Unit 3 Assignment 1 — Research post; Jake Matthews

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

  • Hannah Arendt reported for The New Yorker in 1961 on the war crimes trial of Adolph Eichmann.
  • Arendt concluded that Eichmann was not amoral, sadistic, or evil; Eichmann committed evil acts simply out of a desire to advance his career.
  • Arendt said that Eichmann’s focus on his own goals and career advancement caused in him a lack of empathy that made him unable to realize the extent of his actions, in a manner comparable to the protagonist from Albert Camus’s The Stranger.
  • Arendt’s idea that there was a banality of evil said that evil can exist without evil intention as a result of simple ignorant apathy that causes one to not consider their actions’ consequences.
  • This faced criticisms from other philosophers; Mary McCarthy said that the lack of conscience seen in banality of evil made the doer a monster, Alan Wolfe said that too focus on the banality of evil took away from the monstrosity of one’s evil deeds.
  • Arendt described the acts of the Nazis as being akin to the pure evil of Hell itself, and agreed that Eichmann deserved the death sentence, but her idea of banality holds that he was not wholly evil, he just carried out evil.

Source on The Origins of Totalitarianism:

  • Sought to explain why European populations were amenable to totalitarianism, as an attempt to better understand what Arendt went through in the Holocaust.
  • Anti-semitism, race-thinking, and new imperialism laid the groundwork for nationalism, which can be used as a facet in totalitarianism.
  • Totalitarianism is characterized by Arendt by their emphasis on achieving new goals as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is attempted via the establishment of new canon and ideas that often disregard tradition.
  • Often totalitarianism accomplishes this via the use of terror (and propoganda to produce it) to focus the nation into the singular goal of uniting for self-defense, in this way the government gains unity and control by creating a common enemy.

Source onAdolf Eichmann:


  • Was a traveling salesman before the war, lost his job in the Great Depression.
  • Steadily progressed through the bureaucracy of the Nazi party, from Heinrich Hemler’s SS to the Austrian Legion, to the SS Sicherheitsdienst where he worked in the section concerning Jewish affairs.
  • Was sent to Vienna and Prague to completely rid the areas of Jews, then was transferred to the Reich Security Central Office’s section on Jewish affairs.
  • Eichmann was the chief planner and coordinator of the “final solution,” or the identification, assembly, and transportation of European Jews to extermination camps.
  • Eichmann was captured after the war, escaped a prison camp in 1946, dodged in and out of the Middle East for a decade before settling in Argentina.
  • Was arrested by Israeli secret service agents in 1960 and had a special trial in Israel, which was controversial due to cries of ex post facto justice.
  • Eichmann’s defense of himself was thus: I was following orders, I am not an anti-semite, I simply handled transportation of the operation as I was instructed. My office had nothing to do with any gassings, torture, or death. I’ve never even read Mein Kampf.
  • Eichmann was sentenced to death, the only death sentence an Israeli court has ever issued. He was hanged on May 31, 1962, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

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