Compassion and Cruelty in Modern Society. The Case of the Holocaust


  • Sznaider,Natan


Holocaust, Compassion, Modern society, Abuse, Morality, Elias, Norbert, Germany, World War II


Explores the possibility of a sociology of the Holocaust, focusing on compassion, defined as the organized campaign to lessen the suffering of strangers, a distinctly modern form of morality. A better understanding of the nature of compassion and its connection to social structure explains many social movements today, movements that otherwise seem accidental, unprecedented, and postmodern. The biggest threat to this view of compassion is the Holocaust, which can also be seen as the breakdown of compassion. The Nazi attempt to destroy European Jewry will serve as the litmus test for the argument that modernity fosters the growth of compassion. Is it possible to consider the Holocaust as a German historical phenomenon, not as the result of the production of moral indifference, but just the opposite, the production of closeness that allowed for exceptional cruelty? This problem is examined in the light of Norbert Elias's theories (especially his views on the tensions between a bourgeois merchant ethic and an aristocratic warrior ethic in Germany). Moreover, by means of Daniel Goldhagen's (1996) study on the Holocaust, it is shown that the breakdown of compassion should not be equated with indifference. 61 References. Adapted from the source document.

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