Banality, Evil, and Destructiveness
Bettina Stangneth’s 2011 book reignited international discussion about Eichmann and, as a consequence, about the nature of evil. The seductiveness of Arendt’s word “banality” explains in part the recurrent controversy. Arendt did not elaborate a theory of evil or a moral philosophy as such despite her long effort in the unfinished Life of the Mind. Susan Neiman and Isabelle Delpla argue that Arendt sought to reinstate a form of theodicy to secure a common future. But the line of reasoning that Arendt borrows from Kant, and on which her whole outlook is based, only makes sense in an argument against theologians. The destruction of the European Jews or the Rwanda genocide points inevitably to a deeply entrenched human “quality” or drive, i.e. destructiveness. Faced with it, our only hope and course of action seems to be to try and repair the world.
Michelle-Irène Brudny is a political philosopher and American Studies specialist who has written extensively on Hannah Arendt’s work and correspondence. She is the author of Eichmann à Jérusalem et la controverse à New York (2011); Destins de “La banalité du mal”: Suivi d’un dossier sur Eichmann à Jérusalem, de Hannah Arendt (2011); Hannah Arendt: An Intellectual Biography (2008); and La Polémique Scholem/Arendt ou le rapport à la “tradition” (2002). Brudny is one of a team of scholars charged with editing and publishing Arendt’s posthumous work.