosopher’s penchant for finding depth and complexity: she could find nothing of any depth. like himself. To be sure. even immoral. . But again – should we even try? Who is to decide? And who is to forgive? Would the now-dead victims – the victims Primo Levi stresses are the real victims. discussed in Chapter 2. Arendt argues that it is impossible. not to mention the chances that we will be able to forgive him. who form the exception to the rule – want us to seek reconciliation with what came to pass. Thus the proverbial restlessness of thinking. to search for some meaning in the midst of unspeakable atrocities and the long-silenced suffering that goes with them? Would the victims of genocide – any genocide – want us to forgive. . where the deed itself dispossesses us of all power.Responses to collective evil 225 meets the eye – that fundamentally fascinates thinking and urges it to proceed. However. and the radical evil which is the true implications of his deeds on the other? Following Arendt. that men are unable to punish what has turned out to be unforgivable. because novel aspects and dimensions of the object under consideration are bound to be discovered. Arendt seemed extraordinarily suited to the task of contemplating evil. This is the true hallmark of those offenses which. implying that evil of such magnitude as considered here offers no satisfaction to thinking’s craving for depth and complexity. what then becomes of the Arendtian desire to attain reconciliation with past events? In a passage that may well contain her most blunt response ever to this question that so tortured her. as we saw in Chapter 2. She writes: It is therefore quite significant. and he cast into the sea. or try to understand. sooner or later. Here. we call ‘radical evil’ and about whose nature so little is known.

then for eminently practical ones. while ill-suited for the effort of thinking. more accurately. of what evil amounts to as experience. lest the evil done be allowed to stand. namely evil. the depth of what they suffered? These are questions that shall preoccupy us throughout this chapter. unrectified in all its horror. as suffering. nonetheless requires that judgment be passed on it – if not for philosophical reasons. by his shallowness. that is. even more to the point: Arendt’s portrait of Eichmann. as distinct from its appearance. it is also true that victims have a great need to find ways to deceive themselves about the sheer horror of the suffering that has been visited upon them so as to deny it. inaugurated a new paradigm. If evil is devoid of both depth and complexity. I hinted that there is a case for holding that the victim (or. I want to suggest that the difficulty Arendt faced. minimize it. As for Arendt. his mediocrity.226 Evil and Human Agency pass judgment at all on their plight. since the evil that has been committed awaits a response. that she translated her understanding of that person into a pronouncement about the phenomenon under scrutiny itself. sensing that their very survival as human beings depends upon some measure of such self-deception. In short. her conclusion about the negativity (shallowness. so as to assess. stressing his alleged banality. then evil begins to assume the peculiar status of an object that. However. Or. by intellectual means and by standards of objectivity.e. her loyalty to depth and complexity as prerequisites of judgment per se. victims may be tempted to exaggerate the evil they have suffered to such an extent that these evils entirely escape human comprehension. absence of depth) of evil – even ‘radical’ evil – makes me suspect that she became so impressed by the example of Eichmann. if there is no essence to it. they shall do so in an increasingly concrete and context-sensitive manner. and never quite knew how to handle. . is much more fundamental than is allowed by focusing on her wisdom (or lack of such) in launching the notion of ‘banality of evil’. then what kind of object is handed over to the exercise of judgment? Put otherwise. the survivor) is the only one who knows the reality of evil. despite the obvious sense in which this is true. it became a model for other philosophers’ and intellectuals’ understanding of evil and evildoers. if evil as empirical phenomenon is basically lacking in the very qualities that thinking qua faculty of our intellect expects to find and to explore in all its objects. Or alternatively. i. forget it. thus disconnecting them from the ambit of judgment – anyone’s judgment. his apparent ‘normality’. My suggestion is that her difficulty stems from her very point of departure – namely. Eichmann became a paradigmatic modern evildoer.

we recall. the cruelties?’ Sereny asks Stangl at the single most intense moment of their week-long conversations during the latter’s life imprisonment in the Dusseldorf jail. It is human. Why do I stress this by no means novel point? Because I want it to serve as a reminder. or what I earlier spoke of as the human import. It tells us something important about the psychology not only of perpetrators. ‘Before dying the victim must be degraded. commandant of the death camps at Sobibor and Treblinka. Cohen 2001: 77ff. is not the prerogative of evildoers. originally and in pristine form. people with blood on their hands. This is an explanation not devoid of logic but which shouts to heaven: it is the sole usefulness of useful violence’ (Levi 1988: 101). Rarely has this insight into the sought-for absolute division between doer and sufferer of evil been more memorably recorded than in journalist Gitta Sereny’s interviews with Franz Stangl. My claim. the hard-earned insight is that there is an abundance of methods with which to overcome it. even granted that there is. only the victim’s. ¨ Stangl replies: ‘To condition those who were to be the material executors of the operations. Therefore. so as to protect oneself from its human import. . To make it possible for them to do what they were doing’ (Sereny 1974: 203. As Primo Levi succinctly comments. so as to protect oneself from fully taking in the reality. Or rather. but of humans in general. of the suffering before one’s eyes. I am not sure that Arendt (1965a: 106) is right in postulating the existence of an ‘animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering’. is that the propensity to block oneself off from the suffering encountered. he will see to it that the pain caused remain precisely not his. This being so. so that the murderer will be less burdened by guilt. a key finding of Alford’s. ‘Considering that you were going to kill them all . It may well be that the most instinctive reaction to seeing somebody suffer great pain is to seek ways to block oneself off from it. such a pity in all normal men. .Responses to collective evil 227 As for the perpetrator. discussed in Chapter 3.). . to neutralize it – and that many among us start employing them as soon as we have cognitively registered that suffering is indeed the phenomenon at hand. chances are that people who are a non-party to evil will tend to identify more readily with the evildoer than with the sufferer – this being. what was the point of the humiliation. then. all-toohuman. This is a crucial point about access to suffering: that the one who does his very best to cause it. he will most likely develop rationalizations adopted to protect him from co-experiencing the human import of the suffering he inflicts upon his victims. in the very act of causing it does everything he can to dissociate himself from it in its dimension as human experience. as a piece of lived human reality.

I suggest. revealing – I shall argue – utterly problematic aspects of such much-employed notions as ‘impartiality’ and ‘neutrality’. To anticipate. by only one involved party? Is not the position advocated here just a recipe for partiality of judgment? Would it not therefore be disastrous. people will adopt a stance of (emotional) indifference. to those who bear witness to evil in the capacity of having experienced it. evil contaminates: once taken in in its human import. is getting involved. On my view. it cannot but leave scars on the subject. others still being of a more philosophical nature. perhaps sensing (unconsciously more than consciously) that once involved in evil. This failure. i. This is the task that is morally required. some touching on the persons involved in high-level decision-making at the time. and it has many causes. But – leaving aside the psychological dimension – does not such a view imply that impartiality of judgment is jeopardized? What becomes of objectivity the moment we open ourselves to the victims only. in its existential reality. I shall pursue these very general questions at a more pragmatic level. since ‘identify’ is a strong word.e. is multifaceted.228 Evil and Human Agency Or alternatively. whatever the psychological counter-forces involved. . just-as-involved party. possibly to the detriment of that other. namely the evildoer? How can judgment be valid if it is influenced. what they fear. my central claim is that the tragic events in Bosnia were accompanied. To return to the issue of passing judgment. The events in question were subject to a grotesque failure of judgment. if permitted to translate into legal judgment. especially if permitted to decide questions of guilt and appropriate punishment – that is to say. and asking if there are some general lessons to be learned from that particular case. lacking direct experiential access to the reality of the evil at hand. exploring how they arouse and were responded to by central actors in the case of Bosnia. In any case. rather than being a precondition for doing so – thereby contradicting the position common (with few exceptions) to the entire tradition of Western philosophy. as exercised in trials? In what follows. it follows that being a nonparty to evil often provides an obstacle to grasping and judging it. must open himself or herself to the victims. even in crucial respects precipitated. the third party. of (cognitive-evaluative) neutrality with respect to the case at hand. selectively. by a grossly mistaken attitude and reaction on the part of the rest of the world. or even abhor. that the non-party is the one best equipped to pass judgment. others being sociocultural and due to prevalent moral relativism and ‘post-emotionalism’.

nameable individuals (dealt with later). and often incompatible. referring to the impossibility of arbitrating between different. In his outline of a theory of indifference. Maritain commented that ‘nearly all of the participants in the discussions were able to agree about what human rights ought practically to establish but that. with that continued asking. 1988). Tester goes on to assert that when the question ‘why?’ is asked too often and too much. The foundation disappears or is destroyed so that there is no definite grounding for declarations of human rights. at least if such reasons are to represent something more compelling than . I shall do so by discussing a sociological perspective worked out by Keith Tester. arguably on the rise in contemporary Western societies. say. moral claims about issues of public import (MacIntyre 1981. reasons to engage in a morally responsible manner with. As such. they would have given wildly discrepant answers’ (Tester 2002: 173). it is indifference of an extra-individual. it is precisely this lack of a foundation which explains the peculiar phenomenon of indifference in the face of human rights abuses and affronts.Responses to collective evil 229 A culture of indifference The phenomenon these considerations force us to address is indifference. cultural kind. in what follows I propose to approach indifference in a largely cultural context. statements of human rights have been deprived of any universal foundation’. if the participants had been asked the question why human rights should involve this and not that. Specifically. The indifference that is the problem here is not so much that of specific. the phenomenon of indifference is clearly linked with his diagnosis of current emotivist culture. the French philosopher who was heavily involved in the deliberations leading up to the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. Though much can be said about indifference as a psychological phenomenon pertaining to individuals (Cohen 2001). Tester’s contention is that ‘the question ‘‘why?’’ is indeed asked insistently and that. (Tester 2002: 175) Although not explicitly dealt with by MacIntyre. universal values of any order collapse and binding claims are replaced with a resigned or cynical ‘why should I care?’. The inability to agree over justifications that Maritain observed is no far cry from the thesis about incommensurability famously advanced by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. rather. British sociologist Keith Tester quotes Jacques Maritain. To the extent that such a culture is devoid of rational standards of justification perceived to be binding on all members of society. the plight of victims of human rights abuses in some distant country will be in short supply.

e. moral engagement with the suffering of others needs to mobilize an organized collective of some kind. If MacIntyre demonstrates the connection between emotivism. especially distant others. instead. the triumph of non-rational subjective preferences in moral deliberation. Accordingly. and this cannot be done without reference to some commonly recognized reasons for action. the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter. Tester puts forward a notion of ‘hermeneutic culture’ that to my mind enriches MacIntyre’s diagnosis of current emotivism. there is but a short step from the impossibility of arbitrating between different individuals conflicting moral claims (understood as the more or less clever and overt expression of their ‘given’ preferences qua individuals) that so worries MacIntyre the philosopher. i. and the impasse in liberal societies over how to solve moral issues of inescapably public import. to the fact that men. Everything is interpreted ‘critically’ and treated with suspicion. not Man. to be practically effective. and for such to be established. corresponds to the human condition of plurality. Tester quotes Arendt (1958: 9): ‘Action. acting more or less on their own and guided by personal conviction. live on the earth and inhabit the world. At this point.230 Evil and Human Agency what happens to be in tune with the subjective preferences currently held by some specific individual. and for whom.’ Arendt pictures the relationships between actors in such a way that the experientially objective world. As I see it. constitutes an It which is ontologically distinct from the fundamentally moral relationship . to the social and moral indifference – understood as a lack of care and action in relation to the suffering of specific others – that concerns Tester the sociologist. to interpret them in order to identify their hidden and secret meanings. needs to be established. Bearing Maritain’s observation in mind. Tester proposes that the question ‘why?’ is asked because the present is dominated by a hermeneutic culture in which the tendency is not to accept claims at face value but. Tester establishes the link between a culture obsessed with suspicion and with asking ‘why?’ (so as to get at the speaker’s ‘real’ reasons for advocating this or that moral outlook) and the prevalence of indifference in the face of the needs and suffering of others. Mobilization of a social collective in its turn depends on there existing a common ground between the individual participants. thus allowing the trap of relativism to open up so that universal – and universalizing – principles like human rights are presumed to be questionable. In establishing these links. not merely single ‘idealistic’ individuals. this is so because. made up of things and artefacts. some agreement over what needs doing.

(Tester 2002: 177) These are crucial insights. from a distinct ‘he’ or ‘she’ to an indistinct ‘It’. The dull . indifference takes the form of a denial on the part of the social actor that he or she need act because institutions or organizations will carry out the necessary action instead. indifference can be defined as a preclusion. reified thing (precisely an It) to which things happen as from outside. says Tester. then indifference can be defined as the inversion of that condition. in that they similarly identify the other as an object-like.Responses to collective evil 231 between the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’. or the insertion of a mediating It between the social actor and the other. however. destiny or an excusable occurrence. And therefore the question ‘‘why?’’ is itself complicit in the condition of indifference’ (p. from the other to the same (Levinas). To the extent that modernity is the asking of the question ‘why?’. blaming the victims by asserting – sweepingly and indiscriminatingly – that they (precisely ‘They’ – recall Heidegger) only get what they deserve becomes just as beloved among bystanders as we know it to be among direct perpetrators. Perpetrators targeting a ‘Them’ and bystanders deciding to remain indifferent (inactive) in the face of those victimized commit the same destruction of the moral foundation of the other by means of substituting the unique other with reifying categories of the It. Even in cases of utmost human misery. ultimately nothing possesses authority of an intrinsic kind such as would escape the corrosive force of being subjected to its ‘why?’. It erodes certainty and confidence rather than creates them. indifference takes the form of a turning away from the other on the grounds that whatever insult or injury they are suffering is their fate. For my purposes in later sections. what particularly merits emphasis is Tester’s implication that there is often but a thin line between the stance of bystanders and that of perpetrators: in denying human plurality (Arendt) and hence in denying uniqueness. ignoring or ignorance of the other on the basis of either the allocation of the other to some category of the It (which typically takes the form of an establishment of some category of the ‘Them’). By this token. Tester theorizes indifference in the light of this distinction of Arendt’s: If social action is defined as orientation towards others and without any mediation via the It of things. ‘The quest for foundations destroys its own chances of success. In the former case. meaning that old authorities are interrogated away without solid replacement. Having effected this shift from uniqueness to categorization. In the latter case. Both of these forms are linked. 178). ‘what becomes important is the project of understanding why and how those humans are presumed to have moral significance. Part of Tester’s thesis is that the lack of ability or willingness to ask ‘why?’ in what he terms our hermeneutical culture is a truly corrosive force as far as morality is concerned. making all others appear predictable and alike. then.

the reasoning goes. the universalist ambitions of Enlightenment-borne modernity have collapsed into a plethora of mini-discourses. can one ensure that judgment is not premature. pointing as it were directly to what needs doing toward whom and by whom. nothing is so ‘special’ as to avoid radical questioning. that is. to make any claims to the contrary is only to invite particularly vigorous attempts at demasking it and demystifying its sources of proclaimed unconditional authority. 181). each of which validates itself . all affected parties have an equal right to express themselves and to be taken seriously. Only in this way. I think – that human rights in actual fact are no exception from the rule he stipulates as emblematic of modernity. for the sake of permitting an ‘unbiased’ and ‘critical’ discussion about some specific event. nervously regarding each other as rivals for the scarce good of attention. that it is balanced and based on input from a variety of sources and parties. is the context in which it comes across as only natural and fair that. The recurrent message is that in this world of ours everything is up for grabs. Radovan Karadzic is given just as much time as are representatives of his victims (say. Today we witness a variety of mini-discourses which approach each other with suspicion and in terms of a ‘struggle to cast doubt before doubt is cast’. then. yet he is quick to observe – rightly. This is not to say that Tester is not aware that one can plausibly argue that the principles of human rights as we know them today represent a deliberate attempt to put up a barrier against the destruction of all foundations that so worries him. in capacity to issue moral commands of a genuinely unequivocal quality. Tester admits that human rights allow for such an interpretation. the relativism thriving here is one that encourages us to look ‘not at the statements of human rights but at the particularity of the speaker’. even the most horrifying abuses of the human rights of others tend to be given less weight than the right of the speaker to articulate his or her particular standpoint and the ‘truth’ that goes with it. are themselves implicated an cultural climate which continues to undermine all claims to extrasocial foundation.232 Evil and Human Agency fact of suffering becomes less important than an inquiry which is groundless by its own admission’ (p. human rights. The relativism diagnosed by Tester dovetails only too well with the quest typical of emotivism as diagnosed by MacIntyre – the quest to uncover the secrets of particularity which are presumed to lurk behind all claims to universality. say. This. of shelling in Sarajevo) to present his ‘version’ on primetime television – the tacit premise being that. Lacking in objectivity. In keeping with MacIntyre’s analysis. More specifically.

and indifference. intelligent all of them). social class. identified with a tendency towards the oppression and silencing of others. in salient cases such as Rwanda and Bosnia (and why not add Chechnya?). The sad fact is that it is not too crude a generalization to assert that. the victims’ ‘standpoint’ and ‘version’ have been all but privileged. put into little parcels and entirely divorced from others because we only recognize their It-ness. itself. an It-ness which is. (2002: 184) In my view. Teaching a course with the title ‘The Concept of Evil’. The students would devote their intellectual energy to inquiring whether the trial of Eichmann was . what it goes to show about the connection between such cherished principles as tolerance and plurality. national identity and so forth). Lang had a shattering experience: his group of students (well meaning. ethnicity. The world of mini-discourses is a world of indifference running amok. We are all wrapped up. in discussing the literature given for the course (including Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower). MacIntyre and Tester combine to provide a framework that is very helpful when trying to understand the nature of the responses given to current instances of large-scale evil. I find it apt to end this section with an episode rendered by the philosopher Berel Lang. Just as it is true to say that all social relationships contain an embryo of indifference. on the other.Responses to collective evil 233 internally and by closure against the ‘outside’. For the bystanders no less effectively than for the perpetrators. In this way. the splinters of indifference are multiplied and magnified. voices representing the interests of all the other ‘parties’ somehow involved and seen as deserving to have a say. proved ‘simply blind to the appearance of evil when it actually appeared. my ‘It-ness’ can involve my sexuality. gender. holds true in the less lofty world of politics and diplomacy as well. the responses given by the so-called ‘international community’ have been but variations on the theme of indifference as theorized by Tester. substituting for what was plainly there before their eyes a set of oblique replacements’ (Lang 1990: 236). Instead they have been made to defer to the authority claimed by – and all too readily admitted – rival voices. on the one hand. it is much more true to say that in the world of mini-discourses the embryo turns into a living monster. The suspicion towards the foundation of universal human rights leads directly to a lack of care about the misery of others. Although the episode picked upon by Lang belongs within the domain of academia. Tester assesses the grim consequences: In a situation of mini-discourses there is also a multiplication of the categories of the ‘It’ into which human beings can be placed (for example. decent.

the students’ responses disclosed a pattern that was. But presently. had the obligation also to see himself as a society. 238). Lang’s point is well taken. namely. how not to discriminate . 237). exclusion. 237). (Lang 1990: 237) And with regard to Eichmann. not that tolerance and pluralism are not authentic values. Add impartiality and neutrality to tolerance and pluralism and what you get is the proud ideals to which nearly everyone among leading Western politicians. there seemed no way of judging him without condemnation. the question for discussion became whether Eichmann. as brought out in the young students discussing evil – or. it seemed to me. rather. 239). diplomats. not discussing it – the ideal of tolerance becomes internalized ‘as if the individual person. in the attempt to be fair and just. was so different. that all potential actions share equally the right to be summoned’ (p. but that by themselves they cannot do the work of moral judgment or action. To Lang. teachers and students alike. admitting all possibilities and declining to make judgments or discrimination on the ground established by the principle of tolerance. where the moral enormity was more difficult to avoid. and military officers paid lip-service on a daily basis while genocide was being carried . Lang concludes: ‘The point here is. What tolerance and pluralism teach is mainly how not to choose. after all. denied. . Lang reminds us that tolerance appeared in John Stuart Mill as a social ideal. historically shaped as they are by the Enlightenment ideals pointed to (and expertly invoked by the students Lang refers to). In making this timely and important observation. Where. almost disabled. a respect for the many and a keen eye for the universal – inducing. as if he should renounce his own agency. as for the actions of (Wiesenthal’s) SS man. induce in all of us.234 Evil and Human Agency not actually illegal and to dismissing the question asked by Wiesenthal by insisting that the SS soldier in his book had acted as a soldier and that there could be no issue either of forgiving him or of not doing so. they offer no basis for the positive choices that – often in the same moment – have to be made’ (p. on the other hand. then the judgment must itself be flattened. no determined commitment to the one and so being ‘reluctant. nothing more than a reluctance to admit the necessity imposed by moral choice altogether – an impulse to replace those demands with the deferrals of tolerance and understanding. Lang reflects as follows: ‘What stirred these reactions could best be understood as an enlargement of the principle of tolerance: from a precept governing relations among people to a precept governing judgment within the individual’ (p. . to confront the one and the particular’ (p. The institutions of education.

such knowledge only comes with an intrinsic moral obligation – to do whatever is in one’s power to prevent or stop the genocide. Therefore there is a hopeless mismatch between ongoing genocide on the one hand and the moral indifference of the compromise-seeking attitude on the other. more specifically. and the bodies and institutions they represent. we need to establish the more precise nature of the obligations carried by various third parties to collective evil such as genocide. it was hoped. the enormity. we now need to examine in more detail what went wrong and why. The responsibility of bystanders: when inaction makes for complicity What is common to the issues raised here is that they are so many ways of highlighting and questioning the role and self-understanding of bystanders. While this criticism of mine is scarcely new. provided only that the ‘parties’ could be kept at the conference table. politicians and diplomats (in the function of envoys) as well as ‘fact-finding’ academic experts and personnel from humanitarian organizations and NGOs. Like Lang’s students. but with incomparably more far-reaching and sinister consequences. typically articulated as a determined refusal to ‘take sides’. by which I mean professionals who have been engaged as a ‘third party’ to the interaction between the parties directly involved in conflict. even one with well-documented genocidal implications for one (or more) of the parties involved. the unequivocal moral imperative out of what was right before their eyes but somehow went unseen. these leaders used every opportunity. you do not negotiate genocide because genocide is evil at its evilest and hence beyond the pragmatic weighing of interests and the restoration of balances lost. Knowledge about imminent or ongoing genocide is not neutral. bystanders by formal appointment will include military officers. But the conflict was actually premeditated genocide and. to try to take the sting. bystanders by formal appointment. They wished to replace the sting with some balance about to be lost but always in principle. do not form a homogeneous category. Rather. is both traditionally and in principle seen as one of impartiality and neutrality. namely the United Nations. indeed. This stance of principled non-involvement is frequently viewed as highly meritorious. meaning every documented atrocity. historically it is fair to say that it has formed the very self-understanding of the most central ‘third party’ in the post-World War II world. To speak in general terms. These actors. . open to restoration and negotiation.Responses to collective evil 235 out in Bosnia in the early 1990s. as I shall argue in what follows. the stance of such bystanders to an ongoing conflict. In a first step.

for the victims themselves? Though naive (even cruel). and the more flexible the mandate with respect to the option of use of force. and taking Bosnia as the selected case. meaning (ultimately) a more or less direct intervention by military or other means deemed efficient to reach the objective of halting the incipient genocide. and in the . Obviously. But in the age of television – with CNN being able to interview doers as well as victims on the spot. static. from the viewpoint of an agent of genocide. indeed a duty.236 Evil and Human Agency What does it mean to be a bystander? To begin with. regardless of where in the world. agents of genocide may be caught more or less in flagrante delicto. this is borne out in Levinas’ notion of responsibility. One need not be there in order to know what happened or is in the process of happening. bystanders are persons possessing a potential to halt his ongoing actions. But is not halting genocide first and foremost a task. since it is often on people’s minds. according to which responsibility grows larger. in principle. If for the perpetrators bystanders represent the potential of resistance. Campbell 2002) – physical co-presence at the event at hand is almost rendered superfluous. It is obvious that the more knowledgeable and resourceful the bystander. and broadcast live to the entire television-watching world (such as was the case in the concentration camp Omarska in Bosnia in August 1992) (Gutman 1993. Put simply. In the wide sense here intended. say. for the victims they often represent the only source of hope left. Of course. In ethical terms. of a specific ongoing instance of genocide. The perpetrator will fear the bystander to the extent that he has reason to believe that the bystander will intervene to halt the action already under way. bystanders count every contemporary citizen cognizant. or remain. let us consider this question not from the expected viewpoint – that of the bystander – but from the two viewpoints provided by the parties directly involved in the conflict. the more the perpetrator will have reason to fear that the potential for such resistance will translate into action. this question needs to be addressed. the weaker its addressee. albeit seldom explicitly expressed by professional bystanders. it must be acknowledged to rest with the party not itself affected but knowledgeable about the genocide that is taking place. we immediately need to differentiate within the heterogeneous category of bystanders introduced above. This being so. The given passivity of such a person need not be. responsibility for halting what is now unfolding cannot rest with the victims alone. and thereby frustrate the perpetrator’s goal of destroying the targeted group. The answer is simple: the sheer fact that genocide is being carried out shows that the targeted group has not proved itself capable to prevent it.

just as on that of subjective understanding. its structure is interpersonal (Ricoeur 1993: 145). But. sometimes to the point of criminality’. yet still not acting. ‘I never forget’. either ‘the sufferer appears as the beneficiary of esteem or as the victim of disesteem. his proposal stops halfway. To be the ‘sufferer’ of a given action in Ricoeur’s sense need not be negative. forgetting to do something. even the most remote bystander – an ordinary citizen – possesses a potential to cease being a mere onlooker to the events unfolding. is also letting things be done by someone else. ‘to speak of humans as acting and suffering. he continues. 157). Ricoeur’s proposed extension sounds reasonable. Knowing. to the idea of intervention on the part of a ‘non-party’ to lessen the suffering of some victimized group). and Ricoeur (p. means granting acceptance to the action – if not wholesale moral acceptance. Brought to bear on the (extreme) case of genocide as a reported. But this is not the whole picture. Inaction in . Actions are also omitted. action is interaction. in order to identify the moral issues involved in being a bystander to genocide. the inaction making a difference is the chosen inaction of the bystander to unfolding genocide. ‘is grafted onto the recognition of this essential dissymmetry between the one who acts and the one who undergoes. Since there is to every action an agent and a sufferer (in the sense given). depending on whether the agent proves to be someone who distributes rewards or punishments’. Regrettably. though not developed. The failure to act when confronted with such action is a failure that carries a message to both the agent and the sufferer: the action may proceed. is that not acting is still acting. as well as the notion of agent responsibility following from it. The vital insight articulated. culminating in the violence of the powerful agent’. writes Paul Ricoeur. in the early seventeenth century. 157) takes these phenomena to remind us that ‘on the level of interaction. to be more precise.Responses to collective evil 237 spirit of Hugo Grotius (founding father. not acting is still acting: neglecting. I must see what I can do’ and translate into action promoting that aim. endured. Ricoeur’s systematic aim is to extend the theory of action from acting to suffering beings. Outrage at what comes to pass may prompt the judgment that ‘this simply must be stopped. he therefore emphasizes that ‘every action has its agents and its patients’ (p. ongoing affair. then pragmatic and factual acceptance in the sense that what is being done is allowed to be done without there being any action taken to help prevent it. neglected. and the like. what exactly does it mean to act? What is to count as an action? We need to look briefly at the philosophical understanding of the notion of action. The moral problem’.

the spatial notion of responsibility and its proper scope is hopelessly out of tune with the moral issues prompted by acts facilitated by context-transcending modern technology. not all bystanders are equal. Indeed. as argued convincingly by Hans Jonas in his advocacy of a notion of responsibility as an ‘ineluctably given absolute’ in human reality that stretches beyond the setting provided by two physically and temporally co-present parties. in so far as action is by definition to engage in something that is as unpredictable as it is irreversible. to ongoing events. ‘to the point of criminality’. hence today. the theory of action is satisfactorily extended only when it is recognized that the structure of action is triadic. But is an action really the exclusive possession. On my view. to realize one’s potential as a human agent means to expose oneself to the role of sufferer. Cutting the bond implies setting responsibility . some bystanders carry greater responsibility than others. Campbell and Shapiro 1999). some bystanders will be closer to the event than others. Therefore. If we confine discussion to bystanders in the present tense. In particular. rather. Notwithstanding the lack of complete control. ‘Closer’ does not have to denote spatially closer. It takes two to act. a private affair. Ethically speaking. To be sure. In short. the total consequences of a particular piece of action are bound to reach far beyond the immediate dyadic setting.e. in the case of acknowledged genocide. to allude to Ricoeur’s formulation. we are tempted to say – no more and no less. i. How does this development affect responsibility? What is implicit in Jonas is explicit in Levinas (1991): it is imperative to cut the bond traditionally theorized and practised as obtaining between responsibility and reciprocity. or by virtue of one’s knowledge as an intellectual. between the two parties immediately affected as agent and sufferer? For one thing. only responsibility does. its repercussions escape the control of the agent and evade being traced in any definite manner to some definite end point. with regard to the question of complicity raised above. As Arendt observed. It raises the question of responsibility and guilt on the part of the inactive bystander as depicted here. to act is to make a new beginning in the world. not dyadic. inaction here entails complicity.238 Evil and Human Agency this sense entails ‘letting things be done by someone else’ – clearly. reciprocity does not matter. ethics in world politics must take the form of a deterritorialization of responsibility (Jonas 1979. to set in motion – and open-endedly so. it may denote closeness by virtue of professional assignment. Only the start of a specific action allows precise localization in space and time. to be an agent and to be attributed responsibility are but two sides of the same coin.

sense of agency that stems from taking responsibility. On this view. to calculate with gains and losses. something with regard to which one must be prepared to economize. In advocating that the bond between responsibility and reciprocity be cut. a product of consciousness and volition – is due to the fact (seemingly trivial. if limited. yet absolutely fundamental in ethical terms) that the consequences of our acts are real. responsibility emerges as what ties us to others. gravity is given to our acts. On my Levinas-inspired view (though departing from his terminology). seeing it as the supreme proof of the agent’s freedom (autonomy) that responsibility is undetermined by anything outside of him or her. consequences for real others. and apart from the idea that responsibility is an option. whereby the support given by each party is seen as aiming for long-term symmetry and equilibrium. that is. responsible agent’ (Alford 1992: 139).’ On this elementary level. that is. That responsibility is factual – as opposed to being conceived as ideal or optional. the notion of responsibility I defend is both simple and absolute. By focusing on the sheer fact of consequences of acting in the world and on the realness of others who are affected. By stressing both consequences and those affected by them as utterly real. There is a reality of community with others that follows from responsibility. this factual quality of responsibility as given is prior to the normative dimension of responsibility with which moral philosophers . Alford (1992: 138) has a matter-of-fact way of putting it: ‘The reality of this network gives responsibility its weight and hence gives meaning to our lives. as human agents we simply are responsible. including the real. no-exit manner as a responsible subject. because what we do has objective consequences in the world. thus rejecting the idea of responsibility for others as a scarce good. showing them to matter in the world and so ‘linking the acceptance of responsibility to a sense of self as a creative. responsibility loses some of the extreme solitariness that is built into Levinas’ notion of what it means to be addressed in a non-optional.Responses to collective evil 239 apart from desert. unconnected and apart from others. something the agent chooses from instance to instance whether or not to assume. regarding the recipient as a possible ‘giver’. Stressing the latter aspect. apart from such questions as: Does the other deserve my support? Do I deserve his?. lest support be withheld for lack of future payback. They are real because they rebound through the network of others. that is. apart from balancing. in responsibility the factual and the normative aspects are equiprimordial – the normative grows out of the factual. apart from reward. and this sense of reality may help us to assuage the anxiety we otherwise might have over feeling alone and helpless. apart from calculation of gain.

to take responsibility. To deny responsibility for one’s actions is to deny these dimensions of reality. Suffice it to say that on my view. A famous quote from Edmund Burke sets the stage for May’s discussion: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good people to do nothing. That said. a couple of distinctions made by Larry May are helpful. to use a formulation of Alford’s (albeit coined by Adorno (1974: 89)).’ May goes on to observe that ‘just as a person’s inaction makes him or her at least partially responsible for harms that he or she could have prevented. it is not only to deny something about oneself as agent but something about the world as well.240 Evil and Human Agency typically wrestle. hence. as it surely does. by contrast. and others. To clarify what is at stake in the discussion of responsibility of bystanders. it is about acting as though what we do makes a difference. putting their effort into examining the exact constitution of the ought as distinct from the is (to allude to Hume) and the specific meaning and scope of what agents ‘ought’ to do (and ought not to do). by being genuinely concerned with their impact on the lives of others. implying not so much that the subject is not free. but rather that he should not be (which I consider wrong). insisting as he does that we have to constrain our freedom in the name of responsibility (which I consider right). is a self-constituting act: a way of asserting – to ourselves and to others – the earnest reality of ourselves. by taking our acts seriously. May defines ‘collective omission’ as the failure of a group that collectively chooses not to act. as well as to demand it from others. and so making our acts count. by which is meant ‘the distance that allows us to grasp the effects of our acts on others. and scope of. somewhat too eager to provoke what he takes to be the canon of Western ethics. I think that Levinas. responsibility implies ‘distant nearness’. To sum up. In doing so. goes too far in positing freedom and responsibility as at odds with each other. and the nearness that allows us to see these consequences as virtual extensions or expressions of ourselves’ (Alford 1992: 141). between acting and consequences in the world – can be established at the intended elementary level without a requirement to establish the more exact nature of. The factual links I stress here – between responsibility and agency. so collective inaction of a group of persons may make the members of that group at least partially responsible for harms that the group could have prevented’ (1992: 105). Responsibility in my sense is about taking our actions seriously by connecting them to a world of others. ‘collective inaction’ refers to the failure to act of ‘a collection of . the issue which so crucially determines the different philosophical conceptions of responsibility. the ‘freedom’ of human agents in a metaphysical sense. no substantive position is – or need be – adopted with respect to the issue of freedom.

although initially intended to reduce the level of violence. . . and all parties shared in the guilt and all had the same basic goals. Bosnia: the follies of impartiality enacted as neutrality In his book Genocide in Bosnia. . Having established a conceptual understanding of responsibility which covers both individual agents and groups. The [originally Serb-requested.) Cigar points to crucial features of what has become known as the attitude of ‘moral equalizing’. by contemporary bystanders. in which ‘people are sometimes capable of acting in concert but in which no formal organization exists and. Norman Cigar. the assessment that this was a civil war was often used in the West as a rationale for not acting militarily on behalf of the Muslims. . . then lack of action is something one has chosen’ (1992: 119). or at least halted. This insistence on ‘neutrality’ implicitly equated the goals and methods of the Muslims and the Serbs and was to be reiterated time and again .Responses to collective evil 241 people that did not choose as a group to remain inactive but that could have acted as a group’ (1992: 107). . The latter case of collective inaction is particularly salient with respect to ‘putative groups’. I shall explore the extent to which both categories can be held responsible for failing to prevent an ongoing case of genocide. The basic premise informing May’s discussion is that ‘once one is aware of the things that one could do. 166f. the central question is whether the harm (read genocide) that took place in Bosnia could have been prevented. to have treated the parties equally made little sense. (Cigar 1996: 152. as a result. Therefore. all sides had an equal right to have their interests assured . Against the background of Cigar’s sober assessment. The war supposedly reflected long-ingrained hatreds. since intervention could have been construed as ‘taking sides’ . In moral and practical terms. writes: The flawed basic premise for political action by the international mediators was that this was at bottom a civil war. we are ready to turn to the selected case of Bosnia. For my purposes in what follows. To a certain extent. 159. implicitly placed the victim and perpetrator on an equal moral plane and unquestionably favoured the well armed Serbian aggressor. I want to put forward a stronger criticism: that the bystanders by assignment (including top politicians in the world’s leading . an American professor of national security studies. Employing the distinction made above between passive bystanders and bystanders by assignment. September 1991 UN-sanctioned arms] embargo [imposed on all ‘warring parties’ and freezing a military imbalance whereby the Serb forces outgunned their victims by a ratio of 10 to 1]. there is no decision-making apparatus’ (1992: 109). and one does not do them.

Therefore. and Mitterrand.242 Evil and Human Agency nations) tended to adopt an attitude of ‘identification with the (main) aggressor’. There is. I admit that there is a case for holding that all the talk about the need to maintain impartiality (again. if one did not approach the parties from a position of unequivocal neutrality? Who can hope to enlist the trust. interpreted and enacted as neutrality) . If this was the case. and it did so while the most powerful Western nations failed to intervene and for years did nothing more active than continue talking with the ‘warring parties’. after all. For all the unanimous acceptance of the reasoning referred to (at the time. the fact is that something went horribly wrong in Bosnia. then. in order to be upheld strictly and rigorously. but let it pass at this stage for the sake of argument) did endeavour throughout the so-called ‘conflict’ within former Yugoslavia to maintain a position of strict impartiality. The assumption at work is that principled impartiality. The upshot would be that what merits criticism in this particular case is not adopting a stance of impartiality but adopting one of partiality (i. at least). My argument is both theoretical and empirical. thus adding moral support to the aggressor’s ‘blaming of the victim’. and thereupon to reach an agreement to stop the fighting and restore the peace. granted that Bosnia does represent a failure of judgment. namely the main aggressor). in actual fact siding with one specific party. If anything. however. requires neutrality in the sense of abstaining from voicing a stand as to ‘who is right and who is wrong’ among the parties involved in conflict. confidence. an equally strong case for holding that the Western world (admittedly a hopeless generalization. I suggest. conduct their judgment from a position of impartiality. and Stoltenberg. indeed the latter now prevails as cleared of suspicion. Major. and despite recurrent assurances to the contrary. This argument is not as strong as it initially may appear. that failure need not have anything to do with the criterion of impartiality per se. as well as top diplomats Akashi. then it seems that the bystanders in question did not. impartiality interpreted (it must be noted) and enacted as neutrality. True. their stance contradicted the ideal of impartiality instead of exemplifying it. For (the reasoning went) how could one hope to negotiate. and loyalty of all parties involved but the party who is not involved and who safeguards the precious value of such non-involvement. Owen. it may be said that Western political leaders such as Clinton. signalling as it does to all parties alike that one is not committed ‘against’ (or ‘for’) any one of them? I hold the assumption that principled impartiality requires neutrality to be false.e. since I hold the falsity in question to have been historically documented. in fact pursued a policy of partiality.

Clinton’s invocation of the Vietnam syndrome.Responses to collective evil 243 functioned increasingly as mere lip-service: it became a smokescreen to hide a partiality that de facto favoured the Serbs and left the victims to their fate. premised on the questionable assumption that what happened then has created a specific and widely shared emotional reaction. a single episode is extremely significant – or. The sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic (1996) calls this phenomenon postemotionalism. Power 2002: 317. affecting Rwanda’s genocide in the spring of 1994 no less (or even more) than Bosnia’s genocide from 1992 to 1995. It was by far the worst US military humiliation since Vietnam and the USA immediately announced. and that ‘we’ are now well advised to judge about current events on the basis of those emotions. Though not my main concern here. is interesting in its own right. no matter how severe the sufferings of the civilians of Bosnia. and the widespread approval with which it evidently met. it is beyond doubt that a chief policy objective was to avoid another Vietnam and to ensure. or. more to the point. Clinton’s reference has a feature in common with the rhetorical strategy employed by Milosevic (analysed in Chapter 4): it amounts to a manipulation of emotionally charged collective representations of ‘reality’. to the jubilation of the Somali warlords. and I mention it here as a pertinent observation about the . In this context. Indeed. The emotions evoked by Clinton’s references to United States’ ill-conceived and ill-fated involvement in Vietnam (and to a lesser extent in Somalia) are emotions that involve history in a way that prevents rational and head-on concentration on how to address the situation at hand. and opponents of US-involved military intervention in cases of gross human rights abuses greatly strengthened their hand. that no American soldiers would be sent to Bosnia with the risk of their returning in coffins. to react to a present situation on the basis of past emotionally charged events that obfuscate the present. the failure of the intervention in Somalia came to set a precedent: the political lesson was ‘Never again!’. In October 1993. Though of course of a much less sinister kind. It reveals a crucial feature of the cultural climate of the 1990s: the tendency to focus sentiment on the past rather than the present. especially in the case of Clinton (who before being elected had promised he would support military intervention to stop ‘unacceptable’ atrocities). 366). With far-reaching consequences. that US troops were pulling out of Somalia and urged all Western nations to do the same (Melvern 2004: 70. a total of eighteen American servicemen lost their lives and eighty-four more were wounded in Mogadishu. Somalia’s capital. it was made out to be so. more precisely. of a shared past.

If one feels that there is nothing ‘‘we’’ can do – but who is that ‘‘we’’? – and nothing ‘‘they’’ can do either – and who are ‘‘they’’? – then one starts to get bored. say. To put it briefly. How to explain this gap between knowledge and action – knowing about evil and yet refraining from taking action within one’s power to help stop it? The above section on the culture of indifference was meant to produce a framework apt to illuminate this question. covered. 93) argues. failing that. or events. Indeed. it proved . differentiated as it were into so many mini-discourses (each with its own standards of validity) that. as time went by and the suffering accumulated. The point is made: ‘The destruction of Bosnia was perhaps the most observed. citing Durkheim. content to know that humanitarian aid is sent to feed victims of Serbian aggression but doing nothing to protect them from being killed before or after being fed. arguing that the overall indecisiveness led to a passionless indifference toward human suffering that must be characterized as ‘sadistic’: it is the ‘vicarious sadism’ of the postmodern voyeur. unfolding crime.) points out. and the collective consciousness is weakened. it ceases to be a crime. cynical. in our ‘hermeneutic culture’ (Tester). and repeat time after time.244 Evil and Human Agency wider cultural climate in which Western governments chose to respond by way of not responding (intervening) in the face of ongoing genocide. The sort of outcry and compassion that many ordinary citizens all over the world felt when watching TV news from. As Susan Sontag (2003: 90f. Mestrovic goes further. are spontaneous moral feelings that need to be translated into action. but this coverage did not lead in any direct way to intervention to stop the events that were occurring’ (Cushman 2001: 94f. and written about event in the history of the twentieth century. The documented evil proved unable to trigger a response in kind in terms of moral outrage and intervention by force. In tolerating a well-known. the evil was instead subjected to enormous amounts of intellectual fascination and critical questioning. Having said this. the original question has in no way lost its force. the indisputable knowledge about large-scale evil that existed was constantly suffering the fate common to virtually all issues. to turn to other problems. or else they wither. Mestrovic (1994: 116. ordinary people will be encouraged to switch off the terrible images. ‘The question is what to do with the feelings that have been aroused. the shelling massacres in Sarajevo (alleged by the Serbs to have been perpetrated by the Bosnians themselves so as to achieve sympathy). apathetic.’ As long as leaders claim. We need not follow Mestrovic in going that far.). that this ‘war’ is an ‘intractable’ situation. ones closer to home and easier to solve. the knowledge that has been communicated. coolly and rationally observing the suffering of others.

The one viewpoint that is strikingly absent in the approach that we know was adopted by top politicians and diplomats during the Bosnian carnage is the viewpoint of the victims. as one of preventable and condemnable suffering. An important question to ask is this: What makes the ideal of impartiality so vulnerable to manipulation by agents pursuing an agenda guided by self-interest? Why is it that agents committed to partiality (backstage) so often seem to get away with paying lip-service to a commitment to impartiality? To be sure. I grant these (most general) points about the possible unreliability of the voice of the victims and that theirs may often be a grossly imbalanced and distorted viewpoint. posing the questions in this manner amounts to buying into the very culture of suspicion-cum-indifference that Tester warns against. that of victims. be it moral. Perhaps the victim’s point of view is absent for valid reasons. e. They may even fail to.g. alternatively. Either way. this voice may prove unreliable. or military. or due to the impact of tradition.Responses to collective evil 245 increasingly impossible to rally support for one specific kind of response. or. political. the elevation of preference to ethical importance MacIntyre sees as characteristic of emotivism is clearly borne out. given my earlier claim that the victim’s viewpoint is of supreme importance in providing third parties with an access to what is happening and to the severity of the atrocities being committed. This absence is immensely rich in consequences. Third. They may – for lack of knowledge. as articulating the non-universalizable standpoint of some particular ‘interest group’. Yet we cannot dismiss such questions if we are to understand what happened. victims may adopt adaptive preferences. as is Tester’s grim assertion that ‘a world of mini-discourses is a world of indifference running amok’. Those who did come out with strongly worded condemnation of what took place were frequently met with the same attitude of suspicion as those not condemning it: they were regarded as articulating feelings or preferences of a non-rational. And indeed. victims may distort what actually happened. or ideology – adjust to their situation. But there is something we need to consider. making the injustice they (doubtless) suffered into the main event in their lives and the desire to right the wrongs their basic reason for continuing to live. perceive their situation as unjust. Second. I acknowledge at least three reasons for regarding the voice of the victim as a problematic source of judgment. or stop to. But my claim is not that becoming a victim endows one with a foolproof reference point for the subsequent judgment . victims may react in quite the opposite direction and get obsessed with revenge. For a variety of reasons. religion. subjective kind. Perhaps my earlier claim should be corrected. First.

one worth safeguarding in theory and in practice. the route to recognition of the character of the deed to be judged cannot be one of neutrality (taken as sticking to a come-what-may stance of abstaining from deciding what. Such attentiveness is facilitated by an interplay of our faculty of imagination (Arendt’s notion of ‘going visiting to other viewpoints’) and our faculty of empathy (Vetlesen 1994: ch. for a state of affairs or a free choice. the insistence that the character of the deed. Specifically. Such attentiveness. making possible the subsequent performance of sound judgment. On my view. etc. sexual. what is required is a conscious reluctance to subscribe to the effacement of the human import of the suffering intended by the perpetrators. and responsibility for someone. I suggest. Part of the tragedy in the case of Bosnia is that major third parties pretended that impartiality required neutrality in the judgment-undermining sense discussed. 4). or who. is the true core of impartiality. ethnic. constitutes the mean between the two opposite extremes – namely. portraying non-intervention as morally sound. For several years neutrality meant professional bystanders’ standing by to the unfolding mass murder. impartiality was trump.) identity of the person (the victim. so as to help stop them.246 Evil and Human Agency of non-involved parties. leading politicians and diplomats in charge of the response to genocide in Bosnia failed to do what Levinas advocated when he urged that we ‘think through the difference between responsibility for something. Attentiveness to the situation of victims is an accomplishment of moral perception. If judgment is to be passed. paraphrased in Llewelyn 1995: 212). In that sense. But even though impartiality is the (abstract) core of justice. It is by the latter that the former is conditioned’ (Levinas. and adopting it tooth and nail. is what counts for justice. the perpetrator). blocking oneself off altogether from engaging with the viewpoint of victims. Nor do I recommend that people – including professional third parties – uncritically endorse or adopt the version of events voiced by those directly victimized. as a prerequisite for maintaining impartiality. The concrete consequence of its supremacy was that inaction prevailed over action. My claim is that it is required of the non-party to be as attentive as is practically possible to the sufferings visited upon the victims while the actions causing the suffering actually take place. The preoccupation with . is right and what is wrong) but must instead be informed by empathy with those being persecuted – empathy in my sense of a capacity to be affected by the affectedness of others. In short. not the (national. it needs (in this case no less than in others) to be based on engaging with the matter at hand in an open-minded spirit.

So. Owen was steadfastly loyal to the advice he received from his predecessor Lord Carrington. it’s somewhat different than the Holocaust. and a more cynical. Enter the second example. the EU’s top envoy David Owen. On 18 May 1993. However. prevailed over the concern for the people being murdered while the talks did indeed continue. both entirely representative and so not to be seen as anecdotal. by no means a partisan of US intervention in Bosnia. quoted in Cigar 1996: 154). summary of the hostile attitude to the option . losing his temper over the Bosniaks’ stubborn insistence that the multiethnic nature of their sovereign state be retained. told the press: ‘This autumn [1993]. As historian Brendan Simms (2001: 137. the only viable policy. with the so-called peace talks. but I never heard of any genocide by the Jews against the German people’ (Christopher. Owen was ‘a leading critic of the Bosnian government’s failure to ‘‘compromise’’’. It’s never been easy to analogize this to the Holocaust. had concluded in a comprehensive report that ‘90 percent’ of the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia were committed by Serb forces. the CIA. In this respect.Responses to collective evil 247 continuing. incredible as it may sound. Suffice it at this stage of the argument to give two examples. you know. Now they have had enough. Bosnian Muslims being their principal target. is that Christopher sent ‘an urgent appeal to the State Department’s Human Rights Bureau. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher delivered what one commentator labels ‘unfathomable remarks’ to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. that is to say. No one has given a more precise. 140) observes. evidence of a kind that would invalidate the documented fact that the Serbs were indeed the main aggressor – the fact that refutes Christopher’s cherished argument that continued moral equalization between the ‘three warring parties’ was justified and. as have the Croats. If the negotiations fail now. at all costs. given this information? The answer. my italics). requesting evidence of Bosnian Muslim atrocities’ (p. The documentation that proves that this is in fact what happened is overwhelming. and very inconveniently. they [the Serbs] will go all out’ (Owen. 308. summed up in the statement that ‘they were all as bad as each other’. Characteristically voicing an identification with the aggressor complementary to the aggressor’s well-rehearsed blaming of the victim. How does Christopher react? What is the policy he recommends. He apparently did not get what he asked for. The level of hatred is just incredible. quoted in Power 2002: 308). stunning his listeners by insinuating that the Bosnian Muslims themselves had committed genocide: ‘You’ll find indication of atrocities by all three of the major parties against each other. the Serbs fought with velvet gloves [!] in order to give the Muslims one more chance. indeed.

that is. Germany. Great Britain. They are committed to the promise but not the ones to whom the promise is made. In .248 Evil and Human Agency of military intervention to stop genocide. the skill is to appear calm without being complacent. All too often we know that an illness has to work its way through the system . quoted in Simms 2001: 169) The point is not to single out Christopher and Owen for criticism. . they proceeded to take Gorazde as well. as Doubt points out. So the message sent to the nationalist Serb aggressors commanded by General Mladic was that if. they should know that there was now a promise by Western leaders to protect Gorazde – just as there existed a UN resolution to protect the two enclaves already taken. and of the concomitant indifference toward those persecuted in that genocide. Owen (in a lecture in Dublin on 8 November 1993) invoked his original profession to suggest the following analogy: As physicians and surgeons we have long been aware of the dangers of simply responding to the cry ‘do something’. the United States. the Contact Group (France. By transferring to Gorazde the promise they made to Srebrenica and Zepa. (Owen. . Doubt writes: Western leaders keep their promise by repeating the same promise to another town. however. displaces reality. Sometimes to look as if one is doing more than one is in fact doing. a third enclave to the south of Srebrenica and Zepa. to talk and act in a manner that sustains the ‘front stage’ impression that they are in control of events. than Owen himself. which is that Srebrenica and Zepa have been overrun. A trained surgeon. What is the nature of this attitude? And how could it become so influential? The sociologist Keith Doubt invokes Erving Goffman’s work on facework to help us understand what is going on here. To pick a particularly telling example. to act unhurriedly but to be decisive even if the decision is to do nothing. Doubt shows the various methods that Western leaders employed to ‘save face’. the hypothetical situation that Gorazde would be overrun. they maintain face. they promised to protect the people living in Gorazde. The point is that their attitude is characteristic of the top politicians and diplomatic envoys they represent. Hyperreality. which was still under the control of the Bosnian government. and therefore politicians need some of the same skills of masterly inactivity as doctors. This time. after completing their work of killing in the overrun ‘safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa. They concluded the meeting by repeating a promise that had earlier been made to the people living in Srebrenica and Zepa. Governments similarly face demands for action. and Russia) held an emergency meeting in London. as the UN-declared ‘safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa were falling to the nationalist Serb army in the summer of 1995.

bureaucracy also stands. The ‘objective’ discharge of business primarily means a discharge of business according to calculable rules and without regard for persons . . then another – the parent. in a specific sense. quoted in Doubt 2000: 78. . Individual performances are allocated to functionaries who have specialized training and who by constant practice learn more and more. This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its special virtue. the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love. diplomatic. develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is ‘dehumanized’. and that their doing so goes some way toward explaining how the catastrophe could be allowed to happen. The goal of substantive justice is moral knowledge. 77) A prominent example of how UN officials embodied the bureaucratic habitus as defined by Weber. irrational. Its specific nature. hatred. is Yasushi Akashi.Responses to collective evil 249 the discourse of Western leaders. Substantive justice transcends the hegemony of formal rationality. The present point is that formal rationality is embodied – par excellence – in modern bureaucracy. To appreciate the thrust of this contention. recall Max Weber’s crucial distinction between formal rationality and substantive justice. its purpose is to realize what is right in the here and now. To understand why. my italics) It reminds me of a parent who instructs his child not to steal apples. (Weber. and all purely personal. what is happening in Srebrenica and Zepa becomes unreal and so unnecessary to deal with. My claim – supported by Doubt – is that UN officials and military officers exhibited this mindset in Bosnia. its purpose is stability and self-perpetuation. which is welcomed by capitalism. shifts attention from what took place to what might take place in the future by declaring that the child is not allowed to steal a third apple. senior UN envoy to the . instead of addressing the disobedience. recall Weber’s classical formulation: Bureaucratization offers above all the optimum possibility for carrying through the principle of specializing administrative functions according to purely objective considerations. ‘the goal of formal rationality is efficiency. But why should the child now obey? It has proven exceedingly difficult to get a hearing for this kind of critique among the political. and military leaders who were in charge at the time. As Doubt (2000: 70) explains. formal rationality suppresses the requirements of substantive justice. and emotional elements which escape calculation.’ Recall from Chapter 1 that Bauman laid great stress on Weber’s description of bureaucracy in offering a sociological answer to how the Holocaust could happen. under the principle of sine ira ac studio. (Doubt 2000: 12. When fully developed. When the child disobeys and steals apples – first one.

And that is exactly what we did at the time of Gorazde. Rose accepts the validity of Jennings’s question. I must confine myself to the following excerpt: Jennings asks. Jennings becomes a spokesperson for the ethos of substantive justice. ‘only a choice between different quantities. at the time of the fall of the ‘safe areas’ mentioned above. but it suggests a frame. The phrase ‘at the time of Gorazde’ is not specific.).250 Evil and Human Agency former Yugoslavia 1993–5. This exchange offers a rare glimpse into the mindset of Rose: his stance is that of the Weberian bureaucrat. never to quality and the particular substance (let alone specifically moral import) at hand.’ First. For this reason. For Rose. Rose neutralizes this focus by reframing the issue into the concrete albeit more abstract issue of quantity. There is. ‘Is not part of your mandate to deter attacks on United Nations’ designated safe areas?’ Rose answers. A prominent example among military officers is Michael Rose. notes Doubt (2000: 78). ‘That is absolutely sound. Rose is interviewed by the journalist Peter Jennings. in which an action can be identified and quantified. We deterred the attacks that were taking place at that time. (Doubt 2000: 78) Doubt’s comment is that Rose’s way of replying demonstrates why Weber fears ‘perfect’ bureaucrats and finds them dehumanizing – bureaucracy. By focusing on the quantifiable questions.e. Jennings is a threat to Rose. that is. i. When Jennings focuses on the moral quality of particular actions by the UN in Bosnia. Rose is committed to the hegemony of formal rationality. but then he hides behind it. It is tempting to quote extensively from this extremely illuminating exchange. . that of the bureaucrat himself as well as that of the human addressees at the receiving end of the decisions he makes. in its insistence that decisions pertain to calculable quantity only. Doubt reinforces Weber’s grim finding when he observes that the idealized role of ‘calculable rules’ in social action promotes the dangerous illusion that there is no choice. British lieutenant general and UN commander in Bosnia 1994–5. Jennings wants to refute the moral adequacy of UN actions in Bosnia. Rose evades the qualitative questions of what was done and whether what was done had substance. Rose is an exemplar of formal rationality. Analysing this exchange. effects a double dehumanization. However. Rose focuses on questions of ‘when’ and ‘where’ to evade questions of ‘what’. In an ABC special programme entitled The Peacekeepers: How the UN Failed in Bosnia. As a professional soldier and a UN servant. Doubt points out that ‘As a news journalist. For Rose there is no choice between quality and quantity. as the only legitimate standard with which to measure UN conduct’ (Doubt 2000: 76f. I shall restrict myself to Rose. a time and space.

an exemplar of substantive justice. By contrast (and I admit the comparison is strained. we need to keep in mind the strong connection between Weber’s classical notions of bureaucracy and formal rationality on the one hand. Doubt (2000: 80) asks the critical question: ‘How far can the process of formal rationality depart from the principle of justice without becoming irrational? At some point.) An upshot of the described fixation on impartiality and (moral) neutrality is that the diplomatic pressure is laid one-sidedly on the ‘party’ who was first attacked. Substantive justice with no relation to reason is mob psychology based only on emotion and intuition. In this. the antinomy between formal rationality and substantive justice needs to be resolved. That this is in fact the case is confirmed in the . Rose encapsulates the conduct of the UN in general. of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Formal rationality with no relation to substantive justice is an accomplice of evil. and neutrality to be in conflict with the ‘absolutely unconditional’ political objectives – including genocide – advanced by the Nazi ideology (Herbert 2001. and his own contribution to the disastrous fate of the ‘safe areas’ in particular. however minuscule. Rose stands representative of the bureaucratic ethos of the international bodies (political.’ For my purposes in what follows. military) whose decision-making in Bosnia contributed to the completion. not prevention. objectivity. (I return to this below. yet vital). If Doubt’s analysis is ` sound (and I think it is). diplomatic. since – as discussed in Chapter 1 – the German Nazis revolutionized (ideologically radicalized) the bureaucratic institutions. bureaucracy a la Weber may be said to have played a more directly immoral role in Bosnia than in the Holocaust. to the issue of calculability. Wildt 2003). For fear of engaging with substantive rationality – perceived as tantamount to the vice of ‘taking sides’ – these high-ranking officials and officers remained committed to a formal rationality that turned out to be morally blind. perceiving their sought-for detachedness. as enacted by the UN in Bosnia. Having argued that impartiality. boils down to ‘the most rational way for the UN to win the goodwill of the aggressor’. is the exclusive representation of quality. from serious criticism.’ In constantly restricting his discussion with journalist Jennings. Those who were subject to genocide and who resisted that genocide become witnesses to the rewarding of territorial gains to the aggressor.Responses to collective evil 251 quantity. professional bystanders to Bosnia de facto allowed genocide to occur partly because of an unconditional adherence to the listed virtues of the bureaucratic ethos. and what went under the label of ‘impartiality’ in the context of events in Bosnia on the other.

252 Evil and Human Agency peace agreement reached at Dayton in November 1995. In a world where the majority of the states are not ethnically homogeneous nation-states. In this case. Non-intervention was the decided-upon goal. a double contradiction was at work in the approach taken by top envoys David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg in particular. Western diplomats bought into this specific line (originating as it did in Belgrade and Pale) because it was a discursive strategy that quite perfectly abetted nonintervention. To be accurate. of course. Welldocumented illegal atrocities of genocidal nature were for years . ultimately. my argument entails no claims about deliberate ‘pro-Serbism’ on the part of these officials (allowing for some exceptions). In accepting ethnicity as a prime organizing principle in the partition of what used to be an internationally recognized multiethnic nation-state. Specifically. indifference among the most influential bystanders suffices to help seal the tragic fate of those directly victimized – if only. one can only imagine the bloodshed that would follow if the principle were to set a precedent for negotiating future conflicts. what I see at work in the diplomatic approach to Bosnia is more a question of indifference toward the victims than of active sympathy for the policies of the main aggressor. True. So. exactly the political goal of ‘ethnic cleansing’. the Dayton accord (like the series of peace plans before it) in actual fact endorsed the imposition of a simple one-to-one relationship between land (territory) and ethnic group – this being. for the simple reason that deciding to decline from effectively helping the victims was tantamount to permitting the aggressors reach their objectives. This being so. but because paying lip-service to this interpretation of the ‘conflict’ fitted in well with the desire not to intervene. above I did say that the stance taken for years on end by top Western diplomats and politicians amounted to ‘identification with the aggressor’ and its corollary. In my opinion. As I see it. The message to the world entailed in the acceptance of this principle is that people of different ethnic origin cannot live peacefully together within the same territory. this holds true as far as the factual consequences of their stance are concerned. similarly. the rhetorical assertion that what unfolded in the Balkans was at bottom all about deeply entrenched ‘ancient hatreds’ between the ‘parties’ was accepted and repeated by key players of the international community not because they fully believed it to be the truth about what took place. rather than ancient hatreds actually being what set in motion the tragedy in the Balkans and. rather than actually holding this to be the case. the premeditated conclusion for which the narrative about ancient hatreds functioned as a hand-in-glove premise (see Fitz 2002). ‘blaming the victim’.

with passivity in the face of killing. and when what unfolds is. The second lesson is that there is every reason not to downplay but instead take extremely seriously any statement – be it oral or written. beyond doubt. Accordingly. I return to this below.Responses to collective evil 253 permitted. was denied to Bosnia-Herzegovina (for a start. denied a state recognized as sovereign. the top authorities and envoys of the so-called international community accepted the illegal act par excellence (genocide) and denied the legal act of self-defence in the face of ongoing genocide. such suffering. is there one lesson in particular that needs to be learned here? I believe there are three. the message to the agent as well as to the victim is that such killing may continue. in the sense of not being halted with available political and (not least) military means. the latter helps prolong. Discourses of misrecognition are likely to constitute an ideological . while the right to self-defence in the case of genocide. yet deciding not to act when action would have been possible and most likely would have made a difference on the ground. by EU and UN alike in May 1992. helps legitimize that very killing. victims of genocide in such a case are victims of indifference in a twofold sense: they suffer directly the indifference (facilitated in particular by absence of empathy) of their tormentors. This makes for more than a double contradiction. Knowing. freezing a staggering asymmetry of military power among the ‘parties’). When nothing is done in the face of what is unfolding. legally upheld and internationally recognized postNuremberg. In short. though we need to inquire further to settle the question of strict legal – meaning punishable – complicity. that is. killing of a systematic nature. If the former indifference produces suffering in its eminently physical form. they suffer indirectly the indifference of bystanders. Whatever impartiality has – or has not – to do with it. entails complicity (Unger 1996). a more troubling precedent could scarcely have been set. or even at times intensify. or published in journals and books – about specific groups if such statements may promote actions geared to rob such groups of their full humanity and right to live under decent conditions. Three lessons of moral failure Considering the material I have presented from Bosnia. broadcast in the mass media. with all rights thereby attached. it is plain immoral. The first is that the bystander is the one who – in practice – decides whether the harm wrought by the aggressor is permitted to stand unrectified or not. consider the 1992 UN enforced arms embargo. The bystander who reacts with non-response.

It is established that this radio station. this makes what took place in Rwanda in 1994 ‘more than a crime.254 Evil and Human Agency preparation for the carrying out of a politics of enforced removal. This is especially true in cases where the hate speech is authorized by the authorities. and even more so if the authorities are undemocratic or downright totalitarian. humiliation. travelling. in the three months in the spring of 1994 when up to 1 million Rwandans were slaughtered. Although we still await the first convictions of journalists on the charge of incitement to genocide in the former Yugoslavia. and contacts across all sorts of borders. . and once the genocide began nothing was done. Rwanda represents a historic precedent. mobilize. Make a contribution . a well-known historian who served as the director of the most popular Rwandan radio station. the greater his or her potential for acting. to kill the inkotanyi (Tutsis) wherever they are and exterminate all their accomplices’ (Gutman and Rieff 1999: 192. Melvern 2004: 208). and perhaps eventually downright annihilation. this holds for individual bystanders of assignment who decide to remain inactive and allow what is happening to continue unabated (Mestrovic 1997).’ In fact there was a deliberate decision at the highest level of the UN Security Council to studiously avoid using the ‘G-word’ (genocide). defend your country. a central criterion to justify the use of force is that the crime must be excessively cruel so as to shock the society of mankind. Radio Mille Collines. . intellectuals in different countries have a duty to sound the alarm bell upon learning about the spreading of hate speech. of the abused individuals. Deeds follow upon words. where he had to answer to the charge of ‘incitement to genocide’. Ever since Hugo Grotius’s De Jure Belli ac Pacis from 1625 (the treatise inspiring the principles behind humanitarian intervention to this day). . due among other things to their comprehensive reading. suppressing all internal protests. Journalist Mark Hubard writes that. Generally speaking. Ferdinand Nahimana. The idea is that we inflict evil upon ourselves when we wilfully remain passive bystanders. The broadcasts explicitly encouraged the population – Hutus of all ages and from all walks of life – to kill: ‘Keep it up. In 1995. had one single aim: to incite the Hutu masses to go out and exterminate their Tutsi neighbours. since the UN knew that genocide was being planned. Every one of us is an embodiment of the society thus able to be morally outraged at what befalls other human beings – even those unknown and far off. work. so as not to legally commit the UN to make an effort to stop it from being completed in Rwanda (Power 2002: 329–90). It was an event that shamed humanity. The third lesson is that the failure to act when knowledgeable about ongoing genocide corrupts the bystander – the more so. was arrested and delivered to the Arusha tribunal. Specifically.

Annan concedes that errors of judgment were made – ‘errors rooted in a philosophy of impartiality and nonviolence wholly unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia . Annan delivered his Srebrenica Report to the General Assembly. ‘we are more than ever conscious that its aim is to protect individual human beings. with regard to the question of complicity to genocide – in the strict legal sense in which this is determined as punishable in the 1948 Genocide Convention. in that approximately 8. In April 2004. not legal or realpolitisch. True. and to judge his actions accordingly. Particularly striking is the fact that the tenor of the report is moral. Secretary-General Annan’s report on Srebrenica gives us a chance to take a chief agent at his word. They taught us also that the United Nations’ global commitment to ending conflict does not preclude moral judgments. What we read here are words of repentance. in particular. the town Srebrenica is the site of the single most serious atrocity during the Bosnian carnage. 89). the United Nations. The men who have been charged with this crime against humanity reminded the world and. In December 1999. Annan takes the organization he heads to task for having subscribed to a philosophy and practice of moral equalization such that the parties to the conflict were seen as equally responsible for and implicated in acts of aggression amounting to genocide. The report makes for remarkable reading. The Hague court ruled that Srebrenica was a case of genocide. that evil exists in the world.000 men were massacred there by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic’s forces in July 1995. but makes them necessary’ (Annan 1999: 88. What is the significance of such public self-criticism on the part of a major international player? For a start. . . UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (having himself played a much-criticized role in connection with UN’s decision not to intervene in Rwanda) has inaugurated what might benevolently be called a moral learning process in the UN. Article III (e) of individuals who. not to protect those who abuse them’ (Donnelly 2002: 99). demonstrating that repentance is not the prerogative of the perpetrator (although of course never a substitute for the latter). Srebrenica crystallized a truth understood only too late by the United Nations and the world at large: that Bosnia was as much a moral cause as a military conflict . in their professional capacity as UN and EU envoys and as representatives of the . . ‘When we read the UN charter today’. sentencing Mladic’s deputy Radislav Krstic to thirty-five years’ imprisonment. .Responses to collective evil 255 To his credit. Ironically – tragically – one of six UN-declared ‘safe areas’. The amount of self-criticism on behalf of the UN (and by implication the leading powers in the world) is exceptional. says Annan. In his report on Srebrenica.

that is. which is in all essential ways similar to B. How revealing it is that these states evidently think they have more to fear than to gain by helping such a court to become effective all over the world. notably the United States. to the strictly legal (hence punishable) subjects who. In my opinion. This implication is indeed part of the premises underlying the International Criminal Court (ICC) as proposed in Rome in July 1998 – though opposed by several of the most powerful nationstates in the world. Danner 1998. to an institution. Rohde 1997. there are signs that the international community. it is hard to see how Annan’s report could have concluded differently on this issue. or about to embark on. and not to any named individuals. There is today widespread agreement that states carrying out. attention will shift from the traditional preoccupation with threats posed to individuals (civilians) by foreign states (inter-state conflict or war) to focusing on threats posed to individuals within and by their own state (government. this often-voiced objection is absolutely . China.256 Evil and Human Agency nation-states represented in the UN Security Council. and Israel. To sum up. the latter is trump. In moral as well as legal terms. decided to vote against air attacks over Srebrenica (in spite of the Dutch UNPROFOR troops’ increasingly desperate request for them) (Honig and Both 1996. Russia. Specifically. Iraq. the perhaps most common charge being that of selectivity and hence of double standards: because one did not intervene in A. bear de facto responsibility for the inaction of the UN so harshly criticized in the report. Although morally disappointing. legally speaking. and though the institution is blamed. Barnett 1996. In effect. as far as I can see the single most crucial message of the report (later echoed in a similar report produced over the UN fiasco in Rwanda) is its implication that. It is true that this development is harshly criticized in some quarters (both on the left and the right side of the political spectrum). intervening in B is unjustified. all involved individuals are let off the hook. it would take a revolution within the UN for it to happen. and in particular the UN. Annan’s manoeuvre is that of a thoroughgoing selfcriticism on behalf of a vast and complex institution. have learned the lesson of Rwanda and Bosnia. in cases of conflict between the inviolability of sovereign nation-states and the inviolability of individuals. as key decision-makers. genocide forfeit the protection of the principle of nonintervention – the latter is no longer automatically trump. genocide is coming to be seen as an offence against international society as well as those directly targeted. authorities). India. 1999) – it is dissatisfying that what Annan’s report does is to attribute blameworthiness to the ‘UN as such’.

This is the radicalness of evil in the form of genocide: that it ‘goes to the roots’ in the literal sense of complete removal of what it targets. . A key ingredient of genocide is to ensure that there is no other party left to whom a lost balance might be restored. It is time that the overall issue of the present chapter – responses to collective evil – be treated from a more philosophical perspective. restorable (capable of being restored to the conditions and in the qualities it had prior to the event). both intellectually and morally. strictly speaking. corrective justice depends purely on the transactional nexus of the parties: they are doer and sufferer of the same injury. Collective agency and its disaggregation So far the discussion of the role of the third party has been advanced in a case-oriented manner focusing on some of its pragmatic constraints. the other party – thus today’s talk of ‘culticide’ and ‘sociocide’. the fact that I have acted badly in the past ought not to compel me to act badly in the future’ (Donnelly 2002: 103). The aim of corrective justice. Aristotle says. the modest rhetorical thrust I am willing to grant the charge of selectivity ought to be used to advocate an extension of the practice of intervention. more accurately. Instead of depending on merit. it leaves nothing that is. It is instructive to see why. is to restore the original parity before the injury. Aristotle’s reflections on judgment and justice precede acts of genocide (at least as they have come to be legally defined in modern times). symbolically and culturally as well as physically. its nature as well as its key requirements. For a start. . evil as genocide leaves nothing to be restored – or. In the most brutal sense. Above we noted a perpetrator group’s preoccupation with balance – or rather.Responses to collective evil 257 untenable. If anything. If imbalance – however fictitious – is at the core of the genocidal aggressor’s self-portrait as victim. The applicability of Aristotle’s notion of corrective justice to events in Bosnia is limited. not the opposite: since we now intervene in B. let us consider afresh our earlier reluctance to intervene in A. lack of such. . I shall dwell in particular on the issue of reconciliation. ‘one act of commission is not invalidated by many acts of omission . In doing so. then. worked out in Book V of his Nicomachean Ethics. ‘the law looks to the difference of the harm alone and treats the parties as equals’ (1985: 1132a2–5). is the principal task of the non-party that of trying to help restore a lost balance? In that case we seem very close to Aristotle’s notion of corrective justice. As Peter Baehr puts it. This is so because the proclaimed goal of genocide is precisely to wipe out.

in line with a powerful tradition of moral philosophy. Genocide is a transgression – read destruction – that cannot be rectified. greed.e. crops up in Kant’s struggle with the topic. There is more to it than the inadequacy of the principle of proportionality. and so willing themselves as persons seeking to harm others.258 Evil and Human Agency Apart from the historical experience separating Aristotle’s perspective from ours. theorizing evil as caused by the deliberate actions of individuals choosing to cultivate vices. To do something unjust is a matter of greed. The upshot of the collective chosen trauma and its concomitant notions of rectification and entitlement is that the ‘response’ to the alleged past wrongs and present threats of the targeted group is perceived as morally justified by the agents. so central in ancient philosophy. For what I have argued so far is that genocide is a crime of such a radical nature as to render ‘proportional’ response (in the manner of punishment of those responsible) impossible. By contrast Aristotle. Evildoing spells the agent’s self-corruption. I find it obvious that one cannot restore a condition of justice by taking from the offending party what it illegitimately took from the offended one. it points to an imbalance within the agent himself. negatively. Socrates claimed. For a start. i. This is why the morality peculiar to ideologized victimhood is one shot through with self-righteousness: once a victim. Though certainly an intricate matter. to my taking his notion of corrective justice to aspire to a form of proportionality. the ancient thought that if we act badly we do so . Kant’s view of evil seems to me to echo. aiming to become really good at doing bad things to others. who shuns a disadvantage or an obligation that he cannot (should not) run away from. more systematic reasons for the limited usefulness of his notion of justice are also put into sharp relief by the atrocities in Bosnia. The paradigmatic case for Aristotle is the individual agent who desires an advantage or a good that he is not entitled to have or. at least in one central formulation. Groups which self-consciously take it upon themselves to right past wrongs aspire to impunity in carrying out their well-organized evildoing. It may well be that my giving Aristotle short shrift here is due. at least partly. maintains John Kekes (1990). locates the common root of the various forms of injustice in the egoistic motive of pleonexia. This assumption about the source of evildoing. The underlying problem is that evil as genocide is not individual but instead organized top-down and carried out collectively. however. always a victim. to mention a contemporary philosopher who continues approaching evil from a perspective of individual character. an evil person is someone who deliberately and over a long time cultivates vices.

that is. it is ineradicable because an aspect of human nature (Kant 1960: 25. my claim is that Aristotle and Kant both fail to address the problem of evil on the collective as opposed to the individual level.Responses to collective evil 259 because we act out of self-interest. that is. The logic of evil as genocide. is imbued with ‘group-think’ in this sense. In Kant’s ‘radical’ reflections on what he termed ‘radical evil’. they were encouraged precisely not to act on their own. and act as members of a certain group. although we are free – nay. as argued in Chapter 4. This being so. a maxim defying the disinterestedness and impartiality of the moral law and pursuing instead a course of action guided by the agent’s self-interest. Kant observes grimly. evil is understood as ‘the foul taint in our race’. Likewise. Hence they would view their actions as being carried out on behalf of their group. we probably do so for self-interested reasons – ‘probably’ because the intransparency of our deeper motives renders them inaccessible to foolproof validation. Evil is radical – it has no end to it when humans knowingly devote their will to the pursuit of egoistic gain. as it were. as reactive rather than spontaneous.. since in Kantian terminology it amounts to defying duty for the sake of affirming desire. To do evil in the strong sense of willing it and knowing it is to use one’s autonomy to further heteronomy.e. The trouble here. when the heteronomy that characterizes desire is allowed to gain the upper hand. in that it is governed by the free adoption of a bad maxim. as its representatives. then. An action is evil. Both take it for granted that the agent deciding on evil (and carrying it out) is an individual. albeit for different reasons. precisely by virtue of our being free – we may determine our action by way of calculating in terms of ‘external’ pressures. Common to Aristotle and Kant is the notion that injustice in the form of evildoing springs from the agent’s free decision to let self-interest (in some form or another) trump what is demanded by justice (Aristotle) or by the moral law as laid down in every one of us (Kant). with a view to Bosnia (which I in the present discussion use as a case to establish general points). The consequence is that for both of them. deliberate evildoing boils down to the problem of egoism. 31f. . and that he or she decides on the evildoing to be done solely on his or her own behalf.). then. is that evil was committed by individuals who were throughout told to identify. i. Bernstein 2002: 19ff. as collective as distinguished from individual. feel. And even when we do seem to heed the moral law. those persecuted were looked upon as so many interchangeable representatives of the other group. silencing the universality of perspective built into the moral law in the form of the categorical imperative.

Having said this. large-scale evil present self-sacrifice – the readiness of the individual participant to set aside and overwin his preoccupation with maximizing self-interest in a narrow sense – as the moral virtue that. it must be said that. this is part of the perverted type of morality that is cultivated by organizers of collective evil. If known – and recognized – by his victim. their accounts of how the most severe forms of injustice actually happen suffer for lack of combining an individual-oriented approach with a collective-oriented one. And. for that matter. Amira. is called for in the individuals ‘worthy’ of taking part in the struggle. instead. not all). ‘Yes. planners of collective. it was all about what ‘they’ had done against ‘us’ so that ‘we’ now have to do certain things against ‘them’. par excellence. helpful as it may be in many instances of individual evildoing (though. it’s me. but you must realize that for me you’re nothing special: you are one of them now’ – expecting. In Bosnia. as for the central role they (descriptively) attribute to egoism. as it were. It was not really about her – or. it is true. the perpetrator would frequently attempt to deindividualize his particular victim. the perpetrator would make an effort to deny that the person before him possessed the status of unique individual that till then had obtained between the two of them in a mutual and taken-for-granted manner. He would say things like. if anything. significantly. Genocidal logic subscribes to a notion of agency as collective and. I hasten to say that there is a vital point about which Aristotle and Kant are perfectly right. The sad fact that so many ordinary people in former Yugoslavia turned out to identify with one particular ethnicist or nationalist group (party) at short notice . Vojislav.260 Evil and Human Agency Their versions of the well-worn distinction between acting from selfinterest (egoism) and acting from duty (Kant: for the very sake of duty). fail to illuminate the motivational dynamics at work in collective evil. Individuality is obliterated within the in-group as well as within the targeted group: the killing is not an interaction between unique individuals but instead what a member of one group does (executes) to a member of another. to the idea of collective guilt. even though the assaults often took place in conditions of proximity. Modern law is premised on this very principle – and rightly so. that this would explain everything. by implication. on a person-to-person basis. But on an empirical-psychological level. As we have noted on several occasions. about him – as persons in the meaning of that word that used to obtain. make it clear also to his personally known victim why he now would ‘have’ to do unpleasant things to her. normatively speaking: evildoing (like other – less grave – instances of injustice) is something for which the individual agent must be held accountable.

e. the grounds for identifying the victims are conceived of ‘in total independence of the actual person in view. since one now ‘is’ a Serb and that only.Responses to collective evil 261 and in a mutually exclusivist and deeply antagonistic manner – according to the logic that. Although Adorno made his comment with reference to the Holocaust. that it is acutely relevant with respect to ‘ethnic cleansing’ as well. that the category of ‘the same’ comes to obliterate for good the uniqueness of the other as ‘face’ (to put it in Levinasian terminology). if spoken to as a person by another person. Hammer 2000: 77). i. that the comment allows us to see how the logic according to which individuals turn into specimens ultimately engulfs the perpetrators themselves and not only their victims. . most ‘ex’-Yugoslavs express profound disbelief as to how this could happen. When this development is set in motion. and second. the poorest possession left to the individual is expropriated’. The personification of the perpetrator–victim relationship one might have expected to obtain in the small-scale setting of ‘ethnic cleansing’ seems simply not to prevail on the experiential level. samples or instances of a class. It is theoretically important in that it connects with my earlier discussion of Alford. what we ultimately get is the experiential correlate to Adorno’s depiction of genocide as the effectuation of a ‘total reduction of the individuality of the individual to its generic concept’: genocide is ‘absolute integration’. or whole. this means being vehemently against all persons now identified as something else than purely Serbian – is often used as proof that this society never really was a multi-culti one after all. is an important empirical finding. ambiguity. but specimens. and uncertainty. This is false. but instead must be actively worked at. a process whereby ‘the last. Looking back on the extreme swiftness with which this mechanism prevailed. That depersonalization – understood as a subcategory of dehumanization – is precisely not given. where only the universal counts as ground for assessment of worth’. time and again. strictly speaking the immediately affected victims of the administered mass killings were not individuals. In short. The perpetrator cannot allow it – along with the morally charged emotional temperature built into it – to prevail.. The point – containing such a dark warning to others – is that disavowing a complex identity and adopting a homogeneous (simple) one is a deeply persuasive mechanism of survival in times of (ideologically manipulated) social upheaval. genus. all the more urgent becomes the task of ensuring that it eventually does triumph. my claim is: first. his response is denial: when depersonalization is not already in effect. so as to prevail. ‘it was no longer an individual who died. Since. on Adorno’s account. but a specimen’ (Adorno 1973: 362. So.

the contradiction is that between collective agency and its disaggregation. In trying to recruit his victim as an accomplice in group-think. It is as though the perpetrator. in ‘ethnic cleansing’ interpersonal proximity is nothing less than a defining characteristic of the atrocities being committed. and though I said that one gets the impression that the violence carried out here made a point of maintaining the conditions of proximity.262 Evil and Human Agency The finding suggests that the claim about retained humanization of the (seen. hence the violence that is performed is ‘super-personalized’ (as I called it in Chapter 4) merely in the factual sense that perpetrator and victim actually know each other. fails to apply in cases where the persons involved as doer and victim do meet face to face. Why? Because acting in the name of some grand cause and on behalf of some ‘wronged’ group helps lessen the feelings of guilt in the individual perpetrator – indeed the latter even urges his victim to co-operate with him in the ‘group-think’ conceptualization of what happens between them. Specifically. he seeks confirmation from ‘the other side’ that ‘this is all about groups’. In short. yet the perceptual framing of it aims to negate this personalized quality so as to replace it with a depersonalizing one. what this analysis helps us appreciate is the contradiction between the deindividuating mentality at work in collective evil and the individuating mechanisms required for the function of law. By contrast. It is worth recalling that this is precisely the ‘effort’ Himmler sought to spare his SS personnel: he saw to it that proximity between perpetrator and victim not be permitted to arise in the first place. the deindividuating mentality may be regarded as the perpetrator’s effort to take some of the sting out of the suffering he inflicts on his individual victims.) There are two sides to this worth looking into. thanks to the aforementioned effort. The close-up and hands-on quality of what he does against his victims links him so directly to them that he develops a . yet do so in the wider interpretational and experiential context of organized collective evil – and it is the logic peculiar to such collective evil that. on finding himself in the midst of interpersonal proximity. we now see that doing so carries a price for the individual perpetrator. creating the impression that ‘we are in this together’. touched) victim. On the one hand. so stressed by Alford in his inquiry into individual evil. heard. because they highlight the relevance of what pertains to the perpetrator–victim relationship for our general discussion about responses to collective evil. reacts by going out of his way to instantly disengage himself from it. not unique individuals. (Recall how Eichmann bore this out in a face-to-face context with Storfer. leaves its imprint on the violence. pleading for the adoption of anonymity on both sides of the perpetrator–victim divide.

is the pain that was inflicted. on both sides of the perpetrator–victim divide by fears that whatever is ‘good’ is under threat of being contaminated by the ‘bad’ and so spoiled (to use Melanie Klein’s terminology). and design a rejection of any notion of human agency to the effect that agency is a property of some group or collective. In any case. As for the victim. What we do know is that. what is overwhelmingly real. as time passes. I find it more difficult to say anything general about whether she will accept the invitation to depersonalize what is being done to her by a known tormentor. nourished. what will not go away. Such institutions are by principle. the institutions of law and the experiential processes promoted by genocidal ideologies are in conflict with each other. letting whatever ‘good’ individuals are known to be part of it make no difference. That the perpetrator may wish to hide behind this facade of collectivity is understandable – though it must be added that it drives a wedge between the individual and ‘his’ group which undermines the message (otherwise adhered to) that these two entities are but inseparable sides of the same coin: there simply ‘is’ no individual as distinct from his group. Since law is estabished in order to punish transgression such as performed in the spirit of ideologies of a collectivistic bent. This being so. thereby disavowing his own agency understood as his responsibility and guilt for what he does against them. it is perfectly to the point that law at the most fundamental level rejects the collectivization of human agency advocated by and acted upon in such ideologies. Why do I so stress this point? I do so because the experiential impact of processes shirking or downright obliterating a sense of individuality – be it on the part of the perpetrator and not exclusively his targeted victim – clearly flies in the face of the notion of human agency as the property of a specific nameable individual that is the operative sine qua non of law. A first rejoinder to this is to say that the blatant contradiction points to the heart of the matter. pure and simple. over time. The ‘bad’ whole wins out over the ‘good’ parts (granted they do exist) – this is genocidal logic. .Responses to collective evil 263 wish to distance himself from them. This may readily translate into a desire to take revenge on the other group as such. intent. as in ‘It’s nothing personal. there often evolves a tendency to look upon even known members of the perpetrator group as just that: members of the group that did ‘that’ to us. he’s just doing what he thinks he has to do to me on grounds of our being representatives of two groups at war with each other’? I do not really see why it should. of modern institutions of justice. Would it lessen her suffering to embrace seeing herself as a victim for purely impersonal reasons.

it is thanks to the unambiguity of the mismatch between the two that the one (law) is able to act according to its seminal purpose. However. not atomistic.264 Evil and Human Agency I think that this response. aggregation in the sense of individuality-obliteration and individuality-denial. of strictly separating and demarcating the ‘me’ contribution and the ‘you’ or ‘they’ contribution. with collectivistic allocations of guilt. though very simple. Ideologies aiming to mobilize individuals to take part in mass rape. namely. Disaggregation is a conditio sine qua non when it comes to passing judgment about responsibility and guilt as present in every concrete case. tend to develop a mental dissociation between their psyche (‘self’) and their body. acting in concert as an experiential modality of being-inthe-world. what we experience and what aptly informs our self-understanding as well as our situational perception here is the lived we-quality of whatever was experienced or undertaken. as in play or in lovemaking. Indeed. has a lot going for it. to strip it down to the individual level where it belongs and where it arises in the first place. Doing something together with someone else. For example. law has one principal task: to disaggregate agency. amounting to what I term collectivization of agency. and similarly doing it against a ‘they’. it does not follow from the fundamental legal necessity of disaggregation that one should reject collectivization of agency as a powerful mental and social fact. the impact on the individual participant exerted by peer pressure can hardly be exaggerated. of being-with-others: these exemplify daily experiences of being unaware of exactly where I began and you came in. Agency is a property of concrete individuals and not collectivities. . There is no need to invoke experiences of an out-of-the-ordinary kind here. let alone atrocities. trying desperately to save part of their soul by insisting that what was done to them was done solely to their body. Whereas victims. Here. makes its strong psychological and emotional impact. In extraordinary situations the we-quality takes on stronger forms. Its gist is to focus head-on on the mismatch between the assumptions made about human agency in the two cases. rather. are tailored to give perpetrators the impression that they indeed form a ‘we’ doing this. When confronted with collectivization of agency. that of marking a corrective with respect to the outlook characteristic of the other (collectivistic ideologies). Human agency as practised – lived – in the life-world is social in this sense. in the mass rapes in Bosnia. perpetrators in this type of assaults will tend to merge their individuality with their groupishness. and to provide them with psychological motives as well as morally legitimizing reasons. as discussed in Chapter 4. to see what I have in mind.

humanity is affected nonetheless – not physically but morally. . (Ignatieff 1999: 175) I believe that Ignatieff exaggerates the problem. The truth. although easily dismissed as unacceptable on moral and legal grounds. The very fact of being an outsider discredits rather than reinforces one’s legitimacy. it must lie precisely in the way the latter represents ‘those not there’. perpetrators and victims alike. In fact. the general public. In his important essay ‘The Nightmare from Which We Are Trying to Awake’. trials. For there is always a truth that can be known only by those on the inside. or quite simply humanity. Michael Ignatieff puts the problem faced by the third party like this: It is an illusion to suppose that ‘impartial’ or ‘objective’ outsiders would ever succeed in getting their moral and interpretive account of the catastrophe accepted by the parties to the conflict. if they are to recover and get on with their lives. Though not directly affected. need to experience that what passed between them is of such a nature as to engage the outside world. to have their suffering acknowledged by someone else than their fellow victims and their perpetrators. the outside world. albeit for different reasons. and as I shall elaborate below. Or if not a truth – since facts are facts – then a moral significance to these facts that only an insider can fully appreciate. So. and testimonies I will now explore some aspects of the ‘third party’ problematic that have so far received scant attention. The first issue concerns the extent to which justice – in the wake of collective evil – is dependent on truth. Victims need to be seen. as we saw. if it is to be believed. it must be recognized that certain ideologies intent on collectivizing agency evidently succeed in doing so in a psychological sense among a large number of their adherents – and ultimately.Responses to collective evil 265 My conclusion is that it would be unwise to reject statements of the we-quality alluded to as simply expressing bad faith. the effect being that the distinction between oneself and other(s) tends to be blurred to the point of obliteration. must be authored by those who have suffered its consequences. that is to say. We need to acknowledge the extent to which atrocities such as rape and killing take place in an atmosphere pervaded by group-think. among some of the targeted victims as well. Truth commissions. In so far as there is something valuable for the affected parties to the role played by a third party. The message they need to hear for the wounds to start healing is that what happened cannot be sealed by silence and met with indifference. But the truth of war is so painful that those who have fought each other rarely if ever sit down to author it together. to sum up.

especially the relatives of persons who have disappeared and who often never come back. and therefore undeniable – that persons who are missing did exist and live at some particular place.266 Evil and Human Agency indeed. it is widely recognized that the removal of any tangible. 175). that it is an outrage to those not involved in their sheer capacity as human beings. Ignatieff writes: Ethnic cleansing eradicates the accusing truth of the past. the emotions necessary for any sustained encounter with the truth. Truth has an outside as well as an inside. For . shame. to be attentive to the victims’ viewpoint. The ‘truth’ about what happened that Ignatieff speaks about is one that crucially needs the hearing. In exile. more or less blindly and uncritically. Victims of ethnic war. Of course. that only a non-party can offer. their graves. again precisely as non-party. have a deeply disturbing effect on survivors. physical signs – signs visible to everyone. Later on in his essay. and in keeping with Ignatieff’s argument. the response to their presented version put forward by a third party will be all the more important. the reaching out to the third party may take the form of more or less outright attempts to enlist that party as a subscriber to one’s own version of the truth. their houses of worship. and the like. This most elementary of moral responses – passing the judgment that ‘this ought not to have passed between men’. for those places are gone. the past may be rewritten so that no record of the victim’s presence is allowed to remain. the third party would not live up to its function if it were unable to take measures against being recruited. It is not a compromise between two competing versions’ (p. Both parties urge that the version that is emphatically theirs be heard. On a psychological level. Disappearances and the lack of bodies to be buried create an ontological uncertainty among survivors. and subsequent confirmation. neutral. objective. In its wake. They can no longer point to their homes. he goes too far in the opposite direction. While Ignatieff is right to challenge the idea that truth is wholly disinterested. captured in Freud’s depiction of the psychological experience of the uncanny. The implications of this are highlighted in Ignatieff’s further observation that ‘The problem of a shared truth is also that it does not lie ‘‘in between’’. nay duty. and since they do not expect it to be heard by the other side to the conflict. ‘this cannot stand’ – is the proper prerogative of Ignatieff’s bystander. victimhood itself becomes less and less real. for their part. or remorse. Victory encloses the victor in a forgetting that removes the very possibility of guilt. be it the victims. by one of the parties. have lost the sites that validate their version of the truth. As we saw above when discussing the importance. (Ignatieff 1999: 177) These are vital insights. Exactly.

for obverse reasons as it were. In this respect much like the practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’ discussed above. the invention of ‘truth commissions’ – such as. 178). that a truth be established that is acknowledged by both – or all – parties. justice. As argued earlier. for justice to be attained the effort of the third party is crucial. The latter two for their part depend on truth. Hence the central task is to individualize guilt. That this is so may seem obvious. more precisely. incapable of establishing adequate conditions for reconciliation and justice. Given this (deliberately created) lack of knowledge. Just as with truth. truth must be authored by those who have suffered its consequences. nation or ethnic group) be dissolved. they are accomplished by concrete individuals on both sides of the perpetrator–victim divide. such sought-for eradication of the identity of the victim would leave survivors in a state of profound ontological uncertainty: all their basic questions about what happened and why are left hanging in the air. justice requires that the collectivizing of human agency pursued by genocidal ideologies be reversed. While the processes toward justice and reconciliation involve entire collectivities. If.Responses to collective evil 267 example. how can the work of mourning ever be completed. often never to be answered. to say the least – unless. that is. only individuals suffer the injustice of evildoing. Only individuals bear responsibility and guilt. let alone embarked upon in the first place? What Ignatieff’s observations about the plight of the victors and of their victims combine to show is that they are both. Significantly. representatives (individuals as well as institutions) of third parties combine efforts to help the affected parties come together to start such authoring. in many cases of ‘political disappearance’ in Latin America. The relevant meaning of justice is put well by Ignatieff: ‘The vital function of justice in the dialogue between truth and reconciliation is to disaggregate individual and nation. only individuals can be reconciled with each other. yet it bears repeating. as Ignatieff said earlier. to ‘relocate it from the collectivity to the individuals responsible’ (p.g. the security forces would seize and destroy all identification papers of their victim and then deny that they had ever existed (Hamber and Wilson 2002: 40). the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission . the chances that such authoring will take place certainly seem meagre. ensuring that the mythically proclaimed oneto-one relationship between individual and collectivity (e. most prominently. and reconciliation may be achieved cannot be left to the parties themselves. to disassemble the fiction that nations are accountable like individuals for the crimes committed in their name’ (1999: 178). What Ignatieff has shown is that the process by which such things as truth.

and that they. there is the phenomenon of vicarious responsibility. on the one hand. that the needs of a post-conflict nation are different from those of directly targeted victims (i. I readily grant that nations do not have collective consciences.e. governments often seek closure on the past more readily than individuals. one advanced by collectivistic ideologies bent on denying or concealing the diversity of interests that sets individuals apart from ‘their’ collectivity (as well as from each other). The task is to recognize the impact of group-psychological processes on the individual agent. i. The imperative of maintaining the latter separation should not carry over into a denial of the experiential realness of the psychological ‘exchange’ between individual and group – an exchange.e. that need not be dubious. and Girard). thereby assuming that nations have psyches that experience traumas in a similar way to individuals. by way of introjection. As to the first issue. if there is one common finding across different approaches to group psychology. let themselves be invested in by the ‘psychic’ attributes of the collectivity with which they identify themselves (recall my earlier discussion of Klein. second. on the other. of course. survivors). Alford. morally speaking. But this interest-based understanding of the relationship between individual and collectivity is too rationalistic to carry psychological weight.268 Evil and Human Agency (TRC) – has been criticized precisely for ascribing a collective identity to a nation. in collectivities. it is that individuals invest themselves. Having said this. moreover. I wish to show why this is so by focusing on two distinct issues: first. To exemplify. by way of projection. This act of ‘psychologizing the nation’ mistakenly implies that ‘individual and national processes of dealing with the past are largely concurrent and equivalent’ (Hamber and Wilson 2002: 35). For example. the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo . while simultaneously upholding responsibility for concrete choices and actions as a non-reductive property of the individual. responsibility taken by some prominent representative of a group for deeds committed by it. It is less clear to me that they cannot. as observed above. and the moral and legal principle of separating individual and collective for the purpose of locating responsibility (culpability). yet for which he or she carries no direct responsibility. The argument frequently raised against the latter idea is that it is an ‘ideological notion’. I say this to emphasize the need to distinguish between psychological processes as having the quality of a dialectic interplay between individual and group. in some meaningful sense. be said to have collective psyches. it is true. since in many instances it is a genuinely enriching quality of interpersonal experience. there is the general one touching on the nature of the individual–group relationship.

where denial could be superseded and both the work of mourning (transition out of uncertainty and liminality) and narrative fetishism (teleologizing and attaching transcendental meaning to loss) could take place. A similar point can be made about the function of trials conducted to try the persons most directly responsible for severe human rights violations. the positive potential of publicly displayed efforts at reconciliation in the wake of large-scale atrocities must also be stressed. at least to some degree. . Wilson observe. In his thoughtful study Radical Evil on Trial the Argentinian law scholar and human rights activist Carlos Nino describes this function as follows: The trials enable the victims of human rights abuses to recover their self-respect as holders of legal rights . de Klerk to simply ‘let bygones be bygones’. As Hamber and Wilson (2002: 42) write: ‘The TRC in South Africa. and as against the recommendation of former South African State President F. if they are not. became a model of psychological repair. Therefore. Having noted the difficulties reconciliation faces because of undeniable conflict of interests (or better. As Brandon Hamber and Richard A. needs) between survivors and nation (government). sees the Madres as imprisoned in the past. W. the government. Accordingly. and their perpetrators’ acts are officially condemned. More principally.Responses to collective evil 269 in Argentina were unwilling to accept reparations because doing so would imply giving up hope that their loved ones (the disappeared) will return alive. (Nino 1996: 147) As Nino goes on to note. This process not only assuages the desire for revenge but reconstitutes the self-respect of the victim. Their suffering is listened to in the trials with respect and sympathy. They help create an atmosphere in which events long . such trials promote public deliberation in a unique manner. ‘as hostages to their own memory and therefore obstructions to the process of selective forgetting advocated by reconciling national political leaders’. reparations and the truth about what happened must be linked. on its part. survivors may feel that ‘reparations are being used to buy their silence (‘‘blood money’’) and put a stop to their continuing quest for truth and justice’ (Hamber and Wilson 2002: 46). . or forget about the past because some form of reparation (or a comprehensive report on the nature and extent of past violations) has been made’. The true story receives official sanction. it is ‘critical that victims are not expected to forgive the perpetrators.’ Both are ways in which individuals reconstruct their social identities through forging a meaningful and coherent narrative in the wake of trauma. The atrocities are publicly and openly discussed. their unwillingness meant that they would not accept the ‘sacrifice’ of their children for the new civilian order.

Herein lies the deeper meaning of testimony. must be seen to represent a moral and symbolic rehabilitation by formal legal means of their status as inviolable persons in the Kantian and Hegelian sense. for witnesses are the experts and they tell their own stories in their own words. Hegel helps us see that in such trials recognition cuts both ways: the victims. a chance to regain and reclaim their once (legally as well as psychically-physically) silenced voices. friends. and lives. when these things were going on?’ to become part of daily discourse. punishment serves the individual function of representing a compliment to the criminal in that it affirms his human agency and so the accountability that goes with it. are bearers of rights.270 Evil and Human Agency tabooed and silenced can come out into the open.) . and it serves the communal function of facilitating a re-establishment of the interpersonal bonds that were torn apart by way of the crime. and therefore suited to be made to answer for his or her decisions and deeds. Dad. indeed as one autonomous and free. There is more. In a word. are thereby de facto and de jure granted the very rights that were violated and denied them by the actions of those now standing trial. The power of testimony is that it requires little commentary. Such trials. families. (Greene and Kumar. quoted in Alexander 2002: 57f.). the perpetrators as well as the victims. possessions. taking their stand as witnesses giving experiencebased testimony in the trials. The perpetrators work diligently to silence their victims by taking away their names. such trials proceed on the premise that both ‘parties’. Such trials negate the negation earlier effected by the organizers of large-scale ‘legal crimes’ (Arendt): they undo the undoing of the legal status of those victimized by giving them. Trials conducted to seek justice in the aftermath of large-scale collective evil effect something of invaluable moral significance by virtue of their sheer legal formalism: in seeking that those guilty receive the punishment due to them. therefore. they make it possible for questions like ‘Where were you. Testimony reestablishes the individuality of the victims who survived – and in some instances of those who were killed – and demonstrates the power of their voices. by means of formal procedure. As expressed by Joshua Greene and Shiva Kumar. and in breaking the walls of silence previously solidifying the sorry fate of those victimized. My point is the Hegelian one that trying and punishing somebody entails recognition of that person as a legal subject. homes. The intent was to deny their victims any sense of humanness. to erase their individuality and rob them of all personal voice. in so far as committing a crime against others brings with it a mutual estrangement that both sides will yearn to overcome (Hegel 1991: 100ff.

it is replaced by the equality between persons qua persons that obtained prior to the policies of the perpetrators and which they therefore had to take explicit measures to negate so as to prepare for immoral acts behind a smokescreen of legality. In 1996. more comprehensively. which to Vulliamy’s mind ‘remains the only institution still trying to reckon with the tempest of violence in Bosnia – and to judge it’ (Vulliamy 1998: 12). coming forward to testify is also an important task among bystanders. and the beast who rapes her. The central point is that the formal procedures deployed in indicting perpetrators and in calling upon victims (and bystanders such as Vulliamy) to come forward and testify overshoot the immediate legal framework. a false notion of the status of the parties. journalist Ed Vulliamy was the first individual from his profession to testify before the Hague war crimes tribunal addressing the events in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This asymmetry (and be it. Regrettably. I concur. because the deeds were premised upon. but complicity in the crime. yet unwilling to ‘take sides’ so as to stop the violators. It is for the kind of reasons just referred to that she . and fostered by. they have counselled strongly against members of the journalist profession testifying. especially those who can base their version of events on firsthand experience. the very attitude that journalists often (and rightly) criticize when articulated by politicians and diplomats confronted with massive violations of human rights. I do not want to be neutral between the camp guard and the inmate. not simply because of the nature of the deeds. the UN also set up the Hague tribunal. on behalf of a specific profession. to such disastrous and bloody effect. Why? Vulliamy writes that the objection often is to do with ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’. at least for a while.’ And he continues: ‘That was the cowardly and callous neutrality adopted by the UN itself in Bosnia. Instead. but. namely. Vulliamy’s response is worth quoting: ‘There are times in history when neutrality is not neutral at all. More important than the legal status thereby assigned to the parties involved is the moral message conveyed – a message to the effect that what the one party did against the other was wrong and should never have come to pass. that the perpetrators are the sole bearers of rights and that the victims have none whatsoever. not many of his colleagues have followed his example.’ However.Responses to collective evil 271 In my opinion. the woman raped seven times a night every night. hence it merely repeats. No one has understood the deeper underpinnings of what is often dismissed as the ‘tedious formalism’ of law and of legal procedure than Hannah Arendt. reflected in positive law such as the 1935 Nuremberg Laws geared to strip the Jews of all rights as German citizens) is now declared null and void.

the perception is likely to prevail that what happened happened to one precisely as a member of a group and as performed by members of the other group. women. (1951: 465) Reconciliation. but of their right to ownership. but in stripping them of the different layers that made them subjects of law: depriving them not just of their jobs. and children. a specific group of persons of their rights in this anthropological sense of Arendt’s. as we saw. and collective guilt The issue of reconciliation highlights the implications of individualist as against collectivist notions of agency from a different angle than the purely legal one. forgiveness. that ‘the first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the legal character in man’ (1951: 447). The boundaries of positive law are to man’s political existence what memory is to his past: they guarantee the pre-existence of a common world. for very different reasons).272 Evil and Human Agency noted. but of their nationality. One can speak here about the ‘liquidation of the anthropological function of positive law’ (Supiot 2002: 117). not just of their property. but of their professional status. So who is to seek reconciliation? Whom is reconciliation between? . at the same time. the possibility that something totally new and unforeseen may occur. Arendt writes: The law surrounds each new life with boundaries and. It is worthwhile recalling that the distinctive trait of the Nazis’ extermination policies did not lie in taking the lives of millions of innocent men. the ‘you’ behind the ‘they’. at least in the era of modernity. The ‘me’ disappears behind the ‘we’. Among victims no less than perpetrators (though. It has taken the greatest disasters of the twentieth century to demonstrate this anthropological-cum-moral underpinning of the institution of law – true to the dictum that only when something breaks down do we become aware of its significance. guarantees its freedom of movement. the reality of a certain continuity which transcends the individual lifespan of each generation. by turning them into numbers – destroying their human status before taking their lives. liberty by liberty. step by step. must be fought with all means available – for we know only too well what is likely to follow in their wake. depriving them finally of their name. helping us realize that the institution of law – the symbol of the crucial function of the ‘third party’ in organized social life – is not something ‘external’ to the experience of being a person. Hence policies seeking to rob. and an inviolable one at that. paragraph by paragraph. which absorbs all new beginnings and is nourished by them. in her book on totalitarianism. not just of their homeland. it is its institutional precondition.

to concede guilt. enabling the parties to recognize each other not as so many members of specific groups but in their capacities as distinct individuals – for instance. addressing the suffering caused by humans to humans. responsibility may be distributed and justice be done. is not to be underestimated. it has to assume the form of a mutual recognition between unique individuals. where it designates the re-establishing of a broken relationship between man and a deity (God). Of course. reconciliation is less a formalized procedure than a troubled undertaking involving lots of emotions – on both sides of the legal divide between sinner and sufferer. Suffice it to say that the role played by the one party’s concession of guilt. On this basis.Responses to collective evil 273 It is tempting to answer in a way directly analogous to our earlier discussion. Hence it will not do for a perpetrator to say that he did what he did ‘because’ he was acting as. By contrast. as that Muslim woman having been raped by that particular Serb man. a Serb (meaning as Serbs are apt. legally speaking it was so many particular individuals who did something. For lack of repentance. often taking the form of repentance. Legal processes cannot do without formalism. I am critical of drawing an analogy between what is required for legal processes to operate as they should. The notion of reconciliation derives from religious contexts. each of whom must be held accountable for the specifics of his acts. When a group did something. Reconciliation here means re-establishing this relationship in so far as the human being becomes aware of his personal guilt toward the deity. wherein each is fully prepared to take responsibility. to express shame or remorse. say. victimhood needs to be lent a name and a face so as to match the individualized perpetrator coming forward. since it would be devoid of something to be a response . They cannot set aside the primacy accorded to the notion of agency as individual not collective. as an act chosen by an individual that in no way tries to hide behind collective identity. who then forgives. and what is required for reconciliation to take place between directly involved parties. That is to say. Note the close connection between the admission of guilt on the one part and the offering of forgiveness on the other: the former serves as a necessary condition for the latter (Andreassen and Skaar 1998: 23). to act). forgiveness would be but an empty gesture. exhibits the features just described in religious terms. Victims often ask how they can possibly forgive as long as the individuals responsible for their suffering show no signs of regret. the parties between whom reconciliation is to take place need to be disaggregated. one may question whether reconciliation in wholly secular contexts. or have a right. For reconciliation to do the work of healing it is meant to. similarly.

It is also the fact that so few among the convicted plead guilty and express remorse. A more appropriate approach would be to leave it entirely to the individual victim him. has publicly expressed repentance among the Bosnian Serbs’ political leadership. of course.274 Evil and Human Agency to. In this manner. and so a matter about which no one else is entitled to decide. Considerable pressure to publicly display forgiveness was exerted by the various truth commissions in South Africa. individually. Second. First.or herself to decide whether or not forgiveness will be forthcoming. as beyond duty. just as they both should be met with respect. ambivalent) feelings and personal moral (and/or religious) conviction on the part of the victim. we witness a (growing?) tendency to demand that victims come forward and declare they forgive their tormentors. however. In some cases. This is a matter involving both strong (and presumably complex. what darkens the prospects of reconciliation in post-genocide Bosnia is not only that some of the greatest criminals remain at large for years on end (Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic). acutely personal issue. not least due to the influence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I see three reasons why such a demand is ill-conceived. a device of exchange is brought into play. Third. But this amounts to a model that suppresses the blatant asymmetry between the parties to the affliction. Forgiveness is and remains a difficult. that has been infringed upon already. by the sheer act of voicing an expectation that victims forgive those responsible for their suffering. it follows from my argument that forgiveness is to be looked upon as supererogatory. but from this it does not follow that deciding not to forgive is morally reproachable – rather. once a close ally of Karadzic and one of very few women at the top. by way of the original affliction). So far. of symmetry. delegating responsibility to both parties for contributing to the attainment of balance. . Is a woman more prepared to take this step than a man? Sometimes. To exemplify. both decisions should be allowed to be made freely. a step is taken toward moral equalization between the two parties: the plea that the guilty party confess his guilt is ‘balanced’ with the plea that the offended party forgive. demanding public acts of forgiveness seems to me a category mistake since it infringes on the privacy of the victims (a privacy. that is. only Biljana Plavsic. forgiveness will rightly meet with personal praise and moral approval among the wider public. I therefore strongly believe that reconciliation must go both ways and be a joint affair: it cannot do without the one party repenting (or showing other signs of assuming responsibility and regretting what happened) and the other party being ready to respond to repentance by forgiveness.

He finds that the real problem in ‘postconflict’ society is that the past has been overcome too early. more precisely. ‘it can happen that when a man forgives. What they wish is to see themselves. A possible way of combating this tendency is to make a case for the appropriateness of resentment. Amery regards resentment as the emotional foundation of a ‘genuine’ morality. to ensure that he becomes entangled in the truth of his misdeed. he sees forgiveness as a kind of betrayal of those tortured and exterminated. then. survivors. victims (or. understanding. being simultaneously psychologically required and morally justified. namely to keep the wound open. When this happens. undeserved by the perpetrators. To be sure. to allude to Primo Levi) have a definite task. in short. persons who are anxious to forgive are often motivated by not-so-admirable considerations: in secretly admiring their own fine feelings. This. writes Amery. Amery’s position is that of a victim unwilling to compromise. is what makes resentment a warranted stance. Moreover. as a survivor of Auschwitz observed when asked about forgiveness. and have others seeing them. unyielding in their rejection of each and every manifestation of evil. Stubborn nonforgivers. Contradicting Nietzsche’s famous rejection of resentment as part and parcel of the ‘slave morality’ developed by the weak and cowardly.Responses to collective evil 275 The other side of the expectation (or demand) that forgiveness be shown is that resentment comes to be seen as the key obstacle to reconciliation – and not the lack of declared guilt and repentance on the part of perpetrators. there are pitfalls in both directions here. my resentment. to ensure that the crime become a moral reality for the perpetrator. somehow failing to keep faith’ (Engelking 2001: 317). the burden of reconciliation is shifted one-sidedly onto the damaged party. All moral demands should be addressed to the perpetrators – one-sidedly and unconditionally. he feels guilty because he no longer feels the hatred which he ought to feel. that reconciliation is premature and. may also choose their stance out of vanity. To my mind. the sort of morality that is bound to be ridiculed by the powers that be as the surrogate morality of the weak and inferior (Amery 1979: 81–101). forgiving (for them) is a form of vanity. persists in order to force the crime to take on moral realness for the perpetrator. . as sensitive to the difficulties and complexities of the human condition. however. a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who was subjected to extensive torture. the case for resentment has been most impressively articulated by Jean Amery. as morally upright. What drives them is a wish to be seen by others as generous. As Amery perceptively points out. at any rate. untainted by any sympathy with wrongdoing or wimpish tolerance of the intolerable (Garrard 2002). In this. tolerant.

to some unknown extent. Rather. more generally. in a self-complacent manner seek to be exonerated from everything to do with that past. are crimes against humanity. The premise of the argument in support of forgiveness is that forgiveness comes about out of recognition of the human capacity for moral choice and change. Hegel. they are. the philosopher who says this. too. the kind of resentment he – I think successfully – defends is a minority position. in this way.276 Evil and Human Agency I agree with Amery that a case can be made for the appropriateness of resentment among firsthand victims (such as himself). Eve Garrard. crimes that we are implicated in. The point I see as making some headway for the case for forgiveness. is to do with the role played by forgiveness in helping us recognize that ‘human nature is morally mixed. thereby siding with the interests of the perpetrators rather than with those of the victims (survivors). argued that punishing someone entails regarding them as members of the moral community. it is to affirm agency in the wake of attempts to deny or suppress it. simply qua human beings. and that others’ outright condemnation of resentment and. In assessing his case it is vital to realize that Amery is not intent on turning resentment into an ideology. in the sense that we have the capacity both to commit them and to be . but rather in the sense that most if not all of us are capable of both good and evil’. that is to say. forgiving someone involves regarding them as members of the moral community – but then so does refusing to forgive them. we share. and protest against the general public’s readiness to grant such ‘forward-looking’ exoneration. they are at the same time always crimes committed by humanity. we recall. taking it upon himself to keep the memory of the deed alive. proceeds to conclude that. however. and some entirely evil. as possessing autonomous agency (this being what makes them blameworthy in the first case): to punish is to recognize. is indispensable. In like manner. not in the sense that some of us are almost entirely good. In this scenario. and perhaps (also) forgiven. as time goes by and their crimes pale in the public’s memory. is lacking in justification. embodied in the single individual’s enduring gesture of protest: protest against the perpetrators of yesterday who. On the other hand. of unwillingness to forgive. provided that we do not understand it as a stance that can – or should ever – be demanded from victims. I do recognize that a case can be made for forgiveness. Amery’s role as a kind of self-proclaimed pain in the ass of society at large. ‘the perpetrators do share a common human nature with us. their capacity for evil’ (2002: 161). Garrard reminds us that the notion of crimes against humanity (the category of crimes at the centre of our discussion) contains a twofold assumption: it is not only that the crimes to be punished.

Note the obvious yet fundamental point that forgiveness. tainted. to be justified. some of the innocent victims felt implicated. Specifically. because they sensed that what had happened around them in their presence. There is no question of ‘forgiving’. that very quality of being beyond what can – or should – be forgiven? Whereas resentment. are not those guilty of what Auschwitz and Srebrenica stand for automatically tainted with that self-same utter immorality. then there is some reason to think that the relationship between fellow human beings may be significant enough to generate a reason to forgive even those who. but instead want him to flourish. in the sense that the former is often facilitated. Auschwitz or Srebrenica. was irrevocable’ (Levi 1988: 66). have degraded and debased all those who share their common humanity – that is. there is but a short path from forgiveness to vicarious shame. What justifies our being liberal with our forgiveness is basically that our proneness to sin means that none of us is well placed to cast a stone. If so. (Garrard 2002: 164) Notwithstanding the validity of Garrard’s reasoning. it seems right to maintain that some instances of evildoing are of such a gravity as to be beyond forgiveness. this seems to be evidence that the bonds of common humanity are strong enough to make the crimes of the perpetrators shame and contaminate all the rest of us. neither more or less numerous than in any other human group. Given its source. even the victims. indeed experientially spurred. we no longer desire his downfall. Thus conceived. nor even feel indifferent to what becomes of him. and in which they felt involved. shame and pain for the misdeeds that others and not they had committed. This ‘we’ is at the heart of the case for forgiveness.Responses to collective evil 277 victimized by them. an attitude which can broadly be described as wishing him well’. Garrard explains: ‘In forgiving another. all of us. But does the same necessarily apply to the perpetrators in charge? No. felt remorse. pitiful and degraded’ about us as human beings (Scarre 2004: 40). by feeling such shame. again. forgiveness must address the person implicated in . Garrard’s comment is worth quoting: Even in the depths of those hells. by what the perpetrators alone had done. on a moralised understanding of what a worthwhile life amounts to’ (2002: 155). Speaking not of forgiveness but of this sort of shame. say. not the entirety of the person. understood correctly. in their slaughter of the innocents. and in them. refers to persons (doers) not events. Primo Levi recalled how ‘the just among us (the survivors of Auschwitz). reasons for forgiveness arise from what is ‘weak. But then again. must be directed at the act. to have a worthwhile life. in virtue of their common humanity. what is required for forgiveness is ‘the adoption of a particular attitude towards the perpetrator.

forgiveness is a truly interhuman act. 188).278 Evil and Human Agency the act. and gripping his lectern tightly as he stood by communal graves containing the remains of 50.’ The crowd listened in heavy silence. to think the unthinkable. Let me quote extensively from a newspaper report on how reconciliation along the lines envisaged by Ignatieff has been actively sought – namely. yet in such a manner that there is a recognition that the person in question is not exhausted by that evil act of his: what he did needs to be seen as part of the repertoire of human action.000 murdered. Earlier.’ Leaders. can be reconciled. even perhaps of acts clearly negating the act that gave rise to the need for forgiveness in the first place. by the Belgian government with regard to events in Rwanda: The Belgian prime minister. not nations. Examples to show how this can be done are few and far between. I ask your forgiveness. cannot imagine’. rise to gestures of reconciliation that people. hence of something that we – the ones who may forgive – share in common with that person. Guy Verhofstadt. Pale. Thus understood. as one of numerous manifestations of human agency. Yet. When President Alwyn of Chile appeared on television to apologize to the victims of Pinochet’s crimes of repression. resting on an assumption (or a hope) that the person will in the future transcend that act. was addressing thousands of Rwandans gathered in Kigali in April 2000 for the sixth anniversary of the millions of deaths of the 1994 genocide. In the name of my country and my people. ‘individuals are helped to heal and to reconcile by public rituals of atonement. But they exist. Verhofstadt said: ‘I pay my respects to the victims of the genocide. with time and the possibility for change thereby permitted. and so. individually. ‘give their societies permission to say the unsayable. may develop into a person manifestly capable of more than that kind of act. displaying an insensitivity to Rwanda’s tragedy that verged on the absurd’. and many were in tears. as Ignatieff remarks. Verhofstadt acknowledged that the operation in which the UN soldiers had been involved had been ‘ill-planned and illequipped. he created the public climate in which a thousand acts of private repentance and apology became possible. I said above that only individuals. Verhofstadt went further and spoke in stronger terms than any Western leader to visit Kigali before him. outside the barracks where 10 Belgian soldiers from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (Unamir) had been killed by Rwandan soldiers in an attack on 6 April 1994. . continues Ignatieff. hence they help individuals come to terms with the painfulness of their society’s past (1999: 187. Belgium’s unilateral decision to withdraw its Unamir forces after the murders made it impossible for the UN to intervene effectively and prevent the genocide.

Participants and witnesses from the highest levels of government and the armed forces looked back on Belgium’s record in Rwanda and Burundi. that is. Belgium had finally come to terms with facing up to its colonial past. In June 2001 a Brussels court sentenced two nuns for their part in the genocide. was partially due to the Belgians . He was going to make sure that the country implemented the 1993 universal jurisdiction law allowing the Belgian courts to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed abroad. I suggest that something to the same effect applies to Srebrenica. giving an assurance that those in Belgium who had been responsible for the genocide would not escape justice. Verhofstadt’s words of remorse in Kigali met with widespread approval. others pointed out that the division between the country’s two main ethnic groups. and so deflect attention from their guilt rather than intensify it. While some tried to defend the colonial operation. . (Braeckmann 2002: 12) It can be said that the relevance of this example is limited: this is a case of a ‘third party’ to genocide assuming its share of responsibility for letting that crime take place. The process toward reconciliation can only be completed when all affected have made their distinct contribution. Its investigation went far beyond the events of 1994. Following the publication in April 2002 of an exhaustive Dutch report on the behaviour of the Dutch battalion in the UN-declared . the Hutus and the Tutsis. After that experience. as opposed to a case where a direct party to such a crime – i. Although I consider this a valid distinction.Responses to collective evil 279 For eight months a parliamentary commission chaired by Verhofstadt had heard evidence from dozens of witnesses. Further.e. The trial was a further reminder of Belgium’s historic role in Rwanda. . it goes without saying that such a declaration by a third party helps reinforce the moral pressure on parties directly involved to finally step forward and assume their responsibility – though it must be admitted that direct perpetrators for their part tend to sit back and hope that symbolic reparations and declarations of guilt made by less culpable persons will take some of the urgency out of the wider public’s desire for justice. its legal and moral validity should not lead us to downplay the immediate as well as longlasting effects of the kind of symbolic atonement performed in the example given. Although it is utterly important to keep a keen eye on the specifics of each particular case. The prime minister went further when he spoke to the stunned Rwandans. a high-level representative of the perpetrators – stands forward publicly to assume responsibility – and to demonstrate remorse. Evidently the declaration of guilt offered by the Belgian prime minister made a strong impression on those present. on survivors and representatives of the victims. former German colonies mandated to Belgium by the League of Nations after the first world war. which resulted in the conflict culminating in the genocide. Belgium turned its attention to the Congo – an even darker heart of its colonial past.

took responsibility – not for the killings. but for having let them happen under his watch – and decided that his government resign. Such passivity is an insult to the public’s sense of justice. that is. is becoming more intolerable by the day. the implications of these double standards are so severe as to put into question both the credibility and the underlying motives of those now applauding the trial against former president Slobodan Milosevic. Since this acknowledgement of responsibility comes after the report on UN responsibility for the massacres at Srebrenica (discussed above). He himself might even still be in power. reconciliation is made difficult by a number of factors. One way of putting this is to admit that Milosevic has a valid point. The vehement protests with which Milosevic’s request has been greeted by Western governments only attest to its element of truth – it would be most uncomfortable for these politicians to be forced to listen to the defendant’s reminders of the support they de facto gave his policies . thereby lending his regime – and so indirectly his policies. Bosnia. When Milosevic. besides prolonging the victims’ painful perception that their plight holds no genuine priority. prime minister of the Netherlands. but not all – I particularly have in mind the double standards adhered to by major third parties. it adds weight to the considerable moral pressure on Western powers no less than the Belgrade authorities to intensify their efforts to arrest the two most high-ranking Serbs indicted for the massacre.280 Evil and Human Agency ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica in 1995. yet still at large – namely. Some of these have to do directly with the parties involved in the roles of perpetrators and victims. The Guardian journalist Hugo Young is right on the spot when he writes that ‘nothing made it unambiguously obvious that Milosevic should end up in The Hague. of course. courted by some of the very countries now putting him on trial’ (Young 2002: 10). there is every chance that the crimes for which he is being indicted would remain untried. Wim Kok. his demand contains a kernel of truth: these are the leaders that were active at ‘doing business’ with him for years on end. To return to my main historical case. Indeed. including ‘ethnic cleansing’ – an aura of legitimacy. The prospects for reconciliation within a post-conflict or post-genocide society cannot be determined in abstracto and in a general manner. asks that (former) Western leaders such as Clinton and Major be called as witnesses in his trial. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. at a time when American and European leaders were finally geared for action against him. The injustice entailed in these two high-ranking individuals remaining at large even after individuals as well as institutions with less direct responsibility have declared their guilt. If Milosevic had not made the fatal error of going into Kosovo.

a metamorphosis that is rare enough even among ordinary people. Much as I welcome the trial. I hold his argument to be valid in both cases. To those who point out – as do a number of well-informed Serbian intellectuals – that Western societies have no right to preach tolerance and to teach Balkans about multiethnicity (citing that these societies remain overwhelmingly white and continue to distribute power and wealth unequally. Since the relevant events are very recent. Reconciliation takes time – lots of time.’ This is Ignatieff’s (2001: 155) argument to defend not the Milosevic trial but NATO’s military intervention over Kosovo. Indeed. But. to be morally genuine. Again. Wim Kok stood forward to acknowledge responsibility. to shift the perspective. thus highlighting the gratuitousness of third-party declarations of forgiveness (Scarre 2004: 85. Ideals are frequently defended by people with dirty hands – and bad consciences. the only honest answer is that ‘the requirement that ‘‘he who casts the first stone should be without sin’’ is a guarantee of inaction. n. The fact that the west does not live up to its ideals does not invalidate the ideals or invalidate their defence. I warn against the kind of moral perfectionism on which a wholesale rejection of the Milosevic trial rests. The prospect of masterminds of collective evil doing any such thing is practically nil – witness Milosevic. Assuming vicarious responsibility and guilt It can be said that the demands for reconciliation in such places as Bosnia and Kosovo. while morally justified. Add to this the philosophical point that. will be largely speculative. it would mean for them to repudiate everything they have stood for. and about its eventual success or lack of it. then the political leaders who voted against intervention to stop the genocide are no less guilty of complicity to the Milosevic-led crimes. its element of hypocrisy is not to be denied: if Milosevic is guilty of crimes against humanity (and he is). then. and partly along racial lines).Responses to collective evil 281 by remaining for so long unwilling to do anything to halt them and to recognize his culpability. 26). predictions about which course reconciliation will take. what the ‘wrongdoer wants in securing forgiveness is forgiveness from the one he has injured’. thereby indirectly asking for forgiveness – not from . are premature. It even takes generations. Even so. as did Guy Verhofstadt. Perpetrators with direct responsibility for atrocities will rarely ask for forgiveness and actively seek reconciliation with their victims. this reminds us of the considerable extent to which reconciliation needs to be carried out vicariously.

say. the notion of collective guilt may come into play in a genuinely constructive manner. Note the context in which this happens: it is not the legal one of meting out punishment. will vary from case to case. morally as well as legally. both intellectually and as an element of the practice of criminal justice. They did so not in their own right. ‘when all are guilty. while we should reject an atomistic view of society. others do so in a more spontaneous manner. while some leaders step forward to declare it as a result of public pressure.282 Evil and Human Agency some third party but from the victims. in a performative act (exemplarily. some bearers of vicarious responsibility are more vicarious than others. to repeat. My position is not controversial: the reasons for disaggregating agency are widely recognized (as Arendt quipped. So. and need not occupy us here. he was Dutch prime minister at the time). The importance of observing these features of vicarious responsibility is that it throws novel light on the issue of collective guilt. nobody is’). A second crucial feature is that vicarious responsibility transcends generational gaps. that something morally unacceptable has been committed by – or in the name of – the collective one is representing. I have argued that. and that this necessitates that repentance be expressed and guilt conceded. a public speech by a leader). True. the notion of collective guilt is untenable. for the purposes of achieving postconflict reconciliation within a nation-state. or never accepted. Wim Kok taking responsibility for the Dutch complicity in the massacre at Srebrenica (after all. ‘We’ can no longer ignore or deny what ‘we’ did. for those doing it. even when urged to. yet in the present case this device is put to use for the aims of bringing the parties together. as opposed to pitting them against each other so as to stimulate conflict. spontaneously . And. on behalf of a collectivity and with reference to events in the past (even distant past). but as a gesture of recognizing a responsibility that those most directly responsible never took (never were forced to take. and the public display of German collective guilt for which Willy Brandt will always be remembered. we should maintain an atomistic line on moral responsibility. The point I wish to make is simply that taking responsibility for deeds committed on a collective basis is to be seen as a version of ‘collectivizing’ agency that genuinely makes sense to those addressed by it – on both sides of the perpetrator–victim divide. The concrete practical consequences of doing so. whereby this ‘we’ is deliberately vague enough to comprise all the different degrees of guilt and complicity that will obtain within a large group. as the case may be). They did so vicariously. In this it certainly resembles the logic characteristic of genocidal ideologies. we need to recognize that. Even so. There is a huge difference between. but that of accepting.

have seen things no children should ever see? How can a mother recover from having witnessed the rapes. less general questions emerge. large-scale and collective evil – in an altogether different manner? Shifting the perspective. of her pre-teenage daughters? As I said. from the vague ‘we’ comprising outsiders to the original events to the victims themselves. However. responses. hence particular and eminently contextual. it is something that concrete individuals have to find their unmistakably individual ways of coming to terms with in the context of their particular life-history. Thus. the issues and the challenges they entail are easily expressed in general formulas – but the responses can only be lived in plural. most of the time. There are no rules to go by. more accurately. Barring the more or less spectacular performances of a Kok or a Brandt. as part of the very design of psychological torture. the issue of reconciliation – and its links with collective guilt – is. But Brandt the political figure was now the chancellor of Germany. and in that capacity it was perfectly apt for him to show repentance and respect for the Nazi victims the way he did. to search (perhaps) for a meaning in the midst of unspeakable atrocities and the long-silenced suffering that goes with them? Would the victims want us to forgive their henchmen? Would they want us to pass judgment at all on their plight. an eminently private affair. Yet this much may be asserted as having general validity: wounds of the type and magnitude inflicted upon the victims of genocide will not be successfully healed if they are ignored by the world of nonvictims. Such healing is not something private. not everybody who assumes vicarious responsibility does so by virtue of a leadership position. so as to assess. one may legitimately ask questions like: Is reconciliation at all the right thing to strive for in the case of genocide – or. by intellectual means. but . viewing himself as a coward and an outcast since he did not refuse? What becomes of all the children who. these are questions allowing only for so many individual.Responses to collective evil 283 kneeling in front of the statue set up to commemorate the Jews killed by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. over and over again. the depth of what they suffered? Or would we do well to approach evil – specifically. by the rest of us. Brandt as a private individual had no perpetrator responsibility to look back upon – he had been fighting in the anti-Nazi resistance. What becomes of the grandfather who raped his granddaughter in a Serb concentration camp? Will he spend the rest of his life blaming himself for his deed. despising himself. Otherwise put. in the cases of genocide? Should we try to forgive criminals such as Eichmann and Mladic? Who is ‘we’? Who is to decide? Would the now-dead victims want us – outsiders or bystanders to events – to seek reconciliation with what came to pass.

and indeed as a cause of social concern.284 Evil and Human Agency rather it is nurtured and realized only through the concern of others. This being so. Suffering inflicted in this personalized manner carries no inherent or performative links with a group or collectivity. This portrait. By relative contrast. It is extremely important to see that the response to the suffering of an entire group of people is of interpersonal. premised upon the acknowledgement – in public – that undue suffering did take place. In the latter case. in collective evil we deal with cases of suffering which are extra-individual and communal from the very start and hence in a performative sense lacking in the former case. in keeping with the context of proximity in which they took place. must be declared fabricated and invalid. To be sure. and the more so the more comprehensive the deeds in question. But the healing we talk about in cases such as Bosnia cannot be merely a private matter because what made the victims targets in the first place was nothing personal or individual: people were victimized because of the specific group identity attributed to them by way of the ideologically painted enemy portrait spread by their perpetrators. the very grounds on which a victim became so will have to do with either characteristics of that person qua individual or with characteristics of the perpetrator – or both. child abuse) – possesses no necessary links with a group of perpetrators (or. The suffering is and remains an event in that person’s life. for example. choosing the victim he does. for that sake. in the context of a marriage. victims).e. healing is private in the vital sense of being accomplished (or not) in a particular person’s life. since there are many ways to experience. Note that this marks a difference between having suffered ‘collective’ as distinct from ‘individual’ evil in my terminology. Conversely. though I grant that such suffering – e. My point is that cases of individual evil retain a more person-based quality. that of battered wives or abused children – does deserve to be acknowledged by a wider public. if the world is silent in the face of suffering and the ensuing need to heal. there is a task here for the world at large to express a desire that these wounds heal. the person is doing what he does. look back upon. by public acts meant for the wider public. hence not to be dismissed as merely a ‘personal’ problem or tragedy. since the psychic and/or physical violence acted out here – say. genuinely public import. so many words and images that served to prepare for murder. and uniquely so. must be corrected. and try to cope with the atrocities that happened. .g. Here. its silence communicates that it is – remains – indifferent to the suffering and consequently to the fate of every victimized person. in his own capacity – be it as a jealous husband. or some other familial constellation (i.

saw nothing. whose uncle was Reinhard Heydrich. the guilt internalized and embodied by such children. This is true – but it is true on a superficial not a deep level. often throughout their lives and forming part and parcel of their identity? Bracketing our spontaneous moral admiration. ¨ born in 1929 – before the war. these sons and daughters believe. Vicarious guilt is better than no guilt. what justifies their assumption of guilt for things done by others – and be it their own parents? The decision to carry a burden refused by its proper owner may qualify as a moral virtue. The case of postwar Germany is the most documented one. It is easy to agree. This is the guilt assumed by children (or other relatives or descendants) of direct perpetrators. is not so easily dismissed. Others failing. Perhaps too easy. in what precisely resides the guilt we speak of here. in addition to the restricted legal one. and even suspected nothing reprehensible during the Nazi time. On second thoughts. to the end of their lives.Responses to collective evil 285 This brings me to the last type of vicarious guilt I shall mention. that they knew nothing. Sereny relates how ‘virtually all of the children of Nazis told me of their contempt for elders who insisted. The fact is that guilt possesses both a cultural and a moral dimension in its own right. while their children remembered with amazing clarity not only events but also their reactions to those events’ (Sereny 2000: 303). it is one thing to demonstrate the untenability of the notion of collective guilt in a legal framework and to argue the case for disaggregation of agency and ‘atomization’ of moral responsibility. As I have said many times. a mastermind of the ‘final solution’ and the SS leader who chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference. Jurgen Habermas. the notion. In Gitta Sereny’s interviews with children of top Nazis. as we have seen. since those with blood on their hands went out of their way to deny guilt. in many cases. Besides coming. Thomas Heydrich. Moral philosopher Geoffrey Scarre (2004: 75) writes that ‘our German born after the war does not share in the moral faults of his forebears’. speaks on behalf of many when he insists that ‘somebody had to feel guilt for the devilish things my uncle had done’ – the message being that. yet too young to have committed greater crimes during the Nazi rule than letting his parents enlist him in the . the parents are typically described as being – or having been – ‘incapable of shame and repentance and therefore left us alone with nothing but the heritage of their awful guilt’. to totally dominate lives that could have focused on matters less burdensome. the issue of internalizing guilt on such conditions is a thorny one. one does what one does on the simple grounds that it must be done. In the wider cultural context. others would have to take it upon themselves – if only vicariously.

vicarious guilt is simultaneously an historical fact and a moral task. and developing a new relation to the archetypal characters and crimes. Our own life is linked to the context in which Auschwitz was possible not by contingent circumstances but intrinsically. the factual and the normative are intimately connected. the life-form of a specific collectivity that. It was about the imputation of a moral one. . entering symbolically into the tragedy. None of us can escape this milieu. not only in ratiocinative. individually assumed – of later generations. although of course it doesn’t guarantee it. both as individuals and as Germans. . qua life-form and qua collective. It is especially these dead who have a claim to the weak anamnestic power of solidarity that later generations can continue to practice only in the medium of a remembrance that is repeatedly renewed. the memory of the sufferings of those who were murdered by German hands.) What transcends the legally pertinent fact of atomistic responsibility is precisely the larger cultural milieu in which those horrible crimes were conceived. the day Auschwitz was liberated or the Nazi regime militarily defeated. One cannot defend oneself against an imputed moral crime by pointing to exculpating circumstances or lack of direct involvement. to be guilty of such ‘sacred-evil’ (Durkheim) did not mean. and performed. rather. As Jeffrey Alexander perceptively observes. one must engage in performative actions. short of a definite point after which this no longer applies. This performative purification is achieved by returning to the past. (Habermas 1990: 232f. does not cease to exist and have a formative impact – say. The solution is not the rational demonstration of innocence but ritual cleansing: purification. without distortion and not only in an intellectual form. with growing temporal distance to the event of the Holocaust. in matters of human agency. guilt by actual association. lacking or. cognitive arguments . are indissolubly interwoven with it . that one had committed a legal crime. If . . because our identities. The evidence for having achieved catharsis is confession. Speaking for both his own and later generations. ‘even if no one else were to feel it any longer’. . Habermas writes: As before. planned. anymore. In the face of metonymic association with evil. Retrospection is an effective path toward purification because it provides for catharsis. showing once again that. There is the obligation incumbent upon us in Germany – even if no one else were to feel it any longer – to keep alive. Habermas’ thoughtful formulation. Thus conceived. transposes the direct guilt of the first generation into the vicarious one – collectively shared. there is the simple fact that subsequent generations also grew up within a form of life in which that was possible. The issue is one of pollution.286 Evil and Human Agency Hitlerjugend – points to the deep level by way of raising Karl Jaspers’ question of collective guilt today.

of course) no other way but that of violence and so making the inevitability of violence-induced suffering a self-fulfilled prophecy. there seems to be a pretty widespread devotion to the imperative ‘Never again!’ This is a hopeless generalization. it makes us realize that being. to lead people to commit acts – for the sole sake of survival – of which they would otherwise have thought themselves incapable. recognizing (with significant exceptions. Israelis or Palestinians. for example. Its optimism is contradicted daily. but it is equally likely to bring out the worst. It is a depressingly old story: victim turning into victimizer. punishment in the legal sense may be prevented but the symbolic and moral taint will always remain. The hardest of struggles is to remain human in inhuman conditions. I do not intend them to apply to any conflict or group in particular – be it. a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto (Bauman and Tester 2001: 12).’ These words come from Janina Bauman. Accordingly. Nor do I mean them to. It may bring out the ‘best’ in some people. it is true. Current Israeli policies against neighbours comprising teenagers ready to die in suicidal terrorist missions may serve to remind us that ‘the cruellest thing about cruelty is that it dehumanizes its victims before it destroys them. humiliating.Responses to collective evil 287 there is neither the acknowledgement of guilt nor sincere apology. inflicting it upon others in the name of self-defence. the way Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon has turned ‘never again Auschwitz’ into a ‘moral’ justification for his once-victimized people to go to extremes in hunting down. (Alexander 2002: 45) This captures the idea that has been both necessitated and precipitated by the series of genocides in the twentieth century: the idea of moral guilt without legal responsibility. Leaving aside the ambiguities in assuming guilt for the actions of others. victims is not an ennobling experience. Admittedly. of course. or having been. among survivors . say. Janina Bauman’s observation is universal. It is much too early to tell whether the sons and daughters of the architects and hands-on perpetrators of ‘ethnic cleansing’ will follow the kind of moral precedent set by numerous members of the second (and even third) generation in postwar Germany. Alexander’s observations do not come anywhere close to answering all the questions raised. and killing thousands of members of a people – the Palestinians – said to endanger their survival. Consider. Rather. Despite their initial departures from the opposed sides of the perpetrator–victim divide. what strikes me as a wellestablished finding is this: a heightened sensibility with respect to the dangers of evildoing and of hate speech seems to be present both among descendants of perpetrators and descendants of victims.

the person speaking is Martin Bormann. In the next quotation. one must protest and argue. (Sereny 2000: 308) . vulgar jokes. is our task – yes. now it is the Turks and the Vietnamese. That. a person not only speaking for himself but for his eight siblings as well. obsession with vengeance will often prevail over any desire for reconciliation. but far too many. in a single instance. and knowing winks. The obscenity of discrimination will only be stopped if we accept individual responsibility for never. whether against foreigners or people of other faiths or colour. It started then just as now – with graffiti. shifting perspective again from victims to descendants of perpetrators. Drawing on his privileged kind of experience. disorientation and self-doubt may eclipse any superior moral wisdom that outsiders may wish to attribute to them. he says: Some fifty years ago. Then it was the Jews. knowing about it. a few people created horror. allowing it to go unchallenged. The moment one hears somebody say something offensive to human dignity in any way. tolerated it. all of whom have come to reject their father’s beliefs. as our parents’ children. I shall end on a less grim note. a son of the notorious Nazi bearing the identical name. I think.288 Evil and Human Agency of collective evil. However.

to name but two different aspects of the same basic condition. are always subject to over-individual (social. hoping to do so by transporting the vulnerability to others so as to feel some control over it. this vulnerability and the limits that go with it have to be faced individually. While universally. emphatically our limits. specific social forces and social agents are often no less damaging in the way they encourage. channel. and the question of their meaning. Indeed.6 A political postscript: globalization and the discontents of the self We come full circle in this inquiry into evil when I reiterate that what makes us suffer evil is also what makes us want to cause it. This is the sense in which evildoing is a protest against vulnerability or. as documented. yet limits not of our making. whereby the second offers a specific direction to (or imposes 289 . evildoing is an existential project in which the individual. religious) frameworks of interpretation. Furthermore. finding his non-chosen vulnerability intolerable. hence. cultural. especially by means of the historical material invoked in Chapters 4 and 5. as something awaiting responses in the first-person singular. against vulnerability-induced limits: limits to what and who we are and can be. seeks ways to get rid of it. more accurately. given. This is fine as far as existential(ist) approaches to evil go. and distribute suffering upon other people than are the ‘existential’ conditions stressed by Alford. concretized by our mortality and by our dependence on others. not all evil is this individual. limits that define our very being. Nor – contra Alford – is all evil comprehensible as a manifestation of how an individual struggles to cope with unwanted givens-cum-limits of existence. Much evildoing springs from the fact that our being-in-the-world is shot through with vulnerability. In this perspective. the dialectic between what is existentially given on the one hand and what is thoroughly man-made on the other. for such givens. because anthropologically. be it in its causes or its effects. But as I have tried to show.

Not that all instances of what I call collective evil start out in discrete and isolated manner. Some instances of collective evil simply defy being stripped down. the distinction that I have so belaboured in this work. to be sure. Conversely. theoretically as well as practically. all macro-sources of organized evil (racial hatred. to cause effective harm. to discrete micro-incidents devoid of a larger context in which to make a real impact. That is to say. and enmity harmony – provided that dominant social and ideological forces combine to effect such multifaceted transformation at a given time and by naming the optimal threat-cum-enemy. evil that seemed too minor to bother with may quickly grow too overwhelming to be stopped. And yet there is much more to it. not the father) pointed out with such clearsightedness at the end of last chapter. how quickly mistrust may replace trust. has been at the centre of my discussion. and so less likely to appear in scholarly books on evil. it is about continuities too. to what may add up in the near future to organized assault against the entire category of ‘others’ of which B is but a single member. To say this is not to reject the need to disaggregate what confronts us in fully ‘collectivized’ gestalt – be it. genocidal policy) must ultimately exert their influence at the level of micro-interactions. If not nipped in the bud. nationalist ideologies. Such continuity between what I have distinguished as individual and collective types of evil is overlooked. To repeat. As Martin Bormann (the son. it is crucial that no single incident be seen as too innocent and inconsequential to be met with protest. . on the side of perpetrators or victims. to the macro-event of a mass murder or genocide: from what I overheard in the street on my way to work this morning. are fully present right from the first. or traced back. unique individuals commit evil as well as suffer it. that between individual and collective evil. Collective evil such as genocide – take Rwanda – may exhibit the features of a collective undertaking from the very first murder. There are other examples to make the same point. subsequent consequences being not the sum of mechanic aggregation but rather the completion of what was systemically conceived of and organically carried out all along. sometimes the collective aims. There is a path from the micro-incident of individual A abusing individual B. And yet we never stop being shocked by how much quicker destruction moves than construction. again. only at our peril: to prevent evildoing from assuming a full-scale collective socio-logic. which – to prove the point – is simply not to be located: what is massive in the end was so also at the start. and design.290 Evil and Human Agency a specific direction upon) the outlet craved for the former. less spectacular ones. is not solely about differences.

a systematically produced social injustice. class solidarity. the roots of collective evil as a reality in the world today. 600 million people are chronically undernourished. in the form of layoffs. and malaria. Even though I believe the latter case to be much stronger than the former. for example. Here. the neoliberal ideology backing globalization is ‘a programme of methodical destruction of collectives’. drug addiction. alcoholism. others will contend that it has everything to do with it – the former arguing that more free-market capitalism will solve the problem. witness. or from preventable diseases such as measles. stripping them not only of material security but of positive sources of social respect and ultimately of self-worth.Globalization and the discontents of the self 291 They typically revolve around feelings of injustice. Nor do I wish to politicize. since all non-episodic and enduring violence is eventually paid for in the utterly concrete form of human misery and suffering: ‘the structural violence exerted by the financial markets. Why? While some would say that this has nothing to do with capitalism in the era of globalization. a whole host of minor and major acts of violence’ (Bourdieu 1998: 40). loss of security. . the suffering caused by economic-systemic injustices is today subject to various attempts among the victims to reclaim their threatened agency by turning – be it by subtle psychological assaults. one in four children around the world live in poverty. my intention here is not to engage in a debate on globalization. gangs of unemployed male youth in France or Great Britain who beat up coloured immigrants. In keeping with Alford’s Kleinian insight into how psychic pain not only stifles vitality and self-worth but tends to be transported from one individual (the one originally afflicted) onto others. and local belonging. crime and delinquency. diarrhoea. such as trade unions. is matched sooner or later in the form of suicides. the latter that this is precisely what helps create and intensify it. I agree with Bourdieu that this is to be regarded as a systemic evil. evil breeds evil.000 children die each day as the result of hunger and malnutrition. in a crude manner. be it by violent physical ones – against selected others perceived as even weaker and more marginalized than themselves. and powerlessness. the fact of economic globalization – the worldwide trend that ever more sectors of society are being opened to the imperatives of the market. etc. of making a profit of every single human activity and need. some 40. Rather. In Pierre Bourdieu’s provocative formulation. In today’s world. meaning all long-standing collective structures. humiliation.. that humiliates its victims. of seeing profitability as the sole source of justification for just about everything – serves as the sociopolitical context in which my following remarks must be read. Consider the effects of current economic globalization.

Rather than owing his existence to something else – to which successive ontologies have given different names: Nature. therefore I am’.292 Evil and Human Agency The question is: Where does this leave the subject? The optimistic answer would be that. the market economy’s claim to take charge of all personal and social relations. is not borne out in practice. However. since it thrives on structurally eroding and ideologically ridiculing the very properties that an entity would require in order to function as the individual’s Other – namely. its ambition to function as a substitute for the sense of orientation once provided by the collective and longue dure´e structures now destroyed by the market. The self-sufficient individual is but a myth. the existential meaning of identity and the moral meaning of responsibility will never take hold: there is simply nothing to nourish them. It is the answer provided by the market. each individual now becomes truly free: free to be him. the subject is unable to deploy himself adequately in space and time. Relations with others . encouraging the shaping – and constant reshaping – of identity through consumption: ‘I consume. that what is most important in our lives is not to be had by instant gratification. no self. God. The French philosopher Dany-Robert Dufour describes the current condition like this: The subject is no longer defined by neurotic guilt (Freud). in so far as everyone is to break free from the chains of dependence. or simply ‘Being’ – and in this sense to some Other. The trouble is that this does not work. For the subject. the individual is at a loss. In short. the twofold dependence that reminds us who we are by reminding us that not everything is possible. but by something akin to a feeling of omnipotence when things go right and total impotence when they do not. there is a kind of answer offered in contemporary Western society. Lacking points of reference that can serve as a basis for symbolic exteriority and anteriority. the current ideology teaches that the individual owes his existence to himself. He or she has no one to turn to in order to become a somebody. The market is of no use as a new Other. He is trapped in a present moment in which everything is taking place. and of the limits thereby imposed upon human agency. shame (towards oneself) has replaced guilt (towards others). Ideas. identity having become a commodity. Without a proper sense of living in time and space.or herself. Without any extra-individual instance functioning as its Other. unfortunate social trends notwithstanding. To put it in terms both Hegelian and Levinasian: no Other. Of course. marking limits by highlighting the vulnerability that defines human beings and the dependence on the Other of humanity (outer nature) and on human others. it is the Other that makes time and space possible.

For all that. behaviour described by psychologists as exhibiting ‘narcissistic rage’ is on the rise. the twentieth century has been called ‘the age of genocide’ (Rieff 1995: 50). the sequence we talk about is a well-rehearsed one. anticipation. . Nonetheless. from dependence) are intolerable and the belief that rebellion against them. however. the grim picture painted by Dufour. Significantly. we may see how it can be that both designations – seemingly so unconnected – are right. rather than free. is a dated topic – Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and Riesman et al. as most teachers – and perhaps also parents – can testify: low or no tolerance for not getting what one wants to have. At the same time. That is why they are such easy prey to whatever appears to satisfy their immediate needs and sitting targets for such a powerful mechanism as the market. Let me just mention two findings of a more recent date. in recent history perhaps even more so than in earlier times (often – mistakenly – called ‘barbaric’ or ‘primitive’). . The sequence thus implied – from limits over rebellion to ‘acting out’ in the form of hurting others – is not inevitable. it has also been called ‘the century of the self’ (Bunting 2002: 11). (Dufour 2001: 8) I have established a connection between the perception that given limits (deriving from vulnerability. research among five-year-old kindergarten children as well as among eleven-year-old pupils indicates that the capacity for empathy is decreasing rather dramatically. each reinforcing. as are any attempts to place the blame for things gone wrong on the individual himself (Kohut 1985). The findings are roughly the same in such otherwise different countries as Sweden and Greece. the phenomenon has lost none of its urgency. the discontents of the modern self. it seems to me. in the form of attempts to project them onto others so as to get rid of them (individually or collectively). First. Indeed. of sensing that others are reluctant or plain unwilling to provide instant gratification of one’s momentary needs or wants. In the perspective I have tried to develop here. The individual’s whole critical universe is affected . let alone automatic. then projection.’s The Lonely Crowd were written more than half a century ago. is a worthwhile undertaking. self-appraisal and introspection become problematic. Gratitude . The new individuals are abandoned.Globalization and the discontents of the self 293 become problematic because his personal survival is always at stake. Impulse control is highly problematic for a large portion of children and young people. The familiarity of the psychological and sociological factors pointed to is only part of today’s picture. its insecurities and fears upon being freed – as neoliberalism has it – from collective structures and long-lasting moral and social bonds. If everything is decided in the present moment. To be sure. Even minor disappointment is likely to meet with explosive rage.

in supporting the creation of no-go areas that today illustrate the overall policy of letting privatized insecurity prevail over collective concern. I am thinking of security and survival. Let us move from micro to macro once again. and so eliciting no compassion on the part of the haves. They can be analytically distinguished. and an increased readiness to identify with the aggressor instead of the victim – need to be taken extremely seriously when addressing the roots of evil in present-day society. Still. repentance and reparation: these traits of character. apparently just for the kick of inflicting pain. all at the heart of Melanie Klein’s ‘depressive position’ and seen by her as crucial to emotional maturity. ethically speaking. are conspicuous by their absence. as have-nots. then. reading instead like a catalogue of virtues now gone. they are excommunicated from good society. when presumably things were better. where turbo-charged capitalism can take days to trample over and destroy a local culture that might have taken centuries to build. identification is with the aggressor not the victim. but instead continuing long beyond the point of resistance. not stopping the beating and kicking when the victim is clearly unable to defend himself or herself. are increasingly criminalized and subject to ghettoization in a moral no less than a physical sense. 1999a).294 Evil and Human Agency and patience. Jonathan Freedland writes: ‘In a globalized world. yet they are substantially linked. I maintain that the two findings referred to – a decreased capacity for empathy. besides sounding awfully nostalgic about earlier times.’ This. Whether we speak about children being bullied at school or the plight of the poor. The second finding is one accounted for by Alford and Bauman: increasingly. it ceases to make sense. is the light in which Freedland . they resort to the same repertoire (Cohen 2001). in doing so. who promises to slow the pace – or even turn back the clock. people seem to latch on to anything. The upshot is that the difference between perpetrators and bystanders is purely legal. The poor. inhabit a social universe where out of sight means out of mind (Bauman 1998. this seems to be connected to the lack of empathy just referred to: bullying is increasingly about ‘going all the way’. There are two large issues with indisputable relevance for discussing current forms – and dangers – of collective evil. I readily admit that depictions such as these easily turn into caricatures. who. regarded as having only themselves to blame. or anyone. Suffering is responded to not by empathy-induced attempts to stop it but by cheers to do still more of it. Empirically. perpetrators and bystanders face the same need of denial. Commenting on Le Pen’s strong showing in the French presidential elections in 2002. for example.

for lack of resources or abilities. different lifestyles – are seized upon. humiliation. tribal identity at a time of great uncertainty and confusion’. recall the notion of securitization discussed in Chapter 4. in the form of the discrimination. or culturally on grounds of being ‘swamped’ by other cultures. developing instead a tough intervention-oriented determination to fight all sorts of terrorism and fundamentalism. in the parlance of neoliberalism).Globalization and the discontents of the self 295 views the current fear of immigration: it is about ‘clinging to the familar. then. and eliminate what he emphatically calls ‘evil’. the Muslims of Bosnia and the immigrants in France may well serve the same aim as far as the cynical political exploitation of widespread uncertainties over the future and fears of ‘identity’ are concerned. Let me situate this in a larger perspective. the rising rage and frustration of individuals who have little or nothing more to lose is likely to target anyone who can be construed as the cause of their felt disempowerment. So. But where does evil enter the picture? For a start. Insecurity is the shadow side of globalization. rhetorically manipulated. no matter how false. belonging – be it materially on grounds of unemployment (outsourcing. hunt down. Evil. . bolsters a winner-takes-all culture. Feelings of insecurity. and deskilling. is at both ends of this process: in the deliberate operation of channelling the (rhetorically inflated) fears and insecurities. the leading governments of the world have decided to reject the cultural and moral relativism associated with the ‘postmodern’ 1980s and 1990s. and notwithstanding all differences between them. who tells them they can keep the world at bay (Freedland 2002). instead of the intellectual relativism of Clinton we now have the no-nonsense militant activism of Bush. be it internal or external or both. people will warm to any prophet. In purely functional terms. showing no restraint in his willingness to name. Told that they are losers and coming to perceive themselves as such. It may seem that. downsizing. and channelled so as to target the more or less fabricated villains claimed to be the source of threats now endangering everything near and dear. and brutally marginalizes those who. and (worst case) killing visited upon the named collective targets. cannot keep up with the relentless pace of change. in the aftermath of 11 September 2001. Far right leaders like Le Pen are no less adept than communists-turned-ethnonationalists like Milosevic when it comes to identifying some cherished shared value that is now held to be under severe threat from some specific enemy. and at the receiving end of what is thus channelled. of being robbed of traditional markers of safety. to answer the question. identity. Being scared of globalization. which centralizes power.

has the unfortunate consequence that the dignity of the less-than-autonomous. Nonetheless. The questions that would go to the roots of the problem are not asked by those in power – such as: How can governments wedded to free-market globalization reduce its corrosive impact on the social fabric of personal and local identity? What changes are needed for economic globalization to stop being tantamount to the global production of injustice. liberalism’s emphasis on autonomy as both the capacity and the right that crucially defines the individual. with the enemies of democracy. mortality. painting all Westerners as infidels and so issuing a licence to kill them indiscriminately. creating a climate where dissent is seen as tantamount to siding with evil. In existential(ist) terminology. On a philosophical level. less-than-successful individual is without solid grounding. collectivized agency with regard to the ‘West’. in the ostensive service of the ‘good’. As so many times before in history. and shame. Not so. not only because of its traditional link with free-market capitalism. liberalism’s coupling of dignity with autonomy means that it is ill-equipped to counter the trend that everything pointing to our dependence. liberalism is of little help here.296 Evil and Human Agency In light of my earlier attack on the follies of impartiality-cum-neutrality in the face of genocides in the 1990s. The basic trouble is that the ideological as well as military toughness now on display in different parts of the world leaves the deeper roots of social problems unaffected. and as long as the political and economic powers producing and sustaining that injustice continue doing so. of rising differences between the haves and the have-nots? True. horrifyingly. and loneliness as human individuals is ‘bad’. The culture (in Alford’s sense. and that does so in a normative manner. deception. to be sure – response to an economic system experienced as evil by millions of people around the world. targeting instead the victims of globalization and its activist critics (now deemed ‘terrorists’ and so rendered sufficiently suspect to warrant criminalization). there exist terrorists who have demonstrably. vulnerability. Unfortunately. less-than-independent. this post-11 September turn of events might be expected by some readers to be greeted with a certain amount of approval on my part. something calling for denial. the evil of a terrorism that enjoys popular support in Third World countries is an evil that is nourished by structural injustice and constant humiliation. indeed to backfire so as to produce even more of what it purports to eliminate. but also because it is blinded by its preoccupation with the individual. the unwelcome and often-denied point is that the evil epitomized by Osama Bin Laden must be recognized as a – inexcusable and utterly immoral. explained in . the war waged against the evil of terrorism is doomed to failure.

the worst-case scenario is about identity ceasing to be an individual matter. first and foremost. Unfortunately. 2003). John Locke and his followers up to the present fired a blunderbuss at this evil. For this is when securitization and its corollaries turn truly existential. and as observed by Richard Sennett. it must be said that what it meant to remedy was passivity – the supine victim. in business. As I see it. this tradition of political thinking has made ‘I need you’ seem a shameful admission of personal failure. wishing that they either disappear or be controlled. To put the sequence in question somewhat differently. As I have observed so often in this book. In fairness to liberalism. whereas in the polity. attacking human dependency itself. collectively even more so than individually. In denying the dignity of dependence. the seriousness of the process described hinges. The mechanism is as elemental as it is dangerous. do not threaten or diminish their being human but existentially define it. And no fusion is more explosive with respect to collective evil than that between securitization qua collectivized and obsession with survival qua collectivized. and an optional and non-essentialistic one at that. properly understood. the consequence is that they start looking upon (certain) others as targets or containers of the features they cannot tolerate in themselves – the result of which is a willingness to participate in. Instead of offering individuals the sort of symbolic resources required to be able to come to terms with these painful conditions of human existence. evildoing against them. or to tolerate. history has taught us that if individuals come to look upon the conditions in question as wholly negative and unwished-for. on whether the security/identity issue is fused with that of sheer survival. it designates the beginning of an honourable connection (Sennett 2002: 10. the dominant culture in our market-driven society fosters the opposite attitude: denial coupled with the displacement of whatever is found uncomfortable onto specific others. in which the survival of the individual is seen as dependent upon the survival of the community as such (the . fears which in their turn are made to appear inextricably linked with the requirements of sheer survival. the parasite who feeds off the welfare system and so the activities of industrious others. It is about identity becoming merged with collective fears about security. as in private life.Globalization and the discontents of the self 297 Chapter 3) fostered by liberalism’s individualist and autonomy-oriented understanding of what it means to be a human individual gives individuals scant comfort and little guidance in one of their seminal tasks: that of learning how best to come to terms with the fact that their dependence and vulnerability are in fact ineluctable conditions of their existence – conditions which.

partly wrong. the ethnic group). and scope are what makes a truly moral difference. Zygmunt Bauman (2002) observes that ‘survival is essentially an enemy of morality and at war against morality’. in particular. the less divisive they might prove. motivating actions that bring out the best in us and whose nature is surely of the greatest moral import. We have had plenty of occasion to see that survival may indeed bring out the worst in people. Such is the lesson owed not so much the victims of yesterday’s collective evil as ourselves and. to repudiate vulnerability itself. Presently. But there is also the very human phenomenon of wishing to secure the survival of genuine others. precisely in the immediate wake of its unprecedented exposure for all to see (Butler 2004: 40). the race. and immortality may again and again prevail over the ability to learn from them. Political and ecologic catastrophes have at least one thing in common: both represent an opportunity for mourning and reparation. this time around. invulnerability. Both. this world of ours is not in a very good shape – witness not only the war on terror and the deeply troubling causes producing as well as constantly reproducing it. the more subjectively shared they become. both represent an opportunity to appear impermeable. what makes them moral precisely qua other-directed emotions and acts? The lesson seems to be that not survival per se but its its priorities. Is not that what empathy. for giving up narcissistic and grandiose fantasies as entertained by entire collectivities no less than by single individuals. compassion are all about. Inability to learn from past wrongs and from grand delusions about independency. range. Simultaneously. witness also the rapidly growing problem of climate change. pity. But the more objectively global the stakes involved. That is partly right. such that fighting for the former means being willing to die for the latter. . albeit for different reasons. the generations hoping to inherit an inhabitable earth after us. remind us that nothing less than humanity’s survival is at stake. and only that – provided the survival their actions are spurred on by is the survival of themselves and their own group and taken as precluding that of certain others.298 Evil and Human Agency nation.

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Lene 62 Augustine. 222–7. 184–5. 242–3. Yehuda 45 Bauman. 123. 249–51 bystanders 235–57 Campbell. 198. 20. 21 Akashi. 261 agency 99. Dobrica 149. Tata Libby 196.Index adiaphorization 34 Adorno. Carsten 168 Bartov. 141. 190. 239–40. 114–15 Bagge Laustsen. 202. Bill 152. 200–1. Jeffrey 286–7 Alford. Tone 157–8 Browning. and Psychoanalysis 143 The Psychoanalytic Theory of Greek Tragedy 121 The Self in Social Theory 119. 52 The Human Condition 80 The Life of the Mind 53. David 156 Chasseguet-Smirgel. 216–19 agentic state 18. 209–11 Ordinary Men 31. Trauma and the Coping Process 196 Arendt. 172 Bosniaks 156–8 Bourdieu. 20. 63–5. 195–6. Christopher 30. the Frankfurt School. 226 Bauer. Werner 101 bestiality 36–7 Bion. 289 Levinas. 275–6 Annan. 19. 5. 280 communitarianism 161–2 complicity 193. Ernest 107–8 Escape from Evil 107 Bernstein. Susan 200 bureaucracy 19. Jean 204. 5–6. Inga 37–8 Clinton. Kofi 255–6 Arcel. 240. Willy 282–3 Bringa. Omer 44–5 banality of evil 5. 181–2. 130 What Evil Means to Us 104–44 Whistleblowers 143 Allen. Beverly 196–202 Rape Warfare 196 Amery. 271–2 Eichmann in Jerusalem 21. 298 Modernity and the Holocaust 14–51 Postmodern Ethics 29 Beck. 209 Brownmiller. 218 War Violence. 58 Love and Saint Augustine 54–6 The Origins of Totalitarianism 72 Aristotle. 257–60 Auestad. 165 Becker. 217 conscience 54–6. 215. Theodor W. Warren 247 Clendinnen. 69. St 53 The City of God 54 Confessions 59 autistic-contiguous position 110. 44–6. 14–51. Janina 287 Bauman. 88–9. C. 84–5. Pierre 291 Brandt. 213. Wilfred 171. Richard 98 Best. 15–16. 104–44. Yasushi 249 Alexander. 52–103. Ulrich 138. 146. Fred 6–7. Hannah 2. 102. Janine 120 Christopher. 67–77 Copenhagen School 167 corrective justice 257–8 Cosic. 178 310 . 158. Zygmunt 2. 49. 261.

Erich 71. Daniel J. 72. 117. 270. Anthony 138 Girard. Hans 238 Junger. 159–66 insensitivity 60 intellectuals 134. 123 The Authoritarian Personality 19 The Dialectic of Enlightenment 123–4 Hoss. Thomas 2. 286 Jedwabne 39–40 Jennings. Rudolf 60. Hugo 254 guilt 74–6. Erving 248 Goldhagen. Robert 87. 33. 216. 229–35. 211 Violence and the Sacred 182 globalization 291–6 Goffman. 229–33. Radovan 10. 32. 206. 223 envy 100. 34. Jack 38 The Seductions of Crime 38 Kekes. 104. 241–53 indifference 206. 143. 120–33. Herbert 16 Kierkegaard. Melanie 10. 285–6 ¨ hardness 60 Hegel. 285 Hilberg. 236–7 genocidal logic 175–7. 71–6 das Man 73–4. Max 19. 56–7. Reinhard 43. Martin 53. 113. 56–8 Fine. 85–9. 106. 189–91. 20. Adolf 5. Sigmund 4. 76. Emile 22. 101. Rene 182–8. Mary 185 Purity and Danger 185 Drakulic. Karl 205. 191. 106 dehumanization 17. 27. 286 Eichmann. 233–4. 140. 29–34 Hitler’s Willing Executioners 29 goodness 126–8 greed 126. 130 Kok. 134. 56–8. Paul 44–5 Dufour. Jurgen 3. 71–7 Being and Time/Sein und Zeit 53. 66–70. 96–7. 18–19 Doubt. 82–3 Herak. 107. Espen Barth 191 Einsatzgruppen 43 empathy 11.Index culture 120–2. Dan 15 distantiation 8. 160. 59–61. 191. 177. Jan 39–42 Neighbors 39 Grotius. 210 Hitler. Radislav 255 . 285–8 311 Habermas. 169 Jaspers. 252 individualization 138–9. Samuel 153 ideology 168–71 Ignatieff. 47. 6. Adolf 70. Henry 153 Klein. Michael 261. Ernst 108 ¨ justice 221–2 Kant. Robert 152 Karadzic. 127–8. 112–13. 181. Raul 16–17. Heinrich 96. 258 Gross. 265–7. 294 Kohut. 102 demonization 129 dependency 223 depressive position 116–17 Diner. 260–2 genocidal rape 211–16. 124–7 ‘ethnic cleansing’ 187–96. 281 immorality 3 impartiality 221–4. 263–5 Eide. 137 Holocaust 14–51 Horkheimer. 90 ¨ human rights 229–30 humiliation 134 Huntington. Søren 76 Kissinger. 178. 276 Heidegger. 135–8. 35. 280 Katz. 21 individual 7 as malum (St Augustine) 54. 143–4. 64–5. Ulrich 43. 141–2. 112 Garrard. 258–60 Kaplan. 217. 83. 70. Keith 248–51 Douglas. 68. 272–4 Giddens. John 258 Kelman. 17. Slavenka 203 As If I Am Not There 203 dread 111 du Gay. 93–6. Heinz 4. 180 Mein Kampf 181 Hobbes. 96. 174. 197 evil 2 collective 7. Georg W. 55–7. 278. 266 Fromm. 147 Heydrich. Peter 250 Jonas. 164 Escape from Freedom 71. Dany-Robert 292 Durkheim. Thomas 119. 170. 296 Cushman. 194 Himmler. 98. F. Eve 276–7 genocide 155–9. 89 forgiveness 274–8 Frankfurt School 15 Freud. Wim 282–3 Kristallnacht 33 Krstic. Borislav 207–8 Herbert. Immanuel 68. 114–20.

227. 215 Scholem. N. Otto 107. 204. 280 modernity 148–9 moral capacity 22–3 Morris. Osama Bin 296 Lang. 86–9. 33. 238–41. 78 McGinn. Gitta 35. Stjepan 243–4 Mielke. Alasdair 166. 178. Vojislav 178–9 Shakespeare. Alexander 50. 297 September 11 3. 48. 127–8 Ram Plan 188–9. 295 Mitscherlich. Ferdinand 254 Nazi Weltanschauung 45 neutrality 241–53 Niarchos. David 53. 143–4. 281–3 Ricoeur. 227 Levinas. 83 Nino. 209 projection 109 projective identification 115–16. John Stuart 234 Milosevic. 104–6 Mill. 70 The Inability to Mourn/Die Unfa ¨higkeit zu Trauern 70 Mitscherlich. 214. Emmanuel 10–11. 200 Rank. Pol 134 punishment 270 purposive rationality 34 radical evil 98. 56–8. 203–5 vicarious shame 210–11. Christopher 132. 100–1. 137. Benno 50 ¨ Nahimana. 212 Nietzsche. Thomas 110. Martha 133 Ogden. Gershom 55 Scott. 27–9. 179. Richard 138. 196. Elaine 213–14. 23–7. 120 selfishness 98 Sells. 95. Paul 237–8 Rieff. 102 scapegoating 7 Scarry. Peter 193 Maritain. 153. 217–18. Raphael 157–8 Levi. 295 Segal. 120 Omarska 194 Orientalism 153 Osiel. 13. 114. David 4. 102–3. 277 Lacan. 139 Plato 61 Gorgias 61 Plavsic. Michael 151–3. 255. Konrad 47 Luban. 280–1. 41. Friedrich 70. 254 sacrifice 182 sadism 106–7 sadomasochism 112–13 Safranski. Mark 85–6 Owen. 101. 248. 252 . 138 The Culture of Narcissism 138 The Minimal Self 138 Lemkin. 71. 145–6. 38. 77 shame 136–7. Colin 128 MacIntyre. 178–80. Margarete 70 Mladic. Primo 36. 233–5 Lasch. David 247–8. Jacques 229 Markovic. Slobodan 12. David 11 Muller-Hill. 229–33 Maass. Carlos 269–70 numbing 207 Nuremberg Laws 22 Nussbaum. 28. 171 phronesis 78 pity 15–16. 296–7 Lifton. Mihailo 10 masculinity 208 May. 262–3 Pot. 172 proximity 8. 102–3. Joanna V. Stanley 3. Ratko 192. 236. 213. C. 76. 36.312 Index paranoid-schizoid position 115–16. Biljana 274 Police Battalion 30. Rudiger 140 ¨ Sartre. Jacques 71 Laden. 24–6. David 14 Rwanda 1. 296 Sereny. John 137 reconciliation 272–4 Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) 43–4 resentment 275–6 responsibility 24–9. William 63. 192–3 The Bridge Betrayed 151 Sennett. Michael 250–1 Rousset. 5–6. 231. 118–20. 43. Hanna 119. Fred 50 Milgram. David 192 Riesman. Robert Jay 50 The Nazi Doctors 50 Lorenz. 238–40. 47–8. 54 securitization 167–9. Berel 232. Jean-Paul 74. 54. 108 Rawls. 96 The Lonely Crowd 4 Rose. 246 liberalism 161–6. 274. Larry 240–1 Mestrovic. 285 Seselj. 165. 268. 45. 217 The Body in Pain 213.

101. Ed 271 vulnerability 11. Wolfgang 36–7 The Order of Terror/Die Ordnung des Terrors 36 Sontag. 66 Tester. Arne Johan 10 Perception. Richard 79. Ferdinand 34 ¨ transitional object 120–1 trauma 175. 45 Winnicott. Victor 185 The Ritual Process 185 313 Vetlesen. 61–5. 245 thinking 69. 178. Franjo 153 Turner. 82 Heidegger’s Children 79 Wæver. Alexandra 207 Stoltenberg. 32 Villa. 249–50 whistleblowers 88–9 Wiesenthal. Ariel 287 Simmel. Thorvald 252 Stone. 120–3. 34.Index Sharon. 215 truth 267–9 Tudjman. 222–6 thoughtlessness 59–60 Todorov. Donald 117–18. 279 Stangl. Seada 197 Vulliamy. 76 Arendt and Heidegger 76 Voegelin. 227 Stanicke. Hugo 280 Zizek. 258 Sofsky. Georg 34 Socrates 2. Slavoj 2. 131–2. 59. Empathy. 289 Weber. and Judgment 11. Simon 233 Wildt. Michael 43. 202. Max 15. 71. 173 Wojak. Eric 58 Volkan. Erik 10 ¨ Stark. Franz 35. 80. Dan 47 Storfer. Bertold 89–96 suffering 222–4 superfluousness 98–9. Tzvetan 204 tolerance 234 torture 213–15 Tonnies. Susan 244 Srebrenica 248. Dana 67–8. Ole 168 Yugoslavia 1 Young. 255. 100 surrogate victim 182–4 symbol 120–3 temptation 63. 223. Vamik 179–81 Vranic. Keith 229–33. 168 . 179. 54 Stiglmayer. Irmtrud 96 Eichmanns Memoiren 96 Wolin. 45. Judith C.

Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles L E O N H . Social Postmodernism I L A N A F R I E D R I C H S I L B E R . Translated by N I C H O L A S L E V I S A N D A M O S W E I S Z . Jews in Germany after the Holocaust M I C H A E L M U L K A Y . Difference Troubles C H A N D R A M U K E R J I . Nation and Commemoration S A R A H M . Charisma and Social Order . J R . H U N T . T U C K E R . The Playing Self K E N N E T H H . C O R S E . The Embryo Research Debate L Y N E T T E P . To Rule Jerusalem S U Z A N N E R . Nationalism and Literature D A R N E L L M . Avoiding Politics B E R N H A R D G I E S E N . Intellectuals and the Nation P H I L I P S M I T H . Virtuosity. The Religious and Romantic Origins of Psychoanalysis L I N D A N I C H O L S O N A N D S T E V E N S E I D M A N . French Revolutionary Syndicalism and the Public Sphere R O G E R F R I E D L A N D A N D R I C H A R D H E C H T .. Screening the Los Angeles ‘Riots’ P A U L L I C H T E R M A N . The Search for Political Community A L B E R T O M E L U C C I . The New American Cultural Sociology M E Y D A Y E G E N O G L U . Queer Fictions of the Past S T E V E N S E I D M A N . Colonial Fantasies L A U R A D E S F O R E D L E S . K I R S C H N E R . Challenging Codes A L B E R T O M E L U C C I . Symbol and Ritual in the New Spain R O N E Y E R M A N & A N D R E W J A M I S O N . S P I L L M A N . The New Public L Y N N R A P A P O R T . M A Y H E W .Other books in the series (continued from page ii) NINA ELIASOPH. Music and Social Movements S C O T T B R A V M A N N .

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