The banality of evil - Memory makes us free

The banality of evil

In 1963, the Jewish German philosopher Hannah Arendt, Heidegger’s pupil, published her book “The banality of evil: Eichmann in Jerusalem”, after having been a reporter for the “New Yorker” journal in Jerusalem, where the historical trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had been captured in Argentina, was held.

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt, 1954

Arendt’s thought is revolutionary under many aspects, to the point that it almost seemed offensive to some Jewish communities:

 «The trouble with the Eichmann case was that there were many men like him and they were neither perverse nor sadistic, instead they were, and they are, terribly normal. From the perspective of our legal institutions and our ethical canons, this commonness is scarier than all of the atrocities put together».

Adolf Eichmann durante ilprocesso di Gerusalemme
Adolf Eichmann during the trial in Jerusalem

A still-today-discussed thought which describes the “architect of holocaust” (so Eichmann was nicknamed) as an absolutely mediocre, ordinary, almost insignificant, not intelligent nor particularly wicked, and surprisingly devoid-of-dialogue-with-his-own-consciousness man

In Arendt’s opinion evil is not monstrous, it is not demoniac, behind it there is no depth, but only nothingness; it can’t be radical in as much as it is completely rootless, but only extreme, absolute, not traceable on a human measure.

Evil is devoid of thought, reason, and it is not an expression of a person, but the complete denial of it, and it is accomplished by “unaware volunteers”, people who refuse to think

Evil is devoid of thought, reason, and it is not an expression of a person, but the complete denial of it, and it is accomplished by “unaware volunteers”, people who refuse to think. Here it is, evil is absence of thought, absence of that dialogue that the soul entertains with itself, and Eichmann turned out to be the mirror of the absolute banality of evil, as much as devoid of thought, soul and being.

 The disturbing and unsettling underlying idea which has caused so much discussion and outrage between Jewish intellectuals, is not that monsters are hiding among us, but that all of us, depending on the circumstances, can become monsters

 An idea that, more than indignant, should raise new questions for each of us, much more important than the banal and reassuring answers of which we are too often satisfied. 

A good question is much better than many answers!

SOURCES:

Memory makes us Free - ISIS Europa