Saturday, November 5, 2016

Public Administration, National Socialism Style

In reading about the Third Reich, one is impressed by its bureaucratic professionalism. As in all bureaucracies, people go around the rules and bosses may well violate them with especial force. But for most public administrators, the bureaucratic processes are normative and not to be broken except in small ways. So in Nazi Germany, if there were to be "arrangements" to exterminate "undesirable" populations, that would be done according to the rules and the bureaucratic processes. Evil can be quite banal. Moreover, there are conflicts among bureaucracies, so that if the Foreign Office thought that Axis allies might be upset by such arrangements for some foreign-nationals (who surely were Jewish, perhaps only of mixed descent), and the cooperation of those allies was needed by the State, those arrangements would not be followed through. So in Berlin, some Jews were "protected" by Sweden, for they were in some sense Swedish, or the Swedes had decided to so treat them--for the Foreign Office prevailed over the efforts to make Berlin "Judenrein." The interests of the State might some of the time conflict with shipping people "East." Since Sweden represented countries such as the Soviet Union, in German, Russian Jews would in fact not be sent East. And if the bureaucracy was too busy with other tasks, or was only partially assiduous, other Jews might well survive since they slipped through the bureaucratic processes.

None of this makes Sweden or bureaucracy wonderful. Rather, that Weberian bureaucracy, a feature of the modern state, can surely do wondrous evil but some of the time its processes become entangled in higher bureaucratic demands.

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