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July 13, 2015
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The phrase coined by Hannah Arendt, which also summarizes the main argument of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Contrary to the main idea contained in monotheistic religions preaching that human nature is essentially good and errs only when it deviates from the 'normal', Arendt argues that evilness may and does result from following the normal, the given, without reasoning and contemplating. The chapters cover Adolf Eichmann's involvement in the Final Solution, the mass extermination of the jews throughout Europe, which is also the story of his professional life. Two important quotations from the book convey pretty much what Arendt had in mind:

'The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.'

'The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.'

The final paragraphs, in which Arendt tells the end of Eichmann, epitomizes the idea, finishing with two words that ultimately ended up as the name of the book, and the phrase that encapsulated her approach to human nature:

'Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the protestant minister the Reverend William Hull who offered to read the Bible with him: he had only two more hours to live and therefore no “time to waste.” He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. “I don’t need that.” he said when the black hood was offered him. He was in complete command of himself nay he was more: he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a gottgläubiger to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no christian and did not believe in life after death. He then proceeded: “After a short while gentlemen we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them.” In the face of death he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows his memory played him the last trick he was “elated” and he forgot that this was his own funeral.

It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us - the lesson of the fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.'
by hermes 3 years ago
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