This essay both contributes to Hannah Arendt scholarship and attempts to understand the mentality of the perpetrators of the Nazi genocide. It does so by analyzing how Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem grew out of her effort to come to terms with the particular and unprecedented aspects of the Holocaust in light of her general political philosophy. Arendt avoids giving a straightforward reply as to why Adolf Eichmann and his fellow perpetrators acted as they did. Critics have so far ignored how the linguistic instability of Eichmann in Jerusalem reflects the absence of legal and moral stability that is the very subject of the book. The focus on criminal guilt is not enough, because the Nazi genocide distorted legal and moral standards by which one could judge crimes in the past. The unprecedented nature of the atrocities under discussion requires philosophical reflection. This article attempts to explain apparent contradictions between Arendt's Eichmann book and her political philosophy: one reason lies in her historiographical approach, which shifts back and forth between the metaphysical and the empirical. The article uncovers Arendt's motivation for such a seemingly contradictory movement from a purely observational to a theoretical stance: according to Arendt, we can understand the historical implications of the Nazi genocide only if we engage in the crisscrossing of history and thought.
Research Article| February 01 2009
Michael Mack; The Holocaust and Hannah Arendt's Philosophical Critique of Philosophy: Eichmann in Jerusalem. New German Critique 1 February 2009; 36 (1 (106)): 35–60. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2008-020
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