Power of Evil: Nazi Germany

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Methods Seminars are in-depth, interdisciplinary investigations of a particular problem or theme. These seminars focus on ways of knowing the world characteristic of the disciplines represented in the seminar, such that the forms or methods of investigation are as important as the subject matter itself.

How does evil fascinate, horrify, and attract us? From the story of Cain and Abel to the horrors of twentieth century genocides, scholars are left to ponder the nature, power, and seductiveness of evil. Is it primarily psychological or situational and institutional in its origin? Is it a quality inherent only in some people, or does the capacity for evil reside in every human being, awaiting only a toxic combination of circumstances to activate it? How can we resist its temptations? How do we recognize the first breaches in ethical thinking, the series of small steps that lead to evil? How can we respond to them in order to preserve a humane world? At what point are we on the slippery slope, and when is it too late to get off? This course investigates the roots, power, temptation and consequences of evil in the case of Nazi Germany .We will reflect on how and why a civilized, modern nation planned and implemented a government policy of world domination and mass slaughter. We begin by studying the conditions that led to Hitler's coming to power and then focus on the Nazi regime 1933-1945. What was the nature and ideology of Nazism? Why was racism such an important part of it? What was its appeal? How do we explain obedience, passivity, compliance and conformity to the regime? How were propaganda, myth and ritual used to create a Volk community? What was the role of violence and terror in the success of the Nazi party? How did Hitler use war, science, technology, and bureaucracy to create a new order? What accounts for his foreign policy successes? To what extent did the criminal policies of the regime permeate every day life? What is the responsibility of the individual within a mass movement and society? Did the Nazis alter the social structure of Germany? How was it possible to create art in a totalitarian state? Who bears responsibility for the Holocaust? Why did no one stop it? We will make extensive use of film as well as readings that draw on history, ethics, psychology, sociology, political science, philosophy and literature to study crucial but tough questions about evil, its consequences, and the power to recognize and resist it.