Philosophical Musings On The Banality Of Evil  

Philosophical Musings On The Banality Of Evil  
While new to philosophy in our fourth semester, our teacher introduced us to a nuanced foundation of the basics of philosophy. To facilitate our understanding, he introduced a well-known case involving Adolf Eichmann, who was charged with killing thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, also known as the "final solution to the Jewish question."

Despite not being German, Eichmann had to conceal his Jewish identity to survive. As a typical bureaucrat, he was in charge of authorizing the execution of Jews. Following World War II, he fled throughout Europe and was ultimately brought to trial by Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad. The trial took place in Jerusalem from April 11 to August 14, 1961. It was broadcast on television, and the families of the victims were present to witness Eichmann's trial.

Eichmann was affiliated with the German regime, which had been declared null and void. His trial was taking place in a system where he was not a citizen. Thus, this argument served as the basis for our philosophical discussion, and we began debating various philosophical questions. For example, we discussed whether an individual who resides in a state must comply with its rules and laws. If someone commits a crime, can they be tried in that state? Israel did not exist when Eichmann committed these crimes. We debated the ethics of prosecuting him in a state where he does not belong. Is this not somewhat unsettling? Political philosophy demands an understanding of the parameters and what should be done in this situation.

Moreover, we considered the concept of moral responsibility in Eichmann's case. When Eichmann was questioned in court, he claimed he was merely performing his job. He argued that he was following orders and had been instructed to do so. He questioned why he was being held responsible for his actions when he was merely trying to survive. We asked whether he was morally responsible for his actions even if he was just following orders. How do we determine moral responsibility in cases where individuals are acting within a larger system or institution? These are complex ethical questions that merit further exploration and reflection.

During the trial, the German-based American philosopher, Hannah Arendt, was present. After observing the trial, she wrote a book in which she used the phrase "the banality of evil." Arendt believed that Eichmann was not guilty because he was not, by any means, a human being. To be defined as a human being, one must possess the capacity to think and use language. Both of these qualities are essential for human beings. Eichmann was not a human being but rather a cog in the wheel. He merely signed up to kill people as a bureaucrat. To be a human being, it is essential to think with the heart.

Although Eichmann's actions were evil, the type of evil that exists in our society, such as genocide, is banal. Banality implies normal or routine, and people often justify it as such. For example, corruption is a routine occurrence, and people label it as such to justify their actions.

Arendt argued that when one is committing evil deeds, it is necessary to routinize them. Violence against refugees is being routinized, and no one is speaking out against it because it is banal. The entire drama, according to Arendt, is that evil is being committed by individuals in a banal manner, and people do not dramatize it. She argued that the greatest evil in the world is the evil committed by nobodies - evil committed by individuals who lack motive, convictions, wicked hearts, or demonic wills - individuals who refuse to be human beings. It is this phenomenon that she termed the banality of evil. Moreover, she posited that evil is supposed to be something demonic, and its incarnation is Satan. However, in Eichmann's case, one could find no trace of satanic "greatness." He was simply unable to think.

Furthermore, the discussion also raises questions about individual responsibility and the larger political context in which one operates. How can we hold individuals accountable for their actions while also recognizing the role that political, social, and economic systems play in shaping those actions? Ultimately, the Eichmann trial serves as a powerful case study for exploring important philosophical questions related to legitimacy, authority, and the banality of evil. As we delve deeper into these issues, we gain a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between individual actions and larger political and social systems. By critically examining the Eichmann trial and its implications, we can better understand the challenges we face in creating a more just and equitable world. It is only through continued exploration and reflection that we can hope to address these challenges and build a more humane and compassionate society.

The author is an undergraduate student at the University of Peshawar.