October 7, 2013 9 Comments
My friend Servus Fidelis has a post up concerning Hannah Arendt. It concerns her work in covering the Eichmann trial as well as her doctoral thesis on love in the writing of St. Augustine. The Eichmann trial is what caused her to talk about “the banality of evil”. It’s a very good article, go there. Hannah Arendt.
Hannah Arendt was one of the people I was introduced to as an undergraduate whose thinking has colored mine ever since. Yes, the banality of evil is surprisingly true, and I think the construction that evil is the absence of good that is sometimes based on it is true, and profound.
But I want to talk about a couple of other things she talked about first there was this.
Her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), covered the roots of Stalinist Communism and Nazism in both anti-Semitism and imperialism. It infuriated the Left because it presented the two movements as equally tyrannical. (And because that is true.) She also contends that the Jews were really a target of convenience for the Nazi’s megalomania and consistency, not eradicating Jews. I’m still not sure I agree about this part, Anti-Semitism is pretty deep in European.
She makes some distinctions and defined some words which is very useful
Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.
Strength unequivocally designates something in the singular …
Force … should be reserved, in terminological language, for the “forces of nature” or the “force of circumstances,” that is, to indicate the energy released by physical or social movements.
Authority can be vested in persons – there is such a thing as personal authority, as for instance, in the relation between parent and child, between teacher and pupil – or it can be vested in offices, as, for instance, in the Roman senate or in the hierarchical offices of the Church. (A priest can grant valid absolution even though he is drunk.) Its hallmark is unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey; neither coercion nor persuasion is needed.
Violence, finally, as I have said, is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength…
These will provide you with a good basis indicating why it is very important to resist the use of violence as long as possible. It is also important to have a goal in mind and stick to it. The application can start to be applied here: (from Wikipedia)
Arendt’s essay, “On Violence”, distinguishes between violence and power. She maintains that, although theorists of both the Left and Right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Power comes from the collective will and does not need violence to achieve any of its goals, since voluntary compliance takes its place. As governments start losing their legitimacy, violence becomes an artificial means toward the same end and is therefore, found only in the absence of power. Bureaucracies then become the ideal birthplaces of violence since they are defined as the “rule by no one” against whom to argue and therefore, recreate the missing links with the people they rule over.
And here is where we come full circle back to Eichmann, who self-described (during his trial in Israel as) an anonymous mid-level bureaucrat
Arendt never doubted that Eichmann was guilty of great wickedness, but she saw the Nazi functionary as the very incarnation of what she famously called “the banality of evil.” One of the distinctive marks of this banality Arendt characterized as Gedankenlosigkeit, which could be superficially rendered in English as “thoughtlessness,” but which carries more accurately the sense of “the inability to think.” Eichmann couldn’t rise above his own petty concerns about his career and he couldn’t begin to “think” along with another, to see what he was doing from the standpoint of his victims. This very Gedankenlosigkeit is what enabled him to say, probably with honesty, that he didn’t feel as though he had committed any crimes.
From the article linked above.
One of the distinctions she made between the American and French revolutions was (from Wikipedia)
Arendt presents a comparison of the two main revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. She goes against a common view of both Marxist and leftist views when she argues that France, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success. The turning point in the French Revolution occurred when the leaders rejected their goals of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In America, the Founding Fathers never betray the goal of Constitutio Libertatis…
And that was my main take-away all those years ago. The founders pulled off that rarest of all things-a successful revolution because they paid attention to what they were trying to accomplish and didn’t let it degenerate into a mob rule. This is the basis of the commonly cited 3 stage of revolution theory, and what we are speaking of when we say the Americans stopped at the 2d stage.
And, of course, what many of us fear is that we are now descending into the third stage, the mob scene. Although in a very different mode in that we are being led there by a long-established government which seems to have forgotten what good government is. And in many ways what we are seeing now is the rise of the faceless bureaucrat. Do ours resemble Adolph Eichmann?
No, not yet, anyway.
- Hannah Arendt’s Thesis (timesflowstemmed.com)
- Hannah Arendt on revolutions, coup’s d’etat and insurrections (angryarab.net)