The Banality of Radical Evil

By Silke Ann Mariz Mariano.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The views of Hannah Arendt on totalitarianism and her ideas of radical evil and the banality of evil have sparked controversies that flourish with increasing fertility. In her influential work published in 1951, The Origins of Totalitarianism, she insisted that the totalitarian destruction of spontaneity as an element of human behavior and the extermination of whole populations for no utilitarian or intelligible reason at all through total terror together constituted what she called radical evil. However, she apparently changed her view on the nature of evil when she covered the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for the The New Yorker. Her 1963 report, Eichmann in Jerusalem, argued for the banality of totalitarian evil, that it arose from thoughtlessness. This apparent shift, alleged to be real by commentators, critic and sympathizer alike, and by Arendt herself, in favor of the idea of banality plunged her into headlong conflict with the Jewish community which, with considerable justification, interpreted her position as an exoneration of Eichmann. It is the main thesis of this paper that Arendt not only had not changed her mind about the nature of totalitarian evil but also that the major doctrines of The Origins - the Doctrine of Totalitarian Logicality, the Doctrine of Universal Parity of Victims and Executioners and the Doctrine of Counter-utilitarianism and Senselessness - imply the conception of banality upheld in her later work. In fact, The Origins already speaks explicitly of banality. The paper also attempts to show that this interpretation of Arendt can easily dispose of several, otherwise powerful, objections raised against such conception. Finally, a partial explanation is offered for why Arendt came to believe falsely that she had changed her mind on the nature of totalitarian evil.

Keywords: Arendt, Radical Evil, Eichmann, Banality, Thoughtlessness, Totalitarianism

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.123-138. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.203MB).

Silke Ann Mariz Mariano

Student, Mililani School, Waipahu, Hawaii, USA

Student of Mililani School. Interests in the areas of mathematics, physics, history of philosophy and political philosophy. Presently concerned with the philosophies of Karl Popper and Hannah Arendt, and intends to do a comparative study of these thinkers with emphasis on their respective analyses of totalitarianism.


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