Banality of Evil, American Style

Arlene Stein

Margarethe von Trotta frames her new bio-pic, Hannah Arendt, around the philosopher’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Arendt is perhaps best known for describing the “banality of evil” at the heart of Nazism, and von Trotta’s film focuses on Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, in which she argued against the popular view of Eichmann as evil genius. He was, she said, far from that: a technocrat, an everyman, a person who was simply doing his job.

Hannah Arendt the film offers a compelling account of a singular intellectual, a window into postwar intellectual life in New York, and shows how during the first decades after fascism, people were trying to make sense of how and why so many seemingly intelligent people were captivated by National Socialism during those dark decades. Bureaucratic societies, she said, were creating a kind of rationality that threatened the capacity to reason…

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About steinarlene

Sociologist and author. Writes about politics, culture, sexuality; engages in scholarly/journalistic cross-talk; editor of Contexts Magazine; professor, Rutgers University.
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