Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann

In her treatise on the banality of evil, Arendt demanded a rethink of established ideas about moral responsibility

Judith Butler

Fifty years ago the writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the end of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major figures in the organisation of the Holocaust. Covering the trial Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil", a phrase that has since become something of an intellectual cliche. But what did she really mean?

One thing Arendt certainly did not mean was that evil had become ordinary, or that Eichmann and his Nazi cohorts had committed an unexceptional crime. Indeed, she thought the crime was exceptional, if not unprecedented, and that as a result it demanded a new approach to legal judgment itself.

There were at least two challenges to legal judgment that she underscored, and then another to moral philosophy more generally. The first problem is that of legal intention. Did the courts have to prove that Eichmann intended to commit genocide in order to be convicted of the crime? Her argument was that Eichmann may well have lacked "intentions" insofar as he failed to think about the crime he was committing. She did not think he acted without conscious activity, but she insisted that the term "thinking" had to be reserved for a more reflective mode of rationality.

… Read More>>

Advertisements
Comments
One Response to “Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann”
  1. Toby Simmons says:

    Fascinating. A joy to read. Great blog all-round, by the way.
    Let me know what you think of mine . . . http://apieceofcoffee.wordpress.com/
    Keep on posting!

%d bloggers like this: