Hannah Arendt and the "Banality of Evil"
The banality of evil (the Eichmann trial) by Hannah Arendt is a book on the destruction of conscious and deep thinking in view of the historical context of the Third Reich and the Holocaust.
I won't go into the person Eichmann but rather highlight the strict scientific conception of "Evil" in relation to "banality".
Arendt focused on the terminology "banal" - which she had adopted from the Kantian repertoire - by declaring Eichmann's intentional actions as "banal" for he could not differentiate between good and evil due to his unalterable obedience. Unfortunately this explanation was seen as an assertion of Eichmann's innocence which triggered outrage and astonishment among many Jews.
In consequence of which Arendt had to endure several years of loud criticism. But why? Surely there were many emotions involved from the Jewish perspective, but as a Jewish author, contemporary witness and political philosopher, one could have conceded to her an objective scientific as well as an emotional approach?
While reading her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem" one has to philosophically and politically think one's way into the subject matter as the term "banality" in no way means to relieve the guilt from the perpetrator but rather emphasizes the terrifying consequences of a regime which managed to form obedient, unthinking executioners out of "terribly normal" persons. " "They wished to make the entire Jewish people disappear from the face of the earth" (Eichmann in Jerusalem, page 404).
A consequence of such obedience is the fact that banality of evil interrupts independent thinking, even eliminating it which is achieved with manipulation by the totalitarian rule which is to say that spontaneity and thinking are systematically destroyed. As a consequence the liberty to think and the privilege of thinking is completely erased. Instead, mere obedience is in the foreground.
In addition Arendt states the following in a correspondence with Scholem:
"The fact is that today I think that evil in every instance is only extreme, never radical: it has no depth, and therefore has nothing demonic about it. Evil can lay to waste the entire world, like a fungus growing rampant on the surface. Only the good is always deep and radical. "
With her rationale, Arendt by no means wanted to relieve the Nazis of their guilt, to the contrary, the mere execution of orders creates a reality that leaves no room for independent thinking and thus becomes dangerous for executioner of orders and fellow humans.
As mentioned above, if the doer does not assume responsibility for his actions, then a "innocence in guilt" accrues as the doer sees himself as "obedient and correct". This dangerous assessment of such a reality may take shape in perversions that can lead to sadistic and ruthless behaviour in order to "correctly" execute the command. Human experimentation occurred often in such tolalitarian regimes.
Hannah Arendt emphasises that thinking and emotions are linked.
So what if the absence of thinking leads to the absence of emotions, then one cannot speak of a conscience which is essential in shaping the reality of a interhuman existence.
If one now examines the aspects thinking - feeling - acting, one can ascertain that independent thinking creates depth and thus shapes goodness. Feeling also goes with thinking and acting emerges as a consequence of reason.
So if in this chain the thinking breaks off then feeling gets eliminated, too, and only acting remains which can be indoctrinated in a manipulative way, commands are made and executed. In this innocence of human existence, evil and cruelty emerge but this is not identified as evil within the perpetrator's reality.
Ultimately Hannah Arendt was accused of downplaying the Third Reich and its consequences because of her thesis.
I don't think that this is the case because she spoke of a chain of reactions and of the causalities that go with this. I find it more terrifying when a human acts in evil and unscrupulous ways intentionally than people being manipulated into a reality that allows them to act cruelly on purpose without realizing it.
Have you read "Eichmann in Jerusalem" and if so, how do you see this?
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