Hannah Arendt: The Banality and Banality of EvilJune 27, 2021
Philosopher Hannah Arendt was a witness to the trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, in 1961.
In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt writes of Eichmann’s obvious “everyday”. The figure standing in front of Arendt on the quay hardly resembles the kind of monster we can imagine. In fact, he wouldn’t look unseemly in a cafe or on the street.
After witnessing the trial, Arendt concludes that evil is not caused by malicious intent or taking pleasure in doing wrong. She argues that the way people behave is because they are victims of errors of thinking and reasoning. Repressive political systems can take advantage of our propensity for such mistakes and make actions we often consider “unthinkably” bad to appear normal.
According to Arendt, Eichmann, out of hatred of the Jewish community, did evil for following orders without considering their implications.
The idea that evil is commonplace does not lessen the horror of evil acts. Conversely, refusing to view people who have committed bad deeds as “monsters” brings those actions closer to our daily lives and invites us to think that evil is something we can all do in some way. Arendt says that we must be vigilant against the mistakes of our political regimes and possible mistakes in our own thinking and reasoning.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook