Model-murderers. Afterthoughts on the Goldhagen method and history

C.F.G. Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article analyses the theoretical and methodological structure of Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners. It argues that the paradoxical success of HWE can better be understood when its paradoxical implicit theory and method are understood. Although Goldhagen claims that HWE embodies an application of rigorous social science methods to the domain of 'narrative' Holocaust-history, it is shown that HWE is, in effect, an example of 'model platonism'. This means that, basically, in HWE a model is used as a substitute for historical reality instead of as an instrument in order to explain history. Therefore, HWE is not only lacking the empirical comparisons needed to back up its major explanatory claims (as was pointed out by many of its critics), but - under closer scrutiny - can be shown to bear a remarkable 'circular' character. This 'circular' character of HWE clarifies why the premises and the conclusions of HWE are identical and why HWE remains utterly immune to all empirical evidence that contradicts its premises. Goldhagen's contribution to Holocaust-history, meant as a replacement of old fashioned 'narrative' methods, therefore, in the end appears to be a demonstration of a method that can best be avoided - inside and outside Holocaust-history. © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-150
Number of pages20
JournalRethinking History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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