Perpetrators With a Clear Conscience

Ralph Erber

in Understanding Genocide

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780195133622
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847952 | DOI:
Perpetrators With a Clear Conscience

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This chapter attempts to add to the literature on the psychological mechanisms underlying perpetrator behavior by looking at the possibility that a specific form of self-deception may play an important role. Specifically, adopting lies and communicating them to others may enable perpetrators to carry out their evil tasks on a daily basis and may even enable them to live out the remainder of their lives with a clear conscience. The chapter examines what Hannah Arendt (1965) calls “lying self-deception”: the effects of telling lies repeatedly on subsequent belief change. The present analysis focuses heavily on how such processes may have operated on Adolf Eichmann, one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust. In addition, the chapter offers speculations on how such an analysis may extend to other perpetrators, bystanders, and, to some extent, victims of genocide.

Keywords: Adolf Eichmann; Holocaust; genocide; perpetrators; bystanders; victims; self-deception; lies; belief change

Chapter.  7366 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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