It is clear that the power of complex modern states depends on the deeply ingrained tendency of most of their members to follow the rules, obey the laws, and do what is expected of them by the established authorities without deciding case by case whether they agree with what is being done. We turn ourselves easily into instruments of higher-order processes; the complex organizational hierarchies typical of modern life could not function otherwise—not only armies, but all bureaucratic institutions rely on such psychological dispositions.
This gives rise to what can be called the German problem. The generally valuable tendency to conform, not to break ranks conspicuously, not to attract attention to oneself, and to do one’s job and obey official instructions without substituting one’s own personal judgment can be put to the service of monstrous ends, and can maintain in power the most appalling regimes. The same procedural correctness that inhibits people from taking bribes may also turn them into obedient participants in well-organized official policies of segregation, deportation, and genocidal extermination. The problem is whether it is possible to have the benefits of conformity and bureaucratic obedience without the dangers.
Thomas Nagel, Equality and Partiality, Oxford, 1991, pp. 149-150