As the title of this conference indicates, Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil”, which she employed in her analysis of Adolf Eichmann and his sinister functions during the Third Reich, has provided a salient framework for our contemporary discussion of evil and of its sociological and political significance. My brief examination of this theme will underscore the close connection between Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil and her understanding of the phenomenon of moral conscience. Beyond a clarification of the much discussed concept, my purpose in examining its relation to conscience, above all to the potential silence of conscience, will be to critically highlight what I take to be a key political dimension of this theme that her interpretation curiously leaves unexamined.
Jeffrey Andrew Barash is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amiens, France. His publications have focused on the themes of political philosophy, historicism, and modern German thought. He has served as Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Bielefeld, Ernst Cassirer Gastprofessor at the University of Hamburg, Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hans-Georg Gadamer Professor at Boston College and Max Planck Fellow at the University of Konstanz. He is currently completing a book titled Collective Memory and the Historical Past and is also preparing a work on political myth.