Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hannah Arendt on Evil

Yes, I'll allow myself that capital "E". I find myself meditating on this from the disputatious philosopher:

When I wrote my Eichmann in Jerusalem one of my main intentions was to destroy the legend of the greatness of evil, of the demonic force, to take away from people the admiration they have for the great evildoers ...

I found in Brecht the following remark:

The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to laughter. They are not great political criminals, but people who permitted great political crimes, which is something entirely different. The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot.
Now, that Hitler was an idiot was of course a prejudice of the whole opposition to Hitler prior to his seizure of power and therefore a great many books tried then to justify him and to make him a great man. So, Brecht says, “The fact that he failed did not indicate that Hitler was an idiot and the extent of his enterprises does not make him a great man.”

It is neither the one nor the other: this whole category of greatness has no application.
“If the ruling classes,” Bertholt Brecht goes on, “permit a small crook to become a great crook, he is not entitled to a privileged position in our view of history. That is, the fact that he becomes a great crook and that what he does has great consequences does not add to his stature.” And generally speaking he then says in these very abrupt remarks: “One may say that tragedy deals with the sufferings of mankind in a less serious way than comedy.”
This of course is a shocking statement; I think that at the same time it is entirely true.

What is really necessary is, if you want to keep your integrity under these circumstances, then you can do it only if you remember your old way of looking at such things and say: “No matter what he does and if he killed ten million people, he is still a clown.”

Interview, 1978

2 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

I don't believe in religion but I believe in evil. It is the only word that works with some situations and actions. Bad just doesn't cut what happened to the Jews before and during WWII. Sometimes people appear to be able to swing between evil actions to heroic and then back again, leaving them impossible to put in a box (and most humans love boxes). The problem with evil as an indictment is when it gets overused and then becomes meaningless. It's an extreme word. I do think some can go so far into evil that they simply cannot turn around. Why that happens, I don't know. I avoid evil-- and some places put off an evil vibe. Again the reason for that, I don't know. The thing is listen to instincts, small still voice, the angel on your shoulder and avoid evil-- it's not good ;)

janinsanfran said...

I completely believe you, Rain, that there are places with an evil vibe. I have also seen a woman performing a shamanic ritual in a building I worked in who has take aback by the concentration of toxic energy in some corners (predictable to me, but not necessarily obvious.)

Evil becomes important (or at least more widely dangerous) when in conjunction with power.

And the word certainly is overused -- remember the "axis of evil"? We're still saddled with that ... rendered less discerning than we might be.

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