Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear

27 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2012 Last revised: 4 Dec 2012

See all articles by Frederick C. DeCoste

Frederick C. DeCoste

University of Alberta - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 23, 2012


Framed as a response to Arne Vetlesen's "Atrocities: A Case of Suppresing Emotions or Acting Them Out?" [(2011) 2 Passions in Context], this essay, which appears in (2012) 3 Passions in Context, interrogates the requirements of serious, responsible, and productive engagement with political evil, here defined as the unjustifiable mass killing of human beings as a political policy and project of modern states. I agrue for the following seven requirements: first, that the easy, comforting and until quite recently, ruling disciplinary move of pathologizing perpetrators and perpetrator states must be abandoned because it renders opaque and largely meaningless their purposes and projects; second, that proper engagement proceeds from acknowledging perpetrator motives and beliefs as political and their acts as a specifically political form of evil; third, that proper engagement therefore seeks to interrogate both the nature of those political motives and beliefs and the nature and quaility of those political acts; fourth, that as regards the second, any serious account of political evil must acknowledge that, like any other political policy and project, political evil requires committed political support and supporters, that as an act and policy of state, political evil takes form -- and can only take form -- through the machinery of state and especially through its legal machinery, and that whatever else may be said of it, political evil is a legally constructed and lawful state system of ordered brutality and cruelty; fifth, that as regards perpetrator beliefs, serious engagement requires acknowledgement that perpetrators may, and with respect to the leadership cadre, must, be persons of sincere conviction and good conscience and that, in consequence, perpetrators need not be evil persons; sixth, that productive engagement resides in establising perpetrator beliefs as false and perpetrator acts as evil; and seventh, that as regards perpetrator beliefs, the belief that founds political moralities that propose and permit political evil and that must be establised as false is political millenarianism, that peculiar and devastating political emotion of the modern period. The remainder of the essay seeks to demonstrate these requirements with respect to the political morality of Hitlerism and the conduct of the Hitler state before then concluding with a brief exploration of what is required to immunize ourselves from the seduction of redemptive political emotions from which political evil always arises.

Suggested Citation

DeCoste, Frederick C., Hitler's Conscience, Redemptive Political Emotions, and the Politics of Fear (November 23, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2180059 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2180059

Frederick C. DeCoste (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Faculty of Law ( email )

Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H5

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