Eichmann in Jerusalem: Hannah Arendt and the Banality of Evil

Instructor: Samantha Hill
The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street New York
New York 10011

When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 she sparked a fierce international debate. Gershom Scholem accused her of having no “Ahabath Israel,” – “Love of the Jewish people.” Robert Lowell praised her coverage of Eichmann as a literary “masterpiece” while others derided her for being a “self-hating Jew.” Irving Howe proclaimed that Arendt had incited a “civil war” among New York intellectuals – a war that he predicted would periodically resurface for years to come. Arendt saw the arrest and trial of Adolf Eichmann as an opportunity to encounter the Nazi criminal “in the flesh” and confront the “realm of human affairs and human deeds…” What she witnessed shocked her; Eichmann wasn’t a cartoonish criminal mastermind or villainous monster, but rather “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

In this immersive Day of Learning, students will read selections from Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, alongside Arendt’s personal correspondence and short critical essays and letters from contemporary scholars. We will study these works in the context of Arendt’s original reporting for The New Yorker, and the reverberations that her work on evil has inspired. Reading and discussing a variety of materials, including video footage from Eichmann’s trial, we will carefully work through Arendt’s arguments and the talk about the implications of her judgments today.

The day of reading and discussion will proceed as follows: over the course of the day Prof. Samantha Hill (Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College), will deliver two lectures on Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the banality of evil, and the lasting influence Arendt’s work has had in the realm of moral philosophy, political justice, and ethics. This will frame the work students do in two break-out sessions where students will be given time to read and engage the course materials, followed by guided discussions. The first section will focus on the first half of the book and Arendt’s question: “Who is Adolf Eichmann?” The second section will examine the banality of evil, radical evil, and the concept of justice. We will conclude the day with a roundtable discussion featuring experts in history, ethics, and moral philosophy. Coffee and lunch will be provided, and light refreshments will be served following the event. No advance preparation is required.

Event Schedule

Sunday, 11am-6pm
May 08, 2016
One Day Event
All participants will receive a free copy of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil courtesy of Penguin Classics at the opening of the day.


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