Modernity and the Holocaust:

Chapter 4.  Uniqueness and Normality of the Holocaust.

Bauman starts by pointing out that one can't explain the holocaust with past theories of 'crazy' people and our understanding is only partly helped by looking at institutions (such as science or religion). Furthermore, while our image of of western civilization has made the Holocaust seem incomprehensible, the social features that made the Holocaust possible have not disappeared (or, to the extent that we can't know what caused the Holocaust, we can't be certain the conditions are not ripe for another such event).  When it happened, no one expected it.  Now, we should expect it.

The problem
2 reasons why the Holocaust can't be seen just as a matter of academic interest:

1)  The Holocaust has changed little, if anything, in the course of subsequent history of our collective conscience and self understanding.
   For this reason, our understanding of what made the Holocaust possible has not changed, and the we might be similarly unprepared for the next such event.
2) Nothing much happened to those products of history which in all probability contained the potentiality for the holocaust
The real problem comes from two facts:
  1. Ideational policies that by their won internal logic may lead to genocide, and the technical resources that permit implementation have been created and made possible with modern civilization.  Thus, the norms and institutions of modernity made the holocaust possible
  2. The checks and balances which we think should protect us from such events failed miserably during the Nazi regime, and we have not figured out why they failed.
Simply put, we live in a type of society that mad the Holocaust possible and that contained nothing which could have stopped the holocaust from occurring.

Genocide extraordinary
We have seen a long history of Genocide.  The Holocaust bears some features that none of these do.  These features need to be studies if we are to understand what makes the Holocaust unique.
The Holocaust could not have been accomplished through multiple riots or pogroms.  Killing at the rate of Kristallnacte would have taken 200 years to kill as many people as were eventually killed.  Similarly, it was too hard to sustain that level of hatred and violence among the perpetrators.

To work this efficiently, the Nazis needed a bureaucracy.

Modern genocide is genocide with a purpose.

Bauman want's to make this point clear.  That the type of genocide Hitler carried out was a result of the modern, ideological vision of the Nazis.  Just as Arendt pointed out the ideological basis of totalitarian movements, Bauman argues that these ideologies are particularly modern.  They build from our desire to control and manipulate nature.

Thus, Hitler and Stalin did not kill to capture territory.  They killed to make a perfect world order.

Bauman is keen to point out that while the Holocaust required modernity, all of modernity is not a "Holocaust"  -- to say that we live in that situation daily would make it seem like the Holocaust was something that was bearable -- something we can (and do) live with.

Peculiarity of modern genocide
"When the modernist dream is embraced by an absolute power able to monopolize modern vehicles of rational action, and when that power attains freedom from effective social control, genocide follows.  "  (p.93-94)

That is, genocide occurs when multiple events occur at the same time.  When a modern ideology combines with absolute power and has access to a competent, exacting bureaucracy.

The modern holocaust brings together multiple 'ordinary' factors that are normally kept apart.  The list of thing needed are many:

  1. Radical, modern anti-Semitism (see chaps 2 and 3)
  2. Transformation of anti-Semitism into state policy
  3. A Powerful, centralized state
  4. That commands a huge and efficient bureaucracy
  5. A state of emergency (that distracts people from what the bur. is doing and enhances centralized power)
  6. The passive noninterference of the population as a whole.
Combined, these are the elements needed for a genocide on the scale of the Holocaust.

The modern myth is that violence has left civilization.  In reality, it has been concentrated in the hands of a few, and take out of the every-day lives of most people.  This leads to (1) violence being invisible, since most people do not see it and (2) for violence to become subject to rationalized, 'scientific' use.  That is, now a few people control violence and use it as a tool for give bur. and state ends, and not a feature of life that is subject to moral constraint.

Effects of the hierarchical and functional division of labor

The use of violence is most efficient when the means of violence are subjected to solely institutional rational criteria, and thus taken out of the moral realm.  Two processes are needed to disassociate violence from moral ends.

  1. A functional division of labor
  2. Substituting technical for moral responsibility
How a functional division of labor removes violence from the moral realm: This is magnified when the division of labor is functional instead of simply hierarchical (that is, when people do qualitatively different tasks, that come together in a final project). As a result, a substitution of technical knowledge for moral  knowledge takes place. Dehumanization of bureaucratic objects
Dehumanization starts at a point when, through a distinction, the objects of a bureaucracy disappear and are replaced by numbers.  For example, rail engineers only worry about 'tons of cargo' not people suffering.  The key such number is financial success.
"The overall conclusion is that the bureaucratic mode of action, as it has been developed in the course of the modernizing process, contains all the technical elements which proved necessary in the execution of genocidal tasks.  This mode can be put to the service of a genocidal objective without major revision of its structure, mechanisms and behavioral norms." (p.104)
The role of bureaucracy in the Holocaust
    In Germany, bur. was given the task of getting rid of the Jews.  This started by making distinctions, then segregating, then deporting, then executing.  These stages are important -- the ever increasing distance made the work possible (helped to remove the Jews from the moral universe of the Germans).

While historians have debated whether Hitler orchestrated the Holocaust (the 'intentionalist view) or simply stated the goal (the 'functionalist) view (which, Bauman argues, seems more historically accurate), in both cases, it simply would not have been possible to carry out the holocaust without the use of a bureaucracy.

See the quote on the bottom of p.106 for a summary of why the Holocaust happened:  That it needed a bureaucracy, a modern 'improving' ideology.  He says that Genocide occurs when two modern and abundant inventions (bur. and ideology) meet.

Bankruptcy of Modern Safeguards
Bauman argues that many of our common, modern institutions, which should have acted to stop the holocaust (such as science and the church) did not.  He sets this up by pointing out that the modern pacification of everyday life and the corresponding concentration of violence in the hands of a few leaves the population defenseless.  This leaves the mass of modern society unable to do anything about state violence (p.108). This would be unbearable if not for the safeguards in our society, that institutions at cross pressures kept state power at bay.  In the years leading to the Holocaust, ZB argues, most safeguards were tested and failed.

He points a strong hand at Science as an institution.  Science, with all its rhetoric of improving the world, ended up doing little in the face of Hitler.  This is not accident.  Science -- as a way of thinking -- favors reason first and foremost.  This leads to two ways in which science failed the moral task of the Holocaust:

Indirectly: The goal of science is to emancipate reason from ethics.  This leads to a questioning of all normative thinking.  Since, science should be 'value free', it was in a poor position to argue about what was ethically right.

Directly: Scientists tend to care more about their research projects than about the actions occurring in the world.  They only wanted an unencumbered research setting, and Hitler provided that (minus, of course, the Jewish scientists).

Similarly, the church didn't do much to stop Hitler either.  Bauman points out that Hitler never left the Catholic church, nor was he excommunicated.

Thirdly, our culturally trained revulsion to violence failed.  All 'civilized' manners functioned properly within the Holocaust.

Thus, ZB argues, civilization proved incapable of guaranteeing moral use of the awesome power it brought into being.

ZB concludes that the lack of democracy was a problem for the Holocaust.  Democracy is capable of keeping societies away from extremes.

(JWM: but, we must recall, that the form of democracy in place at the time of Hitler's rise to power elected him into office).

Chapter 5.  Soliciting the Co-operation of the Victims
In this chapter, ZB tackles one of the trickiest questions of Holocaust studies.  To what extent did the Jews help their captors with the Holocaust?  One cannot approach this without some flavor of 'blaming the victim' -- but at the same time, one cannot with historical accuracy deny that Jews were involved in the process of deportation and killing.  The sociological problem is understanding the conditions under which the Jewish councils were forced to make decisions.  In so doing, ZB is able to show that by structuring events in a particular way, every choice the Jews made helped the Nazis.  Thus, individual level rationality on the part of the Jewish councils facilitated the goals of the Germans.

Under 'normal' genocidal conditions, the population is divided between murders and the murdered.  IN the Holocaust, Jews were incorporated into the overall class structure.  This maintained the internal structure of the Jewish community, and thus made it easier for the Germans to work 'with' the Jews.  "The situation of the Jews during the preliminary stages of the Final Solution was more akin to that experienced by a subordinate group n a normal power structure than by the victims of an ordinary genocidal operation."  (p.122)

"The jews could therefore play into the hands of the their oppressors, facilitate their task, bring closer their own perdition, while guided in their action by the rationally interpreted purpose of survival." (p.122)
Modern bur. can induce actions indispensable to its purpose, while at odds with the vital interests of the actors.

'Sealing off' the victims
One of the primary factors that helped facilitate the Holocaust was a distancing of people from the Jews.  When this happened, it was easier for the bur. to work on just that population.  This lead to a great deal of legal issues, where defining exactly what was a 'jew' mattered.

As an aside, Bauman points out that to be effective, a modern bur. needs a monopoly over the targets of the bur.  This means that
(1) Whatever a bur. does, it should be aimed at nobody other than the targets,
(2) The targets must remain within one organization

See p. 123 "Between them..."

In the process of separating out the Jews, Hitler started with a spiritual / mental separation, this was accomplished by:

1) An appeal to anti-Semitism

The divide between Jews and non Jews was made clear in a search for a precise definition of a Jew.  This def. was needed to reassure the non-Jewish population that they would not be members of the same process.
2) Silence of the Elites to the plight of the Jews.
        What mattered to elites (in science and society) was the integrity of the scholars as spokesmen for reason, a task that was not concerned with ethical meaning.

anti-Semitism helped to ensure that non Jews would see Jews as a 'category' as something instead of someone, and the silence of the elites (mainly scientists for Bauman) ensured that no other authoritative group in society would counter the State vision of a racially 'pure' state.

The 'Save what you can' game
The game the Nazis forced the Jews to play was one of survival vs. death.  Thus rational action in their case could only be aimed at minimizing the destruction (p.129).

At all stages of the Holocaust, the victims were confronted with a choice between greater or lesser evil.   TO make the victims controllable, the nazis had to make them predictable.  They did this by controlling the situation so that Jews would follow the choices the Nazis wanted them to.  TO do this, they had to make them think there was something to save.

ZB gives the example of people trying to move out of the 'third race' -- those who were not counted as pure German and also not counted as Jew.  THey could appeal to the State for a change of status.  This fact, that people could change, made it possible for people to reject their own status, while claiming that the status order itself was valid (thus, by asking to be moved into the 'pure german' caste, they affirmed the existence of that caste).

This seeking of privileges for a particular group always had the effect of affirming the actions against the other group.  This happened between groups (the French Jews vs. the German Jews, for example) as well as within groups (The poor Jews vs. the Rich Jews).

"Rejection of solidarity in the name of personal or group privileges (which always, albeit indirectly, meant consent to the principle that not all members of the marked category deserve to survive, and that differential treatment should follow the duly assessed 'objective' quality) was prominent not only in the inter communal relations.  Inside each community, differential treatment was hoped and fought for, with the Judenrate normally cast in the role of survival brokers." (p.133)
They were forced to choose between those who lived and died, and each such choice reinforced the principle of division.
"At each stage of the destruction -- except the final one -- there were individuals and groups eager to save what could be saved, to defend what could be defended, to exempt what could be exempted; and thus -- although only obliquely -- to co-operate." (p.134).
Individual rationality in the service of collective destruction
The Nazis organized the conditions of choice, such that with each choice Jews made in their own self interest, they simultaneously helped the Nazis.

At the start of the German occupation, Jewish elders did not oppose the creation of ghettos.  THese helped protect and organize the Jewish population and preserving the Jewish way of life.  OF course, in the long run, this played into the hands of the Germans, since it helped to distance Jews from everyday germans.

Part of the problem resides in needing to assume that any other actor is going to act rationally.  The Jews needed to act as if the Germans would respond rationally.  Thus, they assumed that if they could prove themselves economically useful, then Hitler could not afford to exterminate them.  This lead to the Jews providing labor for the germans, only to be killed anyway.

Examples of Jewish 'co-operation' included the Judenrate getting lists of people ready, rounding them up, and handing them over the the Germans.

The key was working in small steps, such that at each step some set of people could be seen as survivors -- saved by the Jewish leaders.
AT each step, the Germans assured the Jews that this was the end.  OF course, it was not.

The 'Save what you can' game did not help the victims.  It provided orderly subjects to the Nazis.  BUt, it was not the strategy that the Jews chose.  It was thrust upon them by the perpetrators of the holocaust.

Rationality of self-preservation
To succeed, oppressors needed to get the acquiescence of the oppressed.  This depended on identifying rational moments in an otherwise irrational world.  This depended on breaking the whole process down to small pieces.

The ghetto was organized as a zero sum game:  if you won (Found enough food, for example) someone else had to loose.  If you managed not to go on the train, someone else did.  This situation leads to a setting where people will forget about 'moral' rules, and attempt instead to save themselves.  (see for example, The Mountain People)

In this system, the class structure mattered.  Those who had power in the Jewish community saved themselves and their families, at the expense of those who did not.  THus, the poor were the first to go.

IF they had had a choice, none of the council members would have chosen to kill the others.  But they did not have a choice.  Or rather, the range of possible choices was set by the Nazis.  Thus, while they could 'choose' between the deaths of 20 or the deaths of 100, they could not choose to not have people die.  What this event shows for sociology is that there are two types of rationality:

reason is a good guide to action only when these two overlap.  Importantly, the coincidence of the two types of rationality does not depend on the actors, but on the context of action.  Thus actors are not always in a position to control what happens.  Under sharply asymmetric power relations, rationality of the ruled does not necisarrily. help them.

Chapter 6.  The Ethics of Obedience (reading Milgram)
In this chapter, ZB thinks through the implications of Milgram's famous experiments for the holocaust.  In general, milgram showed that it was fairly easy to set situations up where normal, average americans would commit very awful acts.  Bauman says that one of the worst realizations of the Holocaust is that 'we could do it." (p.152)  Milgram demonstrates this, and shows that inhumanity is a function of social relations and social distance.

Inhumanity as a function of social distance
"There exists an inverse ration of readiness to cruelty and proximity to its victim" (p.155)

In his experiments, Migram shows that the closer a person was to another person, the more likely they were to carry through with the experiment.  He showed, for example, that if the subject had to put a person's hand on the electric plate, he got only 30% compliance.  IF the subject just ran the controller, 40%, and if the person getting shocked was out of site, then he got 63% compliance.

Key, however, is the social relation between the experimenter and the participant.  It is not just that the victim was put in another room, but that the subject and the experimenter were together in the other room.  This helped make their world seem more real, while making it possible to ignore the other person. (p.156)

Complicity after one's own act
In this section, ZB discusses why it is hard for people to stop doing something once they started.  He says that sequential actions posses the same qualities as a bog: the more one acts the harder it is to get out.

The degree to which the actor finds himself bound to perpetuate the action grows with each step, especially if early steps are easy.

The importance of sequential actions follows because it is hard for the actor to draw a line between his own past actions and the next action.  If shocking the person with 20 volts is OK, why is shocking him with 25 volts wrong?  Admitting that the next step is wrong implies that the last step was wrong, and thus any attempt to do what is right means that you have already done something wrong.  THus the paradox: "One cannot get clean without blackening oneself."

Technology moralized
Here, ZB makes reiterates the point that bureaucracy changes the character of moral choice.  First, one of the features of bur. is that there is a 'shrinking probability' that the moral oddity of an action will be discovered.  This is due to both the mediating effect of bur. organization (that one's actions are ordered by one person and carried out by another) and that the focus of action is on technical (as opposed to moral) grounds.  Thus bur. moves the moral focus from the ends of the outcome to the means of the process.

Free floating responsibility
Endowing the experimenter with the right to demand things of the subject frees the subject of moral responsibility.  THus, in the  milgram experiments, so long as the experimenter said it was ok, the people kept shocking the other student.  Bur. brings with it a 'right to command and a duty to obey."  This shifts responsibility from one person to another (from the person carrying out the act to the person who gave the order).

When spread over the entire system -- especially if the system is large or indeterminate -- then we may end up with a 'free floating' responsibility -- where each person can point to another as being responsible.

Pluralism of power and power of conscience
Milgram's world differs from the normal world in two important respects.  FIrst, the experimenter and the subject did not know each other and 2nd the subject was confronted with just one supervisor.

The short time that people knew each other probably made them less likely to continue with the violence.  If they had long standing bonds of trust or obligation, one would be much more likely to carry out the request.

On the other hand, when rule is fractional:  when supervisors disagree, they are much less likely to carry out the order.  People need a clear channel of responsibility in order to transfer the responsibility to another.  The readiness to act against one's own judgment is the result of exposure to a single-minded, monopolistic authority.

Bauman concludes that pluralism is thus the best preventative measure against normal people engaging in abnormal behavior.  Because it thwarts this kind of single-minded monopoly.

The Social nature of Evil
He concludes this chapter by arguing that "cruelty correlates with certain patterns of social interaction much more closely that it does with personality features or other idiosyncrasies. (p.166)

He gives reference to the Zimbardo prison experiments to make the point clear.

Chapter 7.  Towards a Sociological Theory of Morality
ZB has thus far identified the mechanisms that lead to the Holocaust.  He has in every part discusses moral action.  He now needs to identify exactly what moral action is, and attempt to identify where morality comes from.  This is largely ignored territory for sociologist, who are much more at home discussing non moral mechanisms for generating moral behavior (such as socialization) than about identifying intrinsically moral behavior.

Society as a factory of morality
Sociology explains morality by reference to non moral social arrangements (socialization, norms, etc.).  The standard model is:

    1) A moral rule fills a need
    2) Social science then discovers what this need is
    3) Social science then identifies a mechanism through which a moral inhibition is maintained.

Thus, the standard view is that morality comes from society, and in keeping with the "civilizing myth" these moral rules are functional they make society 'better'.

The view that morality is produced by society has some consequences:

Under this model, immoral behavior is always pre social.  This model says that (1) society can decide the content of moral activity and (2) moral behavior equates to obedience and conformity.

The Challenge of the Holocaust
The standard model leads to some circular reasoning:  any event is OK, because what is 'right' is radically relative.  The 'programmatic relativism' provides a safety valve in case observed norms are repulsive:  ours is not the place to judge contingent morality.

Political and legal responses to the Holocaust require, however, that we judge people for actions that were considered OK within their society.  We need a right to condemn war criminals, and thus a morality based on contextual relativism isn't going to work.  Put simply, there arises a problem of a moral responsibility to resist socialization.

The socially enforced moral systems are communally base and promoted -- and hence, in a pluralist, heterogeneous world, irreparably relative.  This relativism does not apply to the human ability to tell right from wrong.  Such an ability must be grounded in something other than the conscious collective of society (Understanding right and wrong is a function needed to make socialization work).

Thus, the process of socialization consists of the manipulation of moral activity, not in its production.

"Moral behavior is conceivable only in the context of coexistence, of 'being with others' in a social context.  But [moral behavior] does not owe its appearance to the presence of supra-individiual agencies of training and enforcement, that is, of social context." (p.179)
Pre-Societal sources of morality
Sociologists have not often looked at the problem of 'being with others' as such.  The Other is usually seen as a part of the context.  As a technical problem to be solved -- since their action is often unpredictable.  On this view, the other matters only in so far as he/she impacts what ego can do. Thus, the elementary fact of 'being with others' does not produce any moral problematic.

( JWM: this is a thin view of the Other in sociology, and not entirely fair on ZB's part, but the general problem is valid).

[This is true within a more philosophical vein as well, as per his discussion of Sartre].

Another view, however, views the moral moment as an immediate function of 'being with others'.  This view, ZB argues, is captured in a quote by Dostoyevsky:
    "We are all responsible for all and for all men before all, and I more than the others." (p.182)

For Levinas (and for ZB), the primary element of being with others is responsibility.

Subjectivity -- the state of being a living, thinking, acting person instead of an object (a who instead of a what.  The use of subject is in opposition to 'object').  On Levinas' view, being responsible for another is exactly what it means to be a human subject.  As such, the morality of any action is the primary struggle of inter subjective relations.

Social Proximity of Moral Responsibility
Another way to view this argument, is to build on the notion of distance and proximity that ZB had established.  He has shown throughout the book, that social distance is needed between a perpetrator and a victim to get him/her to commit atrocious acts.  The question of where morality comes from is equivalent to asking why distance frees people from moral activity.  What is it about distance that removes the moral moment?

ZB argues that with distance comes a loss of subjectivity, a transformation of a person into an object.  This transformation corresponds morally to a lessening of the responsibility that one has for another.  Proximity is responsibility ZB argues.  To be close to someone -- as a person and not an object -- means that there is some level of responsibility  between you and the other.

He demonstrates this with the link to a natural revulsion to killing and hurting others.  Only when the person as an individual who we are connected to is transformed, and placed outside of our 'moral universe' can  they become the objects of rational thought.  An object of the type that can be manipulated and killed.

Social Suppression of Moral responsibility
The holocaust could only bo accomplished on the condition of neutralizing the impact of a primeval moral divide (p.188)  This could only be done when people are moved outside of the normal, interpersonal world and into a categorical world of objects.  The stages needed to do this in Nazi Germany were:

  1. Definition (distinguishing one group from another)
  2. dismiss employees
  3. concentrate people (segregate them into camps)
  4. Exploit them as laboring animals and starve them
  5. Annihilate them
  6. destroy their artifacts
All of these steps are further and further removals of the person from the world of 'normal' human actors.

[read this section closely]

Social production of Distance
[much of this repeats what was said before]