Career Pressures and Organizational Evil: A Novel Perspective on the Study of Organized Violence

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Dictators, rebel commanders, and mafia bosses frequently delegate gruesome and immoral tasks to their subordinates. However, most individuals want to avoid such work. This analytical essay proposes an institutional logic to understand how dictatorships, insurgent organizations, and criminal gangs get their evil work done nonetheless. We argue that common features of organizations produce mundane career pressures that incentivize subordinates to zealously execute reprehensible tasks. Subordinates may come under pressure for six distinct reasons: incompetence, misconduct, origin, isolation, organizational backlog, and shrinkage. Superiors, in turn, can exploit that pressured subordinates hope to improve their prospects for advancement by loyally executing the organization’s evil tasks. Empirically, we illustrate how Nazi Germany utilized each of the suggested career pressures to staff the units in charge of the Holocaust. We highlight that our logic might also apply to less extreme forms of organizational evil. Together, the essay offers a novel perspective to demystify radical behavior in state and non-state organizations with important implications for our understanding of transnational terrorist violence and underworld crimes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberviac009
JournalInternational Studies Review
Issue number3
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2022

ID: 317452080