Lauren Meyers: Unit 3, Assignment 1

Hannah Arendt and “Banality of Evil”

  • “banality” of evil = an insight into the commonplace motives of perpetrators of evil
  • How do you uphold your standards of humanity in a world that seems to be falling apart? Is the person that commits evil acts under these circumstances less guilty than that who commits evil during a peaceful time? 
  • “under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not”
  • Evil does not possess any depth… this is why it is “banal”

  • Eichmann “performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts”
  • He was not a psychopath, but a normal human.
  • Banality= thoughtlessness, disengagement from reality (holes of oblivion), “joiner”
  • Moral responsibility and Indeterminism… under indeterminism, nothing causes the action. Responsibility requires someone bringing about an act. Should we hold Eichmann responsible for his actions if he had no intention or evil motive?
  • Arendt says yes. Though his motives were thought-defying, his genocidal actions were not.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • Published in 1951, based on research and writings from the 1940s
  • Purpose: understand the origins of totalitarianism, not its causes
  • The disparity between cause and effect resulted in surprising horrors
  • The “bads” that seem insignificant come together and create a “maelstrom of evil”
  • Great social alienation led to mob mentality. Collectively hate society from which they are excluded.
  • Easier to manipulate a society that is full of resentment
  • These movements thrived on destruction of reality. 
  • “Nazis’ promise of Aryan superiority is stabilizing”… people would overlook lies and murder if it benefitted them 
  • People like promises of consistency

Adolf Eichmann

  • 1906-1962, hanged by state of Israel for part in Holocaust
  • Joined Nazi Party in 1932 in Linz
  • Chief executioner of “final solution.” Organized identification, assembly, and transportation of Jews to extermination camps
  • US troops captured him but he escaped from a prison camp in 1946. He was arrested by Israeli secret service agents in Argentina in 1960. .
  • Under questioning, he said that he disagreed with vulgar anti-Semitism 
  • Claimed he was more interested in Jews than Arabs.. Argued obedience and said he was only carrying out his assigned duties. However, he actually was innovative and found ways to deal with equipment shortages so that he could transport more Jews.
  • Controversy followed the trial… Arendt’s “portrayal of Eichmann as banal rather than demonic provoked a storm of debate that lasted for almost a decade”
  • Was Eichmann really just a functionary?

  • Herrmann, a blind Jewish refugee, learned about Eichmann’s whereabouts through his daughter Sylvia who dated one of Eichmann’s sons. He wrote to Germany with the information.
  • Bauer, a German-Jewish judge, covertly tipped off the Israeli secret service because he was worried that “Nazi sympathizers would alert Eichmann to any German investigation”
  • The snatch team was made up of people who had had family members die in the Holocaust.
  • They observed him and discovered that his routine was predictable. They captured him as he walked home after getting off a city bus after work.
  • “They took him to a ‘safe house’ in Buenos Aires, where he was interrogated for days before he was drugged and put on a plane to Israel” for the trial.

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