Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
In her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt uses the life and trial of Adolf Eichmann to explore man's responsibility for evils committed under orders or as a result of the law. Due to the fact that she believed that Eichmann was neither anti-Semitic, nor a psychopath, Arendt was widely criticized for treating Eichmann too sympathetically. Still, her work on the Eichmann trial is among the most respected works on the issue to date.
Eichmann built a defense during his trial by arguing that he was not responsible for his actions because he was acting under orders and in accordance with the law of his land. Since his orders came from Adolf Hitler himself, Eichmann believed them to be legal and just. Thus, he orchestrated the "Final Solution" the systematic annihilation of the Jewish race. Eichmann used Immanuel Kant's theory of categorical imperative as the basis of his defense. This theory, which proclaims that one should "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law." Arendt points out that the prosecution did not question him directly about this use of Kant's theory, but Judge Raveh did challenge him on his statements. Arendt writes that the challenge came because the defense was "outrageous, on the face of it, and also incomprehensible, since Kant's moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man's faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience." Kant's theory relies on man's judgment to tell him to disobey an authority that would bring harm to him or cause him to unjustly harm others.
Arendt's does seem to give some grace to Eichmann for being caught up in a system that did not question authority, and that was obsessed with carrying out one's duties; however, she insists that he should be held responsible for his actions due to the fact that even under the harshest totalitarian regime moral choice still...
Cited: Kant, Immanuel and James Ellington. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals; with, on a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 1993.
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