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Evil as Thoughtlessness

  • Renée Jeffery
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Abstract

The problematic relationship identified between notions of intention, motivation, moral agency, and responsibility are perhaps most pronounced in the works of Hannah Arendt, the foremost philosopher of the Holocaust and the focus of this chapter.Arendt was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1906, studied at the Universities of Marburg, Freiburg, and Heidelberg where she received her doctorate in philosophy under the supervision of Karl Jaspers. Although not a victim of the Nazi concentration camps herself—Arendt escaped to France in 1933 and then to America in 1941—she devoted much of her intellectual energy to understanding the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust. In fact, it is probably fair to say that Arendt remains the most influential philosopher of the Holocaust to date. Of course, she is most famous, in scholarly and popular circles alike, for her 1963 work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, an account of the 1961 trial of the Nazi bureaucrat Adolph Eichmann that was first published in serial form in The New Yorker. Although this work has exerted an immense influence on subsequent discourse about evil, it is important to note that Arendt’s discussions of evil began much earlier in her 1951 work The Origins of Totalitarianism and her correspondence with Karl Jaspers in the 1940s.

Keywords

International Relation Moral Agency Concentration Camp Evil Action Radical Evil 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    C. S. Lewis, preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwstape Letters (London: G. Bles, 1961).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Hannah Arendt, “The Concentration Camps,” Partisan Review 15, no. 7 (1948): 745.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Hannah Arendt to Karl Jaspers, August 17, 1946, in Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers Correspondence 1920–1969 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1992), 69.Google Scholar
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    Dana Villa, Politics, Philosophy, Terror: Essays on the Thought of Hannah Arendt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 32.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Henry E. Allison, “Reflections on the Banality of (Radical) Evil: A Kantian Analysis,” in Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Maria Pia Lara (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 87.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    See Arendt, The Human Condition, for an explanation of the role of spontaneity in the vita activa. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    Arendt quoted in Richard J. Bernstein, “Did Hannah Arendt Change Her Mind? From Radical Evil to the Banality of Evil,” in Hannah Arendt: Twenty Years Later, ed. Larry May and Jerome Kohn (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1996), 130.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 1964), 5.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    Ibid., 263, 253.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Ibid., 21.Google Scholar
  11. 50.
    Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture,” Social Research 38, no. 3 (Fall, 1971): 417.Google Scholar
  12. 51.
    Bernard J. Bergen, The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt and “The Final Solution” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 102.Google Scholar
  13. 52.
    Arendt, The Life of the Mind, (London: Seder and Warburg, 1978), 60–61, and 13–14.Google Scholar
  14. 53.
    David Grumett, “Arendt, Augustine, and Evil,” The Heythrop Journal 41, (2000): 163.Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    Arendt, quoted in Dana R. Villa, “The Banality of Philosophy: Arendt on Heidegger and Eichmann,” in Hannah Arendt: Twenty Years Later, ed. Larry May and Jerome Kohn (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1996), 185.Google Scholar
  16. 56.
    Hannah Arendt, “For Martin Heidegger’s Eightieth Birthday,” in Martin Heidegger and National Socialism: Questions and Answers, ed. Günther Neske and Emil Kettering, trans. Lisa Harries (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 216.Google Scholar
  17. 62.
    Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture,” Social Research 38, no. 3 (Fall 1971): 24.Google Scholar
  18. 63.
  19. 71.
    Hannah Arendt, “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship,” Listener (August 6, 1964): 186.Google Scholar
  20. 72.
    Gershom Scholem to Hannah Arendt, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: An Exchange of Letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age, ed. Ron H. Feldman (New York: Grove Press, 1978), 245.Google Scholar
  21. 73.
    Hannah Arendt to Gershom Scholem, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: An Exchange of Letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt,” 251.Google Scholar
  22. 74.
  23. 76.
    Robert H. Pippen, “Hannah Arendt and the Bourgeois Origins of Totalitarian Evil,” in Modernity and the Problem of Evil, ed. Alan D. Schrift (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 149.Google Scholar
  24. 78.
    See Renée Jeffery and Nicholas Rengger, “Moral Evil and International Relations: Old Concepts, New Challenges?” SAIS Review of International Affairs 25 (2005): 3–16.Google Scholar
  25. 80.
    Bernard J. Bergen, The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt and “The Final Solution” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), ix.Google Scholar
  26. 81.
  27. 82.
    Julia Kristeva, Hannah Arendt, trans. Ross Guberman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 145.Google Scholar
  28. 91.
    Arendt, quoted in Seyla Benhabib, “Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, ed. Dana R. Villa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 70–71.Google Scholar
  29. 94.
    Ron H. Feldman, “The Jew as Pariah: The Case of Hannah Arendt (1906–1975),” in Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity in the Modern Age, ed. Ron H. Feldman, (New York: Grove Press, 1978), 17.Google Scholar
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    Tzvetan Todorov, “Ordinary People and Extraordinary Vices,” in Predrag Cicovacki (ed.), Destined for Evil? The Twentieth-Century Responses, (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2005), 122.Google Scholar
  31. 98.
    As Arendt made clear at a conference on her work in Toronto some years later: “You say I said there is an Eichmann in each one of us. Oh no! There is none in you and none in me! This doesn’t mean that there are not quite a number of Eichmanns. But they look really quite different. I always hated this notion of ‘Eichmann in each one of us.’ This is simply not true. This would be as untrue as the opposite, that Eichmann is in nobody.” “On Hannah Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvin A. Hill (New York: St. Martins Press, 1979), 308.Google Scholar
  32. 99.
    Fred E. Katz, Ordinary People and Extraordinary Evil: A Report on the Beguilings of Evil (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 7.Google Scholar
  33. 100.
  34. 101.
    Ibid., 26. See also Katz, Confronting Evil, 69–86.Google Scholar
  35. 102.
    Ibid., 37.Google Scholar
  36. 103.
  37. 104.
    Ibid., 103.Google Scholar
  38. 107.
    Herbert C. Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton, Crimes of Obedience: Towards a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 47.Google Scholar
  39. 109.
    Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (London: Penguin, 2001).Google Scholar
  40. 110.
    Staub, The Roots of Evil, 134; Clendinnen, Reading the Holocaust, 144. This notion of coming to enjoy killing also accords well with Joanna Bourke’s The Intimate History of Killing that documents the sense of enjoyment many soldiers have reported upon returning from war. Joanna Bourke, The Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (London: Granta Books, 1999).Google Scholar
  41. 111.
    Milgrim, quoted in Clendinnen, Reading the Holocaust, 147; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (London: Tavistock, 1974); Craig Haney, Curtis Banks, and Philip Zimbardo, “Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison,” International Journal of Criminology and Penology 1 (1983): 69–97.Google Scholar
  42. 116.
    Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 379.Google Scholar
  43. 117.
    Ibid., 597n4.Google Scholar

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© Renée Jeffery 2008

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  • Renée Jeffery

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