Unmasking Administrative Evil discusses the overlooked relationship between evil and public administration, as well as other fields and professions in public life. The authors argue that the tendency toward administrative evil, as manifested in acts of dehumanization and genocide, is deeply woven into the identity of public administration, as well as other fields and professions in public life. The common characteristic of administrative evil is that ordinary people within their normal professional and administrative roles can engage in acts of evil without being aware that they are doing anything wrong. Under conditions of moral inversion, people may even view their evil activity as good. In an age when "bureaucrat bashing" is fashionable, this book seeks to move beyond such superficial critiques and lay the groundwork for a more ethical and democratic public life, one that recognizes its potential for evil and thereby creates greater possibilities for avoiding the hidden pathways that lead to state-sponsored dehumanization and destruction.
Although social scientists generally do not discuss "evil" in an academic setting, there is no denying that it has existed in public administration throughout history. Hundreds of millions of human beings have died as a direct or indirect consequence of state-sponsored violence. This book argues that administrative evil, or destructiveness, is part of the identity of all modern public administration (as it is part of psychoanalytic study at the individual level). Furthermore, evil has been largely suppressed or ignored despite, or perhaps because of, its profound and far-reaching implications for the field. From the Holocaust to the "white lie," evil exists on a continuum, and the way along that continuum begins on the proverbial "slippery slope." We prefer to think of horrible eruptions of evil, such as Adolf Hitler, as occurring at a particular historical moment and within specific extraordinary cultural contexts. Yet, we have a long history in the United States of public lynchings, syphilis/radiation/LSD experiments within our military, and police brutality in our cities while public administrators have looked on, even participated. The Holocaust was such a massive administrative undertaking, we must consider whether modern public administration may be at its most effective and efficient when it is engaged in programs of dehumanization and destruction.
Constructing a positive future for public administration requires a willingness to deal with the disturbing aspects of the field's history, identity, and practices. Rather than viewing events such as genocide as isolated or aberrant historical events, the authors show how the forces that unleashed such events are part of modernity and are thus present in all contemporary public organizations. This book is not an exercise in bureaucrat-bashing. It goes beyond superficial critique of public affairs and lays the groundwork for building a more effective and humane profession.