Eichmann in Jerusalem book cover. Arendt’s subtitle hannah arendt on violence pdf introduced the phrase “the banality of evil,” which also serves as the final words of the book. Eichmann’s formulation, the legislator was Hitler. Eichmann’s inability to think for himself was exemplified by his consistent use of “stock phrases and self-invented clichés”.
Eichmann was a “joiner” his entire life, in that he constantly joined organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulties thinking for himself without doing so. Despite his claims, Eichmann was not, in fact, very intelligent. Arendt noted that, during both his SS career and Jerusalem trial, Eichmann tried to cover up his lack of skills and education, and even “blushed” when these facts came to light. This parallels his overestimation of his own intelligence and his past value in the organizations in which he had served, as stated above. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation. Reich cracked down and decided to do the job itself it found that its own personnel in Denmark had been infected by this and were unable to overcome their human aversion with the appropriate ruthlessness, as their peers in more cooperative areas had. Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a “monster,” but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.
Beyond her discussion of Eichmann himself, Arendt discusses several additional aspects of the trial, its context, and the Holocaust. Israel, an illegal act, and that he was tried in Israel even though he was not accused of committing any crimes there. If he had not been found guilty before he appeared in Jerusalem, guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, the Israelis would never have dared, or wanted, to kidnap him in formal violation of Argentine law. Ben-Gurion wanted, for several political reasons, to emphasize not primarily what Eichmann had done, but what the Jews had suffered during the Holocaust. She points out that the war criminals tried at Nuremberg were “indicted for crimes against the members of various nations,” without special reference to the Nazi genocide against the Jews. She questions Israel’s right to try Eichmann. The court in Jerusalem did not pursue either option.
Eichmann’s deeds were not crimes under German law as at that time. In the eyes of the Third Reich, he was a law-abiding citizen. He was tried for ‘crimes in retrospect’. This suggested that Eichmann was no criminal, but the ‘innocent executor of some foreordained destiny.
Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann’s actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional. Arendt certainly did not disagree about the fact of gratuitous cruelty, but “banality of evil” is unrelated to this question. Similarly, the first attempted rebuttal of Arendt’s thesis relied on a misreading of this phrase, claiming Arendt meant that there was nothing exceptional about the Holocaust. Arendt has long been accused of “blaming the victim” in the book. Robinson presented himself as an expert in international law, not saying that he was an assistant to the prosecutor in the case. Arendt’s portrait of Eichmann on several grounds. According to his findings, Arendt attended only part of the trial, witnessing Eichmann’s testimony for “at most four days” and basing her writings mostly on recordings and the trial transcript.
Cesarani feels that this may have skewed her opinion of him, since it was in the parts of the trial that she missed that the more forceful aspects of his character appeared. Eichmann was in fact highly anti-Semitic and that these feelings were important motivators of his actions. Thus, he alleges that Arendt’s claims that his motives were “banal” and non-ideological and that he had abdicated his autonomy of choice by obeying Hitler’s orders without question may stand on weak foundations. Arendt, though nowhere in her work does Arendt deny that Eichmann was an anti-Semite, and she also did not claim that Eichmann was “simply” following orders, but rather had internalized the clichés of the Nazi regime.
Cesarani suggests that Arendt’s own prejudices influenced the opinions she expressed during the trial. Probably one of those people who doesn’t know any language. Karl Jaspers: “My first impression: On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic.