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Esprit de Bureaucratie

Once effectively dehumanized, and hence cancelled as potential subjects of moral demands, human objects of bureaucratic task-performance are viewed with ethical indifference, which soon turns into disapprobation and censure when their resistance, or lack of cooperation, slows down the smooth flow of bureaucratic routine. Dehumanized objects cannot possibly possess a ’cause’, much less a ‘just’, one; they have no ‘interests’ to be considered, indeed no claim to subjectivity. Human objects become therefore a ‘nuisance factor’ their obstreperousness further strengths the self-esteem and the bonds of comradeship that unite the functionaries. The latter see themselves now as companions in a difficult struggle, calling for courage, self-sacrifice and selfless dedication to the cause. It is not the objects of bureaucratic action, but its subjects who suffer and deserve compassion and moral praise. They may justly derive pride and assurance of their own dignity from crushing the recalcitrance of their victims—much as they are proud of overriding any other obstacle. Dehumanization of the objects and positive moral self-evaluation reinforce each other. The functionaries may faithfully serve any goal while their moral conscience remains unimpaired.

—Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 1989

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