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deletedMay 4Liked by A. Jay Adler
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Thanks for letting me know this writing led you to think more fruitfully about the film, David. That's what I aim for and it's rewarding to learn when I've accomplished it.

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This is my favourite kind of essay, Jay: the sort that surprises and pushes against an initial assumption I'd held for long enough that it had taken up cosy residence inside my thoughts. The twist of discomfort, the pull of resistance, and finally the act of succumbing to a new knowledge paradigm is a rare, wonderful mental privilege, and I thank you for it.

I think there's a wee gap in the logic of suggesting intellectual arrogance as the reason for Arendt expecting the demonic and being thrown to the opposite, because a few lines later you note that the expectation of demonic characters is broadly intrinsic to the human condition. However, that's just a structural note; a gap is not a "fault" per se.

I remember Arendt in interview talking about human cruelty as it pertained to the exercise of intelligentsia turning Third Reich actions into academic papers; for a while, she held in great contempt any system that made it easy for a person to be distracted out of engaging in more sincere protest by intellectual labour. I think the notion of the "quotidian" that you raise here would work especially well in those academic cases, too.

Either way, though, I am most assuredly going to return to this wonderful, challenging, vividly depicted piece again soon. I look forward to seeing what else wrenches loose on Read #2!

Thank you thank you thank you.

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Apr 26·edited Apr 26Author

M L, thank you for engaging on this. It's a pleasure to be able to dig in a little deeper on the subject.

As a personal but not irrelevant note, I was of course (of course!) too young to be cognizant of these debates when they first occurred. My earliest recollection of encountering the "banality of evil" idea, before I ever read Arendt, was when I saw the just released Lous Malle, 1974 *Locombe Lucien," also set during WW II. Many critics invoked it in the reviews. I imagine I signed on to it then, but I was never deeply committed to it, and a lifetime of study, of history and of human nature, firmly and persistently led me away from it.

I'll try to disentangle any knots around "intellectual arrogance" and the "demonic." Regarding the former, I intended mostly just to be reporting a widespread point of attack by Arendt's critics more than building my own argument on it. Though I do think she was guilty of it, in any case, I don't stand my argument on that point.

Regarding the demonic, I do posit that humans, based on experience, conceived of evil, detached themselves from it as spirit, and then both metaphorically and actually personified it as demonic. That's a fundamentally spiritual, then theological operation to which most humans were inclined over the course of human history. My expectation is that a political philosopher and intellect such as Arendt would not stand on that ground when seeking to understand and then theorize the nature of evil. She ends, indeed, allowing herself (*directing* herself, her sharpest critics would argue) to be thrown to the opposite end of a reductive binary, by systematizing and dehumanizing it. Even if Eichmann were banal, possessed of no genuine hateful animus, and just following orders, what about the people whose orders he was following? What of their evil? Was Hitler banal? Goebbels, Goering, Himmler?

Not captured by that binary, Arendt might have located evil where I believe the film does, at its human, not demonic or systematic source.

About academic detachment from the reality of evil, indeed.

This was helpful. I sharpened the articulation of these thoughts, which is one of the things this kind of exchange is about, so thank *you*.

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So, deftly and deeply done, Jay, this analysis of the film and how we need to understand the "banality of evil." As extraordinary as I found the film, the music, the screens that appear and everything when I saw it in in a theater, I was also stuck by what I felt about its timing: Somehow, as elucidating as it was of everything you say, it seemed unfair to the way Germany has redeemed itself. I wonder what you think about that reaction?

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Apr 28·edited Apr 28Author

Mary, sorry for the delay in responding. If I understand your question -- and I'm not entirely sure I do -- you base it on the sense that Germany has done so much to try to redeem itself, which I agree it has, that, perhaps the production of so searing and powerful a depiction of the evil it perpetrated is unfair? I don't think that's an unreasonable question. I wrote "try" to redeem itself because I'm not sure what it means exactly for a nation to redeem itself from its past. That would mean to free it from its past, and I wonder if that is possible, let along desirable. One way to do that -- the necessary, meaningful way, I think -- is to recognize the obvious, that a German alive in 2024 is not any German who bears individual responsibility for those crimes. I think we have to say that about the current citizens of any nation with a dark history.

But there is a profound sense in which I don't think any nation -- civilization in general -- should be freed of its past. Or to put it another way, the only way to be free of it is carry its burden, never unmindful of its past and the past's wrongs. Otherwise.

Modern Germany has a concept, I think first articulated by Angela Merkel, "Staatsräson," literarily "reason of state," which refers to the unique responsibility Germany has for the safety and security of Israel, and that guides contemporary German policy toward Israel. I have in mind a broader conception of that term that I hope to develop into an essay.

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I completely agree with you, Jay, and you understood my comment quite well. The film was so disturbing and well-done that I had the reaction I expressed. But all your points made me reexamine that view not only because of the holocaust, but because in our modern times we are seeing the "banality of evil" playing out over and over again--with Trump and most sadly and disturbing with Netanyahu in Israel.

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Apr 29Liked by A. Jay Adler

Prof Adler, you never fail to impress with the depth and wit of your wordsmithing! by the way, youve, of course, heard Dissent merged with Commentary to form dissentery!

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Woody Allen, circa 1980. :) Thank you, Chuck.

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Apr 29Liked by A. Jay Adler

exactly...maybe a bit earlier..."Annie Hall?"

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I think you're right. In conversation at a party, I think.

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Apr 29Liked by A. Jay Adler

at the party with Paul Simon? and when he sneezes into the pile of cocaine! the Woodman!

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A very interesting piece. I need to see the film. Your article has also prompted me to revisit 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'; and I don't have the wherewithal to comment further until I do. Much food for thought.

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Pleased to hear it provoked thought. Also to think of my writing as a dining hall for the mind! Thanks for reading. :)

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