The Obedience Alibi: Milgram ’s Account of the Holocaust Reconsidered

Analyse & Kritik 20 (1):74-94 (1998)
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Abstract

Stanley Milgram’s work on obedience to authority is social psychology’s most influential contribution to theorizing about Holocaust perpetration. The gist of Milgram’s claims is that Holocaust perpetrators were just following orders out of a sense of obligation to their superiors. Milgram, however, never undertook a scholarly analysis of how his obedience experiments related to the Holocaust. The author first discusses the major theoretical limitations of Milgram’s position and then examines the implications of Milgram’s (oft-ignored) experimental manipulations for Holocaust theorizing, contrasting a specific case of Holocaust perpetration by Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police. It is concluded that Milgram’s empirical findings, in fact, do not support his position-one that essentially constitutes an obedience alibi. The article ends with a discussion of some of the social dangers of the obedience alibi.

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