Rachael Devecka Unit 3 Post 1

Adolf Eichmann, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and Hannah Arendt’s concept “Banality of Evil”:

  • Aeon: (https://aeon.co/ideas/what-did-hannah-arendt-really-mean-by-the-banality-of-evil)
    • Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi who organized transportation of Jews to concentration camps
    • Arendt covered Eichmann’s trial in 1961 for the New Yorker
      • Study: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
    • She decided “he was ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’, but rather ‘terrifyingly normal’” and “‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’”
      • He wanted to advance his career and was mentally incapable of feeling that what he did was ‘wrong’
      • Representative of Banality of Evil
    • Banality of Evil means…
      • Not evil per se, nor filled with evil intentions
      • A “joiner” who just hopped on the bandwagon and tried to do it well for his own gain
      • Shallowness
    • Controversy around concept
      • Mary McCarthy: “‘[I]t seems to me that what you are saying is that Eichmann lacks an inherent human quality: the capacity for thought, consciousness – conscience. But then isn’t he a monster simply?’”
        • My question: how much does intent actually matter? What is more evil, a conscious pre-meditated murder or one committed in the moment? A psychopath, or a sociopath?
      • Alan Wolfe: “Arendt concentrated too much on who Eichmann was, rather than what Eichmann did.”
        • My question: I think humanization is incredibly important, but I also think evil exists––so when is the line at which we need to stop humanizing people? What about in terms of mass shooters today? How does mental illness legitimately factor in without it being purely an excuse?
      • Historical errors –– she missed some of his ideological writings
        • Bettina Stangneth: Stagneth “shows Eichmann as a self-avowed, aggressive Nazi ideologue strongly committed to Nazi beliefs, who showed no remorse or guilt for his role in the Final Solution – a radically evil Third Reich operative living inside the deceptively normal shell of a bland bureaucrat. Far from being ‘thoughtless’, Eichmann had plenty of thoughts – thoughts of genocide, carried out on behalf of his beloved Nazi Party.”
      • “By taking a narrow legalistic, formalistic approach to the trial – she emphasised that there were no deeper issues at stake beyond the legal facts of Eichmann’s guilt or innocence”
    • The Origins of Totalitarianism (book)
      • In this book, Arendt argued the absolute, inhuman evil of Nazis
        • “‘[T]he reality of concentration camps resembles nothing so much as medieval pictures of Hell.’”
      • Written before Eichmann trial
      • Never reconciled the two concepts together
        • My question: are they incommensurable? Can a group and its actions be utterly evil and have members that are not?
  • Britannica: (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hannah-Arendt)
    • Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975)
    • Born in Germany
    • Jewish
      • Also dated her professor who then became a Nazi
    • Immigrated to Paris and then USA to escape Nazis
    • Political scientist and philosopher (Jewish affairs and totalitarianism)
      • Argued that totalitarianism was “the outcome of the disintegration of the traditional nation-state” and “totalitarian regimes, through their pursuit of raw political power and their neglect of material or utilitarian considerations, had revolutionized the social structure and made contemporary politics nearly impossible to predict.”
  • Wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann)
    • Eichmann (19 March 1906 – 1 June 1962) was in charge of transportation logistics for the “final solution”
      • Joined Nazis and SS in 1932
        • Head of Department for Jewish Affairs 1933
      • Did organization and logistics work, did NOT make policy
        • Jobs were…
          • Gathering intel on Jews by location
          • Planning for seizure of their property
          • Transportation (trains)
          • Staying in contact with the Foreign Office to figure out how to do the same in conquered countries
      • “Dieter Wisliceny testified at Nuremberg that Eichmann told him he would ‘leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.’”
    • Captured in Argentina 1 May 1960
    • Tried in Jerusalem
      • Found guilty of war crimes and hung in 1962
  • Wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism)
    • Arendt’s first major publication
      • Published 1951
    • Analysis of Nazism and Stalinism
      • Structured in form of three essays: Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism
      • Covers topics such as scientific racism, continental imperialism, the mechanics of totalitarianism, propaganda, and more
        • “totalitarian regimes seek to dominate every aspect of everyone’s life as a prelude to world domination”
    • Very well-received
  • Merriam Webster: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/banal)
    • Banal means:
      • Trite
      • Lacking originality or freshness
      • Insipid
      • Flat
      • Devoid of any novelty

Leave a Reply