‘The Banality of Evil’ the Death of a Legend . March 12, 2014 6:00 pm The Graduate Center C 203-204-205
Free and Open to the public (with limited seating available)
Post-talk commentator: Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland
Co-Sponsored by the Committee on Social and Political Thought, the Ph.D. Program in History and the Center for Jewish Studies
Few claims about the Holocaust have been more tenacious – and more controversial – than Hannah Arendt’s contention in Eichmann in Jerusalem that the Nazi executioners, rather than being “evil,” were somehow “banal.” By making this argument, Arendt sought to highlight the role played by non-ideological “desk-murderers” in so-called “administrative mass murder.” However, in light of evidence that has recently come to light – above all, Eichmann’s long-hidden “Argentine Dossier” – serious doubts have been raised about Arendt’s depiction of Eichmann as a robotic functionary who, when all is said and done, was motivated by bureaucratic loyalty rather than anti-Semitism.
These new findings raise important questions that bear on the future of Holocaust interpretation as well as genocide studies in general. If the “banality of evil” thesis is inapplicable to Eichmann, to whom or to what groups might it then apply? How might one begin to account for the widespread cultural and intellectual appeal that this concept has exerted since Arendt first coined it in the early 1960s?