What is Evil?
Press Start for “What is Evil?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.
Episode 20: What Is Evil? | Hannah Arendt on Adolf Eichmann and the Nature of Evil
Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
What Is Evil?
Hannah Arendt on Adolf Eichmann and the Nature of Evil
Traditional conceptions of evil focus on the utter monstrosity of evil actions—the complete awe and un-think-ability of horror.
Called pure or radical evil—this is the sort of evil associated with antagonists or villains—it is the antithesis of good.
For Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish philosopher, evil is not always as simple as an overriding desire to do no good.
Rather, Arendt chooses to focus her discussion of evil on this man: Adolf Eichmann.
Put on trial for numerous horrors, Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against humanity—especially against the Jewish people, for overseeing the trains that transported people to Nazi death camps. On May 31, 1962 he was hanged.
Arendt traveled to Jerusalem to cover the Eichmann trial. She expected to encounter a cold calculating monster, a man who reveled in his malicious deeds.
Instead what she found was something far more shocking. Eichmann was an altogether innocuous and seemingly normal little man—in some sense, he was a cliché, a stereotypical bureaucrat, a sort of sleepwalker in life—a person who refused to comprehend the weight of his crimes. Because he didn’t physically shoot or kill anyone—he considered himself blameless.
Eichmann wasn’t afflicted with an overriding sense of maliciousness—instead what Arendt found was a man that was thoughtless, that never stopped to put himself in someone else’s shoes, that refused to think from another’s perspective. She found someone with an unquestioning sense of obligation to authority—who all his life he had been a follower—a person eager to fit in and be led—he suffered from blind allegiance and a complete self-deception about the morality of his actions.
This made Arendt rethink the concept of evil— for Eichmann wasn’t a demon in any obvious way.
What she encountered was the banality of evil—an everyday sort of evil: a bureaucrat eager to do his job. One who lacked empathy or perspective.
You don’t need to be cruel, sadistic, or vicious to embody evil—all that a person has to do is blindly follow the orders of another person. For Arendt that is the banality of evil.
So, dear viewer, what can be done to save humanity from mindless obedience?