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View Diary: Hannah Arendt and Dirty Wars: The Banality of Evil (11 comments)

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  •  But can someone (1+ / 0-)
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    joe shikspack

    explain to me what "evil" is? thats the biggest difficulty I have with Arendt´s work. I can recognize that what people call "evil" - as it is, in the context of what these people are and think. But as a category I can´t understand it. Similar to "sin". If one has rules given by Gods then the concept of "sin" makes sense, but since there are no Gods, what is sin? Since there are no Gods, what is evil?

    that is a weakness of Arendts work that has been used by the late Marxists (of the 70s-80s) to ridicule her work, I happen to remember that since reading Arendt is largely why I didnt become a Marxist when I was young.

    I mean this quite seriously, I can claim no systematic philosophical education and want to make no ulterior point with that, simply "evil" is a kind of category which I have found myself unable to understand as anything other than "something we can´t bring ourselves to spend dispassionate thought on".

    •  "evil" is a human creation, just like "good" (0+ / 0-)

      Every thought and action which we call evil is explainable without recourse to the supernatural, purposeful, and useful, if only to the person who does it.  

      The same can be said of value judgment itself.

      •  that is (0+ / 0-)

        loosely what I have problems with. As you say, "which we call evil is explainable without recourse to the supernatural..". So lets do that then. Arendt somewhere (in the preface or in an epilogue to On Totalitarianism) wrote that the study showed the "truly radical nature of evil". How is that not bordering on a theological recourse? How is that not a restatement of Goethe´s

        “Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint! Und das mit Recht; denn alles was entsteht; Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht; Drum besser wärs wenn nichts entstünde. So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde, Zerstörung, kurz das Böse nennt, Mein eigentliches Element.”
        For a political scientist that is not where things should end.
        •  who says evil is radical? (0+ / 0-)

          Whatever Arendt set out to prove, her work suggests that evil does not bubble up out of the pit of Hell to drive men mad.  Evil is conscious, purposeful, instrumental, disciplined, and done for reasons that most people can understand: fame, money, (a sense of) power, women, toys, pleasure.  It's Good that's done for abstract, esoteric, Romantic moral and philosophical reasons that only make sense to a minority.  I could argue that evil is not only normal, it's more normal than good is ... even more so when you look back over history.

          The Holocaust qua genocide is not uniquely evil; it's not even the biggest deliberate destruction of human beings.  What's unique about the Holocaust is its German efficiency: its controlled, industrialized nature where no expense in manpower, infrastructure, and money was spared, as well as how well-documented it was and how publicized it's been.

          Dirty wars are likewise more normal than clean wars.  Paralleling genocide, when your goal is simply to enslave or exterminate the other tribe (versus winning hearts and minds and nation-building or simply settling one of the great questions of the age), you don't really care about being clean.  From a purely utilitarian point of view, warrior honor, the laws of war, and desire to occupy the moral high ground are really just handicapping yourself.  It's easier to massacre civilians in the African or South American jungles, rural Poland, or the slums of Gaza than it is to fight trained soldiers in pitched battle with the cameras rolling ... with the added benefit that what used to be theirs is now yours.

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