Eichmann, the Banality of Evil, and Thinking in Arendt's Thought

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Eichmann, the Banality of Evil, and Thinking in Arendt's Thought*

ABSTRACT: I analyze the ways in which the faculty of thinking can avoid evil action, taking into account Hannah Arendt's discussion regarding the banality of evil and thoughtlessness in connection with the Eichmann trial. I focus on the following question posed by Arendt: "Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it 'conditions' men against evildoing?" Examples of the connection between evildoing and thinking include the distinction between the commonplace and the banal, and the absence
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was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous." (5) Arendt's perception that Eichmann seemed to be a common man, evidenced in his transparent superficiality and mediocrity left her astonished in measuring the unaccounted evil committed by him, that is, organizing the deportation of millions of Jews to the concentration camps. Actually, what Arendt had detected in Eichmann was not even stupidity, in her words, he portrayed something entirely negative, it was thoughtlessness. Eichmann's ordinariness implied in an incapacity for independent critical thought: "... the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think." (6) (emphasis added) Eichmann became the protagonist of a kind of experience apparently so quotidian, the absence of the critical thought. Arendt says: "When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function

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