Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 8
Afterthought: Rationality and Shame

- Terror remains effective as long as the balloon of rationality has not been pricked. The most sinister, cruel, bloody-minded ruler must remain a staunch preacher and defender of rationality--or perish. Addressing his subjects, he must 'speak to reason'. He must protect reason, eulogize on the virtues of the calculus of costs and effects, defend logic against passions and values which, unreasonably, do not count costs and refuse to obey logic. By and large, all rulers can count on rationality being on their side. But the Nazi rulers, additionally, twisted the stakes of the game so that the rationality of survival would render all other motives of human action irrational. Inside the Nazi-made world, reason was the enemy of morality. Logic required consent to crime. Rational defence of one's survival called for non-resistance to the other's destruction. This rationality pitched the sufferers against each other and obliterated their joint humanity. Graciously, the noble creed of rationality absolved both the victims and the bystanders from the charge of immorality and from guilty conscience. Having reduced human life to the calculus of self-preservation, this rationality robbed human life of humanity.

- The lesson of the Holocaust is the facility with which most people, put into a situation that does not contain a good choice, or renders such a good choice very costly, argue themselves away from the issue of moral duty (or fail to argue themselves towards it), adopting instead the precepts of rational interest and self-preservation. In a system where rationality and ethics point in opposite directions, humanity is the main loser. Evil needs neither enthusiastic followers nor an applauding audience--the instinct of self-preservation will do.- The second lesson of the Holocaust is that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable. One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation--what does matter is that some did. Evil is not all-powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end--a choice.