Unanimity of opinion is a very ominous phenomenon, and one characteristic of our modern mass age. It destroys social and personal life, which is based on the fact that we are different by nature and by conviction. To hold different opinions and to be aware that other people think differently on the same issue shields us from Godlike certainty which stops all discussion and reduces social relationships to those of an ant heap. A unanimous public opinion tends to eliminate bodily those who differ, for mass unanimity is not the result of agreement, but an expression of fanaticism and hysteria. In contrast to agreement, unanimity does not stop at certain well-defined objects, but spreads like an infection into every related issue.
When books or pictures in reproduction are thrown on the market cheaply and attain huge sales, this does not affect the nature of the objects in question. But their nature is affected when these objects themselves are changed rewritten, condensed, digested, reduced to kitsch in reproduction, or in preparation for the movies. This does not mean that culture spreads to the masses, but that culture is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.
The result of this is not disintegration but decay, and those who actively promote it are not the Tin Pan Alley composers but a special kind of intellectuals, often well read and well informed, whose sole function is to organize, disseminate, and change cultural objects in order to persuade the masses that Hamlet can be as entertaining as My Fair Lady, and perhaps educational as well. There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.
> There was a widespread conviction that it is impossible to withstand temptation of any kind, that none of us could be trusted or even be expected to betrustworthy when the chips are down, that to be tempted and to be forced are almost the same, whereas in the words of Mary McCarthy, who first spotted this fallacy: "If somebody points a gun at you and says,'Kill your friend or I will kill you,' he is tempting you, that is all." And while a temptation where one's life is at stake may be a legal excuse for a crime, it certainly is not a moral justification.
> It is fortunate and wise that no law exists for sins of omission and no human court is called up onto sit in judgment over them. But it is equally fortunate that there exists still one institution in society in which it is well-nigh impossible to evade issues of personal responsibility, where all justifications of a nonspecific, abstract nature - from the Zeitgeist down to the Oedipus complex - break down, where not systems or trends or original sin are judged, but men of flesh and blood like you and me, whose deeds are of course still human deeds but who appear before a tribunal because they have broken some law whose maintenance we regard as essential for the integrity of our common humanity. Legal and moral issues are by no means the same, but they have a certain affinity with each other because they both presuppose the power of judgment.
> What mattered in our early, nontheoretical education in morality was never the conduct of the true culprit of whom even then no one in his right mind could expect other than the worst. Thus we were outraged, but not morally disturbed, by the bestial behavior of the stormtroopers in the concentration camps and the torture cellars of the secret police, and it would have been strange indeed to grow morally indignant over the speeches of the Nazi big wigs inpower, whose opinions had been common knowledge for years. [..] The moral issue arose only with the phenomenon of "coordination," that is, not with fear-inspired hypocrisy, but with this very early eagerness not to miss the train of History, with this, as it were, honest overnight change of opinion that befell a great majority of public figures in all walks of life and all ramifications of culture, accompanied, as it was, by an incredible ease with which life long friendships were broken and discarded. In brief, what disturbed us was the behavior not of our enemies but of our friends, who had done nothing to bring this situation about. They were not responsible for the Nazis, they were only impressed by the Nazi success and unable to pit their own judgment against the verdict of History, as they read it. Without taking into account the almost universal breakdown, not of personal responsibility, but of personal judgment in the early stages of the Nazi regime, it is impossible to understand what actually happened.
To the amalgamation of politicals and criminals, with which the concentration camps began both in Germany and Russia, soon a third element is added, which would soon form the majority of all inmates. This largest group consisted of people who hadn't done anything that stood in any rational relation to their imprisonment, be it in their own mind or in that of their torturers. Without them the camps could have have existed, that is, they would not have survived the first years of the regime.
These in every sense innocent people do not just form the majority of all the camp population, they also are those, which finally were "exterminated" in German gas chambers. Only on them could the murder of the juridical person be performed so completely that they could be "processed", without names, deeds or misdeeds, by which they could have been recognized, in the mass factories of death, which just because of their sheer capacity could not take individual cases into account anymore. (A Jew for example, who had done a "crime" against the Nazi regime, didn't even get put in there in the first place, they were shot or beaten to death right away.) From the beginning the gas chambers were not intended as means to intimidate or punish; they were intended for Jews or Gypsies or Poles "in general", and they served to prove, that humans in general are superfluous.
While the separation of inmates into categories was merely a tactical-organisatory measure for the the purpose of administration of the camps, the arbitrariness of committal demonstrates the essential principle of the institution as such. The existance of a political opposition is just a pretext for the concentration camp system, and its purpose is not achieved when the population more or less voluntarily conforms as consequence of the most monstrous deterrence, that is, to give up its political rights. The arbitrariness has the purpose to deprive those under the totalitarian regime of all their rights as citizens, which finally become as outlawed [vogelfrei] in their own country as otherwise only the stateless and homeless. The deprivation of humans of their rights, the killing of the juridical person in them is just a precondition of their being totally controlled, for which even voluntary agreement is a hindrance. *[Related to that is the fact that all propaganda and ["Weltanschauungslehre"] was expressly forbidden in the camps. (also see Himmler, "Wesen und Aufgabe der SS und der Polizei"). And together with this in turn it has to be considered that that teaching and propaganda was also not allowed for the guarding elite formations; their Weltanschauung was not to be "teached", but "exercized" (see Robert Ley)]*. And this is not just the case for special categories of criminals, political enemies, Jews, on which it was tested [first], but for every citizen of a totalitarian country.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft", S. 658 ff.
Criminals don't actually don't belong in a concentration camp. That they still form a permanent category in all camps is, from the viewpoint of the totalitarian power apparatus, a kind of concession to the prejudices of society, which in this way can be made to get used to their existence the most easily.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft", S. 657
Still the element of criminals must not be missing from any concentration camp. [..] the fact that nearly without exception they compromise the aristocracy of the camps and fulfill administrative duties, shows clearly that it is much harder to kill the juridical person of a human who is guilty of someone, than of someone who is innocent. The rise of criminals into the aristocracy of the camps is similar to the improvement that happens in the juridical situation of the stateless, who also lost their rights as citizens, when they resolve to commit a theft.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft", S. 656
Compared with the insane world of the concentration camp society itself, which can never be quite grasped by the imagination, because it is outside of life and death, the process by which humans get prepared and [zugerichtet] for it, is rational and purposeful. The [Anstoß], and what's more, the tacit approval of such conditions in the middle of Europe, was created by those events, which in a period of dissolving political forms suddenly had suddenly made hundreds of thousands and then millions of people homeless, stateless, rightless, economically superfluous and socially unwanted. On them it already had been demonstrated that human rights, which were never philosophically founded nor secured politically anyway, had lost even their proclamatory, their appelatory effect and were at least in their traditional form no longer applied anywhere. But these are only the negative preconditions; after all the loss of the workplace and therefore the place in society, which came with unemployment, or in the case of statelessness the loss of papers, home, a secure place to stay and a right to work, were only preliminary, summary preparation, which would have hardly sufficed for the ultimate result.
Regardless, the first crucial step on the way to totalitarian power is the killing of the juridical person, which in the case of statelessness happens automatically because the stateless person ends up outside of all law. In the case of totalitarian power this automatic killing becomes a planned murder, because concentration camps are always placed outside of the penal system, and the inmates are never to be put there "for punishable or other offenses" (also see Maunz, p. 50). Under all conditions totalitatarian power takes care to put people into the camps, which only *are* -- Jews, carriers of diseases, members of dying classes -- but have already lost their ability to act, be it for good or bad.
"Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution" (1972)
From a philosophical viewpoint, the danger inherent in the new reality of mankind seems to be that this unity, based on the technical means of communication and violence, destroys all national traditions and buries the authentic origins of all human existence. This destructive process can even be considered a necessary prerequisite for ultimate understanding between men of all cultures, civilizations, races, and nations. Its result would be a shallowness that would transform man, as we have known him in five thousand years of recorded history, beyond recognition. It would be more than mere superficiality; it would be as though the whole dimension of depth, without which human thought, even on the mere level of technical invention, could not exist, would simply disappear. This leveling down would be much more radical than the leveling to the lowest common denominator; it would ultimately arrive at a denominator of which we have hardly any notion today.
As long as one conceives of truth as separate and distinct from its expression, as something which by itself is uncommunicative and neither communicates itself to reason nor appeals to "existential" experience, it is almost impossible not to believe that this destructive process will inevitably be triggered off by the sheer automatism of technology which made the world one and, in a sense, united mankind. It looks as though the historical pasts of the-nations, in their utter diversity and disparity, in their confusing variety and bewildering strangeness for each other, are nothing but obstacles on the road to a horridly shallow unity. This, of course, is a delusion; if the dimension of depth out of which modern science and technology have developed ever were destroyed, the probability is that the new unity of mankind could not even technically survive. Everything then seems to depend upon the possibility of bringing the national pasts, in their original disparateness, into communication with each other as the only way to catch up with the global system of communication which covers the surface of the earth.
The frightening coincidence of the modern population explosion with the discovery of technical devices that, through automation, will make large sections of the population 'superfluous' even in terms of labor, and that, through nuclear energy, make it possible to deal with this twofold threat by the use of instruments beside which Hitler's gassing installations look like an evil child's fumbling toys, should be enough to make us tremble.
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
The rise of the natural sciences is credited with a demonstrable, ever-quickening increase in human knowledge and power; shortly before the modern age European mankind knew less than Archimedes in the third century B.C., while the first fifty years of our century have witnessed more important discoveries than all the centuries of recorded history together. Yet the same phenomenon is blamed with equal right for the hardly less demonstrable increase in human despair or the specifically modern nihilism which has spread to ever larger sections of the population, their most significant aspect perhaps being that they no longer spare the scientists themselves, whose well-founded optimism could still, in the nineteenth century, stand up against the equally justifiable pessimism of thinkers and poets. The modern astrophysical world view, which began with Galileo, and its challenge to the adequacy of the senses to reveal reality, have left us a universe of whose qualities we know no more than the way they affect our measuring instruments, and — in the words of Eddington — "the former have as much resemblance to the latter as a telephone number has to a subscriber." Instead of objective qualities, in other words, we find instruments, and instead of nature or the universe — in the words of Heisenberg — man encounters only himself.
[The German physicist Werner Heisenberg has expressed this thought in a number of recent publications. For instance: "Wenn man versucht, von der Situation in der modernen Naturwissenschaft ausgehend, sich zu den in Bewegung geratenen Fundamenten vorzutasten, so hat man den Eindruck, ... dass zum erstenmal im Laufe der Geschichte der Mensch auf dieser Erde nur noch sich selbst gegenübersteht ... , daß wir gewissermassen immer nur uns selbst begegnen" (Das Naturbild der heutigen Pkysik , pp. 17-18). Heisenberg's point is that the observed object has no existence independent of the observing subject: "Durch die Art der Beobachtung wird entschieden, welche Züge der Natur bestimmt werden und welche wir durch unsere Beobachtungen verwischen" (Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der Naturwissenschaft , p. 67).]
We don't know a perfected totalitarian power structure, because it would require the control of the whole planet. But we know enough about the the still preliminary experiments of total organization to realize that the very well possible perfection of this apparatus would get rid of human agency in the sense as we know it. To act would turn out to be superfluous for people living together, when all people have become an example of their species, when all doing has become an acceleration of the movement mechanism of history or nature following a set pattern, and all deeds have become the execution of death sentences which history and nature have given anyway.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" p. 683
Tyranny is content with lawlessness; total terror replaces the fences of law and the lawfully established and orderly channels of human communication with its iron ring, which links everybody so tightly to everybody else that not only the space of freedom, as it exists in constitutional states between citizens, but even the desert of neighbourlessness and mutual suspicion disappears, so that it is as if everybody melted together into giant being of enormous proportions. This too does the for a totalitarian environment so well prepared vernacular express in its own way when it no longer speaks of "the" Russians or "the" French, but tells us what "the" Russian or "the" Frenchman wants.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" p. 682
Humans, in so far as they are more than a completion of functions able to react, whose lowest and therefore most central are the purely animal like reactions, are simply superfluous for totalitarian systems. Their goal is not to erect a despotic regime over humans, but a system by which humans are made superfluous. Total power can only be achieved and guaranteed when nothing else matters except the absolutely controllable willingness to react, marionettes robbed of all spontaneity. Humans, precisely because they are so powerful, can only be completely controlled when they have become examples of the animal like species human.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" p. 667
Since Hobbes was a philosopher, he could already detect in the rise of the bourgeoisie all those antitraditionalist qualities of the new class which would take more than three hundred years to develop fully. His Leviathan was not concerned with idle speculation about new political principles or the old search for reason as it governs the community of men; it was strictly a "reckoning of the consequences" that follow from the rise of a new class in society whose existence is essentially tied up with property as a dynamic, new property-producing device. The so-called accumulation of capital which gave birth to the bourgeoisie changed the very conception of property and wealth: they were no longer considered to be the results of accumulation and acquisition but their beginnings; wealth became a never-ending process of getting wealthier. The classification of the bourgeoisie as an owning class is only superficially correct, for a characteristic of this class has been that everybody could belong to it who conceived of life as a process of perpetually becoming wealthier, and considered money as something sacrosanct which under no circumstances should be a mere commodity for consumption.
Property by itself, however, is subject to use and consumption and therefore diminishes constantly. The most radical and the only secure form of possession is destruction, for only what we have destroyed is safely and forever ours. Property owners who do not consume but strive to enlarge their holdings continually find one very inconvenient limitation, the unfortunate fact that men must die. Death is the real reason why property and acquisition can never become a true political principle. A social system based essentially on property cannot possibly proceed toward anything but the final destruction of all property. The finiteness of personal life is as serious a challenge to property as the foundation of society, as the limits of the globe are a challenge to expansion as the foundation of the body politic. By transcending the limits of human life in planning for an automatic continuous growth of wealth beyond all personal needs and possibilities of consumption, individual property is made a public affair and taken out of the sphere of mere private life. Private interests which by their very nature are temporary, limited by man's natural span of life, can now escape into the sphere of public affairs and borrow from them that infinite length of time which is needed for continuous accumulation. This seems to create a society very similar to that of the ants and bees where "the Common good differeth not from the Private; and being by nature enclined to their private, they procure thereby the common benefit."
Since, however, men are neither ants nor bees, the whole thing is a delusion. Public life takes on the deceptive aspect of a total of private interests as though these interests could create a new quality through sheer addition. All the so-called liberal concepts of politics (that is, all the pre-imperialist political notions of the bourgeoisie)-such as unlimited competition regulated by a secret balance which comes mysteriously from the sum total of competing activities, the pursuit of "enlightened self-interest" as an adequate political virtue, unlimited progress inherent in the mere succession of events -have this in common: they simply add up private lives and personal behavior patterns and present the sum as laws of history, or economics, or politics. Liberal concepts, however, while they express the bourgeoisie's instinctive distrust of and its innate hostility to public affairs, are only a temporary compromise between the old standards of Western culture and the new class's faith in property as a dynamic, self-moving principle. The old standards give way to the extent that automatically growing wealth actually replaces political action.
Hobbes was the true, though never fully recognized, philosopher of the bourgeoisie because he realized that acquisition of wealth conceived as a never-ending process can be guaranteed only by the seizure of political power, for the accumulating process must sooner or later force open all existing territorial limits. He foresaw that a society which had entered the path of never-ending acquisition had to engineer a dynamic political organization capable of a corresponding never-ending process of power generation. He even, through sheer force of imagination, was able to outline the main psychological traits of the new type of man who would fit into such a society and its tyrannical body politic. He foresaw the necessary idolatry of power itself by this new human type, that he would be flattered at being called a power-thirsty animal, although actually society would force him to surrender all his natural forces, his virtues and his vices, and would make him the poor meek little fellow who has not even the right to rise against tyranny, and who, far from striving for power, submits to any existing government and does not stir even when his best friend falls an innocent victim to an incomprehensible raison d'etat.
For a Commonwealth based on the accumulated and monopolized power of all its individual members necessarily leaves each person powerless, deprived of his natural and human capacities. It leaves him degraded into a cog in the power-accumulating machine, free to console himself with sublime thoughts about the ultimate destiny of this machine, which itself is constructed in such a way that it can devour the globe simply by following its own inherent law.
The ultimate destructive purpose of this Commonwealth is at least indicated in the philosophical interpretation of human equality as an "equality of ability" to kill. Living with all other nations "in the condition of a perpetual war, and upon the confines of battle, with their frontiers armed. and canons planted against their neighbors round about," it has no other law of conduct but the "most conducing to [its] benefit" and will gradually devour weaker structures until it comes to a last war "which provideth for every man, by Victory, or Death.
By "Victory or Death," the Leviathan can indeed overcome all political limitations that go with the existence of other peoples and can envelop the whole earth in its tyranny. But when the last war has come and every man has been provided for, no ultimate peace is established on earth: the power-accumulating machine, without which continual expansion would not have been achieved, needs more material to devour in its never-ending process. If the last victorious Commonwealth cannot proceed to "annex the planets," it can only proceed to destroy itself in order to begin anew the never-ending process of power generation.
Behind the blind bestiality of the SA, there often lay a deep hatred and resentment against all those who were socially, intellectually, or physically better off than themselves, and who now, as if in fulfillment of their wildest dreams, were in their power. This resentment, which never died out entirely in the camps, strikes us as a last remnant of humanly understandable feeling. The real horror began, however, when the SS took over the administration of the camps. The old spontaneous bestiality gave way to an absolutely cold and systematic destruction of human bodies, calculated to destroy human dignity; death was avoided or postponed indefinitely. The camps were no longer amusement parks for beasts in human form, that is, for men who really belonged in mental institutions and prisons; the reverse became true: they were turned into "drill grounds," on which perfectly normal men were trained to be full-fledged members of the SS.
Until now the totalitarian belief that everything is possible seems to have proved only that everything can be destroyed. Yet, in their effort to prove that everything is possible, totalitarian regimes have discovered without knowing it that there are crimes which men can neither punish nor forgive. When the impossible was made possible it became the unpunishable, unforgivable absolute evil which could no longer be understood by the evil motives of self-interest, greed, covetousness, resentment, lust for power, and cowardice; and which therefore anger could not revenge, love could not endure, friendship could not forgive. Just as the victims in the death factories or the holes of oblivion are no longer "human" in the eyes of their executioners, so this newest species of criminals is beyond the pale even of solidarity in human sinfulness.
It is inherent in our entire philosophical tradition that we cannot conceive of a "radical evil." And this is true both for Christian theology, which conceded even to the Devil himself a celestial origin, as well as for Kant, the only philosopher who, in the word he coined for it, at least must have suspected the existence of this evil even though he immediately rationalized it in the concept of a "perverted ill will" that could be explained by comprehensible motives. Therefore, we actually have nothing to fall back on in order to understand a phenomenon that nevertheless confronts us with its overpowering reality and breaks down all the standards we know. There is only one thing that seems to be discernible: we may say that radical evil has emerged in connection with a system in which all men have become equally superfluous.
Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against national limitations to its economic expansion. The bourgeoisie turned to politics out of economic necessity; for if it did not want to give up the capitalist system whose inherent law is constant economic growth, it had to impose this law upon its home governments and to proclaim expansion to be an ultimate political goal of foreign policy.
Since the end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably predicted, the means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals.
The only possible metaphor one may conceive of for the life of the mind is the sensation of being alive. Without the breath of life, the human body is a corpse; without thinking, the human mind is dead.
Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.
The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one's own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others.
[The method of infallible prediction] is foolproof only after the movements have seized power. Then all debate about the truth or falsity of a totalitarian dictator’s prediction is as weird as arguing with a potential murderer about whether his future victim is dead or alive – since by killing the person in question the murderer can promptly provide proof of the correctness of his statement. The only valid argument under such conditions is promptly to rescue the person whose death is predicted. Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it. The assertion that the Moscow subway is the only one in the world is a lie only so long as the Bolsheviks have not the power to destroy all the others. In other words, the method of infallible prediction, more than any other totalitarian propaganda device, betrays its ultimate goal of world conquest, since only in a world completely under his control could the totalitarian ruler possibly realize all his lies and make true all his prophecies.
Since no one is capable of forming his own opinion without the benefit of a multitude of opinions held by others, the rule of public opinion endangers even the opinion of those few who may have the strength not to share it. This is one of the reasons for the curiously sterile negativism of all opinions which oppose a popularly acclaimed tyranny. [...] public opinion, by virtue of its unanimity, provokes a unanimous opposition and thus kills true opinions everywhere.
It is in the very nature of things human that every act that has once made its appearance and has been recorded in the history of mankind stays with mankind as a potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past. No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
Nothing perhaps illustrates the general disintegration of political life better than this vague, pervasive hatred of everybody and everything, without a focus for its passionate attention, with nobody to make responsible for the state of affairs — neither the government nor the bourgeoisie nor an outside power. It consequently turned in all directions, haphazardly and unpredictably, incapable of assuming an air of healthy indifference toward anything under the sun.
To them, violence, power, cruelty, were the supreme capacities of men who had definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate them into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.