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The Banality of Rhetoric? Assessing Steven Katz's "The Ethic of Expediency" Against Current Scholarship on the Holocaust   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Since 1992, Steven Katz's "The Ethic of Expediency" on the rhetoric of technical communication during the Holocaust has become a reference point for discussions of ethics. But how does his thesis compare to current understandings of the Holocaust? As this article describes, Katz was in step with the trend two decades ago to universalize the lessons of the genocide but his thesis presents key problems for Holocaust scholars today. Against his assertion that pure technological expediency was the ethos of Nazi Germany, current scholarship emphasizes the role of ideology. Does that invalidate his thesis? Katz's analysis of rhetoric and his universalizing application to the Holocaust are two claims that may be considered separately. Yet even if one does not agree that "expediency" is inherent in Western rhetoric, Katz has raised awareness that phronesis is socially constructed so that rhetoric can be unethically employed. Thus, rather than remain an uncritically accepted heuristic for technical communicators, "The Ethic of Expediency" can be a starting point for ongoing exploration into the ethical and rhetorical dimensions of the genre.

Ward, Mark. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2009). Articles>Education>History>Ethics