A distinguish Emeritus Professor of Law, on the occasion of a new Eichmann film, has set out to trash Hannah Arendt’s “Banality of Evil.”
Arendt’s famous report of the Eichmann trial, at the time, upset a lot of people. They probably did not all understand her idea. And neither does this professor. He calls her, with fancies terms, a liar, pretender and lazy.
He accuses her of being blind to the “brilliant evilness” of the Nazi leaders. He completely misses the main point Arendt makes.
Coming to report on the trial, Arendt expected to see a monster in human form. Instead, she saw and reported something far more shocking. The most wicked people are not a special breed but rather especially ordinary exceptionally normal people gone totally wrong.
The main mistake her readers seemed to make was misunderstanding that she saw their wickedness is banal. She did not. They turned out totally evil but started out life just like you and me. Now that is shocking.
Unimpressive people, not standing out in any way, can be manipulated and enticed to glide off the slippery slope until they become evil itself.
(Not deterred by a fear to be the court case’s enfant terrible, she also attacked cooperation by Jewish Communities with the Nazis (vainly hoping to have a calming effect on the deportations) and the legitimacy of the court case (he was kidnapped, the trial sat politically good for the Zionists, he didn’t do any crime in Israel and he followed German law!).)
Great minds by necessity must be attacked by their less original more traditional contemporaries. Yet, she wrote this so long ago that to still trash her and her brave analysis must stem from laziness or obstinacy.
There is of course nothing wrong with a respectful argument-based attempt to refute her vision. History Prof. Deborah Lipstadt tries that but on substance – not a character assassination for lack of clear objections.
The law professor owes the daring maligned reporter a large apology.