In the aftermath of World War II, Hannah Arendt predicted that “the problem of evil [would] be the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe.”1 However, as evidence would seem to suggest and, as Richard Bernstein has pointed out on several occasions, “she was wrong. Most post-war intellectuals avoided any direct confrontation with the problem of evil.”2 While the horrors of the Holocaust remained a permanent scar on the European psyche, concern with evil and the overt discussion of the range of problems associated with it largely disappeared in general Western political thought. Indeed, with a few rare exceptions—notably Arendt’s own Eichmann in Jerusalem and Paul Ricoeur’s The Symbolism of Evil3—the fifty years following the end of World War II was marked by deafening silence on the subject.
KeywordsMoral Condemnation Moral Outrage Political Consciousness Moral Evil Cosmological Problem
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- 1.Hannah Arendt, “Nightmare and Flight,” in Hannah Arendt: Essays in Understanding, 1930–1954, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1994), 134.Google Scholar
- 2.Richard J. Bernstein, Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1996), 137.Google Scholar
- 3.Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem; Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967).Google Scholar
- 4.Susan Sontag, “In Plato’s Cave,” in On Photography (London: Allen Lane, 1977), 19.Google Scholar