Unit 3: Assignment 1 by Gwenyth Van Doren

Hannah Arendt’s concept of “Banality of Evil”

  • Questioned whether one can do evil without being evil
    • In regards to the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi operative responsible for organising the transportation of millions of Jews and others to various concentration camps in support of the Nazi’s Final Solution
  • Arendt concluded that Eichmann was not a monster, but someone who committed “evil deeds without evil intentions”
    • Eichmann was able to commit such acts because he disengaged from reality and did not think about anyone other than himself
  • “Banality of Evil” = those who are not inherently evil, but “merely shallow and clueless” / a ‘“joiner”’
    • Eichmann “drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief”
  • Received widespread critique and controversy 
    • If someone doesn’t have a conscience, aren’t they a monster?
    • How can someone play a key role in the Nazi genocide without evil intentions?
    • Concentrates too much on who someone is rather than what they did
  • Did Arendt just miss the “radically evil” side of Eichmann?
  • Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” does not defend Eichmann or downplay the atrocities he committed
    • Eichmann’s motives = obscure, but his genocidal acts were not

Source: https://aeon.co/ideas/what-did-hannah-arendt-really-mean-by-the-banality-of-evil

Hannah Arendt’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • Published in 1951
  • Arendt’s first major work
  • Describes and analyzes Nazism and Stalinism 
  • Structured as three essays
    • “Antisemitism”
      • Describes the various preconditions and subsequent rise of anti-Semitism in central, eastern, and western Europe in the early-to-mid 19th century
    • “Imperialism”
      • Examines the New Imperialism, from 1884 to the start of the First World War (1914–18)
      • Traces the emergence of racism as an ideology, and its modern application as an “ideological weapon for imperialism”, by the Boers during the Great Trek (1830s–40s) in the early 19th century
    • “Totalitarianism”
      • Arendt argues that totalitarianism was a “novel form of government,” that “differs essentially from other forms of political oppression known to us such as despotism, tyranny and dictatorship” in that it applied terror to subjugate mass populations rather than just political adversaries
      • To Arendt, Jewry = convenient proxy, but not the operative factor in the Holocaust
      • Totalitarianism in Germany = terror and consistency, not eradicating Jews only
  • Key concept = the application of Kant’s phrase “Radical Evil”, which Arendt applied to the men who created and carried out such tyranny and their depiction of their victims as “Superfluous People”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism

Adolf Eichmann 

  • German-Austrian SS-Obersturmbannführer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust
  • Tasked by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II
  • Captured by the Mossad in Argentina on 11 May 1960
  • Found guilty of war crimes in a widely publicised trial in Jerusalem
    • During the trial, he did not deny the Holocaust or his role in organising it, but claimed that he was simply following orders in a totalitarian Führerprinzip system.
    • Executed by hanging in 1962

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann

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