[lit-ideas] Re: *Eichmann in Jerusalem*

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ed Farrell <ewf@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2006 16:51:50 -0230

Many thanks to Ed for a very informative post. It gives me some meat to gnaw on
until the book makes it to my mailbox. But I'm hoping that Ed or anyone will
put his or their humility aside and take a stab at making some sense of
Hannah's idea that judgements of right and wrong regarding particular
historical events or individual subjects can be made without appeal to general
principles, rules or concepts, as per Kant's "reflective judgement" (Third
Critique). This seems impossible to me (and should have so seemed to Kant as
well); I don't know why Hannah ever saw the question as a sensible one. Any
examples of such judgements that anyone cares to offer will be appreciated (if
not accepted.) 

Walter C. Okshevsky
Memorial University

Quoting Ed Farrell <ewf@xxxxxxxxxxx>:

> wokshevs@xxxxxx wrote:
> > Has anybody out there read Hannah Arendt's *Eichmann in Jerusalem*? I can't
> get
> > a copy of that book for weeks and I can't bear the suspense. I'm
> particularly
> > interested in the following:
> >
> >   
> I read the book some time ago and can't really comment on all of your 
> questions but here're some thoughts, such as they are:
> > 1. What does Hannah mean by "the banality of evil"?
> >   
> The banality of evil is a reference to the revelation of Eichmann's 
> character (and by extension the paradoxical nature of evil deeds) 
> through the course of the trial--his acts seemed clearly those of a 
> monster but he persistently revealed himself to be clownish--full of 
> thoughtless self-contradiction, cliches, and careerist mentality even to 
> the end.  "These habits of Eichmann created considerable difficulty 
> during the trail--less for Eichmann himself than for those who had come 
> to prosecute him, to defend him, to judge him, and to report on him.  
> For all this, it was essential that one take him seriously, and this was 
> very hard to do, unless one sought the easiest way out of the dilemma 
> between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable 
> ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them, and declared him a 
> clever, calculating liar--which he obviously was not." (Arendt, p.54)
> > 2. Are there any references in this book, implicit or explicit, to Kant's
> > notions of "enlarged mentality" or "enlarged thought"? This figures in one
> of
> > the three dialectical rules of thought in his Third Critique. 
> >   
> There are no explicit references but I'm afraid I am no great student of 
> Kant and would be a poor judge of what might be implicit. I do know that 
> Eichmann claimed to follow a Kantian notion of duty, but this was 
> another absurd self-contradiction given other elements of his case.
> > 3. Does Hannah make any connections in this book between the nature of
> political
> > judgement that she is trying to work out and attempts to determine
> particular
> > instances of right and wrong independently of general rules, principles or
> > concepts?
> >   
> This is an interesting question for general thought and I am nearly 
> tempted to read some of Arendt's books again to try to answer it.  
> Unfortunately my best recollections are too blunt to take a stab at it 
> for now.
> > 4. More generally, any explanantions for the voluminous literature on
> Hannah
> > that has been generated within the past decade? 
> >
> >   
> I can't speak for the literature but I "discovered" Arendt eight or ten 
> years ago ("Between Past and Future") and found her explications of 20th 
> century contradictions extremely revealing and a little addictive--I 
> immediately bought and read several of her books but (like an addict) I 
> was probably not very systematic in my reading and ought to revisit her 
> a little more reflectively (Reinhold Niebuhr had much the same effect on 
> me at a slightly earlier date).   
> -- 
> -----------------
> Edward W. Farrell
> ewf@xxxxxxxxxxx
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