Evil is not the result of ill will but of fears: on Eichmann and Arendt

A recently released documentary on Eichmann would shed new light on the formulation of the banality of evil by Hannah Ahrendt, born in the same year as Eichmann. Using already known sound fragments, Eichmann had evil intentions and thus embodied the sin for which he was -unjustly- sentenced to death. His status elevated to an authoritative individual, an evil celebrity, not yet standing on the same step of the podium of honours as Hitler, Stalin and presumably Putin, Zelensky and many other living men.

With this observation, Arendt's vision, now seen as ahistorical, would have ended and perhaps her entire thinking. But with contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre, a year older, the same concept recurs regarding the inevitability of evil. However, he will be able to avoid the indignity of an ahistorical condemnation.

For them, evil is not the evil in man but the evil embedded in the human system. In times of upheaval and shifts, well-functioning systems come under pressure. And individuals rise as messianic mouthpieces of and for the silent crowd to give direction to a utopian future. After all, society, the system, was not so well constructed. However, it is not these individuals who radically change the course of history, but all the Eichmanns and Eichfemales who stand around them and go down the path shown to them; they have wanted to hear from the mouths of their leaders. These people no longer think independently, no longer know how to distinguish between good and evil, and automatically pursue the preservation of their possessions. These solid citizens and dedicated public servants form the pillars and support beams of any system, regardless of its ideological or religious nature.

The philosophical vision of Arendt et al. and the ripened modern historical analysis of the developments in the 19th century, in which, after 1870, racial anti-Semitism takes on an apocalyptic tempo together with racism as subordinate aspects of an anti-democratic movement on which an objectivist view of life is based, puts its finger on the sore spot. And it is not surprising that precisely the generation born around 1910 in the 1960s sought a way to deal with the disturbing consequences of the objectivist worldview. They were the authorities and had to continue in a world which was only beginning to change with the arrival of a far too prosperous generation in a far too small part of the world. The notion that the end of World War II ushered in a new era is probably one of the greatest ahistorical fallacies in modern history, which just cannot be relegated to the land of fables. The transition will come decades later.

What needs to be examined now is why precisely now, evil should be interpreted differently. What underlies this? Why are minds now being made ripe into individual evil and thereby give representatives of evil a unique face so that leaders like Zelensky and Putin, can be emulated as a kind of Messiah and resurrect smaller Christs in their vicinity? Is it the fear of losing the monotheistic male god in a battle with another monotheistic male god, with undefinable thus elusive polytheistic gods or, worse, nature gods who are primarily female or to a secular god view and thus subjectivist world view? Is it perhaps the justifiable fear of retribution and revenge of the overwhelmingly large group of victims, admittedly generations later and not entirely with an open mind to the same victims produced by that system of destructive work done in the name of our god?

Whatever it may be, it is, in all cases, fear, an almost apocalyptic fear that underlies sweeping upheavals. Arendt's vision and the matured historical analysis of the 19th century make it possible to understand evil now and leave it aside and not fall into the trap that a new generation of Eichmanns and females are creating because they do not think. Especially since it is now being experienced how this mechanism works and how large a part fear plays in it and where the fear of evil evokes precisely this evil.