Hannah Arendt the movie

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The banality of evil

Submitted: June 26, 2013

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Submitted: June 26, 2013

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Last night, my wife and I went to the movie. I picked on "Hannah Arendt" by German director Margarethe Von Trotta.

I enjoyed it very much.

There are ideas that hurt the sensibilities of many the more so if you attack sacred cows in the society you live in. If one engages like she did in such a process, he better be ready for a tough ride. Galileo with his silly notion of an earth spherical has sure learnt a bit about truth and consequence.

So Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who had passed through camps. She decided to comment for the New York Time on the Adolph Eichmann trial taking place in Jerusalem. She wrote articles. She wrote a book. She took side. Most were not happy with her conclusions.

What a nice answer that of Hannah to that Israeli diplomat who came all the way to Germany to tell her that her book would not be permitted in his recently created state: "Oh, she snapped back at him, then they ban book in your country?"

There are in this movie quite a few preoccupying thoughts on the significance of evil absolute. Adolph Eichmann saw himself as someone who was just following orders from higher up. All he was doing was packing people into trains. Never hurt anyone in his charge personally. Never has shown cruelty to any prisoner or animal in all his life. The fate of those Jews once out of his sight, he didn't care. After all he was no more than a functionary into the Reich's affair, just a cog in its mechanism and if the process was malevolent somehow, it was not for him to judge and if he had, it wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway.

What we learn is that evil is a banal and cunning beast. That it infiltrates itself in a society whose members in the end might sometime act in a monstrous fashion without even realizing it. The worst of it is that one can be conditioned to accept it. If I am told from childhood that Jews are scum and can be treat as animals, can I be blame if I reproduce the silly thinking in my adult daily life? Let say you were a planter in Martinique a long time ago and you owned a slave. You sold him to your neighbor. In the kind of society you lived in, where everybody was doing the same, can one be blamed for that action? Now, if this farmer showed cruelty to the slave, that would be another matter.

Hannah Arendt tells us that the worst evil happens when someone's actions are no longer submitted to the process of thinking them over. When one acts zombie like, that is putting himself on automatic pilot because some system or other took over is mind. Totalitarism likes things this way. German fascism has done so. Stalin like Communism has done so. Religions of the past have done so. Sects do so. And it could still all happen again.

So, what are we to do to with the likes of Eichmann? Fiodor Sologoub once wrote a book that was called The Petty Demon. I think I like the masterpiece's French translation better: "Un Demon de Petite Envergure." This, I think, describes Adolphe Eichmann the best.


© Copyright 2018 Jean Lagace. All rights reserved.

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