Unit 3 Assignment 1 – Kade McCulloch

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism and her concept of the “banality of evil”

  • Background on Hannah Arendt
  • Arendt was a Jewish born German
  • She was born in 1906 in Linden, Germany
  • Encountered increasing anti-semitism at the onset of the 1930’s during the rise of the Nazi Empire
  • In 1933, she was captured and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo
  • Fled to Paris after being released
  • When Germany invaded France in 1940, she was detained as an illegal immigrant. Moved to New York in 1941 where she spent the remainder of her life
  • Arendt wrote about topics such as totalitarianism in Germany and became one of the most important political philosophers of the 20th Century
  • (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Arendt)

  • “Banality of Evil” and the Trial of Adolf Eichmann
  • Arendt coined the term “banality of evil” when explaining the case of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1961
  • Court psychiatrists at the trial found Eichmann to be a normal man without any psychiatric disorders, yet he had committed violent crimes under the Nazi regime
  • Arendt concluded that people who commit evil acts are not necessarily twisted monsters, but oftentimes ignorant to reality and rationality
  • She contends that good has depth and can be radical, while evil does not possess depth; it is simply a failure to think
  • [Evil] defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.”
  • This concept of “banality of evil” can be seen in the Stanford Prison Experiment
  • (http://radioopensource.org/hannah-arendt-and-the-banality-of-evil/)
  • Arendt exemplified that Eichmann embodied “the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them.”
  • It does not take a radical, crazy, demonic person to commit evil. This is what makes evil so dangerous
  • (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/02/07/hannah-arendt-the-banality-of-evil/)
  • Adolf Eichmann
  • Before the rise of the Nazis, Eichmann worked as a traveling salesmen for an oil company
  • Joined the SS in 1932 and from there rose in the ranks to become a high official
  • At the infamous 1942 Wannsee Conference where the final solution was conceived, he was named the leader for coordinating the “final solution”
  • Eichmann organize the transportation of Jews to death camps such as Auschwitz and Dacau in addition to the gas chambers
  • Following the war, he was captured by US troops
  • Escaped to Argentina in 1946
  • In 1958, the Israeli Secret Services arrested Eichmann
  • In his trial, he portrayed himself as an innocent bureaucrat who simply followed his orders
  • Eichmann was sentenced to death by the court in 1961
  • Only death sentence to this day in the history of the Israeli Court system!
  • (https://www.britannica.com/topic/SS)
  • Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) by Hannah Arendt
  • Established Arendt as a major political philosopher of the 20th Century
  • Covers the interconnected complexes of anti-semitism, racism and imperialism
  • Accentuates totalitarianism as the collapse of the traditional nation-state
  • The only goal is raw power, rather than utilitarian considerations
  • (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hannah-Arendt#ref17737)
  • Mass movements that appeal to those who feel left out and ignored often breeds totalitarianism
  • In Germany, economic depression coupled with a depletion of national pride in the post-Versailles era sparked these conditions
  • Totalitarian movements furthermore rely on the destruction of reality
  • (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/arendt-matters-revisiting-origins-totalitarianism/)

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