17 July 2012

Authoritarian Ideology

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning, 1993, Excerpts

Ideology gives meaning and coherence to the social occasion, a crucial antecedent of deference to authority. Controlling the manner in which people interpret their world is one way to control behavior. It they accept authority’s ideology, action follows logically and willingly. Hence ideological justification is vital in obtaining willing obedience, for it permits the person to see his behavior as serving a desirable end.

An evolutionary bias favors the survival of people who can adapt to hierarchical situations and organized social activity. Socialization through family, school, and military service, as well as a whole array of rewards and punishments within society reinforces and internalizes a tendency toward obedience. A seemingly voluntary entry into an authority system, “perceived” as legitimate, creates a strong sense of obligation. Those within the hierarchy adopt the authority’s perspective or “definition of the situation”. The notions of “loyalty, duty, and discipline” become moral imperatives overriding any identification with the victim. Normal individuals enter an “agentic state” in which they are the instrument of another’s will. In such a state, they no longer feel personally responsible for the content of their actions but only for how well they perform.

Himmler set a premium on the ideological indoctrination of members of the SS and the police. They were to be not just efficient soldiers and policemen but ideologically motivated warriors, crusaders against the political and racial enemies of the Third Reich. Indoctrination efforts embraced not only the elite organizations of the SS but also the Order Police, extending to the lowly reserve police. The consequences of disobedience could be drastic. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot? Evil that arises out of ordinary thinking and is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception.

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