It was a Hobbesian life, a continuous war of everyone against everyone.
—The Drowned and the Saved
Imagine now a man who is deprived of everyone he loves, and at the same time of his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses…. He will be a man whose life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity, in the most fortunate of cases, on the basis of a pure judgment of utility. It is in this way that one can understand the double sense of the term “extermination camp”, and it is now clear what we seek to express with the phrase: “to lie on the bottom.”
—Survival in Auschwitz
This chapter will examine the most consequential context for Primo Levi's ideas, the Monowitz Lager in the Auschwitz complex. Auschwitz itself was made up of forty separate units, enterprises sustained by slave labor, but these enterprises were but a temporary diversion in an overwhelming death machine that methodically killed Jews in great numbers.1 In Monowitz Levi toiled, first in harsh physical labor, and later in a factory in the complex that was supposed to, but never did, produce synthetic rubber.
One of the keys to surveying our world and its circumstances is whether we decide there is any room for improvement in that world, or whether the human condition does not suggest possible better worlds. Usually the____________________