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Mange har gjennom årenes løp stilt seg perplekse til uttrykket «ondskapens banalitet», som Hannah Arendt benyttet da hun dekket rettssaken mot Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker. En av Holocausts hovedarkitekter var angivelig ikke noe monster.

Bettina Stangneth, en tysk filosof og historiker som har gått gjennom Eichmann-arkivet, gav en annen versjon i en bok som kom på tysk i 2011. Nå foreligger den på engelsk, og forfatterinnen er blitt intervjuet av David Frum i The Atlantic.

Det var kanskje ikke Arendt det var så mye galt med, men leserne:

Frum: Do you still encounter people who believe in the Eichmann described by Hannah Arendt: a mediocre bureaucrat who literally could not think, whose acts impersonally fulfilled the logic of a larger system?

Stangneth: It wasn’t just Arendt whom Eichmann convinced in believing that, “except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal…” Even Eichmann’s interrogator struggled with Eichmann’s expert manipulation, and he shared a table with Eichmann for over 275 hours. Eichmann’s lies led millions of people to their death, so his continuing manipulation during his trial is no surprise.

A liar hides in the truth. Arendt discovered the banality of evil because Adolf Eichmann unwillingly revealed the inside of his murder apparatus, even as he undertook the role of a subordinate. Her discovery is vital to our understanding of state crimes and macro-criminality.

There’s a greater lesson, though. Humans simply prefer hope to despair. The theory of the banality of evil is a theory of hope: If evil arises from ignorance, the solution is as easy as a project of enlightenment. If we help people think for themselves, the world will be better. But—and this is an ugly “but”—there is an important difference between an inability to think and an unwillingness to accept thinking as worthwhile. Eichmann could think, and his writings and speeches are evidence of this. Follow the arguments, and you will find the thinker. This difference between “inability to think” and “mistrust of thinking itself” is crucial. Otherwise, we underestimate the real danger of National Socialism and every other ideology that wages war against reason. That’s the purpose of my research: to show that philosophy is defensible against this fundamental aggression. But I understand only too well why people, especially intellectuals, refuse to recognize this threat.

«Eichmann before Jerusalem» er i salg hos Amazon.