Hannah Arendt’s Original Articles on “the Banality of Evil” in the New Yorker Archive

We’ve all heard the phrase “the banal­i­ty of evil.” Some of us even know which polit­i­cal the­o­rist to attribute it to, and among those, a few have even read it in con­text. Han­nah Arendt most mem­o­rably employed it in both the sub­ti­tle and clos­ing words of Eich­mann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banal­i­ty of Evil, her book on the tri­al of Nazi lieu­tenant-colonel Adolf Eich­mann. To Arendt’s mind, Eich­mann will­ing­ly did his part to orga­nize the Holo­caust — and an instru­men­tal part it was — out of nei­ther anti-semi­tism nor pure mal­ice, but out of a non-ide­o­log­i­cal, entire­ly more pro­sa­ic com­bi­na­tion of careerism and obe­di­ence. Read­ers have argued ever since its pub­li­ca­tion about this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, and those with a spe­cial inter­est in how Arendt arrived there can find in the New York­er’s online archives the orig­i­nal series of “Eich­mann in Jerusalem” arti­cles out of which the book grew: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. (Click on the images at the bot­tom of each page to see Arendt’s writ­ing up close. Then click on them again and maneu­ver your mouse around to peruse the pages.) Giv­en that Han­nah Arendt, a new biopic star­ring Bar­bara Sukowa, just gained dis­tri­b­u­tion, you may want to read these arti­cles to stay ahead of the next wave of inter­est in the thinker and her writ­ings.

In today’s mag­a­zines, one reads rather few­er five-part inter­sec­tions of tri­al reportage and moral inquiry by fig­ures like Arendt. But the New York­er has­n’t entire­ly lost its will­ing­ness to con­front these mat­ters. Short­ly after last year’s mas­sacre in Auro­ra, Col­orado, the mag­a­zine ran on its site a piece by Rol­lo Romig in touch with con­cerns, broad­ly speak­ing, sim­i­lar to Arendt’s. Romig, too, looks at the nature of evil, but in a reflec­tion suit­ed to our time — brief, star­tling­ly time­ly, and specif­i­cal­ly for the web — rather than Eich­mann in Jerusalem’s. “The dan­ger of a word like ‘evil’ is that it is absolute,” he writes. “ ‘Evil’ has become the word we apply to per­pe­tra­tors who we’re both unable and unwill­ing to do any­thing to repair, and for whom all of our mech­a­nisms of jus­tice seem unequal: it describes the lim­its of what malev­o­lence we’re able to bear. In the end, it’s a word that says more about the help­less­ness of the accuser than it does the trans­gres­sor.”

H/T to Chris­t­ian F. for flag­ging the New York­er arti­cles for us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Tri­al of Adolf Eich­mann at 50

55 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Down­load Free Cours­es from Famous Philoso­phers: From Bertrand Rus­sell to Michel Fou­cault

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • Gloria Guardia says:

    Excel­lent piece on the film based on Arendt’s book Banal­i­ty of Evil. A book that came out more than 40 years ago. Please keep me on your list to receive arti­cles like this one.

  • Kelley Mindrup says:

    Would like arti­cles relat­ed to this top­ic, authors.

  • yourreader says:

    Just to men­tion to you all that the links to the new york­er arti­cles require a paid sub­scrip­tion. bum­mer!

  • m a a says:

    as we would like to con­tin­ue trust­ing “The best free cul­tur­al & edu­ca­tion­al media on the web”, please place a note of the com­mer­cial aspect relat­ed to this mate­r­i­al, and links with­in it, at the top of this con­tent. thank you

  • Skip McCormick says:

    down­loaded pdf which caused my Sophos anti-virus pro­gram to warne that it was a cor­rupt­ed file.

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