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Nihilism in Political Chaos: Himmler, bin Laden, and Altruistic Punishment

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Achieving cooperation in the midst of political chaos is difficult, yet possible if under­stood within the context of facilitating conditions. These conditions are found within Germany after World War I, and portions of the contemporary Islamic world. Increased unity of the Palestinians since the onset of the current intifada, immense popularity of the name "Osama" since the events of September 11, and the extraordinary level of cooperation within Germany prior to and during World War II are examined. Altruistic punishment--costly to individual perpetrators of atrocity and without material gain for them--is used to explain this high level of cooperation. Where unity is deeply desired, self-sacrifice in the furtherance of a morally justified cause, however perverse, can increase the level of cooperation. The political views and experiences of Heinrich Himmler and Osama bin Laden, as well as those of their intellectual mentors, are offered to substantiate the importance of altruistic punishment as a progenitor of cooperation within politically chaotic settings.­
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Publication date: 01 May 2004

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