Hannah Arendt’s philosophy on ‘the banality of evil applied to racism.
This project intends to investigate moral responsibility in war especially particularly war crimes and actions of violence. It takes inspiration from the work of Hannah Arendt and her report on the banality of evil. It also looks at the Military Philosophy of Carl Von Clausewitz to understand the influence of military doctrine and the establishment on moral thinking. Finally it will discuss the Phenomenon of Dirty hands and the implications it has for how actions of state impact societies ethics and the burden of personal guilt to provide an interesting take on western military culture and liability.
My project explored how responsibility should be attributed to individuals in the face of large-scale atrocities.
In my project, I researched Hannah Arendt a German-born holocaust survivor and political philosopher who explored her idea of the ‘banality of evil’ and applied it to the case of Adolf Eichman a Nazi leader whose role was the transportation of political prisoners to the concentration camps.
The banality of evil is described by Arendt as this unique inability in her writings ‘Thinking and moral considerations’ where Arendt used this term to portray how normal people were able to commit evil acts challenging the traditional notion that inherently evil people commit evil crimes. Arendt holds great importance on intention due to this inability to think but still believes responsibility should be attributed to those who commit the act regardless of the intention behind the action. Other secondary sources on the banality of evil were used to fully put forward the argument this project provides, although an intention for action in the face of large-scale atrocities does hold importance responsibility should nevertheless be attributed to the individual who committed the act.
In the project, the Windrush scandal was used to portray how this banality of evil is present in all societies.
the project uses Kant’s categorical imperatives to provide other alternative ways of attributing responsibility to an individual in the face of large-scale atrocities.
The project uses Hans Jonas ‘The Imperative of Responsibility to assess the large-scale atrocity which is the deterioration of the natural world to prove how we must create new ethical imperatives to combat this unprecedented acceleration of industry and technology and how we all have a responsibility to do this.
Ultimately these sources are used in the project to argue that intention in an action holds great importance but it does not take away the responsibility which should be attributed to the individual who commits the act in a large-scale atrocity
I was compelled to write this project by a pattern of observations relating to the nature of language that began surfacing in the works of various philosophers, after having read the work of Wittgenstein. To cite some examples, from Arendt: ‘language, the medium of thought’ ; from Breton: ‘the speed of thought is no greater than that of speech, and does not necessarily defy capture in language’ . From my own experience, thought always seeks to transcend the limitations of language, and sensation can never find its perfect expression in speech. Yet it is true that the principal method by which we communicate these thoughts and sensations is language, and further for Arendt, the internal communication of these phenomena through a dialogue with ourselves is the very thing that makes us human. These observations highlight a tension inherent in all of us. The desire to express our humanity enters into direct conflict with the limitations of language. The aim of this essay will be to discuss this conflict. I hope to highlight some of the functions of language in thought, and to establish the possibility of achieving genuine self-expression through language in spite of its inherently communitarian nature. This the nature of the topics discussed prohibits me from offering some definitive conclusion; the essay is intended primarily as an exploration of the paradoxical relationship between the necessity of language, and our desire to escape its limitations.
Object and Territory:
The object I will be examining is banal evil in Hannah Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil.
I will explore banal evil in relation to its relevance to the modern day and the extent of its importance in revolutionising thought on evil
How – I am analysing Arendt’s thought on evil to gain an understanding of the characteristics involved in the phenomenon of the banality of evil
Why – I am exploring Arendt’s thought on evil in order to be able to apply it to our contemporary society
Main Thinkers and their works:
Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil and The Origins of Totalitarianism
Susan Neiman – “Banality Reconsidered”
María Lara – Narrating Evil
Richard Bernstein – “Are Arendt’s Reflections on Evil Still Relevant?”