Learning from Myths and Metaphors
Chapter 7. Hannah Arendt’s Concept of the ‘Banality of Evil’: On Thoughtlessness in Education
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HANNAH ARENDT’S CONCEPT OF THE ‘BANALITY OF EVIL’: ON THOUGHTLESSNESS IN EDUCATION1
In coining the concept the “banality of evil,”2 Hannah Arendt pointed to a phenomenon unique to twentieth century political life, and especially to totalitarian regimes. She thus challenged political thinkers to reflect on the significance of this concept even though she never fully developed a theory of evil. In describing this phenomenon, Arendt insisted that banal individuals, whom she described as thoughtless and “remote from reality,” can commit crimes on a mass scale without even realizing that they are doing wrong: “That such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness [as discovered in Eichmann] can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together which, perhaps, are inherent in man—that was, in fact, the lesson one could learn in Jerusalem.”3
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