Monday, May 13, 2019

Patrick Bergemann's "Judge Thy Neighbor"

Patrick Bergemann is an Assistant Professor of Organizations and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
This book seeks to understand why individuals turn each other in to the authorities for wrongdoing. Such behavior goes by many different names—snitching, ratting, tattling, denouncing—but the practice is fundamentally the same. In this book, I look at three settings—Spain in the early years of the Spanish Inquisition, Russia at the beginning of the Romanov dynasty, and Nazi Germany—where such behavior was particularly prevalent. Across all three, I explore what led individuals to turn in their neighbors and whether or not there are general patterns of behavior that are consistent across settings.

Page 99 of the book includes a description of the second setting: Romanov Russia in the 1600s. At the top of the page is a histogram showing the years (ranging from 1605 to 1649) in which the 453 denunciations I analyze occurred. This figure is representative of my overall approach; in order to understand why people turned each other in, I need to get as close to the people involved as possible. By analyzing texts of the crimes as reported to the authorities, along with the ensuing investigations, I find that these denunciations were neither made in service of the state nor to protect the local community. Instead, they were most frequently reported for very personal reasons: either in an attempt to gain benefits from the authorities or to resolve private disputes.

Throughout the chapter, I include a variety of examples of the offenses for which people were denounced. One man allegedly declared, “You will find on me the same beard as on the Sovereign,” while another announced, “I sit in darkness and poverty now, but when I get out of jail I will be tsar over all you common men.” Perhaps the most colorful example comes from page 103:
Two Cossacks named Ivashko Vezema and Ortem Zharenyi had an argument…in August 1626. Vezema told Zharenyi that he was sick of Zharenyi’s boasting and had made reports about his behavior to the sovereign in the past. Zharenyi responded by saying, “I wipe myself with your reports.” For this Vezema denounced him, as the reports would have contained the sovereign’s name and wiping oneself with the tsar’s name could have been considered a punishable offense. An investigation ensued and Zharenyi was questioned. He explained that, although he had indeed made the statement, he was only referring to Vezema’s oral reports, which could not have properly contained the sovereign’s name. The authorities concluded that Vezema had misrepresented Zharenyi’s words and ordered Vezema beaten with cudgels.
Although the particulars of this example are unique, similar denunciations were prevalent across all the settings I examined. Individuals largely did not care about preventing crimes, but instead sought to co-opt the authorities for the resolution of personal conflicts.
Visit Patrick Bergemann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue