The Banality of Evil on Trial
C. Stahn & L. van den Herik (eds.) Future perspectives on international criminal justice, T.M.C. Asser Press, 24-43, 2010
20 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2015
Date Written: 2010
Hannah Arendt was one of the many observers when Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Jerusalem in 1961. While she approved of Eichmann’s eventual sentence, Arendt was disappointed that the court, had, in her view, ‘missed the greatest moral and even legal challenge of the whole case’. This challenge, Arendt contended, resulted from the clash between established legal and moral categories and Eichmann’s behaviour, character and self-image. The judge simply could not believe that one of the principal architects of the holocaust was so horrifically normal. Arendt’s thesis on the new face of evil has spurred intensive debates in philosophy, psychology and political science while the responses from legal circles have been meagre so far. In this chapter, we explore the possible continued relevance of Arendt’s work for international criminal law. We have three main aims. First, to explain some of Arendt’s thoughts on the problem of evil and to criticize the ways in which her work has been misread and misconstrued. Secondly, to set out how post-1960 research in especially social-psychology has corroborated Arendt’s main ideas about the nature of bureaucratic mass murderers. Thirdly, to what extent international criminal law has effectively dealt with challenges formulated by Arendt.
Keywords: International criminal justice, Eichmann, banality of evil, Arendt
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