The Descriptive-Analytic Task

The Prescriptive-Normative Task

The Problem


As we approach the end of the century and try to bring some perspective to its most traumatic event, the Shoah,[1] the task before us seems overwhelming. Can one really "bring some perspective" to such an event? Is the very attempt to do so a banalization of the lives of those who died, or survived?[2] For theologians, two questions cry out for answers. First, where was God? How can we, as religious people, reconcile our belief in the continuous presence of God in the life of the Jewish people with the horror of the Shoah? I have ventured an answer in Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest, [3] but this is not the place to rehearse those arguments.

The second question is, where was humanity? Here, the issue is not the cruelty and sadism of the Shoah for, although these were certainly present, cruelty and sadism were not peculiar to the Shoah. Nor is the question one of numbers, for there have been other mass murders and even genocides in which large numbers of people have been killed.[4] The issue is also not one of state policy, though that certainly set off the Shoah from previous forms of genocide.[5] The real horror of the Shoah lies in the compliance of the masses with the final solution. The key question about humanity, then, is: why did so many tens of millions of people go along with the Shoah? How did the nazi regime persuade the overwhelming masses of Europe to remain bystanders? to accept passively, if not actively, the extermination of the Jews? Terror was certainly a factor but it is not a sufficient answer.

An equally puzzling question is posed by those who rescued Jews: Why did they rescue? How did the rescuers manage to resist the persuasion of the nazi regime such that they defied it? If obedience characterized the masses, what describes the resistors and rescuers?

The answer to the question, where was humanity, lies first in careful historical study of the period of the Shoah.[6] Extremely useful data, however, can also be found in the field of social psychology. A series of social psychological experiments in compliance, known loosely as "the obedience experiments," were conducted and the results have been widely discussed.[7] A series of experiments in prosocial action, known loosely as "the altruism experiments," were also conducted and their results are rather widely known too.[8] Unfortunately, within the discipline of social psychology, experimental work in obedience and in altruism is not usually done together. Nor is analysis of these complementary phenomena usually undertaken as a whole.[9] Similarly, within the discipline of history, systematic social psychological questions are not often asked. To answer the question, where was humanity, however, one must study the obedience experiments and the altruism experiments, as well as the historical literature on perpetrators and rescuers during the Shoah.[10] Such research generates a unified field theory of antisocial and prosocial human behavior and helps us address the issue of the nature of human responsibility.

Finally, the question, where was humanity, poses a particularly serious problem for eduators and theologians, for it raises the issue: Where did moral and religious education founder? Why did the teaching of good and evil in organized societal and religious institutions fail to prevent the Shoah? If there are answers to the question of human compliance and resistance in social psychology and history, then it is the responsibility of educators and theologians to bring these insights back into the church, the synagogue, the mosque, and the school, and to modify what one teaches and how one teaches it so as to increase resistance to evil and to encourage the doing of good.

The problem, where was humanity, then, implies two tasks: first, a descriptive-analytic task rooted in history and social psychology and, then, a normative-prescriptive task intended to better humankind's ability to teach resistance to evil and to cultivate doing of good.

A word about the term "banality": The concept of "the banality of evil" is a very powerful analytic tool. Used originally by Hannah Arendt, the term has been construed to mean three things: (1) evil which is normal, prosaic, or matter-of-fact; (2) evil which is rationalized as good because it is obedient or because it serves a larger purpose; and (3) evil which is trite, hackneyed, or stale. The last implies that evil is not immoral or grossly wrong. Arendt never meant to imply that nazi evil was trite and hence not immoral. Rather, Arendt meant to say that nazi evil was "banal" both in being matter-of-fact and in being so because it was rationalized as good. I follow Arendt in this usage. In this sense, even abusiveness can be "banal," that is, normal, prosaic, matter-of-fact, and rationalized as a greater good. Indeed, as Alice Miller has pointed out, Hitler was a role model for abusiveness precisely because his actions were very close to the everyday reality of middle-European family life.[11]

The Descriptive-Analytic Task

return to head of document

Social psychological research in the areas of both obedience and altruism, taken together with historical evidence from the Shoah and other moments in history, yields a unified field theory of good and evil human behavior in which we can identify four social psychological factors which facilitate evil and which also facilitate good, as follows:[12]

First, insertion into a social hierarchy in which legitimate authority does, or tolerates, evil facilitates the doing of evil and, conversely, insertion into a social hierarchy in which legitimate authority does, or tolerates, good facilitates the doing of good. Thus, in the Milgram experiments, subjects were instructed to administer electric shocks of increasing intensity to other human beings in order to help them learn a set of associated words. Subjects regularly showed signs of nervousness when the other person manifested pain and discomfort but subjects also routinely followed the instructions of the experimenter and continued administering shocks well into the painful, and even into the lethal, range. The conclusion drawn from these experiments was that the demand of a legitimate authority within a social hierarchy (the experimenter) was sufficient to allow, even to compel, the subject to do precisely the act he or she knew was wrong. Similarly, during the period of the extermination of Polish Jewry, ordinary conscripts into German police battalions were instructed to round up and kill Jews. Such persons regularly showed signs of nervousness when first asked to kill wantonly but also routinely followed the instructions of their superiors and continued to round up and kill Jews. Again, insertion of the subject into a social hierarchy in which the legitimate authority (the commander) demanded an act the subject knew was wrong was sufficient to allow, even to compel, the subject to do precisely the act he knew was wrong.

Thus, too, in the Milgram experiments, when a second authority figure (another experimenter) was present who legitimated stopping the shocks or who allowed the subject to choose the shock level, resistance increased dramatically with subjects following the authority who sanctioned the doing of good. In the Staub experiments, when a legitimate authority gave permission to leave the room to help a suspected victim in an adjacent room, subjects left to help while, when the same authority forbade leaving the room, subjects did not leave to help. Similarly, among those who rescued Jews during the war, fully 67% did so only after they had been asked by someone, usually a legitimate authority, to do so. And, when categorized by motivation, over half (52%) of the rescuers indicated they rescued for "normocentric" reasons; that is, because caring behavior was the moral norm set by the intimate authorities in their environment. Furthermore, research with businesses, schools, and other institutions that encourage prosocial action indicates that, where authority demands, or sanctions, the values of caring, acts of goodness will flourish.

An important corollary: The ability of legitimate authority to rationalize wrong action for the subject also facilitates the doing of evil and conversely, the ability of legitimate authority to rationalize why the doing of good is necessary also facilitates the doing of good. By clarifying values and motives, legitimate authority grants intellectual-moral permission to the subject to do that which it demands. Thus, in the Milgram experiments, authority rationalized the need for administering electric shocks by appealing to the need for scientific knowledge: science required that the experiment go on. In the German police battalions, authority rationalized the rounding up and killing of Jews by appealing to the need to obey orders and to antisemitic and racist teaching. Thus, too, moral communal authorities, by their reasoning, granted intellectual-moral permission to rescuers to rescue.

To put this more precisely: The ability of legitimate authority to appeal to rules, to define roles in the hierarchy, and to evoke the values of discipline, duty, and unquestioning loyalty facilitates the doing of evil and conversely, the ability of legitimate authority to appeal to rules, to define roles in the hierarchy, and to evoke the values of caring, justice, and inclusiveness facilitates the doing of good.[13]

Finally: The very social processes by which authority acts -- insertion of the subject into a social hierarchy; definition of rule, role, and value; rationalization; salience; and so on -- enable an individual to do good or to commit wrongful acts while believing that he or she is actually doing something good. In defining rules, roles, and values, legitimate authorities within social hierarchies persuade individuals that obedience is goodness and that compliance -- even with demands for wrongful acts -- is morally proper. Thus, subjects in the Milgram experiments, while they admitted feeling uncomfortable, nonetheless did not have the feeling of having done wrong. Soldiers in the German police battalions did not feel guilty. Hannah Arendt observed that Eichmann did not feel any remorse at having organized the extermination of vast numbers of Jews; rather, he clearly felt he had been a good person and an obedient soldier.[14] Milgram called this an "agentic shift."[15] Arendt coined the phrase "banality of evil" to describe the non-pathological nature of this evil that disguises itself as obedient goodness. And Kelman and Hamilton used the phrase, "Crimes of Obedience," to describe wrongdoing which appears as an act of goodness. Thus, too, church figures, relatives, resistance leaders, and others, through the use of the normal social processes by which authority acts, were able to turn normal people into active rescuers.

Second, a teaching of exclusivism facilitates the doing of evil and conversely, a teaching of inclusivism facilitates the doing of good. Thus, a society that teaches the alienness of the other, the fear of the stranger, and the dichotomy between "us" and "them" prepares the individual for the committing of wrongful acts. Exclusivism undermines the humanity of the other, limits the possibility of empathy for the victim, and reduces salience to the oppressed. Further, a culture that uses the language of exclusiveness and xenophobia and that, in the family and social environment, cultivates punitive norms for the outsider facilitates the doing of evil. It sets linguistic and behavioral norms that are antisocial. In the Riceville experiment, the categorization of blue-eyed and brown-eyed children differentiated the one from the other and set the one, and then the other, in a lower social place allowing prejudice to be expressed. In the German police battalions, the categorization of Jews as subhumans and Germans as superhumans, embodied in the contrast between armed uniformed men and unarmed civilians, set the Jews apart and made action against them easier. The dehumanization of Jews in the concentration camps into numbers and the "excremental assault"[16] practiced on them made it easier to see them as non-human and hence to act to kill them. Indeed, all racism, sexism, and antisemitism work on a teaching of the alienness and inferiority of the other.

Thus, too, a society that teaches the common humanness of the other, that stresses the values of caring, and that emphasizes compassion and responsibility prepares the individual for the doing of acts of goodness. Inclusivism affirms the humanity of the different other, sustains empathy for the victim, and increases salience to the oppressed. Further, a culture that uses the language of empathy and responsibility and that cultivates norms of caring in the family and social environments facilitates the doing of good. It sets linguistic and behavioral norms that are prosocial. Thus, persons who came from close and large families and/or who had previous contact with Jews were more likely to be rescuers. Fully 37% of those who rescued indicated that they were motivated by empathy for the victims. Further, many of the rescuers continued caring work with displaced persons, the elderly, the sick, and the homeless. Research with businesses, schools, and other institutions that encourage prosocial action also indicates that inculcation of the values of caring produces acts of goodness.

Third, the normal socialization processes of modeling, identification, peer support, incremental learning, and so on facilitate both the doing of evil and the doing of good. Thus, seeing one's superiors committing or encouraging wrongful acts allows modeling and identification to influence individual persons to do, or tolerate, wrongful acts. Seeing one's peers committing or tolerating evil makes it easier to do the same. And, as the proverb says, "practice makes perfect." The first wrongful act may be difficult but the tenth is no longer hard to execute. "Incremental learning" facilitates the doing of evil. These socialization processes are present in all groups; one cannot have a human society without them. They allow a society to be "normocentric"[17]; that is, these processes allow a society to set norms of accepted behavior for its members. In a society that tolerates and teaches evil, the normocentric thrust of socialization facilitates evil.

Thus, too, seeing one's elders doing and sustaining acts of goodness allows modeling and identification to influence one to do likewise. Seeing one's peers doing acts of caring makes it easier to do the same. In the Milgram experiments, when a planted subject resisted, the true subject went along and, in the Staub experiments, when a planted subject helped, the true subject also helped. The availability of a network for rescuers made rescue much easier. Research with businesses, schools, and other institutions that encourage prosocial action indicates that where the values of caring are modeled, acts of goodness are done. And, as the proverb says, "practice makes perfect." The first act of caring may seem awkward but, by the tenth such act, doing good seems "normal." "Incremental learning" facilitates the doing of good. In a society that tolerates and teaches good, the normocentric thrust of socialization facilitates good.

Fourth, discipline in childhood, when it is erratic and/or excessive, inculcates obedience to authority. If a child is disciplined erratically, it will adapt by being as obedient as possible in order to avoid erratic punishment. Similarly, a child who is disciplined excessively will adapt by being as obedient as possible in order to avoid being excessively punished.[18] Thus, Alice Miller,[19] in analyzing child-rearing manuals from pre-nazi and nazi Germany, concluded that erratic and excessive discipline was a common phenomenon in central European culture. She even remarks that Hitler's screaming, which Americans see as comical because of Charlie Chaplain's parody thereof, was precisely the kind of erratic and excessive discipline to which Germans had become accustomed through the kind of child-rearing advocated in their manuals and practiced by many parents.[20]

By contrast, discipline in childhood, when it is reasoned and proportionate, inculcates caring attitudes. This is the main conclusion of the study of rescuers: that, if a child is disciplined in a way that makes the `punishment fit the crime' and if punishment is explained and comprehended, the child will acknowledge the elementary justice of the discipline. Furthermore and more important, if the `punishment' does not fit the `crime' and the child can appeal and discuss the punishment, the child will learn that authority is reasonable. Such a child will acquire a sense of self-competency and will be willing to challenge other authority when the occasion arises.[21]

To summarize the results of the descriptive-analytic task: Insertion into a social hierarchy in which legitimate authority appeals to rules, defines roles, and evokes values; the ability of legitimate authority to rationalize as well as to create salience to the authority or to the victim; the capacity of a society to set behavioral and linguistic norms; the socialization processes of modeling, identification, peer support, incremental learning, and so on which set the normocentric thrust of a society; and finally, childhood disciplinary patterns, ranging from erratic and excessive forms of physical and sexual abuse across the full spectrum to reasoned and proportionate forms of caring punishment -- all these facilitate the doing of good as well as the doing of evil.[22]

The Prescriptive-Normative Task

return to head of document

All the evidence -- social psychological as well as historical -- indicates that religious affiliation and praxis is not a determining factor in antisocial or prosocial behavior. Religion did not help or hinder subjects in the Milgram, Staub, or other experiments in any systematic way. Nor was it a factor, in any systematic way, among the German soldiers of the police battalions, or among the rescuers. Rather, the role of religion is episodic. Some, indeed most, use it to justify antisocial behavior and some use it to justify prosocial behavior; there is no overall consistent pattern.

In view of this, we as theologians, religious educators, and morally sensitive human beings, need to move from the descriptive-analytic task to the normative-prescriptive task; that is, we need to move from analyzing the factors that facilitate the doing of good and evil to prescribing norms[23] that will discourage evil and encourage good. We need to ask, what ought religious -- and non-religious[24] -- authorities and institutions do to cultivate prosocial attitudes and behaviors and to discourage antisocial attitudes and behaviors? This, it seems to me, is the normative answer to the question, where was humanity. It is the prescriptive implication of the description and analysis. Setting prosocial moral norms is also the answer to the question, where will humanity be the next time a major social crisis occurs.

There are seven steps that religious authorities must take to assume their responsibilities in the area of moral education.

First, religious authorities must admit the failure of much of their previous efforts to discourage antisocial attitudes and behaviors and to encourage prosocial attitudes and behaviors. As noted, the results of social psychological and historical research indicate that religion is not a factor, in any systematic way, in people's choice of good and evil; however, this does not seem to have penetrated fully into the minds of religious educators. To put it most simply: If religious moral education works, why do we not see more prosocial action among religious persons?

Second, religious authorities must identify and actively teach prosocial texts and traditions. For the Tanakh, this would include the stories of: Shifra and Pu'ah, the midwives who resisted Pharoah's genocidal decrees; Rahab, the prostitute, who resisted the Jericho secret police to hide the spies; Nathan, the prophet, who confronted King David forcefully on his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband; Saul's officers who refused to kill the priests of Nob who had sheltered David; Abraham who argued with God about the justice of destroying the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah; Moses who consistently defended the people of Israel against God's unjust threats; and the author of Psalm 44 who protested vehemently against God's desertion of God's people in time of war. Rabbinic Judaism is particularly rich in prosocial value-concepts, texts, and traditions.[25]

Third, religious authorities must identify and actively inculcate prosocial value-concepts.[26] A "value-concept" is a term which has both intellectual content that can be analyzed and normative value that sets moral expectations. All societies have value-concepts through which values are analyzed and taught. I recommend the following:

(1) Teach the specific value-concepts of prosocial action. There are a large number of prosocial value-concepts. Discuss the terms: inclusiveness, extensivity, globalism, goodness, kindness, justice, fairness, law, integrity, virtue, uprightness, rectitude, equity, impartiality, righteousness, ethics, caring, morality, protest, resistance, bonding, humanness, and humanity. And the complements: exclusiveness, isolationism, ethnic superiority, injustice, oppression, prejudice, unfairness, uncritical compliance, inhumaneness, and inhumanity. Discuss specifically religious prosocial value-concepts, as noted above.

(2) Use the language of justice and caring. The way we phrase what we want to say forms who we are and who we become. Discuss the values: pity, compassion, concern, affection, love, care, cherish, nourish, protect, understanding, empathy, kindness, mercy, sympathy, attachment, devotion, heart, feeling, respect, awareness, recognition, intimacy, attention, warmth, and consideration. And the complements: pain, sorrow, grief, worry, anxiety, distress, suffering, trouble, sensitiveness, stress, intimidate, persecute, threaten, and terror. Further, use these words in conversation on all topics and issues.

Fourth, religious authorities must teach the nature of social processes. They must provide formal instruction about social hierarchies. Discuss the terms: authority, obedience, disobedience, resistance, protest, heteronomy and autonomy, norms, rules, values, normocentric, agentic shift, salience, permission, ingroup-outgroup, conflict management and resolution, win-win, socialization, identification, modeling, peer support, incremental learning, and excessive vs. caring discipline.

Fifth, religious authorities must teach critical thinking. Thinking against the social grain is crucial. Students must be consciously taught to ask: how does one identify a lie? What is propaganda? Who is manipulating whom? Whose power is at stake here? Do I agree with the truths being expounded here; and if not, why? What do I think, independent of what I feel?

Sixth, religious authorities must teach the following five prosocial skills:

(1) perspective taking and empathy -- This enables one to understand how the other feels, to appreciate the affective dimension of the other's situation. Ask: "What do you think he or she feels?" "What does she or he feel even if she or he cannot express it?" "How angry, happy, ashamed, proud ... is he or she?" "What would you feel in that person's place?" "What is empathy? What is sympathy?" Everyone is capable of perspective-taking and everyone will need to be the object of perspective-taking by others in the course of life. Being able to empathize is an important prosocial skill.

(2) identifying and coding one's own feelings -- Our feelings are basic to who we are; they are the ground for much of our being and the agency for much of our action. We need to know our own feelings. Ask: "What did you feel when you saw ...?" "Can you recall feeling ashamed, guilty, joyous, powerful, hurt, nurturing, modest, immodest, content?" "What is the difference between anger and rage? Have you ever felt either? What was it like?" "How do you feel when someone threatens you, challenges you publicly, or praises you in front of others?" Almost everyone has experienced every one of these emotional states at one time or another. Being able to recognize and label them is an important prosocial skill.

(3) identifying authorities, hierarchies, norms, roles, and social processes -- As noted, everyone exists within a series of social hierarchies. Ask: "What is the social hierarchy in this particular situation?" "To whom are you subordinate? To whom are you superior?" "Is there more than one authority at work here? more than one set of subordinates?" "Upon what is the legitimacy of the authority in this situation based?" "What would you have to do to break the rule, the norm? What would you have to do to challenge the authority?" "Are you, as an authority, acting in a responsible way, within the limits of your legitimacy? And, if not, how do you as an authority challenge your own authority and reshape it?" Knowing one's place in various hierarchies and, hence, imagining how one might challenge these hierarchies is a major prosocial skill -- and it can be learned.

(4) externalizing repressed prosocial impulses -- Doing good, as Batson has shown and as rabbinic tradition teaches, is a basic part of being human. All people want to do good to others, even if the motivation for that is, sometimes, egoistic. Yet, many people hesitate to do good. Ask: "What does your impulse to do good tell you to do?" "What act of caring have you done today?" "What can you do that would be really kind?" "Whom do you know who is a really good person? What does she or he do? How do you know he or she is good?" Realizing that one does know good when one sees it, recognizing good impulses in oneself, and realizing that the impediments to doing good are not as formidable as they seem is an important prosocial skill.

(5) conflict management skills -- Conflict does not need to be "overcome" or "eliminated." Quite the contrary, conflict is a natural part of life. It does, however, need to be managed so that human relationships do not deteriorate into resentment, hatred, and violence. Teach the skills of mediation. Instruct people in the art of finding superordinate goals. Ask: "What is at stake behind the surface issues for each party?" "What are the common goals of these people?" "Why should these persons cooperate with one another? And if they cannot live in harmony, what intermediate relationship could they have?"

Seventh, religious authorities must recognize that it is not only what one teaches but how it is taught that makes the difference. It is not only the content of the teaching but the social psychological context in which it is taught that makes the real difference between successful and unsuccessful moral education. In order to accomplish this goal, I make the following additional six strong practical recommendations for how to teach prosocial values.

(1) Establish a means by which authority can be challenged. Use an ombudsperson and/or a whistle-blowing mechanism to create a legitimate way to challenge authority. Also, use a "care team" whose task it is to oversee and aid institutions to develop and maintain caring relationships with those for whom one is responsible.

(2) Model prosocial attitudes and behaviors. Do them yourself. Hire staff who have a record of prosocial action. Use prosocial attitudes and behaviors as part of the evaluation and promotion process. Acknowledge prosocial heroes and heroines.

(3) Implement prosocial action. Undertake specific projects. Establish personal contact with the disadvantaged. Create a feedback mechanism. Provide a full-time person to develop prosocial programming.

(4) Develop syllabi and a curriculum of instruction in prosocial action.

(5) Develop networks. They must be broad. Make everyone stakeholders. Involve legitimate authority.

(6) Be intentional about what you are doing. Do all this knowingly, conscious of what you are doing and why.


The question that is our legacy from the Shoah, where was humanity, and in particular, where were the passive masses of humanity, will haunt us well into the next century. Indeed, this question may well become the premier question that the twentieth century commits to human history. Description and analysis of the data pertaining to this question from the disciplines of history and social psychology can allow us to achieve some intellectual clarity in answering this question. And, prescribing and setting norms which discourage evil and encourage good will allow us to achieve more influence on human history.

return to head of document

[*] The material in this article was delivered at a symposium entitled, Good and Evil After Auschwitz, sponsored by the Gregorian University of Rome and SIDIC. It has been published by them as: "The Banality of Good and Evil: Antisocial Behavior, Prosocial Behavior, and Jewish Religious Teaching," Good and Evil After Auschwitz: Ethical Implications for Today, ed. J. Bemporad, et al. (Hoboken, NJ, Ktav Publishing: 2000) 285-99. In this long form, it has appeared in the French, German, and Italian translations of Good and Evil After Auschwitz. It has also appeared in shorter form under the same titles (Rome, SIDIC: 1998) 31:16-17. The article is a précis of my book, The Banality of Good and Evil: Moral Lessons from the Shoah and Jewish Tradition (Georgetown University Press: 1999).

[1] For many years I used the word "holocaust" to designate the destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War. I have since been persuaded that "holocaust" should not be used for two reasons: (1) It bears the additional meaning of `a whole burnt offering,' which is certainly not the theological overtone to be sounded in this context. And (2), the destruction of European Jewry happened to Jews and, hence, it is they who should have the sad honor of naming this event with a Hebrew term. The word "Shoah" has been used for a long time in Hebrew to denote the catastrophe to Jewry during World War II and has even been adopted by many non-Jews as the proper designation. I now adopt this usage and acknowledge my debt to Professor Jean Halpérin of Geneva and Fribourg for the insight. As a matter of theological and moral principle, I do not capitalize words like "führer," "final solution," "nazi," etc.

[2] On the "use" of the holocaust, see D. Blumenthal, "The Holocaust and Hiroshima: Icons of Our Century," available on my website ( and "From Anger to Inquiry," From the Unthinkable to the Unavoidable, ed. C. Rittner and J. Roth (Westport, CT, Prager: 1997) 149-55, also available on my website.

[3] Westminster / John Knox: 1993.

[4] S. Katz, "The `Unique' Intentionality of the Holocaust," in Post-Holocaust Dialogues ed. S. Katz, (New York, New York University Press: 1985) 287-317. Idem., The Holocaust in Historical Context (New York, Oxford University Press: 1994-).

[5] Ibid.

[6] On the perpetrators, see for example: C. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York, Harper Collins: 1992). On the rescuers, see for example: S. and P. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality (New York, Free Press: 1988), reviewed by me in Critical Review of Books in Religion, 3 (1990) 409-11.

[7] See for example: S. Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, (New York, Harper and Row: 1974), also available as a film -- hereinafter, "the Milgram experiments." See also the films, "In the Eye of the Storm" and "A Class Divided," the latter having appeared as a book by W. Peters, A Class Divided Then and Now (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1987) -- hereinafter, "the Riceville Experiment" because it first took place in the town of that name.

[8] See for example: E. Staub, "Helping a Distressed Person," L. Berkowitz, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (New York, Academic Press: 1974) 7: 293-341; J. M. Darley and C. D. Batson, "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27:1 (1973) 100-8 -- hereinafter, "the Princeton Experiment"; C. D. Batson, The Altruism Question, (Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 1991); and P. and S. Oliner, Toward a Caring Society: Ideas into Action, (Westport, Praeger: 1995). The last is a study of prosocial practices in business, educational, and other social institutions and is hereinafter referred to as "research with businesses, schools,...."

[9] For a preliminary attempt, see E. Staub, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence (Cambridge, Cambrdige University Press: 1989).

[10] One should also include other historical data fields such as Vietnam, African-American slavery, etc.

[11] A. Miller, For Your Own Good (New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux: 1983) is the classic text on abuse in nazi culture.

[12] For purposes of this analysis, one need not have a philosophically well-developed "definition" of good and evil. It suffices to say that evil is that which is antisocial -- i.e., causes harm to others -- and good is that which is prosocial -- i.e., causes benefit to others. Individual humans differ but a rather broad and formally undefined consensus exists on these matters.

[13] The typology is that of H. C. Kelman and V. L. Hamilton, Crimes of Obedience (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press: 1989).

[14] H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, Viking Press: 1963).

[15] "He [or she] has, in the course of moving from a biological creature to a civilized person, internalized the basic rules of social life. And the most basic of these is respect for authority.... there is an internalized basis for his [or her] obedience, not merely an external one.... The most far-reaching consequence of the agentic shift is that a man [or woman] feels responsible to the authority directing him [or her] but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear, but acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he [or she] has performed the actions called for by authority" (Milgram, 152 and 141, with 145-46).

[16] T. Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 1976), reviewed by me in Journal of Jewish Studies, 41 (1979) 330-2.

[17] The term is derived from S. and P. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality, cited above.

[18] Put differently: If a child is prohibited from making age-appropriate decisions, it will not develop the requisite empowerment and self-esteem.

[19] A. Miller, For Your Own Good (New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux: 1983).

[20] It is to be regretted that the subjects in the social psychological experiments conducted in America were not questioned about discipline during their childhood years. If Miller is right, those who conformed most would be those who came from backgrounds where childhood discpline was more erratic and/or excessive.

[21] Put differently: If a child is encourated to make age-appropriate decisions, it will develop the requisite empowerment and self-esteem. It would be interesting, for instance, to know something about Schindler's childhood discipline background. It is to be regretted that the social-psychological experiments on altruism and prosocial behavior did not control for the history of childhood discipline. If the Oliners are right, those who resisted most would be those who came from backgrounds where childhood discipline was reasoned and proportionate.

[22] The incidence of obedience / resistance also varies with the amount of stress applied externally. In the standard Milgram experiments, 65-85% of the subjects conformed while 15-35% resisted. This is close to the 60% indifference rate and 40% helping rate among the Princeton experiment subjects and the 50-75% non-helping rate and 25-50% helping rate among the subjects in the Staub experiments. As might be expected, among the German police battalions where pressure was greater, 80-90% conformed while 10-20% resisted and, among rescuers, where pressure was at its greatest, the number of resistors was very very small. It seems to me, then, that the antisocial-prosocial parameter (sometimes inaccurately called, the obedience-resistance parameter) is not linear but constitutes a continuum which yields a dynamic range of results. This continuum, it further seems to me, is better than a set of discrete categories which yield static unrelated results.

[23] Unfortunately, in American English, the word "norm" has two meanings which must never be confused. The first indicates `that which is in fact done,' `that which is normal.' The second indicates `that which ought to be done,' `that which is morally desireable.' Norms, in the sense of usual behavior, are descriptive and are deduced from data but norms, in the sense of `oughts,' critique usual practice and are prescriptive. The former are learned by imitation and practice; the latter are consciously articulated and taught by legitimate authorities as moral and ethical desiderata of human behavior.

[24] In what follows, I shall only address religious authorities but the same certainly holds true for secular authorities who embody the values of the enlightenment.

[25] Rabbinic value-concepts include: tselem (image, imitatio Dei); brit (covenant); talmud Torah (study of Torah); mitsva (commandedness); tsedek (justice); lifnei `iver (you shall not put stumbling block before the blind); ve-`asita ha-tov veha-yashar (you shall do what is right and proper); patur mi-dinei adam ve-hayyav be-dinei shamayim (exempt in a human court but not in heaven); tsedaka (righteousness, charity); middat hasidut (the standard of the pious / caring / non-violence); hesed (loyalty, grace, caring); gemilut hasadim (doing good deeds); lifnim mi-shurat ha-din (beyond the line of the law); shalom (peace); mipne darkhei shalom (for the sake of social peace); tikkun `olam (repairing / restoring the world); yetser ha-ra` and yetser tov (the impulse to evil / to good); and pikuah nefesh (saving a life). There are many more. Prosocial rabbinic texts and traditions include: norms for proper court procedure and judicial protest; laws commanding one to reprove one another and to rescue someone in trouble; the uses and limits of military disobedience and non-violence; and the doctrines of "doing good deeds," "going beyond the demands of the law," "honoring God's creatures," and martyrdom.

[26] The term comes from M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (New York, Jewish Theological Seminary: 1952).

return to head of document

return to index of Selected Articles

David Blumenthal's HomePage