Banality of Evil: the Death of Legend – University of Copenhagen

Banality of Evil: the Death of Legend

Honorary professor Richard Wolin will give a guest lecture with the following title: Banality of Evil: the Death of Legend.

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?

Richard Wolin’s lecture is part of the CEMES course European Contexts and Meanings of Holocaust that deals with the questions of the manifold consequences of the Holocaust in Europe in terms of the political, cultural, and existential. The lecture focuses on Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase about the “banality of Evil” that she introduced in her 1963 article on the Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem - and the following questions are asked: Is that notion still usable? How are we to understand it today?