Is Evil Banal? A Misleading Question

Richard J. Bernstein

in Thinking in Dark Times

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230754
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235858 | DOI:
Is Evil Banal? A Misleading Question

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This chapter argues that the question—Is evil banal?—is badly formulated because it invites serious misinterpretations of Arendt. The question is objectionable for three reasons. First, the question suggests that Arendt has a general theory or thesis about the nature of evil. This is absolutely false. Over and over again she insisted that she was not proposing a general theory when she spoke about the banality of evil. Second, the question obscures the most important aspect of Arendt's thinking about evil. Third, the question obscures a distinction that is crucial for Arendt—the distinction between the doer and the deeds.

Keywords: Hannah Arendt; banality of evil; Nazis; death camps; evil

Chapter.  2694 words. 

Subjects: Social and Political Philosophy

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