Evil’s Architect

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 25 2012 @ 8:07am


Roger Forsgren has a fascinating meditation on the life of Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and engineer who used "his brilliant technical expertise and talents to enable the war efforts of the most evil regime in history." Forsgren ponders the lessons Speer contains for all who work to increase the power at man's disposal:

Albert Speer’s life is a warning to all engineers that their creative powers to design and build are capable also of unleashing tremendous harm and destruction. In a sense, there were perhaps few more dangerous men in the twentieth century than Albert Speer — all the more so because he did not fully realize what he was doing. It was almost too late in his life, and certainly too late for the world and the lives lost, when Speer finally understood his horrific personal failures.

It might be said that Speer exemplifies what happens when a technical person becomes too absorbed in his work. Speer claimed at his trial that he was simply doing what nearly any other architect would have done; he was too busy “studying far into the night” to even discuss the political world exploding all around him, too lacking in the ability to think discriminately and critically, and so he found himself “unable to deal with the arguments” of his cohorts, and instead just went along. Perhaps it is the inherent nature of the technical disciplines that brings their practitioners to view the world with a practical eye, to possess a preoccupation with efficiency and order — even to the point of ignoring the humane values of dignity and justice. These are characteristics that will surely sound familiar, to some extent, to those who have worked with engineers, even if in far less sinister contexts.

(Photo: Albert Speer with Adolf Hitler, from the German Federal Archive, via Wikimedia Commons)