‘The Banality of Evil,’ and the Nazis’ Early Victims – NYTimes.com, September 9, 2014

‘The Banality of Evil,’ and the Nazis’ Early Victims – NYTimes.com, online September 8 and printed on September 9, 2014,  page A 28

To the Editor:
Re “Book Portrays Genocidal Nazi as Evil, but Not Banal” (Arts pages, Sept. 3):

Hannah Arendt’s notion of “the banality of evil” has been consistently misunderstood as discounting the horrendous nature of Adolf Eichmann’s deeds, and it has become a straw man in arguments for positions with which Ms. Arendt would not disagree.


Her term originated in a letter correspondence with Karl Jaspers, who warned her not to elevate Nazi acts into a hagiography of satanic deeds. Eichmann was not a devil from another planet; he was part of the human race, he was educated, he understood a bit of Kant, and he had agency and intentionality.

This is the nature of the word “banality”: the evil we face in Eichmann and often today is an all-too-human affair. Humans are responsible for their world, not gods and demons.

MARTIN BECK MATUSTIK
Chiang Mai, Thailand, Sept. 3, 2014

The writer is a professor of philosophy at Arizona State University on sabbatical in Thailand. He is completing a post-Holocaust intellectual memoir, “Out of Silence: Repair across Generations.”

 

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