DISTORTIONS OF NORMATIVITY1 Herlinde Pauer-Studer Institut für Philosophie der Universität Wien J.

David Velleman New York University

Judging by the mainstream professional journals, one would have to conclude that the only impact of the Holocaust on the practice of moral philosophy has been to make it easier, by providing a set of uncontroversial examples. As early as 1946, the recently liberated concentration camps were serving as a convenient source of obvious cases. Among the uncontroversially true value judgments listed by Richard B. Brandt in a January paper titled “Moral Valuation” were these: "a) A man who betrays a friend into the hands of a Nazi executioner for the sake of personal advancement is detestable. b) The Nazi commander who ordered a woman burned alive in a crematorium, because she refused to undress for execution, performed a loathesome and revolting deed."2 Later in the year, Frederick C. Donmeyer argued against the supposed good of “satisfaction” by asking "Is the satisfaction 'good,' or a good, when 'the beast of Belsen' is satisfied by observing the efficiency of his crematory?"3 Counterexamples

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Acknowledgements: Annette Baier, Matthew Evans, Barbara Herman, Don Herzog, Tony Judt, Christina Kleiser, Thomas Nagel, David Owens, Joseph Raz, Eric Schwitzgebel, Nishi Shah, Sharon Street, David Sussman. Research in part funded by the ‘Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich’.
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Ethics 56 (Jan 1946): pp. 106-121, p. 121. Other examples: “It is pointless to invent an axiom that men ought to be treated as ends in themselves in order to demonstrate the truth of ‘It is wicked to send people to Belsen or Buchenwald’” (T.D. Weldon, The Vocabulary of Politics [London: Penguin Books, 1953], p. 99, quoted by R. Wollheim, Mind 64 (1955): 410-420, pp. 414-415); “It might, for example, be the case that accepting a description of the way in which Belsen was run involved accepting the assertion ‘Belsen was not an ideal institution’” (R.G. Swinburne, “Three Types of Thesis about Fact and Value”, Philosophical Quarterly 11 (Oct 1961): 301-307, p. 302); “It is perfectly possible to judge that one community is happier than another, e.g. that Cambridge University is a happier community than was Belsen concentration camp” (A.C. Ewing, “Political Differences”, Philosophical Quarterly 13 (Oct 1963): 333-343, p. 336).
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“Comments on Professor A. E. Murphy's The Uses of Reason”, Journal of Philosophy 43 (Jun 1946): 356-361, p. 357. (‘Beast of Belsen’ was the inmates’ name for the commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Josef Kramer.) Other early examples: “Imagine trying to convince Mr. Churchill that when he said ’that bad man’ he was attributing no moral characteristic to Hitler and that he was in no way contradicting Dr. Goebbels” (J.D. Mabbott, “Moral Judgment and Moral Action”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 49 [meeting of Apr 1949]: 133-150, pp. 136-137; see also pp. 139, 146, 148); “Suppose that an inmate and an executive of Buchenwald confronted us with two conflicting theses. The former asserts, ‘I should not be tortured and exterminated.’ The latter contends, ‘You

2 like Donmeyer’s soon began to take on a personal tone. Condemning the “divorcement of means from ends” perpetrated by W.M. Dixon in a book on tragedy, George Kimmelman wrote, "One wonders whether in actuality Professor Dixon admired Himmler's and Hitler's 'will' and simply 'disapproved' of their 'inhumanity’.”.4 By 1948 the trend had already become tiresome. When a statement by George Lundberg about the purely instrumental value of scientific knowledge was equated by a critic with “list[ing] Hiroshima and Buchenwald as valuable”5, Lundberg retorted that Hiroshima and Buchenwald had been “introduced, as is quite common these days, to distract attention from the subject under discussion.”6 The spirit of these allusions to the Holocaust was tellingly satirized by Elizabeth Anscombe in her 1957 book Intention:7
Let us now consider an actual case where a desirability characterisation gives a final answer to the series of ‘What for?’ questions that arise about an action. In the present state of philosophy, it seems necessary to choose an example which is not obscured by the fact that moral approbation on the part of the writer or reader is called into play; for such approbation is in fact irrelevant to the logical features of practical reasoning; but if it is evoked, it may seem to play a significant part. The Nazis, being pretty well universally execrated, seem to provide us with suitable material. Let us suppose some Nazis caught in a trap in which they are sure to be killed. They have a compound full of Jewish children near them. One of them selects a site and starts setting up a mortar. Why this site? — Any site with such-and-such characteristics will do, and this has them. Why set up the mortar? — It is the best way of killing off the Jewish children. Why kill off the Jewish children? — It befits a Nazi, if he must die, to spend his last hour

should be tortured and exterminated.’ Does the conventional theory of truth give us any basis for saying more than, ‘Both you gentlemen are expressing conventional whims. ...’?” (Donald A. Wells, “Some Implications of Empirical Truth by Convention”, Journal of Philosophy 48 [Mar 1951]: 185-192, p. 190); “Only a puristic academic could explain to the inmate of Buchenwald that his feeling of revulsion to human torture is just a matter of 1) arbitrary definition or 2) subjective emotion, and that 3) the response really has no cognitive meaning” (Donald A. Wells, “The Psychological Surd in Statements of Good and Evil”, Journal of Philosophy 48 [Oct. 1951]: 682-689, p. 683); “The criticism [of relativism] pictures us watching the proceedings at Dachau and able to say only: ‘Well, of course I feel it is all terribly wrong; but then I know Hitler feels it is right; and so I must just try to understand’” (Asher Moore, “Emotivism: Theory and Practice”, Journal of Philosophy 55 [Apr 1958]: 375-382, p. 379); “Suppose one man says, ‘As a Nazi it is my duty to obey the Führer, and the Führer has ordered that Isidore Bloom should be treated kindly in Dachau. Therefore Isidore Bloom should be treated kindly in Dachau’; and another man says, ‘As A Christian I believe that all men should be treated kindly. Therefore Isidore Bloom should be treated kindly in Dachau’. According to Toulmin both men would be giving an ethically relevant reason . . ..” (George Nahknikian, “An Examination of Toulmin’s Analytical Ethics”, Philosophical Quarterly 9 [Jan 1959]: 59-79, p. 73).
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“The Concept of Tragedy in Modern Criticism”, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 4 (Mar 1946): 141-160, p. 144.
5 6 7

Elgin Williams “Can We save Science?”, Philosophy of Science 15 (Oct 1948): 333-341, p. 337. “Rejoinder to ‘Can We Save Science?’”, Philosophy of Science 15 (Oct 1948): 341-347, p. 342.

2nd edition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 72. Of course, satirizing uses of the Holocaust as an example was not Anscombe’s main purpose in the passage we quote. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.ix.2008

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exterminating Jews. (I am a Nazi, this is my last hour, here are some Jews.) Here we have arrived at a desirability characterisation which makes an end of the questions ‘What for?’

As Anscombe noted, Nazism had become a philosophical byword for that which is “pretty well universally execrated”. Anscombe’s flippant tone seemed to mock the lack of seriousness with which such examples were typically introduced (“I am a Nazi. . . . Here are some Jews”). Intentionally or not, Anscombe also highlighted the aspect of Nazi crimes that makes their use as philosophical examples morbidly ironic, if not simply insulting.

To be sure, the attempt to exterminate the Jews is as incontestable an example of immorality as can be imagined. And yet the execution of Jews was regarded by the executioners themselves not as a guilty excess but rather as an onerous duty, befitting not only a Nazi in his last hour but even an apolitical Hamburg policeman assigned to enforce “order” in occupied areas.8 Many of the front-line perpetrators were persuaded to view their natural repugnance at murdering women and children as the tug of a temptation to shirk their duty rather than a perception of where it truly lay.9 Explaining how this distortion of the moral order was possible is one of the main philosophical challenges of the Nazi crimes. How could the general understanding of moral requirements have become so corrupted? The philosophical significance of the Nazi crimes must be obscured when they are used as toy examples of immorality; for if their immorality had been so overwhelmingly obvious, they might never have occurred. The fact is that eliminating whole populations, by killing if necessary, was regarded by a significant number of participants as the right thing to do, and was regarded as at least thinkable by an even wider circle.10 This fact makes a mockery of the use to which the Nazi

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See Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper, 1993).
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Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 1994), pp. 106, 137, 150, 292-293. See also Jonathan Bennett’s paper “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn”, Philosophy 49 &1974): 123-134.
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Although the Nazis knew that their program of extermination would be perceived as wrong by world opinion, they did not see it as wrong themselves. See, for example, Himmler’s notorious Posen address, “in which he described the ‘extermination of the Jewish people’ as ‘a glorious page in our history and one that will never be written and can never be written’” (Cesarani, p. 158). See also Peter J. Haas, Morality After Auschwitz; the Radical Challenge of the Nazi Ethic (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,1992); Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005). Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.ix.2008

4 crimes have often been put by moral philosophers.

A notable exception can be found in an address delivered by A.M. Maciver to the Aristotelian Society on May 6, 1946. Maciver’s theme was the moral climate of post-War Britain, in which he saw a lack of “moral seriousness” that could be remedied only by a less esoteric moral philosophy than was then practiced by his colleagues. His lament included the following:11
When I named my present subject to the Secretary, I thought that almost every member of the Aristotelian Society would be offering a paper under much the same title at this first post war session, and was amazed, when the programme appeared, to find that mine was the only paper with an ethical subject in it. I had expected that the history of German National-Socialism — particularly those aspects of it which were made familiar to the whole world after the overrunning of the Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps — would have impressed others, as it impressed me, with the conviction that neglect of moral philosophy could have much more serious consequences than most of us thought possible before the war.

At this point Maciver appeared to be offering the prosaic under-statement that the revelations of Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald had underscored the importance of morality. As he continued, however, it became clear that he was registering a dissent from the conventional wisdom on the subject:

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“Towards a New Moral Philosophy”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 46 (1945-1946): 179-206, p. 199. Maciver refers to the “aspects” of “German National Socialism” that were revealed to the world at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald — a vague reference that must be interpreted in light of the incomplete knowledge of the time. Today historians distinguish between concentration camps and the extermination camps that were built expressly for the “final solution of the Jewish question”. The former, to which Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald belonged, held a wide variety of inmates — Jews, political prisoners, common criminals, prisoners of war, foreign slave laborers, Jehovah’s witnesses, “Gypsies”, homosexuals — who were decimated primarily by disease, starvation, and “extinction through labor”, with executions accounting for a relatively small proportion of the death toll. By contrast, the extermination camps — Auschwitz II (Birkenau), Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka — were dedicated to exterminating vast numbers of people, mainly Jews, immediately upon arrival, with only enough inmates to staff the gas chambers and crematoria. Strictly speaking, then, what was “made familiar to the whole world after the overrunning of the Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps” did not include the greatest horrors of the Third Reich, if indeed a ranking is possible between the horrors of decimation and mass murder. When Maciver spoke, however, he probably wasn’t aware of the distinction between these “programmes”. In a later essay, Maciver referred to the Nazi crimes as follows: "From the fact that I am entitled to kill a mosquito to save myself from the inconvenience of being bitten it in no way follows that the authorities of the German Reich were entitled to kill Jews in order to relieve Germany of the inconvenience of harbouring a partially unassimilable Jewish community" (“Ethics and the Beetle”, Analysis 8 [Apr 1948]: 65-70, p. 66). This sentence seems to express too much sympathy with the Germans’ understanding of the “Jewish Question”. For another serious consideration of Nazi crimes in their immediate aftermath, see A.C. Ewing, “The Possibility of an Agreed Ethics”, Philosophy 21 (Apr 1946):29-41.

Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.ix.2008

p. Yet the result not only horrified world opinion — which was to be expected. and might be attributed simply to ingrained prejudice. The repugnance which some might feel at helping to carry it out seemed no different in kind from the repugnance which is often felt even at performing actions traditionally considered morally justified — acting. There was “moral corruption” in something more than the trivial sense that traditional moral codes were disregarded — something that had not been expected or predicted when it was argued so plausibly that the traditional codes.2008 . 2002). This systemic immorality poses a challenge to traditional moral theory and moral psychology. which required wickedness on a “systemic” scale. for example. first. In this passage. 1995). 15 Arendt. second. The wickedness that is important was produced by the system mainly at lower levels. There were also strange effects upon those who were absorbed in the system most completely. Maciver anticipated explanations that would be proposed decades later for the “amazing phenomena” of his time. were due to be scrapped now that conditions had completely changed.ix. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books. An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press. . which tend to focus on the solitary reasoning of the 12 13 14 Hannah Arendt. There was a modification of the character recognisable as medically unhealthy. whom our philosophers seem to have most often in mind. 137. in a reaction against too much anti-Nazi propaganda. Eichmann in Jerusalem. though much of the evidence still needs to be interpreted by the medical psychologists before it can be used by philosophers. pp. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin. 1983). He gestured toward some explanatory considerations as follows: In the concentration camps a programme considered necessary was carried out efficiently. sometimes involving all the symptoms of mental dissociation. Lifton. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. that he was interested in explaining Nazi crimes rather than merely condemning them and.12 Robert J. There can be no doubt about the wickedness — though I am afraid that.5 [P]hilosophers seem content to dismiss all the amazing phenomena of an amazing era with the completely trivial explanation that “Nazis are wicked men”. having been evolved to meet the conditions of bygone ages. we may very soon forget even this — but it is no explanation. 150. not its cause. as public executioner. 1994). by authors such as Hannah Arendt. Here Maciver indicated. . Philosophy 49 (1974): 123-134. Evil in Modern Thought. See also Jonathan Bennett’s paper “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn”. Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (New York: Vintage Books. Nor was the significant wickedness that of the chief Nazi leaders. 275. that he had a non-standard explanation in mind. Into That Darkness (New York: Vintage Books. for it was a product of the system. 292-293. .13 and Gitta Sereny14 — not just the explanation in terms of “mental dissociation” but also the explanation of how the natural qualms of front-line perpetrators were overcome by what were made to appear as demands of social conscience. 1986). though it infected all.15 Equally insightful on Maciver’s part was the suggestion that to explain the Nazi crimes as the work of a few “wicked men” would be to trivialize what actually happened. 106. and Susan Neiman.

but their work has an unusual profile. ed. Berel Lang. Between History and Memory. Alan Rosenberg and Gerald E. 2003) and Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections on a Dark Time. and only a handful of those were in journals widely read in the profession. nor that we are better able than others to draw them. ‘Nazi’. And in considering those factors. The Future of the Holocaust. Meyers (Philadelphia: Temple University Press. We do not mean to suggest that drawing the implications of the Holocaust for moral philosophy is easy. we are forced to wonder whether the Holocaust should serve. 199). Of 413 citations retrieved in a search of Philosophers’ Index on terms such as ‘Hitler’. We feel safe in saying that the subject has not had a perceptible impact on metaethics or moral theory as generally practiced. Eve Garrard and Geoffrey Scarre (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. directly or indirectly.2008 . (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. these passages were less than clear.16 only around 35 were in philosophical research journals. if not tens of thousands. Even making the attempt can seem presumptuous. not as a trove of examples to smooth the way of ethics-as-usual. When we examine the individual front-line perpetrators of the Holocaust — of whom there were thousands. Only about 125 of the remaining citations were to works that appeared to treat the moral implications of the Holocaust. whose Eichmann in Jerusalem included several passages of philosophical reflection. Most of these were monographs or articles in collections specifically devoted to the topic. but as a warning that mainstream moral philosophy is missing something. One philosopher who recognized the challenge to moral philosophy posed by the Holocaust was of course Hannah Arendt. depending on how the term ‘perpetrator’ is defined — we find ourselves forced to consider social and systemic factors that have traditionally fallen outside the purview of moral philosophy. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. ‘Holocaust’. Philosophers have of course given serious thought to the Holocaust. Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ed. 1999). over 160 were devoted to assessing the culpability of individual philosophers who have been linked.ix. We therefore offer the following arguments with trepidation.6 individual moral agent. and ‘Auschwitz’. and the essays in 16 Such as Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust. with the Nazi regime or its ideology. Unfortunately. 1988) Berel Lang. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. we are tempted to say that the subject has rather been confined to a scholarly ghetto.

more of a clown than a monster. 2001). Ch. her derogatory remarks on the state prosecutor Gideon Hausner were thought by some to express German-Jewish prejudice towards Jews from the Eastern territories. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. “A Generation’s Response to Eichmann in Jerusalem” in Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem. MA: Da Capo Press. David Cesarani. The second theme is her analysis of Nazi Germany as an inverted moral order. a social environment in which the categories of legality and illegality. Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life. Arendt’s book is best known for the phrase that supplied its subtitle.17 This interpretation of Eichmann’s character is highly controversial. Cohen. pp. Moreover. 1996). For a recent critical discussion of these problems see Seyla Benhabib. Crimes.. 54). 6.2008 . and those who resisted the regime had fallen back on more reliable forms of personal and social awareness. The requisite sort of thinking was not explicitly moral. 17 “Despite all the efforts of the prosecution. morality and immorality. Steven E. Her point was that Eichmann was not a diabolical genius but rather a mediocrity.7 which she clarified her thoughts on the subject have not been read as widely as the Eichmann book. 19 Arendt was accused of insensitivity and arrogance about the terrible dilemmas faced by Jewish communities who dealt with the Third Reich.18 as are other aspects of Arendt’s book. moral thought had become dangerously polluted. a lack of judgment. though of course less catchy. was incapable. and awareness at the core of his moral psychology.’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown” (p. 18 Arendt’s characterization of Eichmann as “a colourless bureaucrat” has been recently criticized by David Cesarani who emphasizes the role of Eichmann’s ideological commitments.19 But our interest in Arendt’s work on Eichmann does not intersect with these controversies. 273 ff. everybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster. on the contrary. Susan Neiman. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (New York: Rowman & Littlefield. in her view. We shall focus on two other themes. The phrase itself was unfortunate. “Evil embodied in the banal” would have been closer to the mark. 253–277. she argued. 71. 2004). Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. imagination. because it seemed to describe evil itself as banal. creating an obstacle to moral reasoning that could be overcome only by the sort of thinking of which Eichmann. The two topics are related: Arendt’s claim is that the inverted moral and legal order hindered people from understanding their consciences aright. p. The first theme is Arendt’s diagnosis of Eichmann’s “inability to think”. “the banality of evil”. and Trial of a “Desk Murderer” (Cambridge. ed. Richard I. which was hardly Arendt’s intention. Aschheim (Berkeley: University of California Press.ix. were not only blurred but upside down. See David Cesarani. Evil in Modern Thought.

. The following quotation is from pp. But the immediately following passage indicates that empathy for his victims was not the fundamental issue:22 Thus. It was sheer thoughtlessness — something by no means identical with stupidity — that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period.2008 . What makes these pages of the examination so funny is that all this was told in the tone of someone who was sure of finding ‘normal. And if this is ‘banal’ and even funny. . . Eichmann did not have the slightest hesitation in explaining to him at considerable length. and that it had not been his fault that he was not promoted” (p. and repeatedly. P. . .8 We do not accept Arendt’s interpretation in its entirety.. never realized what he was doing. When first introducing the topic. . Pp.S. and hence against reality as such. 287-88. why he had been unable to attain a higher grade in the S.’ He was not stupid. 288. to think from the standpoint of someone else. and Chief of the German Police. Arendt specified the kind of thought of which Eichmann seemed incapable: The longer one listened to him. but we believe that it contains valuable insights. In principle he knew quite well what it was all about.S.ix. 49. if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann. Arendt described Eichmann’s inability to think as follows:20 He merely. namely. and in his final statement to the court he spoke of the ‘revaluation of values prescribed by the [Nazi] government. Arendt didn’t explicitly elaborate on “the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil”. 49-50. . Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J.. No communication was possible with him. . the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think. not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others. . The very words “S. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. . although he by no means admired him) triggered in him a mechanism that had become completely 20 21 22 P.” or “Himmler” (whom he always called by his long official title: Reichsführer S.S. to put the matter colloquially. Reading this passage. Arendt alludes to this matter again when discussing Eichmann’s “inability to think” in her “Postscript”: “It was precisely this lack of imagination which enabled him to sit for months on end facing a German Jew who was conducting the police interrogation. human’ sympathy for a hard-luck story. We will first outline her arguments and then suggest some modifications.” or “career. . 287).] from the standpoint of someone else” was Arendt’s description of what might otherwise be described as Eichmann’s lack of empathy for his victims. as she calls it. that this was not his fault. pouring out his heart to the man and explaining again and again how it was that he reached only the rank of lieutenant colonel in the S. that is still far from calling it commonplace. one might suppose that “an inability to think [. confronted for eight months with the reality of being examined by a Jewish policeman [in Israel].S.21 but she offered some hints of what she had in mind.

Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. it consisted in turning these instincts around. suddenly stuttering with rage: ‘I am very much surprised that this man could have been an S. . based on perverted notions of duty.S.9 unalterable. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective. The presence of [his interrogator] Captain Less.” although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. altogether.ix. not to rob. . not to let their neighbors go off to their doom . honor. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation. Eichmann himself gave telling examples of these distortions. what she meant. Eichmann quoted Kant’s categorical imperative — with fair accuracy. .2008 . 150. What horrible things I did to people!. in particular. was his inability to imagine the impression that he was making on his Israeli interrogator.] from the standpoint of someone else”. meaning his inability “to think [. loyalty. unthinkable. See also p. so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill. how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!” 24 25 Pp. God knows. Many Germans and many Nazis. he exclaimed. The Nazis worked with a highly moralized conception of social reality. 23 P. . Why did she find this particular instance of thoughtlessness so revealing? We will return to this question shortly. probably an overwhelming majority of them. I don’t know what to say… In court. 49-50 (prüfen!!!) Eichmann in Jerusalem. as it were. fidelity. Thus. and not to become accomplices in all these crimes by benefiting from them. must have been tempted not to murder. causing its citizens to lose their moral bearings:23 [J]ust as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody “Thou shalt not kill.” even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. they had learned how to resist temptation. It is altogether. 136. did not for a moment throw this mechanism out of gear. the murders would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties. a Jew from Germany . and sincerity. that surprises me very much indeed. in directing them toward the self.25 And as Arendt points out. In the police interrogation he revealed himself to be under the absurd illusion of a special SS code of honor and decency24: When Captain Less [his interrogator] asked his opinion on some damning and probably lying evidence given by a former colonel of the S. But. braveness. The second theme that interests us in Arendt is the thoroughness with which the Nazi regime inverted the conventional moral order. .S. in fact — and presented himself as having tried always to live by its requirements. p. . 106: “[T]he problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. when Arendt spoke of Eichmann’s “thoughtlessness”. So that instead of saying. .. Standartenführer.

45: “[T]he total moral collapse of respectable society under the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms are standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight. Responsibility and Judgment. “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”.ix. p.30 Conversely. ‘This I 26 27 Eichmann in Jerusalem. if that is what it was. . as it had once silenced whatever conscience he might have had left.10 he knew what it meant to comply with a “universal rule”. which was comprehensible.” This confusion of criminality with duty struck Arendt as having created “conditions in which every moral act was illegal and every legal act was a crime”. in: Arendt.27 She concluded that Eichmann belonged to a “new type of criminal”. in: Arendt. 2003). See also Arendt. p. “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”.’ The ease with which consciences could be dulled was partly the direct consequence of the fact that by no means all was permitted” (p. and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. it said. who “commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong”. p. but also and above all.” whether they were sentimental or inspired by interest. Responsibility and Judgment. (New York: Schocken Books. an order”. 42). p. “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”. but in his own eyes it was precisely what justified him. . She distrusted such people because they “are usually the first to adhere to whatever fixed standards they are offered”. Check! Arendt. .29 including the standards of the Nazi ethic. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. Arendt goes on to say: “The widespread notion that we deal here with nothing more than a gang of criminals who in conspiracy will commit just any crimes is grievously misleading.” 30 Arendt. p. p. No exceptions — this was the proof that he had always acted against his “inclinations. . that he had always done his “duty. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. 41. Equally misleading is the common notion that we deal here with an outbreak of modern nihilism. as he demonstrated by citing his principled refusal to make exceptions for particular Jews with influential sponsors:26 This uncompromising attitude toward the performance of his murderous duties damned him in the eyes of the judges more than anything else.2008 . 137. 104. 276. if we understand the nihilistic credo in the sense of the nineteenth century: ‘all is permitted. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics .28 This depressing diagnosis left Arendt deeply suspicious of people who cited moral principles in the conduct of ordinary affairs — “narrow moralists who constantly appeal to high moral principles and fixed standards”. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens. since “[t]his ‘new order’ was exactly what it said it was — not only gruesomely novel. . 28 29 Eichmann in Jerusalem. the Germans who refused to “coordinate” themselves with Nazism did not arrive at this refusal through moral deliberation or even from a sense of obligation: “[T]heir conscience. 41. Arendt. edited with an introduction by Jerome Kohn. . “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”. had no obligatory character. as long as we live we shall to have to live together with ourselves.

because I am like that” (Halek. in the self-confrontation that she described as “living together with oneself explicitly”. 109.”32 This ‘I can’t’ originated.g.11 can’t do.. p. 216). 44: “Their criterion. and they decided that it would be better to do nothing. See also “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”. See. trans. “[In response to the question ‘Why did you decide to help?’] I decided nothing. was a different one: they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds. many of whom failed or even refused to claim moral motives for their actions. . that’s only normal!” (Halek. “I cannot give you any reasons.. p.” (Halek. that’s all. Saving the Forsaken.”34 This version of the conscience — if that is what it is — differs from the traditional conception of that faculty in that its deliverances are fundamentally subjective: “What I can bear to have done without losing my integrity as a person might change from individual to individual. it’s normal.”33 The greatest evildoers. 112. 51). I think. Samuel P. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. and he stayed till the end of the war” (Halek. 33 34 Arendt.” p. It’s just the kind of person I am” (Block and Drucker. . pp. Pearl M. p. “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”. Stories of Deliverance. Relevant here are interviews with “rescuers” after the War. People always ask how we started. 9. e. see also pp. 80). It started. 35. 2004). Oliner. We never gave it much thought” (Oliner and Oliner.” 32 Arendt. everything except death — and in the early morning light this child looks at you with his big eyes.] But . ”Some Questions of Moral Philosophy. It was not a question of reasoning. but we didn’t start. 88). It originated simply like this: “I cannot do certain things. Oliner. were those who failed to undertake the self-confrontation that could yield “I can’t” — “wrongdoers who refuse to think by themselves what they are doing and who also refuse in retrospect to think about it. 5). “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”. Gay Block and Malka Drucker. . ‘This I ought not to do’. with enormous eyes: what do you do? I did it.’ rather than. . It is not even pity. “I thought it was something quite natural. Michael Bernard (Chicago: Open Court. Rescuers. everything is refused. Gay and Drucker. from country to country. see also p. p.ix. p. “You see a child. “I think I reacted spontaneously. The Altruistic Personality. 1998). p. you see how. in the station. We knew we must help these people. He said he was in danger. .” Here are some relevant quotations: “To give a hand to someone who needs help? [. “Morally the only reliable people when the chips are down are those who say. “I don’t know exactly why I helped. Marek Halter. 97. Let’s put it this way. And it started very gradually. 1992). 79.”31 She added. that’s all” (Halek. p. I asked him to stay. p.. 232). to her mind. . 291. from century to century” and is not a matter of “‘objective’ standards or 31 Arendt. 78. I did it.2008 . Speaking with Men and Women who Rescued Jews from the Holocaust. p. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. p. in the street. One of the most common explanations offered by rescuers was simply this: “It was the normal thing to do. but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. 50. p. 52. that’s all” (Halek. because having done them I shall no longer be able to live with myself. Religious culture and the rescue of Jews in Nazi Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1988). 158. Oliner and Pearl M. not because the world would then be changed for the better. Ibid. 108). There were people in need and we helped them . 238. A man knocked on my door. p. Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust (New York: Holmes & Meier. Arendt believed. Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York: The Free Press. . p.. 78. “I never spent my time asking why I did all that. . 74). ‘I can’t’. Oliner.

35 It is a matter of judgment — a phenomenon that fascinated and. we usually call thinking”. there were no rules to be abided by. 138. 52.37 Such was the only moral guidance available to those who lived under the inverted moral order of Nazism:38 Those few who were still able to tell right from wrong went really only by their own judgments. She considered “the nature and function of human judgment” to be “one of the central moral questions of all time” (Eichmann. pp. What was lacking in that instance was critical self-confrontation. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. to the poisonous diet of lies that were fed to the German people. 1992]) were devoted to this topic. p. from the standpoint of someone else” with his tone-deaf performance under interrogation by the Israeli police.. The sense in which he “never realized what he was doing” is that he could never see it from a perspective detached from that of the frustrated lieutenant colonel. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. a detached conception of who he was and how he was situated. that it was started by destiny and not by Germany. His performance was symptomatic of an inability to occupy a standpoint from which to “live together with himself explicitly” — the standpoint of the “intercourse with oneself . that the war was no war.2008 . first. . eluded Arendt until the end of her life. 295. Eichmann.ix. which made self-deception easier on three counts: it suggested. 37 38 39 “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”. and they did so freely. . in which “we judge without having general rules which are either demonstrably true or self-evident”. to some extent. . 124-25. second. which . And with an interpretive essay by Ronald Beiner [Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Eichmann’s inability to think left him vulnerable. who must annihilate their enemies or be annihilated. Her unfinished Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (ed. . . she claimed39 was the slogan of “the battle of destiny for the German people” [der Schicksalskampf des deutschen Volkes].36 Arendt fashioned her conception of moral judgment after Kant’s conception of aesthetic judgment. in Arendt’s view. 294). We can now see why Arendt illustrated Eichmann’s “inability to think . because no rules existed for the unprecedented. And “the lie most effective with the whole of the German people”.12 rules”. and. p. third. . that it was a matter of life and death for the Germans. P. They had to decide each instance as it arose. p. under which the particular cases with which they were confronted could be subsumed. coined either by Hitler or by Goebbels. 35 36 Ibid.

and generally accepted. it was a self-fabricated stock phrase. . “is there to admit?” Now. who were heard to express themselves in exactly the same terms at the end of the war. . the conscience that “speaks with an identical voice to all men”. 41) is clearly an exaggeration. 42 This strand in Arendt’s thought is also emphasized by Susan Neiman: “By providing a framework that shows how the greatest crimes may be carried out by men with none of the marks of the criminal. presupposes an independent human faculty. This strand in Arendt’s thought is what we want to pursue. . . he proceeded. “Of course” he had played a role in the extermination of the Jews. 52-53. as devoid of reality as those clichés by which the people had lived for twelve years .42 Arendt’s view was that the forms of thought traditionally associated with morality — norms. teasing it apart from other. . rather than as criminals and their victims. Arendt’s thesis of a completely inverted moral order is also overblown.2008 . self-evident truths. 303] 43 See also “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”. Eichmann was displaying his characteristic “inability to think”. with many ordinary Germans. . Perhaps we do possess such a faculty and are lawgivers. . Eichmann was eager to make peace with Jewry. . oblivious to the fact that where he imagined an enemy.43 40 41 Pp. he “would like to find peace with [his] former enemies” — a sentiment he shared . Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. .41 For she herself points to the type of reflection that might have given Eichmann a hint of his own criminality. 41: “Hence the rather optimistic view of human nature .13 Arendt saw this big lie as partly responsible for Eichmann’s inability to see his actions for what they were:40 Eichmann’s astounding willingness.ix. less plausible strands. principles. p. for whom it is “well-nigh impossible . Like Rousseau. Arendt sought to show that our sould are built to work: our natural faculties are corrupible. if only he had not been so lacking in self-awareness. In conceiving of Nazis and Jews as pitted against one another in equal enmity. Having lived under the illusion that he was fighting a self-declared enemy called “Jewry”. p. atmosphere of the Third Reich. to know or to feel that he is doing wrong”. [Evil in Modern Thought. . in Argentina as well as in Jerusalem. unsupported by law and public opinion.” he asked. in describing Eichmann as “new type of criminal”. even by her own lights. . in other words. “What. the refusal to use reason as we should. This outrageous cliché was no longer issued to them from above. Eichmann in Jerusalem argued that evil is not a threat to reason itself. crimes like Eichmann’s depend on thoughtlessness. that judges in full spontaneity every deed and intent anew whenever the occasion arises. . Rather. but not inherently corrupt”. P. To say that “every moral act was illegal and every legal act was a crime” (“Responsibility Under Dictatorship”. 276. there were only defenseless victims of his crimes. p. to admit his crimes was due less to his own criminal capacity for self-deception than to the aura of systematic mendacity that had constituted the general. But now we can also see that Arendt goes too far.

of course — Kant’s opinion. 63: “Kant of course knew that self-contempt. which could have been resisted only by modes of thought lying beyond the boundaries of moral reasoning as traditionally conceived. One example is Barbara Herman. whenever we act . . Dostoevsky seems to have shared — without knowing it. judgments for which no rule or standard could be stated. 2005). Rather we think that such reasoning had become counterproductive in the context of the socially prevailing ideology. Then we will discuss a few individual perpetrators. “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”. And we believe that analytic moral philosophy has not adequately faced the possibility of political and social conditions in which the application of moral categories and standards is distorted in this way. as Arendt sometimes seems to suggest. or rather the fear of having to despise yourself. The person who kept his moral bearings was the one who relied on nothing more than a subjective ideal of personal integrity. indeed (to borrow a term of art from Harry Frankfurt) to bullshit themselves about what they were doing.” 45 Some analytic philosopher have discussed the social contribution to moral thinking. . Other notable examples are Elizabeth Anderson. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. . the faculty of lying. on two different scales.44 We do not agree that moral reasoning as traditionally conceived by philosophers was rendered useless or even counterproductive in itself.45 In the following part of the paper we want to outline these distortions in more detail. p. He therefore repeatedly declared that the really ‘sore or foul spot’ in human nature is mendacity.” Arendt’s tone makes clear her skepticism about the existence of such a faculty. never lie to yourself’.2008 . ‘Above all else.ix. very often did not work. MA: Harvard University Press. applied in case-by-case judgments of what was impossible for himself rather than forbidden for all rational agents. whose work we discuss in the second half of this paper. Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge. as examples of the moral psychology that Arendt described. . asks the Starov. 1993) and Joseph Raz. had in fact misled them into “coordinating” themselves with the Nazis. we will consider some philosophical hypotheses to account for the historical every single one of us. The Practice of Value (New York: Oxford University Press. Finally. 44 See Arendt. In The Brothers Karamazov. ‘What must I do to win salvation?’ and the Sarov replies. We begin with an exploration of the history. First we will summarize some conclusions of recent historical scholarship about the development of the “Final Solution”. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. And the evil of the Nazis resulted not from a lack of attention to duty — they were all too dutiful — but from a kind of reflective inattention that led them to deceive themselves. and his explanation of this was that man can lie or himself. Dimitri K. . .14 even the language of obligation and “ought”— all had failed to guide people aright under the Third Reich.

47 Both schools of thought have contributed to what is now a consensus about the chronology of events. See also Yehuda Bauer. Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press.46 Some functionalists argued that the program coalesced gradually and unsystematically out of various local initiatives.2008 .15 phenomena. military. In asking what the Holocaust means for moral philosophy. and technological processes. and harnessed by. 1939-1945 (New York: HarperCollins. and the Final Solution (New Haven: Yale University Press. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. But we believe that a philosophical reading of these competing interpretations can not only clarify them but also reconcile them to some extent. “Extermination Policy: New Answers and Questions about the History of the ‘Holocaust’ in German Historiography”.g.ix. 46 For a description of this development. but differences remain as to the social realities behind that chronology and the relative importance of the various causal processes. see e. Others went so far as to attribute the Holocaust to the momentum of modern bureaucratization and technology. in National Socialist Extermination Policies: Contemporary German Perspectives and Controversies (Frankfurt am Main: Berghahn Books. Ian Kershaw. Hitler. 29–30. “Hitler’s Role in the Final Solution” (Chapter 4) and “Hitler and the Holocaust” (Chapter 10). 1998). “Eliminationist antisemitism” is the term used by Daniel Goldhagen. “Redemptionist antisemitism” is the term of Saul Friedländer. Ulrich Herbert. The years of extermination : Nazi Germany and the Jews. Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca. which had hitherto traced the program of extermination to the direct orders of Hitler and his henchmen. Hitler’s Willing Executioner: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Some emphasize the causal role of “eliminationist” or “redemptive” anti-semitism among the German people as crystallized in. which were responding in turn to impasses encountered during the war by the Nazi’s population policies. We do not mean to imply that these two historians are otherwise in agreement. 2001). Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (New York: HarperCollins. In the 1970s a “functionalist” school of historical thought about the Holocaust began to challenge the standard “intentionalist” explanations. 2000). the Nazi Rassenlehre. 47 48 Zygmunt Bauman. 48 others emphasize a reckless military and technological rationalism. political. 2007). 2008). It makes a great difference whether we see the Holocaust primarily as the work of racist maniacs or as the result of bureaucratic. combined with a progressive brutalization accelerated by the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the “war of annihilation” undertaken in 1941 against the Soviet Union. The Germans. 4–7. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. 1989). we have to take at least a tentative stance in regard to these historical interpretations. NY: Cornell University Press.

But the fatal transition from a policy of removing the Jews from German life somehow or other to a policy of exterminating them outright required in addition the large-scale processes of technocratic logic. This crude functionalism. and sheer bureaucratic momentum that predominate in “functionalist” explanations. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. can lead to practical conclusions that seem inevitable at the time but are revealed in historical retrospect as the product of invented problems and false assumptions about the space of possible solutions. for the Nazi vision of an extended Reich in which a “racially clean” German people would be gathered and “alien” elements erased.ix. and even wider tolerance.2008 . a distinction must be drawn between the explananda at stake. administrative radicalization.16 To begin with. trans. and once initiated. or Judenfrage. however. Functionalism can take various forms. A related but distinct target of explanation is the eventual attempt to realize this vision by means of mass murder. NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press. military brutalization. Ideas are also a force shaping historical events — especially ideas about threats facing a society and the possible responses to them. One target of explanation is the widespread support. as made salient by historical developments. A policy of somehow removing the Jews from the position in German life that they had come to occupy since the late nineteenth century was clearly intended by the Nazis well before their accession to power. A problem whose invention dated back to the early nineteenth century was the “Jewish problem”. These ideas. Yet functionalist explanations do not have to eschew the intentional sphere. or “emancipated”. which treats the agents of the Holocaust as unthinking cogs in a totalitarian machine beyond their comprehension. Harry Zohn (Rutherford.49 to which the Nazis would eventually conceive extermination as the “Final Solution”. indecent. 1990). when the Jews were granted civil rights. The notion of a Judenfrage first arose in the wake of the Enlightenment and French revolution. in some forms. The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. real or perceived. by the German population at large. or at least acquiescence. strikes us as inadequate and. The question that arose was whether their newly accorded status as fellow citizens of Christians could be reconciled with their 49 See Alex Bein. it was viewed with approval. An extreme functionalism tends to downplay the role of mental or “subjective” factors.

Our translation. The “Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service”. the question occurred to the Jews themselves. Beamtentum im Dritten Reich. Germans. slightly more than two months after their accession to power.17 religious commitment to “chosenness” and to their future reunion from the diaspora in a restored kingdom of Israel. was enacted on April 7. The tragically ironic result is that the phrase “a solution of the Jewish question” (eine Lösung der Judenfrage). Dietz. (Bonn. appeared in 1896 in the subtitle of Theodore Herzl’s Zionist manifesto. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. even down to the level of the police.50 The Nazi regime initially addressed the “Jewish question” by trying to remove the Jews from public and economic life — boycotting and then confiscating Jewish businesses. 1933.2008 . 51 For a detailed study of the impact of this law see Hans Mommsen. 2004). or Austrians. Ernst Piper (Berlin: Philo. and greatly restricting personal contacts between Jews and non-Jews. Text und Materialen 1986 bis heute. stripping Jews of their citizenship.51 This process was to culminate in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. an institution which recognizes in good time each symptom of disease and identifies the 50 Der Judenstaat: Versuch einer modernen Lösung der Judenfrage. 52 53 Himmler’s title became “Reichsführer SS and Chief of the German Police in the Ministry of Interior Affairs”.ix. who sometimes wondered to what extent they wished to be assimilated as Frenchmen. The state thus came to embody a racial ideology. which was to litter the correspondence and memoranda of Nazi leaders. Quoted by Ulrich Herbert. Der Judenstaat. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt. or how to reverse their perceived encroachments. But the question also became a lightning-rod for all sorts of anti-semitism. 2001). gradually excluding Jews from the professions. which permeated all state functions. Biographische Studien über Radikalismus. Weltanschauung und Vernunft 19031989. They also began to pursue their goal of redefining the state itself in racial terms. ed. 1966). 164. excluding the Jews from public employment. Mit ausgewählten Quellen zur nationalsozialistischen Beamtenpolitik.52 These instruments of state coercion were guided by an ideology whose core elements were stated by Werner Best in his 1936 commentary on the Gestapo Law:53 [The Political Police is] an institution which carefully supervises the political sanitary state of the German body of people. which were fused with the SS under Heinrich Himmler in 1936. under the influence of which it mutated into the question of what to do about the Jews. Best. Posed thus dispassionately.

and others deemed to be security risks. 111. 28 -35. suspected partisans. as natural resisters. official Nazi policy for the Jews had the final goal of expulsion. the Kristallnacht pogrom raised the pressure and the rate of emigration. p. and vectors of disease or subversive ideology. Browning.55 At this time. Browning. How these ideological commitments were to be implemented became clearer after the annexation of Austria in March 1938. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. however. Origins. while the incorporation of previously Polish territories added millions of Jews to the population of the Reich.ix. p. Browning. criminals. when the Nazis initiated a program.2008 . and Hitler anticipated moving the line of demarcation further to the east only “after 54 55 56 57 58 David Cesarani. Origins. 26. pp. This is the idea and the ethos of the Political Police in the racial Führerstaat of our time. By May 1939. The troops of the Wehrmacht were followed by police forces and SS Einsatzgruppen whose ostensible mission was to secure civil order by executing local officials. managed by Adolf Eichmann. of forcing the Jews of Vienna to emigrate. members of the intelligentsia. Jews were included in these executions on the pretext of their belonging to any and all of these suspect groups.56 Jews were to be concentrated in ghettoes for the purposes of “control and later deportation”. The outbreak of the war narrowed and finally closed the avenues of forced emigration. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. Browning. criminals.58 An eastern wall (Ostwall) would separate this territory from Germany. Becoming Eichmann. Origins.54 The “Jewish question” took on a new complexion with the invasion of Poland in September 1939. 43.57 Ethnic Germans living outside the newly expanded Reich were to be repatriated and settled on land confiscated from Poles and Jews. Origins .000 Jews out of Austria by “legal” means. Eichmann claimed to have forced 100. p. the latter of whom were to be expelled to a “Jewish reservation” in unincorporated Polish territory. p. These operations quickly expanded into spontaneous mass shootings of Jews and Poles during the first weeks of the war.18 germs of destruction – whether they developed due to inner corrosion or were imported externally due to wilful poisoning – and extinguishes them by any sort of appropriate means. 71. In November of that year.

p. 69. p. p 27. pp. Himmler wrote a memorandum expressing the “hope completely to erase the concept of Jews through the possibility of a great emigration of all Jews to a colony in Africa or elsewhere”.2008 . The invasion added hundreds of thousands of Jews to German control. it turned out that. pp. See Final Solution and “Jewish Resettlement”.60 Attempts to overcome these bottlenecks became embroiled in various controversies among Nazi leaders and local officials.64 The destination envisioned for the Jews therefore shifted. Browning.63 The “Jewish Question” mutated once again with the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. at least temporarily. raising an especially pointed version of the question what to do with the Jews. 54-68. “this method is still the mildest and best. 43). Origins.19 decades”. alien populations in the east were to be screened for the purpose of “fish[ing] out of this mush the racially valuable. in order to bring them to Germany for assimilation”. Chapter Browning.59 This vast shuffling of populations quickly encountered serious bottlenecks. if one rejects the Bolshevik method of physical extermination of people.” Himmler wrote. 81. out of 59 60 Browning. Origins.65 At the same time. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. as a result of which the expulsions stalled. Origins. 61 Browning.62 and whether the ghettoes were to be death-traps or self-supporting enclaves.ix. Origins. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. “While the Nazis never wanted openly to admit it and struggled against such a conclusion for months. As Browning puts it.61 Contention also arose over whether the Jews were to be used — indeed. Ibid. imported — as laborers in support of the war effort. Götz Aly emphasizes the connections between this population bottleneck and the transition to industrialized massmurder. or simply isolated and expelled. p. Origins. In May 1940. Origins.66 These plans still extended no further than the resettlement of populations: “However cruel and tragic each individual case may be. however. consolidating Lebensraum in the incorporated territories and solving the Jewish question were not complementary but competing goals” (Origins. 175-178 Browning. 62 63 64 65 66 Browning. and it raised the prospect of access to the sea and to Western European colonies abroad.

Origins.” 74 Browning. 89. pp. Dieckmann writes.20 inner conviction [that it is] un-German and impossible. 249). Origins. p. 110. 104. Translation slightly modified for clarity. p. See Browning. p. in order to thin out regions that were deemed too densely populated to become economically productive parts of the Greater Reich. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. the notion of expelling the Jews to some destination or other stayed alive. Final Solution.”67 The following fall. See also the remark of a subordinate of Hans Frank. 73 Meanwhile. one cannot simply starve them to death” (ibid. Aly and Heim. pp. p. the hope of controlling the seas. Browning. “The War”. Reinhard Heydrich still wrote about the “settlement of the Jewish question” as being achieved through “evacuation overseas”. Architects of Annihilation …. Origins. Browning. by exposure and starvation. Even so. ed. p. executions of supposedly dangerous elements were carried out in the wake of the invading forces. Origins. “The murder of the Jewish men was seen as a way of executing the order to ‘liquidate’ the Soviet leadership stratum” (p. Ulrich Herbert (New York: Berghahn Books. 247. Browning. and with it.68 But as the prospect of victory against Britain dimmed.74 Starvation of the Soviet population was also an element of German military strategy. Origins. which specified that two67 Browning. Browning. Heydrich wrote of achieving a “total solution to the Jewish question” by “sending them off to the country that will be chosen later”. . Origins. See Aly. p. 2000). 71). mostly by presenting anti-Jewish measures as part of a wider policy of ‘pacifying’ the occupied area..2008 .70 The notion that resettlement would provide the solution to the “Jewish question” persisted among the Nazi leadership until at least June of 1941. Governor-General of the territory to which the Jews were to be deported: “In the end. mid-level bureaucrats were fashioning a "General Plan for the East" that projected the elimination of up to 30 million Soviet citizens. See also Dieckmann. “The War and the Killing of the Lithuanian Jews”. Christoph Dieckmann. Origins.71 This view began to change with the “war of annihilation” against the Soviet Union. p. and Jewish men were targeted on the pretext of being bolshevists (“commissars”) and Weltanschauungsträger — carriers of a world-view inimical to the Reich. 253. p. Check territory??? 68 69 70 71 72 73 Browning. which would add more Jews to the sphere of German control while pushing further east the boundaries beyond which they would have to be expelled. 69-70.72 As in Poland. German officials in the field hid ideological bias behind practical rationalizations. 110: both Soviet commissars and Soviet Jews “would have to by eliminated” because “ultimately they were perceived as one. 259: “As in preinvasion memoranda and plans. 253.” See also p. 240 ff. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J.ix. Origins. 102. in National Socialist Extermination Policies: Contemporary German Persepctives and Controversies.69 In February 1941. the idea of shipping Jews abroad became unrealistic.

in effect. “The War”. 261. on a starvation diet. p. In July. What kind of followers are we training here? Either neurotics or savages!” Bach-Zelewski’s post-war testimony claimed that Himmler “after witnessing the executions in Minsk on August 15 had asked [Einsatzgruppe B commander Arthur] Nebe to consider other killing methods” (ibid.) Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. but only for the sake of sparing German troops the onerous task of murdering them one-by-one. were suffering psychological trauma from the rigors of this grisly work. 353: “Bach-Zelewski claimed to have told a shaken Himmler after the latter had witnessed a relatively small execution in Minsk: ‘Look at the eyes of the men in this commando. however. an obstacle to large-scale executions was becoming clear. p. who had been shooting their victims individually. p. with the Jewish population given lowest priority — placed. 79 (Ibid. “The War”. even Jewish women and children. in August 1941. were slated to be shot. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. Rolf Heinz Höppner had written the following to Eichmann about the possibility of interning the Jews of the Warthe region: “There exists this winter the danger that all the Jews can no longer be fed. 354). Dieckmann. Gas chambers such as those eventually used to murder Jews at the notorious death camps had first been developed in the winter of 1939-1940 75 76 77 78 Dieckmann.ix.75 Rationing was immediately introduced. In any case it would be more pleasant than to let them starve.” 79 Such a “quick-acting agent” already existed — a preexisting hammer to which these developments served up the Jews as an exposed nail. It should seriously be considered if it would not be the most human solution to dispose of the Jews. the first use of mass murder to render areas completely judenrein... who had been excluded from the initial executions. The Origins of the Final Solution. p. through a quick-acting agent. 253. Front-line members of the firing squads. pp.77 Thus began.78 More “humane” methods of eliminating unwanted populations was needed — methods that would be more humane for the victims. 259 Dieckmann. perhaps.2008 .76 When the invasion did not succeed as quickly as planned. “The War”. how deeply shaken they are! These men are finished for the rest of their lives. See Browning. The idea of such methods was already in the air.21 thirds of the army was to be “provisioned entirely from the East” by taking food from the mouths of the local population. By the end of the summer. insofar as they are not capable of work. 321. p.

Gypsies. the concentration camps — which held a vast range of criminals. Friedlander. Chapter 8. 109. 81 82 83 84 Friedlander. p. The first gassings of Jews as such — that is. From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (Chapel Hill: UNC Press. The term ‘euthanasia’ is in quotation marks because showing mercy to the victims was not in practice the regulating goal of the program.22 for the purpose of “euthanizing” large numbers of mentally and physically handicapped adults. physicians previously involved in that program had begun to make periodic visits to concentration camps. Jewish patients were sent to the medical killing centers in exclusively Jewish transports on no medical pretext whatsoever. in what was called “wild” euthanasia.ix. also quoted by Arendt. p. 1995). Chapter 13.3. simply because they were Jews — were carried out on German soil in 1940 as relatively small part of this “euthanasia” program. prisoners of war. 142 ff. In popular understanding of the Third Reich. 85 Killings of the handicapped continued by other means.80 a program that appears to have been envisioned by Hitler as early as 1935. 108. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. for the purpose of reducing the number of potential troublemakers and “useless eaters” — that is. Table 5. Eichmann in Jerusalem. which had not yet been planned. The Origins of Nazi Genocide. using procedures like those subsequently used at the killing centers in the East. as well as Jews. that these transports accounted for a small fraction of what have conservatively been estimated as 70.2008 . so-called ‘asocials’. under the supervision of resident physicians. the selections 80 Henry Friedlander. Friedlander. Shortly before Hitler ordered a stop to the “euthanasia” program (which continued by other means nonetheless).81 Six medical killing centers.84 Concentration-camp inmates became the sole victims of these centers after the “stop order” was issued. received transports of handicapped patients from all over the Reich. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. 87. p. inmates unable to work. and homosexuals — are typically conflated with the death camps where the latter groups were collected solely for the purpose of being murdered.000 murders of the handicapped83 in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. political prisoners. Friedlander. p. The fact remains. 62.85 Here again. where they selected inmates to be transported to the medical killing centers. See Friedlander.82 Whereas nonJewish handicapped patients were selected for “euthanasia” after a cursory medical evaluation. however. much less constructed. and foreign slave-laborers. p. in August of 1941.

Consultants from T4. 300. had been addressed with what Eichmann liked to call “political” rather than “physical” solutions91 — that is. and their corpses were burned immediately after they had been killed. by forced emigration. subterfuge was used to fool the victims upon arrival with the appearance of normality. 237-245. the trappings of the reception area and the welcoming speech by a staff member made the killing center look like a labor camp. p. See. p. Second. begetting what is now known as the “Final Solution”.88 Almost all of the staff in these killing centers were then recruited from T4. though built expressly for the “Final Solution”. Reinhard Heydrich. . visited Lublin during the construction of Treblinka. and ghettoization.86 but only as one group among many who were selected for this “special treatment”. 286. as the “euthanasia” program was known. which used gas vans of a kind that had been developed for the Einsatzgruppen and were operated by an officer who had used such vans to kill the handicapped in Poland. until the latter half of 1941. Friedlander. 139. deportation. see also p. and the gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms. physicians and nurses checking medical files made the killing center look like a regular hospital. The victims were told in both places that they had to take showers for hygienic reasons. 297 ff. and Belzec. while in the camps of Operation Reinhard. the victims were crowded into the gas chamber. Friedlander.87 which belonged to what was later to be called “Operation Reinhard” (in honor of its architect. p. p.2008 . These centers were preceded in operation only by Chelmno.g. in both the Reich and the East. 89 90 91 Friedlander.ix. . At some point in the summer or fall of 1941. while the belongings of the victims were carefully collected and registered to maintain the illusion of normality.23 included Jews as such. 297. p.. In the3 euthanasia centers. the techniques that had been developed for large-scale “euthanasia” were married to the policy of wholesale extermination that had developed on the Soviet front.89 They brought their methods and procedures with them:90 First. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. 144. represented the application of previously developed methods to a “problem” that. who had been assassinated). Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. 106.. Cesarani. e. The camps erected during Operation Reinhard. Sobibor. Friedlander. . It remains a matter of debate among historians exactly when a decision was reached to apply this technology to solving the “Jewish question” once and for all. The 86 87 88 Friedlander.

often murderous conditions. the demographic and economic planners who conceived the “General Plan for the East”.2008 . for example.24 technology of mass murder was refined and vastly expanded by the Nazis to solve their “problem” with the Jews. But these questions and answers carried normative force for those who 92 This phrase comes from Adolf Eichmann’s testimony about a conversation with Heydrich in late summer 1941. liaised with him.92 But the “Final Solution” required the voluntary participation of thousands. e. Chapters VI and VII. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper. these people acted within a system that must be understood in a normative and not merely causal sense. Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life. Most importantly. it suggests that the Holocaust cannot be seen solely as the work of a few demonic masterminds.g. Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich (New Haven: Yale University Press. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. the genocide that assumed its ultimate form after the Wansee Conference of January 1942 would not have occurred had Hitler not issued an order for the “physical annihilation” of the Jews.93 to the local commanders who improvised on their instructions to pacify conquered areas and then to eliminate “useless eaters”. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. to mid-level functionaries who worked with Eichmann. And atrocities short of mass murder were thinkable for an even wider circle of people including. 1998).. against a background of criminal assumptions about the space of possible answers. MA: Da Capo Press. 93 Christopher R. not all of whom could have been the sort of evil geniuses held responsible for the Holocaust in the popular imagination. p. or even competed with him. Browning. but it was borrowed for this purpose from other contexts. 94 95 See especially the narrative of the deportation from Hungary in Chapter Six of Cesarani. See. 91. and Trial of a “Desk Murderer” (Cambridge. 2004). This brief summary raises several issues for moral philosophers. Neil Gregor. Historians generally agree that Hitler’s order was not in writing. and industrialists who exploited slave laborers under brutal. Crimes. See David Cesarani. mass murder was thinkable for a large number of people. They participated in an entire system of practical thought that posed criminal questions. and who frequently exercised considerable initiative in carrying out their tasks.95 To the eyes of a moral philosopher. To be sure.94 Thus.ix. Becoming Eichmann. from ordinary policemen who waived the opportunity to be excused from firing-squad duty. 1993). they disagree as to when it was issued.

Until his arrival at Auschwitz. Kremer recorded brief entries detailing fairly mundane features of daily life: meals eaten. We will begin with a few of the more or less ordinary people who were assigned to murderous duties that. published by the AuschwitzBirkenau State Museum in Oswiecim. Our first case is that of Johann Paul Kremer. Selections from Kremer’s diaries can also be found in “The Good Old Days”. surgical procedures performed. 296 for biographical details. Deborah Burnstone (Old Saybrook. The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. The Lamarckian thesis of this paper was interpreted as contrary to Nazi racial doctrine and would eventually prevent his appointment to a chair at Münster after his 96 A translation of Kremer’s diary is published in KL Auschwitz as Seen by the SS. they were willing to perform. who served at Auschwitz during a period when its gas chambers were in operation. train journeys taken. One event that would be consequential for his subsequent career was his publication of a research paper entitled “A Noteworthy Contribution to the Problem of the Hereditary Nature of Traumatic Deformations”. we will consider a few examples of perpetrators whose motives are revealed to at least some extent by letters or diaries written at the time of their misdeeds.ix. then y receives a certain justification. ed. in August 1942. the brevity of his service at Auschwitz (3 months). David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. an accomplishment of which he seems to have been especially proud. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. CT: Konecky & Konecky. 256–268. And the normativity of these functional considerations was underwritten by the tenets of a racial ideology. 1914). ISBN 83-85047-32-8.2008 . and his post-war statements to interrogators about specific entries in the diary. In order to explore the effects of this distorted moral order. See p. for reasons difficult for us to fathom. his doctorate in philosophy (Berlin. 1991).96 Kremer’s diary is of interest for several reasons: his age at the time of serving in Auschwitz (58). the weather. and Volker Riess. Willi Dressen.25 entertained them: if y is a solution to problem x. trans. and so forth. Ernst Klee. Uncovering the brutal progress of such reasoning in the run-up to the Holocaust can help us to grasp the otherwise incomprehensible phenomenon that so many people perceived the events as somehow “inevitable”. a physician and Dozent of Anatomy at the University of Münster.

. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J.ix. the SS officers selected from among the new arrivals persons fit to work. 177. By such manoevres science has received a mortal blow and has been banished from the country! The situation in Germany today is no better than in the times when Galileo was forced to recant and when science was threatened by tortures and the stake. only true or false science!”98 Thus. . . When the transport with people who were destined to be gassed. Kremer arrived at Auschwitz on August 30. arrived at the railway ramp. . he vented his frustration in the diary: 97 And so I have really become a victim of my sincere belief in scientific ideals and in the unlimited freedom of research. he described his role as follows:101 By September 2. 162..26 service at Auschwitz. Where. If only people could see behind the scenes of the scheming university flunkeys who are my ill-wishers. These mass murders took place in small cottages situated outside the Birkenau camp in a wood. 1943. Ordered to report as a laborer under the Allied occupation. “Was present for the first time at a special action. in 1943. 1945. 187). 1943. they will never be able to escape from their impasse without the radical interference of an outsider” — namely. He proposes to write a book demonstrating that the cells classified as leucocytes and phagocytes are simply the remnants of decaying tissues that have found their way into the bloodstream (entry of December 26th. Entry of September 2. Three days later. as he did again after the war. 181). Kremer could see himself as an opponent of Nazi ideology. Kremer himself. while the 97 98 Entry of January 13. Kremer rails against the stupidity of the scientific establishment who “have got themselves into a blind alley by accepting the concepts of leucocytes and phagocytes. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. he wrote: “It may only have been the result. I was brought there by car. 1942. p. No one considers the fact that I lost my position through the NSDAP [Nazi Party]. employed in the gassing. 214. When Kremer was invited to attend a training session for propaganda lecturers on “population policy” and “race hygiene”. I sat in front with the driver and an SS hospital orderly [SDG] sat in the back of the car with oxygen apparatus to revive SS-men. Learning of the reason for his rejection after the fact. Elsewhere. I have always been a thorn in their flesh because of my work and of the fact that I was the first to join the party” (entry of May 24. All SS physicians on duty in the camp took turns to participate in the gassings. to replace a surgeon who had been taken ill. 1943. at 3 a. is this situation going to lead us in the twentieth century!!! I could almost feel ashamed to be a German. 162. My part as physician at a gassing consisted in remaining in readiness near the bunker. Kremer wrote: “There is no Aryan. p.2008 100 101 . note 50. And so I shall have to end my days as a victim of science and a fanatic of truth. he wrote:99 One has to put up with things like this because one was an SS physician. p. Negroid. 99 Entry of August 6. among other motives. 1942. p. I had already been assigned to take part in the action of gassing people. p.”100 In his postwar interrogation.m. of the desire to stop my scientific work. which were called Sonderaktion [special action]. 1942. P. since I dealt the party one of the heaviest blows in the ideological sense by publishing my work on the hereditary nature of acquired qualities. . Mongoloid or Jewish science. he recorded. In the margin next to this entry. for Heaven’s sake. in case any of them should succumb to the poisonous fumes. .

I was under the influence of these impressions that I [wrote this entry in my diary]. military surgeon. Kremer wrote in his diary. “They were young and healthy women. but their begging was to no avail. no 82.27 rest — old people. Entry of October 18th. The shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through that opening and it was clear that they were fighting for their lives [Lebenskampf]. in which over 10. Thilo. In camp slang. 1942. as the SS-men kept people quiet. women with children in the their arms and other persons not deemed fit to work — were loaded in to the lorries and driven to the gas chambers. 1942. In the evening at about 8 p. “Moslems” (Muselmänner) were inmates visibly near death from starvation and exhaustion. but what I then saw was not to be compared with anything ever seen before.300 people. 163. noting on each occasion how many he had witnessed to date. another special action with a draft from Holland. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. I should say for some minutes. Kremer recorded every “special action” at which he was present. There people were driven into the barrack huts where the victims undressed and then went naked to the gas chambers. After recording his attendance at the Sonderaktion. Kremer explained this entry as follows:103 Being an anatomist I had seen many horrors. he would attend 14 “special actions”. all children. After driving all of them into the gas chamber the door was closed and an SS-man in a gas mask threw the contents of a Cyclon tin through an opening in the side wall. By this point. 5 cigarettes. The SS-men. I used [the] expression [anus mundi] because I could not imagine anything more sickening and more horrible.”105 102 103 104 105 Entry of September 5. p.2008 .ix. Men compete to take part in such actions as they get additional rations — 1/5 litre vodka. Kremer explained. shot them on the spot. I used to follow behind the transport till we reached the bunker. was right when he said to me today that we are located here in the anus mundi [anus of the world]. He sometimes mentioned exceptional circumstances. P.m. Very often no incidents occurred. such as: “Terrible scenes when 3 women begged merely to have their lives spared. maintaining that they were to bathe and be deloused. 169. Hschf. Kremer had already witnessed the murder of more than 2.000 victims were gassed. taking part in the action. 162-63. “By comparison Dante’s Inferno seems almost a comedy. 100 grammes of sausage and bread.”104 In his post-war interrogation. note 51. P. but I am unable to give the exact length of time. Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp!” His most extensive remark on a “special action” followed three days later:102 At noon was present at a special action in the women’s camp (Moslems) — the most horrible of all horrors. During his three months at Auschwitz. 169. had dealt with corpses. pp. In his post-war interrogation. These shouts were heard for a very short while. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.

tomato soup. He was not young and inexperienced. since he was shortly to write a polemic against the notion of “Jewish science”. Kremer’s moral insensitivity cannot be attributed to the culture of the Auschwitz SS. half a chicken with potatoes and red cabbage (20 g. Kremer’s research interest in the victims is discussed by Robert Jay Lifton in The Nazi Doctors.28 Kremer was also present at punishments of inmates and at “medical” killings by phenol injection. since he witnessed his first Sonderaktion shortly after arriving. and yet he also came to take them in stride after the initial shock. “anus mundi”). owing to his advanced state of emaciation. In the latter case. because he was interested in the effects of starvation on human tissues:106 To choose suitable specimens I used to visit the last block on the right [Block 28] where sick prisoners from the camp came for medical examination. Lifton also juxtaposes Kremer’s diary entries about scenes of “[t]he most horrible of horrors” with surrounding entries about his diet: “Today. nor incapable of defining ideals in 106 P. Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books. well before he could have become acculturated. What are we to make of these statements? Apparently. The SS physician decided then — taking into consideration the prisoner’s chances of recovery — whether he should be treated in the hospital. one should note that what seems like an undue attention to the mess-hall menu must be interpreted in light of wartime shortages. . Kremer had heard Auschwitz described as an “extermination camp” even before he arrived but had not taken the description seriously until witnessing his first Sonderaktion (“Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp!”). . . . and yet he later rated these horrors on the scale of his medical experiences (“As an anatomist . I asked the orderly to reserve the given patient for me and let me know when he would be killed with an injection. He regarded the “special actions” as sufficiently significant to count and record with care. .2008 . . which required ordinary Germans to scrounge for grams of fat.The SS physician primarily designated for liquidation [by injection] those prisoners whose diagnosis was Allgemeine Körperschwäche [general bodily exhaustion]. 1986. . Lifton quotes one of Kremer’s colleagues as testifying that “Kremer looked upon the prisoners as so many rabbits”. . suggesting that he might have been reacting to the sight of corpses that were still living rather than to the human suffering. 167. note 71. He was clearly sensitive to the horror of these scenes (“Dante’s Inferno”. or be liquidated. 292-93. sweet pudding and magnificent ice cream . Sunday. His failure to comment on the criminality of the gassings cannot be attributed to fear of criticizing the regime in his diary. pp.”).ix. perhaps as an outpatient. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. 2000).” Without challenging Lifton’s assessment of Kremer’s “numbed detachment” from the grisly business of genocide. of fat). an excellent dinner. he attended partly in order to collect samples. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. much less to the depravity of the proceedings. During the examination the prisoners who acted as doctors presented the patients to the SS physician and described the illness of the patient. I used to observe such prisoners and if one of them aroused my interest.

Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. I must pull myself out of it. he said:108 As I said. but he didn’t reflect on his reactions. Karl Kretschmer was a German pharmacist who joined the Nazi Party late. how could he have needed further evidence of “what the fear of death really means”? How could the minor “hell” that he experienced in the safety of a bomb shelter fail to remind him of the raging “Inferno” that he had described two years before? From the evidence of his diary. ask whether they made sense. Kremer appears to suffer from what Arendt would call an “inability to think” — that is. He reacted to events. Writing to his “dear Soska”. 163-71.2008 . and with every fresh approach of the enemy’s bombers one believed one’s last moment had come. Writing these words. where he served in a Sonderkommando that participated in mass executions.29 opposition to those around him. 296. Kremer forgot that on more than one occasion.107 In August 1942. shocked and exhausted. The sight of the dead (including women and children) is not very cheering. he wrote: Here I had the opportunity to grasp what the fear of death really means. (The date of Kretschmer’s enrollment in the party is here listed as 1949. But we are fighting this war for the survival or non-survival of 107 “The Good Old Days. After those experiences. in 1939. when he was back in Münster. p. which is obviously a misprint. dodging Allied air-raids. He could see that Auschwitz was the anus of the world. I am in a very gloomy mood. he never expressed any hatred or contempt toward the victims. a refusal to confront himself honestly.ix. one could only press into a corner of the cellar to await the end of that hell. Finally. p. 1942. he was sent to the Russian front. Recording his experience in a bomb shelter during an especially heavy raid. with horror or outrage or fear. Consider next a perpetrator who was somewhat more reflective than Kremer. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. but he never asked himself what he was doing there. he had witnessed camp inmates pleading for their lives.) Kretschmer’s letters appear on pp. 163. Tortured. It would not and would not end. or consider their implications. and was rejected by the SS for “failure to satisfy requirements during a course on ideology. 108 Letter of September 27. A suggestive clue to Kremer’s psychology appears in his diary two years later.

To deal with those thoughts. Otherwise we would crack up. do not feel the full force of that. shown what the enemy has in store for us if he has enough power. I consider the last Einsatz to be justified and indeed approve of the consequences it had. wherever the German soldier is. I would far rather sleep. the Jews are the first to feel it. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. no Jew remains. My comrades are literally fighting for the existence of our people. Our faith in the Führer fulfils us and gives us the strength to carry out our difficult and thankless task. But you can trust your Daddy. He thinks about you all the time and is not shooting immoderately.2008 . The last one was by all accounts a coward. Kretschmer engaged in some fairly transparent self-deception about “not shooting immoderately” and “striking the right balance” — as if the crime of mass murder could be mitigated by moderation. Kretschmer did reflect on his actions to some extent. the Einsatz here would be wonderful. Since. It’s not very pleasant stuff. the best way of overcoming it is to do it more often.. p. 171. I do not therefore want to think and write about it any further. Letter of October 19. and he apparently wrote a letter. he wrote: I have already told you about the shooting — that I could not say ‘no’ here either. thank God.111 As these excerpts make clear. That’s the way people are judged here. But they’ve more or less said they’ve finally found a good chap to run the administrative side of things. p. p. he worried about “cracking up”. He claimed that he couldn’t say ‘no’ to the shootings.109 [Y]ou need not worry that we are living badly here. To his wife and children. 168. I would only make your heart heavy needlessly. although he subsequently regretted those “stupid thoughts” and resolved to quash them. as I already wrote to you. now lost. the phrase: ‘stupid thoughts’ is not strictly accurate. I am on tenterhooks to know how you received my letter of 13 October. We men here at the front will win through. Here in Russia. The bomb attacks have. Your Papa will be very careful and strike the right balance.] It would perhaps have been better if I had not written it or had written it only later. Then it becomes a habit.30 our people. You are aware of it everywhere you go along the front. Rather it is a weakness not to be able to stand the sight of dead people. For the more one thinks about the whole business the more one comes to the conclusion that it’s the only thing we can do to safeguard unconditionally the security of our people and our future. since it has put me in a position where I can support you all very well. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. 167. He found it difficult to “come to grips” with cleansing the territory of Jews. You back home. as I have described to you in detail. We have to eat and drink well because of the nature of our work. however. Ibid. 1942.110 If it weren’t for the stupid thoughts about what we are doing in this country. [This letter was lost or destroyed. As the war is in our opinion a Jewish war. certainly more than Kremer. You can imagine that at first I needed some time to get to grips with this. in which he expressed some doubt (perhaps even remorse?) about the operation. 1942.ix. 109 110 111 Letter of September 15.

That is why we are so determined to fight to victory this war that has been forced upon us. though his allusion to the risk of being judged a coward may implicitly have given the explanation. the leader of the German Labor Front said. The Jewish Enemy. as saying.”115 In August 1942. p...31 but he didn’t say why. Hitler had claimed that the Jews favored the “extermination of the national leadership and intelligentsia of nations”. Ibid. 162.”114 In June Goebbels wrote an essay. p. If we don’t succeed in exterminating him. They unite democracy and Bolshevism into a community of interest engaged in a shared attack by a conspiracy that hopes to be able to annihilate all of Europe. Ibid. in which he characterized the steppedup bombing of German cities “a sacrilegious game” on the part of the Jews. 155. Ibid. declaring. p. “We have all known for a long time what fate the Jews and plutocrats would like to inflict on us. 153. “‘The only good German is a dead German. Kretschmer turned his natural repugnance at murdering innocent people into a burden to be borne for the sake of the Führer. p. “[T]hey will pay for it with the extermination of their race in Europe and perhaps even beyond Europe as well. then we will lose the war.113 In a speech broadcast in May 1942. 147.. “The Jew is the great danger to humanity. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. And just as Arendt described. also broadcast on German radio.2008 . Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. for example. In March 1942. 156.ix. Ibid.” 112 113 114 115 116 Quoted by Herf. In a nationally broadcast speech the following month. p. Nazi wall newspapers quoted an “English newspaper” in Buenos Aires. Kretschmer’s primary defense against “stupid thoughts” was to rehearse the propaganda he had heard about the life-or-death struggle against a Jewish enemy who would exterminate the German people if not exterminated by them first — what Arendt called “the lie most effective with the whole of the German people”. Therefore.. our motto should be: The Germans must be exterminated!’ ”116 The poster concluded. Kretschmer’s defensive narrative about fighting against the Jews “for the existence of our people” is lifted almost verbatim from Nazi propaganda of the preceding months. Hitler had delivered a speech in which he said:112 Today we see the dispersion of cooperation among the Jewish wire pullers over a whole world.

.117 He joined the SA (the Nazi’s brown-shirted “storm troops”) in 1933. a perpetrator with a long history of allegiance to the National Socialist cause. were shot about two hundred metres from our quarters after they had dug their own grave. of the Germans as “the people of the future”. 1941.2008 . Partly because of a troubled love affair. Nothing against that — only they should not let the Jews walk about in such a state. Entry of July 5. airmen in fact. ‘Nobody. We stopped and tried to see who was in charge of the Kommando. At the beginning of his service in the Einsatzkommando. then someone shouted — in fact the Pole himself — ‘Shoot faster!’ What is a human being?119 We continued going along the road. He subsequently had the task of training the Ukranian militia and organizing Jewish labor in the district. he volunteered to serve in an Einsatzkommando that carried out mass executions in the Lvov district. We went to the citadel. members of the intelligentsia and Resistance. holes in their heads. 90. their hands broken and their eyes hanging out of their sockets. 297-98. They were holding clubs as thick as a man’s wrist and were lashing out and hitting anyone who crossed their path. Landau wrote in his diary: “I have little inclination to shoot defenceless people — even if they are only Jews. all parrots the propaganda that filled the air at that time. Biographical information on Landau appears on pp. 90. . David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. finally.ix. p. there we saw things that few people have ever seen. p. 1941. we learned from the soldiers standing there that they had just visited some comrades of theirs. Felix Landau was an Austrian who joined the National Socialist Worker Youth at the age of 15. His talk of fighting a “Jewish war” for “the existence of our people”. The Jews were pouring out of the entrance. 87-106. Finally. 118 119 Entry of July 3. and the SS in 1934. . He participated in the coup attempt that killed the Austrian Chancellor. Consider.’ Someone had the let Jews go. in 117 “The Good Old Days”.”118 Here are some passages illustrating Landau’s attitude toward the executions: [T]hirty-two Poles. At the entrance of the citadel there were soldiers standing guard. A couple more shots rang out. One of them simply would not die. They were just being hit out of rage and hatred. he was serving in occupied Poland.32 Kretschmer’s adoption of this narrative sounds utterly formulaic. Engelbert Dollfuss. presumably his heart. Landau’s diary entries appear on pp. The first layer of sand had already been thrown on the first group when a hand emerged from out of the sand. waved and pointed to a place. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. They were covered in blood. There were hundreds of Jews walking along the street with blood pouring down their faces. of “winning through” with “faith in the Führer”. When the Russian campaign began in 1941. Some of them were carrying others who had collapsed.

Fine. I would not have allowed it to show. . Six of our men got out. 93 Letter of July 9. no. Entry of July 7. amongst them the two above-mentioned women. That explained their actions: perfectly understandable. I remarked today that I would apply to Berlin for this M.122 At 6:00 in the morning I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. 91. What on earth had this Jew been hoping for?121 The arguments with the Wehrmacht continue.”). . ears cut off and also their eyes gouged out.120 On our way two Jews were stopped. an engineer. 96. . p. My heart beats just a little faster when involuntarily I recall the feelings and thoughts I had when I was in a similar situation. his actions are a danger to the state. was still shouting. Then there were moments when I came close to weakening.. Strange. They are unbelievable. so I’ll just play executioner and then gravedigger.’ Those were my thoughts. p. I was detailed as marksman and had to shoot any runaways. Take his remark that the Jews fall under the protection of the German Wehrmacht. Shocked by the sight of 120 121 122 123 P. and recalled his own feelings when facing the barrel of a gun during the Austrian coup attempt. nothing. ‘So young and now its all over. “Long live Germany. 95 Entry of July 12. They even refused to accept a glass of water from us. 1941. even in his own eyes. The death candidates assembled with shovels to dig their own graves. then I pushed these feelings aside and in their place came a sense of defiance and the realization that my death would not have been in vain. On 24 July 1934 in the Bundeskanzleramt [Chancellery] when I was confronted with the machine-gun barrels of the Heimwehr [Austrian militia. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. The Major in charge must be the worst kind of state enemy. . Their story was fairly unbelievable. and he arrived at a fairly perceptive answer: “Each of them harbours a small hope that somehow he won’t be shot. one of the Jews.ix. Twenty-three had to be shot. He recognized and reflected on the humanity of his victims (“What is a human being?”). Who could have thought such a thing possible? That’s no National Socialist. Two of them were weeping. you love battle and then have to shoot defenceless people.2008 . why not? Isn’t it strange. . David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. That’s the way it is and then it’s all over. They said that they had fled from the Russian army. loaded up and the next minute both were dead. that would have been out of the question with my character. . And yet there are false notes here as well. No pity. p. to be put into preventive detention immediately.33 hospital here in Lemberg who had been brutally injured. 1941. Report for an execution.123 Clearly. I thought.” Strange. They’d had their fingernails torn out. 1919-38]. What on earth is running through their minds during those moments? I think that each of them harbours a small hope that somehow he won’t be shot. nothing. He hastened to qualify his expression of distaste for shooting innocent people by saying “even if they are only Jews”. The others certainly have incredible courage. When the order to take aim was given. Landau seems determined to avoid appearing softhearted toward Jews. 1941. Landau was the most thoughtful of the three perpetrators we have quoted.” He even examined his own feelings during an execution (“No pity. I am completely unmoved. He wondered “[w]hat on earth is running through their minds”.

A certain Herr Gabriel. My Ukranian militia got a ‘honeymoon period’.2008 . My spirits were finally restored after so long. Another noteworthy incident of this kind occurred during a period when Landau was in charge of training the Ukranian militia and supervising Jewish laborers. In the light of these passages. The Jews were ‘more considerately’ treated. I’d already caught him once tenderly stroking the chin of a Jewess and given him a thorough talking-to.ix. The gentleman forgets that we have introduced the race law into the National Socialist state. I was very satisfied with the outcome. Was it really just the memory of his own encounter with death that made his heart beat faster? What prompted him to remember his self-control in the face of the Heimwehr? Could it have been his need to exert self-control in the face of his victims. and feeling pleased by that outcome. he reported:124 So something is fixed. You could tell by my whole behavior that something pleasant had happened to me. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. became angry because I had dismissed for incompetence a Jewess who was working for me. What is wrong with these people? 124 Entry of 30 July. “Nothing against that — only they should not let the Jews walk about in such a state. if there was nothing wrong with beating them into it? Landau seems to have been reaching for some way to acknowledge his horror without confessing to sympathy for the Jews. Landau’s protestations of feeling “No pity. if not Landau’s own mind? And what was wrong with letting the Jews walk about in their state. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. 1941. he added. However during supper I couldn’t avoid getting angry. a man with an inferiority complex and bulging eyes. rather than their own display of self-control? Landau’s protestations of being “completely unmoved” have the sound of protesting too much. nothing” during executions begin to sound forced.34 Jews who had been beaten almost to death (“[W]e saw things that few people have ever seen”). After a satisfactory conference with his commanding officer. p. I gave away more cigarettes than usual. he immediately reasserted his allegiance to the Nazi race law — as if reassuring himself once again that he was not soft on Jews. 104. Having won “more considerate” treatment for the Jews working under him.” Who ever suggested that there was anything “against that”.

or by willfully misinterpreting them. because terms such as ‘duty’ and ‘decency’ have been turned into mere rhetoric by being systematically misapplied. they would first have to disengage from the socially driven trains of thought on which they reflexively depend: they would have to exercise some independence of mind. they don’t think for themselves but draw on stock self-descriptions supplied by their environment. the perpetrators’ attempts at reason-giving tend to lead them into the mire of nationalist and racist ideals spread by the regime. “most sickening and horrible impressions”). Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. these moral resources are not as reliable as moral philosophers tend to assume. to do what’s expected of them. then. To put the blame merely on a lack of moral reasoning in the perpetrators themselves would be to overlook the importance of a prior form of thought. but they have already been silenced at the social and institutional level. that what’s missing is moral reasoning? Just as Arendt described.2008 . or one’s understanding of the virtues. The perpetrators are caught in a web of corrupt social norms. appeals to principles and virtues would not help. Even when facing themselves. all of the social incentives and sanctions and guides to conduct work in favor of murder. in facing their own experiences and reactions without applying preconceived labels. For in order to engage in moral reasoning that could turn them around. And they would have to exercise it. which tends to ignore both the social embeddedness of morality and the individual element of integrity. consisting less in dutifulness than in simply facing oneself. Moral reasons have been silenced. drawing on the prevailing understandings of how one behaves. Would we say. In this self-confrontation. Most effective would be an honest attempt to comprehend what they are doing there. polluted as it is by racial ideology and war propaganda. they are unwilling to lend an unbiased ear. in what they can already recognize as the anus of the world. In this environment.ix. Nazi ideology has transformed their self-conceptions in a way that discredits their immediate perceptions and assessments (“anus mundi”. They cope either by refusing to think about their reactions. upon reading these diaries and letters. Without selfawareness to guide one’s application of principles. to begin with. as in the case of Kremer. and coping as they can with their discordant reactions. these people are simply trying to play their part. and when their own feelings protest. as in the cases of Kretschmer and Landau. isn’t anything that’s considered especially important by contemporary moral philosophy. in short. What is wrong with these people.35 In the first instance. “defenceless people”. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.

(By “an interpretation”. The Moral Law by itself does not provide us with “substantive moral guidance” (86). reprinted in The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge. Herman argues that the test of Kant’s Categorical Imperative cannot be applied to maxims of action framed in just any fashion: An agent who came to the CI procedure with no knowledge of the moral characteristics of actions would be very unlikely to describe his action in a morally appropriate way. which provide different interpretations of the Moral Law in light of our human conditions. 73–93. and the procedure of applying the Categorical Imperative to our maxims.2008 . David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. our decisions. according to Herman. Herman clearly means. insofar as it must be applied to maxims. Rules of moral salience are not dictated by the Categorical Imperative. the agents know the features of their proposed actions that raise moral questions before they use the CI to determine their permissibility. Herman describes them as “an interpretation. In the examples Kant gives of the employment of the CI procedure (G422–423). Kant’s moral agents are not morally naive. which pick out the “morally questionable” features in light of which actions need to be tested for permissibility. [p. the appropriate descriptive terms that capture morally salient features of our situations. The 125 Journal of Philosophy 82 (1985): 414–436. Members of the community must devise “a set of rules that encode a defeasible solution to questions about the nature of moral agents.36 A clue to explaining these limits of morality can be found in Barbara Herman’s paper “The Practice of Moral Judgment”. 75] The moral knowledge that is prerequisite for using the CI test. It is because they already realize that the actions they want to do are morally questionable that they test their permissibility. MA: Harvard University Press. which must be framed in morally relevant ways in order for the procedure to work correctly. but they are not arbitrary in relation to it. either. but a specific implementation more detailed than the law itself.]. It is hard to see how any system of moral judgment that assessed maxims of action could work with morally naive or ignorant agents. according to Herman. and so on” [ibid.125 In that paper.) Developing such an interpretation of the Moral Law is “a practical task for a community of moral agents” [87]. of the respect for persons (as ends-in-themselves) which is the object of the Moral Law” [86]. in rule form. is contained in what she calls rules of moral salience (RMS). 1993). not a synonymous explication. Herman distinguishes three elements of a Kantian moral theory: the Moral Law. And even the CI-procedure does not provide substantive guidance by itself. the various formulations of the Categorical Imperative.ix. pp. it sets abstract constraints that have to be spelled out in more detail by the Categorical Imperative and the CIprocedure. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J.

represent the moral understanding that in part defines a “moral community.37 results of this task are then passed on “as elements in a moral education” [77]. That ethos rested on a conception of human agency as attaining its fullest realization only through membership in a racially pure Volk. But what happens when the social resources on which individual moral reasoning has to draw are corrupt? The Nazi ethos seems to have contained rules of moral salience as defined by Herman. “as part of socialization” [78].J. not just any set of rules a culture might teach would count as rules of moral salience. in practice. will. the Nazi ethos relied on rule-governed practices grounded in its racial conception of human agency. be once and for all fixed. for example).ix. cannot be applied without moral knowledge that is socially constructed and conveyed: [T]he RMS . though present within every agent. In thus “includ[ing] some but not all within the circle of equal consideration”. [pp. an “object of morality”. . The Moral Law. There is. I think. the latter two being a danger to the health of the social body. Certain aspects of human action and interaction call for the sort of consideration we call “moral”: for example. It treated “unmet human need and want” as to be addressed in the first instance at the level of the Volksgemeinschaft. on a conception of the “community’s particular circumstances” — that is. . Warnock’s phrase. On the other hand. but the form of their presentation could not. practices that include some but not all within the circle of equal consideration. who has what and under what conditions. because the well-being of individuals was conceived to depend on that of the social organism to which they belonged. These matters are the appropriate content of the RMS. in G. on empirical premises about the conditions in which moral agents find themselves. Need and want were therefore to be dealt with by social provision for productive members and death for the alien or unproductive. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. The empirical premises underlying the Nazi rules of salience Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. as Herman explains. 83–84] The universal themes of the Moral Law thus receive a local interpretation on which the individual agent draws in order to frame maxims that can be tested for permissibility. actions that hurt or deceive. ensconced in its own Land and competing in a Darwinian struggle of survival-or-extinction among mutually hostile races.” Nor does it seem likely that there is an ideal set of RMS: what has to be taught and with what sense of importance will be a function of a community’s particular circumstances (the way social or economic conditions shape moral temptation.2008 . responses to unmet human need and want. Sentiments resistant to these practices were written off as “moral temptation”. Here Herman opens the door for a social contribution to individual moral reasoning. Note that these rules of moral salience were based.

p. Our point is that the inverted moral order of the Third Reich rested on such empirical falsehoods. In this context. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. On the one hand. on the other hand. In this ideological context. which was destined to supersede or be superseded by other races. the Jews would be — would prove themselves to have been all along — potent manipulators of world events. as Arendt emphasized127 — but theirs were principles adapted to a nightmarish world. These alternatives were presented to the German public as the only possible outcomes of a process dictated by human nature.126 If defeated. What was fundamentally wrong with it. diseased specimens of a pitiful sub-humanity. who respect one another precisely by having the courage of their mutual enmity. they would not deserve to have won. Would such a perverse respect not be universalizable among creatures constituted as the Nazis believed human beings to be? Our claim is not that Nazi anthropology was itself an innocent mistake: it was the very opposite. Eichmann in Jerusalem. a conception of human nature that encouraged people to misunderstand themselves and their dealings with one another.ix. Volksfeinde were owed respect in the Nazi ethos. 126 127 Hitler himself believed that if the Germans lost the war. according to which the laws of nature tied the prospects of each human being to those of his race. which corrupted common perceptions of moral salience. a lie motivated by race-hatred. they were portrayed as the wire-pulling masterminds of a world conspiracy. is that it was empirically false. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. but it was the respect of mortal enemies. however. because they were embodied in creatures biologically committed to a battle of races by which alone their kind could progress. the Jews were portrayed as feeble. the perpetrators could see themselves as acting on universal principles — “No exceptions”.2008 .38 belonged to a racialized Social Darwinism. 137. The persons inhabiting that world must relate to one another either as Volksgenossen or Volksfeinde. These images represented the vastly different statuses to which the Jews would be either relegated or elevated by the outcome of racial struggle. they would turn out to have deserved their fate. what might appear to be a contradiction within Nazi anti-semitism turns out to be intelligible. If allowed to prevail.

They would have been questions about the kind of creatures in which reason is embodied in our case — questions. Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany (Cambridge. Steinweis. [91] 128 See. Could these perverted rules of moral salience explain why so many citizens of the Third Reich lost their moral bearings. RMS. like my natural and healthy disgust for disease and decay? And then is my reflexive sympathy for them a temptation to weakness. testing the racial ideology against personal experience. The socially provided terms in which they cast their maxims were already corrupt. See also Max Weinreich. if the agent has willed as he should. 1999). Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J.39 This viciously false anthropology drew not only on age-old prejudices but also on half-digested science that passed for enlightenment even in the academic establishment. the Jews and I? Is my reflexive dislike of them an authentic symptom of a biologically determined enmity. even before those maxims could be put to the test of permissibility. that is. to which the Nazi rules of moral salience were adapted. for example. But the reflection required would have been empirical.2008 . as Arendt believed? Herman’s model would certainly explain why moral reasoning by itself did not reliably lead them aright. But they would not have been answered by a form of moral reflection that simply states the Moral Law as a principle of pure reason. MA: Harvard University Press. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. after all? These questions would have pointed to the individual’s personal evidence for or against the Nazi’s portrayal of “the community’s particular circumstances”. even corruption? Or is that sympathy rather the authentic expression of our shared nature. Studying the Jew. indicating that we needn’t be enemies.128 That it was false could have been perceived by the man and woman in the street if they had reflected on their own perceptions of and feelings toward the Jews of their acquaintance. Alan E. 2006). Herman briefly discusses the Nazis’ rules of moral salience out of concern that her view may have exculpatory implications: What do we say of a person who acts under the guidance of faulty RMS and does something obviously (to us) wrong? If moral judgment is tied to maxims. How different are we. and the CI procedure. we seem compelled to say he has acted permissibly. Hitler’s Professors.ix. the Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes Against the Jewish People (New Haven: Yale University Press. about human nature — which individuals can confront only by confronting themselves.

but with the help of trust in their own perceptions. that law yields no specific implications until it is given a socially transmitted interpretation. and that it was sufficient and sufficiently available to make them responsible for their false quasi-empirical beliefs. If rules of moral salience are needed to resolve “questions about the nature of moral agents”. say) who was and who wasn’t a person. and so it must have only limited resources for adjudicating between proposed resolutions. not all rules of moral salience are morally acceptable.129 As Herman herself contends. of the respect for persons (as ends-inthemselves) which is the object of the Moral Law”? Rules that interpret respect for person as distinguishing between racial comrades and racial enemies cannot be debunked by a Law that depends on rules of that very kind to interpret respect for persons. We agree. But how can the Moral Law filter out invalid rules of moral salience if its own application depends on those rules as “an interpretation. We can draw a line between “cultures with defective RMS [and] those whose rules of moral practice are deviant or blatantly invalid” (91). perhaps) what kinds of things it was morally permissible to do to persons” (91). in rule form. we think that she is tacitly assuming that individual Nazis were in a position to see through the prevailing ideology about the nature of human beings. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25.” [Personal correspondence] Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. Herman writes: “It is not as if individual Nazis were in no position to see (because of impoverishment of culture or upbringing. Those empirical premises are what individuals were in a position to see through in this case. “can have a foundation or source in the Moral Law” in virtue of which they are neither “arbitrary nor conventional. and she has pointed out to us that it is not what she had in mind: “My thought in the paper was that they had available to them a richer culture fully capable of setting up a skeptical challenge to received views. But what put individuals in a position to see through the ideology was not an abstract Moral Law given to them a priori. based on empirical premises about the conditions of the community. for they express the same fundamental concept (the Moral Law) that the CI procedure represents for purposes of judgment” (85). Rules of moral salience.ix. then the Moral Law must not resolve those questions by itself. In her view. or didn’t know (because they were moral primitives.2008 .40 Herman denies that such a consequence follows. Herman says. not with a priori moral reasoning. Although Herman speaks here of persons. and skepticism 129 Herman’s text does not offer this hypothesis. And they had to see through them.

which attributed sense and meaning to what they did. (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. er fand statt. Vol. weil ihm die Täter einen Sinn beimaßen“: The perpetrators could “make sense“ of what they did. an event experienced as Erlebnis. Historians then argue over whether the greater role was played by intentional forces.ix. 2003). Their own frame of mind. p. or by functional forces. p. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. In light of those self-conceptions. It was a distorted normative force — distorted by the ideology that had informed their self-understandings — but it was normative force all the same. It reads: “Dieser Gewaltausbrauch kam nicht aus heiterem Himmel. They were guided by the normativity of their own self-understandings. This factor is succinctly described by Raul Hilberg in his famous study of the Holocaust: 130 The onslaught did not come from the void. To a remarkable degree. lived and lived through by its participants. they considered the options at hand and concluded that what was demanded of them. lent additional normative force to the orders they received. It was not a narrow strategy for the attainment of some ulterior goal. was not unintelligible. Die Vernichtung der europäischen Juden. good or bad. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. The Destruction of the European Jews. 1061. transmitted via orders from the ideological masterminds. according to which the leaders’ standing intention to solve an amorphously conceived “Jewish problem” developed into a program of extermination only gradually and often under the pressure of politics and practical expediency.Actually the German translation of the first sentence in the quoted passage seems to us even more accurate than the English original.41 about ideology of all kinds. on which the perpetrators premised their crimes. III. we adopted a newly emerging compromise. such as bureaucratic momentum. as horrible as it initially seemed. their own living-through the process. Historians see large-scale forces at work in the Holocaust: commands emanating from the top of the hierarchy. it was brought into being because it had meaning to its perpetrators. the perpetrators were neither blindly following commands nor simply implementing the instrumental logic of bureaucratic processes. 1059. an ideology spread by state-sponsored propaganda. Raul Hilberg. But our subsequent. In our brief historical summary. the inexorable workings of an administrative-bureaucratic machinery. Such forces are thought to have served up the reasons. Third Edition.2008 . Band 3. 130 Raul Hilberg. 1982). philosophical arguments have suggested that even this explanation omits an important factor that guided the actions of front-line perpetrators. but an undertaking for its own sake.

As Neiman puts it elsewhere. Deutsch: “Seine Augen vor dem Faschismus zu schließen. However. ist nicht dasselbe wie die Kette von Ereignissen zu wollen. [.” 132 Neiman. die mit Auschwitz endete. yet his crimes were so objectively massive that they made subjective factors irrelevant. here: 47.ix. 78. by the maxims on which he acts. the need to re-think our traditional conception of moral responsibility in light of the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem. That task remains to be tackled by moral philosophy. Sie haben es wirklich nicht so gemeint – und das ist auch wirklich egal. Herlinde Pauer-Studer and J. which had been perverted by ideological constructs that they failed to question in light of experience. See Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought.2008 . esp. Dennoch ist Auschwitz das Ergebnis von Tausenden von Schritten. as Arendt sometimes also described it. die anders hätten handeln können. it cannot be the thing that matters.42 The role played by das eigene Erleben helps to explain why functionalist historians have been wrong to depict the perpetrators as mere cogs in a murderous machinery. Weilerswist: Velbrück 2006. unternommen von gewöhnlichen Menschen. “If your good will can shine like a jewel while your neighbor is being deported. and even to profit from it. 65–90.] In contemporary evil. undertaken by ordinary people who could have acted differently. p. As Neiman writes: 131 To close one’s eyes to fascism. 271 ff. p. because we are so uncertain what to say on that topic in the present context. for example. Das Böse neu denken.). an intentionalist approach on Kantian lines might be unhelpful in coping with the evil of the Holocaust. 131 Susan Neiman. “Theodicy in Jerusalem” in Aschheim. David Velleman ~ Distortions of Normativity ~ 25. in: Detlef Horster (ed. represented in Kantian moral philosophy. Umso schlimmer für die Absicht” (p. . . individuals’ intentions rarely correspond to the magnitude of evil individuals are able to cause. We close with a few words about moral responsibility — no more than a few words. pp. ja von ihm zu profitieren. 273: “Criminals like Eichmann have none of the subjective traits we use to identify evildoers. They really didn’t mean it — and it really doesn’ matter.47). Their inability to think — better described. Nevertheless Auschwitz is the result of thousands of steps. So much the worse for intentions.”132 We agree with what Neimann here suggests — namely. is not the same as intending the chain of events which ended with Auschwitz. ‚Das Banale verstehen’. 41-54. as Susan Neiman reminds us. Moral responsibility is typically apportioned on the basis of the agent’s intentions. as an unwillingness to confront themselves — left them not as passive pieces of machinery but rather as still autonomous agents acting for reasons.

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