Tätertyp: the horror of ‘author’s guiltness’

Tätertyp is not the wrong way to spell the first name of a Mediterranean European head of state, a Central European-inspired font, nor even the expensive new iteration of a Leica M-series. Tätertyp is a hideous, hateful, obscene word. Tätertyp is the idea that one should be punished, even by death, for what one is and not for what one has done by Andrea Monti – Originally published in Italian on Strategikon – an Italian Tech blog

Applying “author’s guilt” – that is the translation of this obscenity – during the Third Reich, it was not necessary for someone to have materially committed a crime. It was enough to fit into the “type,” that is, the “category,” to be punished or put to death. So much for the Minority Report’s Precrime.

Francesco Forzati, in an article published in the Italian Journal of Criminal Law and Procedure, effectively explains in a few sentences how perpetrator guilt works(goes): “The centrality of the fact and guilt (for the fact) will thus be replaced by guilt for the conduct of life, inferred from the antisociality and moral unworthiness expressed by the behaviors. The final landing place of the Enlightenment process of de-materialization of the liberal crime will be the Gesinnungsstrafrecht of the Kiel school, that is, the theorization of the Täter-Prinzip, as a criterion of legitimization not so much and not only of the type of perpetrator, but of the ontological category of the enemy of the people, which will channel the punishment on an entirely ethical, ethnic and anthropological disvalue.”

For decades, at least in Western democracies and indeed, in Italy, those scholars, judges, prosecutors and lawyers expert in criminal law lulled themselves into the tranquillizing belief that this barbarity was now consigned to history and that no one would ever again be punished for his or her “diversity” from the “gesundesvolksempfinden” and thus from the “moral values” of the “community.” Then came the Duck Test (if something “looks” like a duck, then “is” a duck), only instead of being used to recognize palmipeds, it was applied to terrorism. In the name of an ambiguous “prevention” criterion, the coincidence of reality and perception was enshrined. So, if something – someone – “is” as dangerous as it “seems”, I may as well shoot him because I cannot risk being wrong. And if I kill it … little harm: it looked real. Finally came social networks with their tremendous ability to catalyze the “ethical” beliefs of a horde of irrelevant individuals and trigger destructive reactions directed toward those who do not fit, not the individual, but the myriad “types” created by each. However, with COVID-19 first and with the Russo-Ukrainian conflict later, the Täter-Prinzip was finally resurrected more potent and more deadly than ever. It has been applied not only by packs of rabid jackals savagely assaulting those guilty of “doubting,” but also by politicians, rulers and information professionals who have resorted mainly to the shortcut of stigma as a tool of social control and repression of critical thinking.

Without fiddling around, let’s be crystal clear: the point is not to “clear-cut” in the name of political correctness superstitions and baseless ideas and claim, therefore, that the “no-vaxers” were (right to be) right or that the “putinians” are in the “right.” The right to express an idea does not, in itself, make it acceptable or correct. Instead, the question that should be asked is why we have decided that a public debate on matters, literally, of life and death, should be conducted by a limited number of people, extolling ethical views (or, more pettyly, the “in my opinion“) of this or that “talking head” instead of comparing facts and arguments supported by those with knowledge. And we should also ask ourselves why those who are invited to explain facts within their own knowledge speak from authority rather than authority and slip slowly but surely into claiming to speak with the presumption of truth even on topics about which they know nothing.

However, there is an even more disturbing question raised by the resurrection of authorial guilt. It concerns what we have become (or what we have discovered we have always been) thanks to the ubiquity of profiling and the widespread belief that, precisely, human beings can be classified into “types” indeed, into “typ” not only to sell them something but to govern them based on their “place”.

There is a blasphemous link between the author’s guilt of the Nazi period, modern “digital marketing” strategies and social control strategies such as nudging based on profiling. The link is the belief, moreover empirically proven true, that freedom is only within a cage with solid bars and a broken key in the lock once locked inside. What matters is that the cage is comfortable enough not to provoke the desire to escape or sturdy enough to discourage it; and that it allows summary justice to be meted out to those who dare attempt escape or even think of doing so.

Unlike Nazi ideology, however, the sign of our time is not only the dangerous return of state (or rather supranational entity) ethics as a substitute for law (i.e., political mediation between different worldviews) but individual arrogance based on which to claim absolute value for beliefs that, in other times, would have lost meaning as soon as the front door was closed behind one’s back.

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