The Banality Of Facts

Sendai Anonymous picks apart a critique of Hannah Arendt’s famous analysis of Nazi Adolf Eichmann as embodying the banality of evil:

It is the last paragraph of Sholem’s letter that seems to me most revealing: Sholem remarks that he regrets that she rejected the previous version of her analysis of evil, an analysis that was “eloquent” and “erudite”, adopting instead the “slogan-like” conclusion about the “banality of evil”. This, Sholem says, he cannot accept: however, he does not give any reasons for that other than the previous analysis being “eloquent”. This because there aren’t any: you can’t argue with facts.

And well: I guess when you’re a philosopher of religion, you don’t deal with facts, you deal with ideas. There’s no better way of putting it: in the end you actually write what sounds good, and what’s eloquent; you don’t write about facts, there’s nothing to check, nothing to verify, and also the voice of your god you hear in your head is yourvoice, always your voice(1). When you write about ideas, it’s much prettier to write that evil is radical or demonic or something similarly dramatic.

But when you write about facts, you can’t make them pretty; or at least you shouldn’t. And (some of) the facts are:

There was a man in court, his name was Eichmann, he was an SS-man

He did horrid things

He didn’t feel guilty

He wasn’t very smart

He had trouble expressing himself

He portrayed himself as an unlucky person, a victim of circumstances

He lied to the judges, he lied to himself, he lied to everyone, his lies were typically thoughtless self-contradictory denier lies

There was nothing radical or demonic about him

In the end, there can be no doubt that the final conclusion about the banality of evil stands, that there are facts supporting it; even if they aren’t “eloquent”. You could write something prettier and more erudite about it, but why would you, when there’s no need? The facts are more than enough.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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