Richard Brody at New Yorker Rips Hannah Arendt

I've always despised Hannah Arendt for the chutzpah of mitigating Eichmann's horrifying evil, "He was a typical functionary" she says, and his evil was "banal".

And I am one of those, "Jews who were infuriated by [her] charges of Jewish complicity in the Holocaust."

Brody has a lucid powerful new post on the matter of Arendt in the New Yorker ("HANNAH ARENDT’S FAILURES OF IMAGINATION") in which among other trenchant observations he says,
... Arendt reveals the ground for her belief that Eichmann was no ideological Nazi but, in fact, was just a blind functionary. Not being an intellectual, he couldn’t have had “ideas” or “terrifically interesting things” to think about Hitler, and, therefore, he couldn’t have “really believed in Nazism.” I’ve long believed that her division of the world into those who “think” and those, like Eichmann, who speak in what she calls “clichés” reflects the snobbery of a proud member of the intellectual class. It’s a strange badge of intellectual honor to ascribe true belief in Nazism solely to intellectuals, and it is yet another sign that the passions and the hatreds on which the movement ran were essentially beyond Arendt’s purview. Second, her charge against the intellectual class—that they invent “completely fantastic and interesting and complicated things” and get “trapped in their own ideas”—is the perfect description of her own heavily theoretical and utterly impersonal view of Eichmann.


Richard said...

I think that Hannah Arendt - like Simon Wiesenthal - is guilty of trying to overt think the motivations behind the criminal minds of the likes of Adolf Eichmann. This man was a murderer of the worst kind, and his execution of death by hanging - proceeded by a bottle of wine (courtesy of the Israeli penal system) - was probably way too lenient. Personally, I think that burning at the stake might have been more appropriate - on "slow cook" mode. Then again the hallmark of civilized behavior is one where abhorrent criminals are to be treated better than the barbarous ways that they would indulge in.

Sometimes in history the stars align just right so that fanatics, sadists, and mentally ill monsters are enabled to carry out their cruelty. Eichmann embodied all of those traits in spades. This is not the case of "banality of evil."

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I believe you. You have "always despised" Hannah Arendt for saying something you clearly aren't even willing to try to hear. Despising a person because you dislike an opinion of hers is to me a very sad devaluing of another's humanity. I imagine you would want to be treated better than that yourself.

I do think Arendt believed that she was taking Eichmann down to human level--by humanizing him, stripping him of the grandiose aura of evil specialness, she was diminishing him. She said that the most extreme evil comes about, not because of uniquely special monsters, but because human beings abandon their humanness, which takes courage to hold onto.

I have experienced violence at the hands of a grandiose personality; my life becomes sweeter to me and more connected with others, the more I'm able to see him and myself, too, as human beings. I spent many years wishing for him to suffer some violent retribution, but that wish only punished me and the people who love me.

I wish you well.