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Abstract

In the first part of this paper, we re-examine the historical and psychological case for ‘the banality of evil’– the idea that people commit extreme acts of inhumanity, and more particularly genocides, in a state where they lack awareness or else control over what they are doing. Instead, we provide evidence that those who commit great wrongs knowingly choose to act as they do because they believe that what they are doing is right. In the second part of the paper, we then outline an integrative five-step social identity model that details the processes through which inhumane acts against other groups can come to be celebrated as right. The five steps are: (i) Identification, the construction of an ingroup; (ii) Exclusion, the definition of targets as external to the ingroup; (iii) Threat, the representation of these targets as endangering ingroup identity; (iv) Virtue, the championing of the ingroup as (uniquely) good; and (v) Celebration, embracing the eradication of the outgroup as necessary to the defence of virtue.