Eichmann in Jerusalem

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of EvilEichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hannah Arendt’s controversial report on the trial of Adolph Eichmann is one that refuses to view the event in black and white terms meaning that Eichmann is to be seen as a diabolical villain and the Israeli court as a righteous executor of justice. Although she judges Eichmann to be evil, it is through a moral vision that only sees shades of gray. It is easy to see why so many were (and still are) upset with her writing. Nonetheless, I found myself resonating with the following quotes:

“Eichmann, asked by the police examiner if the directive to avoid “unnecessary hardships” was not a bit ironic, in view of the fact that the destination of these people was certain death anyhow, did not even understand the question, so firmly was it still anchored in his mind that the unforgivable sin was not to kill people but to cause unnecessary pain.” (p. 109).

“Let us assume for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politic obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations–as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world–we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.” (p. 279)

“Eichmann was not Iago or Macbeth, and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III “to prove the villain.” Except for extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was not criminal; he certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post. He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he has doing. […] It was sheer thoughtlessness–something by no means identical with stupidity–that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period. And if this is “banal” and even funny, if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann, that is still far from calling commonplace.” (p, 287, 289)

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