Unit 3 Assignment 1 by Skylar McVicar

Hannah Arendt

  • German-born American political scientist and philosopher known for her critical writing on Jewish affairs and her study of totalitarianism
  • Arendt fled Germany after her boyfriend joined the Nazi party. 
  • She again became a fugitive from the Nazis in 1941
  • She and her husband immigrated to the United States and naturalized.
  • She became a professor at the University of Chicago.


“Banality of Evil” in Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • Arendt’s reputation as a major political thinker was established by her Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which also treated 19th-century anti-Semitism, imperialism, and racism.
  • Arendt viewed the growth of totalitarianism as the outcome of the disintegration of the traditional nation-state.
  • She argued that 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.
  •  Arendt argued that Eichmann’s crimes resulted not from a wicked or depraved character but from sheer “thoughtlessness”: he was simply an ambitious bureaucrat who failed to reflect on the enormity of what he was doing.
  •  His role in the mass extermination of Jews epitomized “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil” that had spread across Europe at the time. Arendt’s refusal to recognize Eichmann as “inwardly” evil prompted fierce denunciations from both Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals.


  • Arendt tried to tackle a string of questions not necessarily answered by the trial itself: Where does evil come from? Why do people commit evil acts? How are those people different from the rest of us?


Adolf Eichmann

  • German high official who was hanged by the State of Israel for his part in the Holocaust, the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II.
  • became a member of Heinrich Himmler’s SS, the Nazi paramilitary corps
  • Eichmann had in effect been named chief executioner of the “Final Solution” to the Jewish question
  • Under questioning after the war, Eichmann claimed not to be an anti-Semite
  • Denying responsibility for the mass killings, he said, “I couldn’t help myself; I had orders”
  • Eichmann was sentenced to death, the only death sentence ever imposed by an Israeli court.
  • Hannah Arendt, a German-born Jewish American political philosopher, covered the trial for The New Yorker. Later published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her articles’ portrayal of Eichmann as banal rather than demonic provoked a storm of debate that lasted for almost a decade.


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