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The "Iron Cage" of Coping Mechanisms Essay Assignment

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The "Iron Cage" of Coping Mechanisms Essay Assignment

Assignment 5: The “Iron Cage” of Coping Mechanisms
Attached Files:
File Kirsch, Adam (2015) The System- How the Nazi Concentration Camps Worked.pdf (1.268 MB)
File Zacka, Bernardo (2017) – Why Bureaucrats Don’t Seem to Care.pdf (1.211 MB)
A primary thesis of Richard L. Rubenstein’s work, The Cunning of History, argues that the events of the Holocaust are best understood as an outgrowth of the bureaucratic rationalism discussed extensively by Max Weber in Economy and Society and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Bureaucratic Rationalism, Weber suggests, is an encroaching phenomenon of human organization through which behavior is conditioned to maximize organizational outcomes and efficiency. This ongoing shift in human organization and behavior is often referred to as the “Iron Cage of Rationality” (though a more accurate translation of Weber’s own words would be a “Shell as hard as steel”), and has served as a powerful concept in the social sciences, though not an uncontroversial one. Though the process is a complex one, the general idea is that the rigidity of bureaucratic norms and “rational” thinking come to shape human perceptions and actions, and in the case of the Holocaust, provided an adequate social mechanism to allow for the dehumanization and genocide of millions of people. As the argument goes, many of the people responsible for the day-to-day atrocities were merely cogs in the Nazi bureaucratic machine; cogs which simply performed their specific duties dispassionately and with the enthusiasm of any form of repetitive labor. Such an explanation is compelling, but alternative perspectives should be considered.

After having viewed/read the materials for the week, please take some time to read through the following pieces*:

The New Yorker: “The System: Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked” by Adam Kirsch

The Atlantic: “Why Bureaucrats Don’t Seem to Care” by Bernardo Zacka

*PDF versions of the articles are attached here, too

In a 1-2 page response, consider the competing arguments regarding the “Iron Cage” presented, which can be thought of as “bureaucratic rationalism” and “bureaucratic coping” (for lack of a better term). Of the two perspectives, which do you find to be the more accurate/compelling, and why? In your response, be sure to consider some of the concepts and arguments addressed earlier in the course (i.e. structure vs. agency; social solidarity; collective consciousness; species-being; alienation; etc.).

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