The Machine of Destruction: German Bureaucracy
Many classical sociologists, prominently Marx, advocate that humans have slowly progressed from crude, vicious barbarians to the cultured society of today through the process of civilization. Thus, many people discount the Holocaust as an anomaly reminiscent of a prior stage of evolution. However, the Holocaust was not an aberration, but rather a plausible result of the increasing rationalization and bureaucratization of modern society. Modernization paved the way for the Holocaust as technological advancements and industrialization provided the blueprints for the systematic massacre of Jews. However, instead of producing material goods, the Nazis’ camps churned out deaths in a terrifyingly efficient manner. Thus, though many categorize the Final Solution as an abnormality, it is actually a natural outcome of modernity’s dehumanizing rationalization and bureaucratic culture, as well as a presage of humanity’s future if society continues down its path of rational calculation. Characteristic of Western rationalism, systematization facilitated the Nazis’ methodical slaughter of European Jews. Rationalization necessitates predictability, science, and precise calculation, each of which was present for the execution of the Final Solution. The Nazis instituted a system of procedural rationality, which essentially divided labor into smaller and smaller tasks until each job in relation to the whole task was no longer evident. Not only did this system deflect responsibility, but it also illustrates Weber’s theory that rationalization requires the “specialist” to replace the “cultivated man” of past epochs (Weber 2005:139). The division of labor leads to greater efficiency, which is the ultimate goal of the system. In addition to instituting procedures, the Nazis incorporated technological innovations in order to further streamline operations. The Hollerith machine sorted punch cards, which allowed the Nazis to separate the Jews from the rest of the population and further categorize them by areas such as community, profession, and mother tongue (Black 2001:260). By allowing the Nazis to pinpoint locations of strong Jewish presence throughout Europe, the machine’s “information [helped to] propel a burgeoning new binary of pseudo-science and official race hatred” (Black 2001:261). Thus, the institution of procedural rationality, coupled with the technology of the Hollerith, created an unstoppable machine of destruction. This machine of destruction was only strengthened by the impersonal nature of the systematized processes. Weber advocates that rationalization becomes more efficient “the more perfectly it is ‘dehumanized,’ the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements” (Kalberg 2005:176). In systematization, social actions are increasingly based on considerations of efficiency rather than on emotion or morality. To pursue rationalization, the Nazis dehumanized their Jewish victims using two different methods. First, they constructed an “ideological indoctrination that portrayed Jews as vermin and bacilli” (Browning 1983:148). By depicting the Jews as nonhuman, the leaders freed the lower ranks from moral obligation and feelings of sympathy or guilt. Secondly, Hitler created an impersonal bureaucracy that rewarded participants for a detached manner indifferent to human suffering. Thus, “’desk murderers’ could shuffle papers, set rations, draft telegrams, schedule trains, and dispatch personnel, resulting in the deaths of millions” without feeling empathy (Browning 1983:148). Only by separating tasks and dehumanizing victims could members of the bureaucracy exterminate 11 million Jews (The Guardian 2009); instead of envisioning them as people, they were merely columns and numbers on a punch card. Though the Nazis’ utilization of dehumanizing methods...
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