The Butler Did It

J. peter Euben

in Naming Evil Judging Evil

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780226306735
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226306742 | DOI:
The Butler Did It

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This chapter takes the novel The Remains of the Day as a template to discuss the strategies of evading moral judgment that allow people to be complicitous in the evils of their time. The novel's protagonist, a butler named Stevens, runs one of England's pre-World War Two “great houses” with consummate efficiency. While Stevens displays many admirable characteristics—professionalism, dedication to larger purposes, loyalty, and refusal to give in to emotion—his ethical and political judgment is cauterized by an absolute dedication to his master, Lord Darlington (a naive and dangerous man who attempts to push England into an alliance with Nazi Germany). The analysis of the butler raises many of the same issues raised by Hannah Arendt's portrait of Adolf Eichmann. The discussion helps us to recognize the dynamics of moral evasion and its relation to “professionalism” but also to see in Stevens's development the grounds for the claim that taking responsibility for moral and political judgment is an essential component of human dignity.

Keywords: The Remains of the Day; moral judgment; evil; Hannah Arendt; Adolf Eichmann; moral evasion; professionalism; responsibility; human dignity

Chapter.  8399 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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