Unit 3, Assignment 1, Virginia Adams

“Banality of Evil”

  • Term was coined in writing by Hannah Arendt on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a leading organizer within the Nazi party, and on the questions of legality and moral judgement his impressive and unprecedented crime introduced
  • Huge issue of the definition of intention: although he obviously acted consciously in carrying out his actions, he likely was not actively thinking about the fact that he was making a genocide happen 
    • Draws a distinction between intending to do actions that work towards a greater purpose or intending to enact a greater purpose with one’s actions
    • Banal=the unthinking that comes with not reflecting on the external ramifications of one’s actions and their role in a greater plan
  • The great horror of this crime centers around its routine, systematic, and accepted (without major moral issues or objections) nature for those who enacted it and it thus became “banal” to them
  • Arendt argues for a new international system (of laws, courts, etc) because of the revolution the Nazis brought about that does not fit into the old system
    • A new type of crime requires a new response mechanism
  • The Nazis exemplify the result when thinking disappears and how this complex leads to “unthinkable” crimes against humanity that cannot happen with thinking
  • Concern that, when one “I” joins up in a group defined as “we”, the “I” might care more about remaining among the “we” than thinking substantially for itself and this collective action allows for the execution of the goals of a dictatorship, in this case
  • https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/hannah-arendt-adolf-eichmann-banality-of-evil (source consulted)

Origins of Totalitarianism

  • A book by Hannah Arendt, focusing on Naziism and Stalinism, and how their organization and overall structure gave way to their domination
  • Believes that the establishment of totalitarianism was influenced immensely by historical precedent of imperialism, which uses an ideological racism to allow a perceived superiority to justify the conquest of a land and its people through violence
    • The results of imperialism generate about nationalism, the pride in such a conquest
  • Although neither of these fit with totalitarianism, they illustrate the thinking that preceded it according to Arendt
  • Also, in discussions of prejudice, she establishes antisemitism not as a true hatred of the Jews but rather as a secular construct used in pursuit of destiny and as an explanation of superiority (under the scheme of Naziism)
  • On the theory of totalitarianism, she posits how mass movements define this system and the objectives of a totalitarian regime require loyalty for their execution
  • Totalitarianism works by taking advantage of an environment of uncertainty and of those who feel alone and provides a certainty with promises of a completely new order and system (goal of domination) and provides something to latch onto with this movement
    • A totalitarian movement must mobilize the masses to form
  • Terror defines these movements and totalitarian leaders use it to strip humans of their uniqueness, and freedom (in, for example, mass executions such as those under Naziism and Stalinism)
    • These executions convey the disregard for human dignity the leaders of such movements possess in their efforts towards mass domination (goal is one mass in favor of their leadership, strips humans down into categories and then eliminates the categories undesirable for the mass to help them justify the construction of this mass)
  • Propaganda allows regimes to construe their own realities that work towards the creation of this mass
  • https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/arendthtml/essayb1.html (source consulted)
  • https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/arendt-matters-revisiting-origins-totalitarianism/ (source consulted)
  • https://notevenpast.org/hannah-arendts-the-origins-of-totalitarianism/ (source consulted)

Adolf Eichmann

  • Middle class, an oil salesman who lost his job in the Great Depression and moved to Austria during World War One
  • Joined the Nazi Party in 1932, and made his way up the ranks into an SS office for Jewish affairs
  • His initial tasks were removing Jews from Vienna and Prague
  • He then gained leadership within coordinating a conference in Berlin focusing on the final solution (mass executions of Jews) and this position made him a face for the final solution
  • He primarily organized the acquisition of the Jews and their allocation to camps
  • He fled after the war and Israeli forces captured him in Argentina
  • These authorities brought him back to Israel for trial, but this posed a large question on ex post facto law as Israel did not exist during the time of the Holocaust
    • Idea of retroactively projecting standards that did not exist at the time of the crime’s execution, concern that he could not justly be found guilty of anything under a court that did not exist during the time of his crime
  • Others presented alternative methods of trial such as an international tribunal or in Germany, but the Israel insisted (likely on the basis of pride and out of a desire to send a message)
  • Eichmann denied any personal antisemitism, claimed to have never read “Mein Kampf” or canonical anti-semitic works and instead presented himself as a victim of orders he had to follow
  • He disavowed himself of direct responsibility to the outcome of these camps, positing that despite some awareness the executions did not fall under his purview
  • Exemplified a frequent argument of obedience used by Nazis
  • However, he frequently displayed innovation in doing his job which does suggest a desire to work towards this goal of the camps
  • The Israeli Court ultimately sentenced him to death
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Adolf-Eichmann (source consulted)

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