Good Radio Program On Eichmann In Jerusalem08-17-2011
In the continuing coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the Adolf Eichmann Trial in Israel, in 1951, the Guardian's Big Ideas Series has a great radio podcast discussing the Eichmann trial and Arendt's coverage of it. The program is hosted by Benjamin Walker and features a thoughtful interview with Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Arendt's biographer.
Importantly, the program also discusses the Stanley Milgram experiments, which began while the Eichmann Trial was still going on. The combination of Arendt's analysis of the Banality of Evil with the Milgram experiments is crucial to understanding the power of Arendt's analysis. As Milgram said,
Arendt's notion of the "Banality of Evil came closer to the truth than one dared imagine."
One conclusion the program offers is that Milgram and Arendt showed
"That ordinary people can get caught up in their role in a bureaucratic system and thoughtlessly and carelessly commit evil."
What must also be recalled is that Arendt herself saw the controversy over her analysis was itself evidence that most people would act like Eichmann, something Arendt herself never said. Commenting on the controversy her analysis unleashed, Arendt wrote:
I had somehow taken it for granted that we all still believe with Socrates that it is better to suffer than to do wrong. This belief turned out to be a mistake. There was a widespread conviction that it is impossible to withstand temptation of any kind, that none of us could be trusted or even be expected to be trustworthy when the chips are down, that to be tempted and to be forced are almost the same.
For Arendt, Eichmann was evil, albeit banal, because he could not resist the temptation to evil. She imagined that most good and decent people should act differently. The anger aimed at her analysis, she wrote, was a result of people feeling they themselves might act as Eichmann had. And Milgram's experiments seemed to offer a sad confirmation of the fact that the banality Arendt found in Eichmann is much more widespread than otherwise thought.
The Guardian's program is worth listening to, which you can do here http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/audio/2011/aug/17/big-ideas-podcast-banality-of-evil