WHAT CAN THE MILGRAM
OBEDIENCE EXPERIMENTS TELL
US ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?
Generalizing from the Social
ARTHUR G. MILLER
If in this study an anonymous experimenter could successfully
command adults to subdue a fifty-year old man, and force on him
painful electric shocks against his protests, one can only wonder what
government, with its vastly greater authority and prestige, can
command of its subjects.
—MILGRAM (1965, p. 75)
Indeed, the inspiration for Milgram's study was the Holocaust, in
which seemingly normal individuals (e.g., guards at prison camps)
followed the orders of authority figures to the point of committing
horrific acts…. The fact that these processes appear to be similar
to those that occurred at some of humankind's darkest moments,
such as the Holocaust, is what makes his results so compelling.
—ARONSON, WILSON, AND BREWER (1998, p. 133)
His [Milgram's] obedience explanation of the Holocaust is
oversimplified, misleading, and of potential social danger.
—MANDEL (1998, p. 78)
If we compare the Holocaust with Milgram's research… the
differences are brutally clear. Although we may be upset, saddened,
even disappointed by the behavior of Milgram's subjects, the terms
that are routinely used to describe the horrors of the Holocaust—