I woke up to discover that more or less everything I wanted to say last night about Ron Rosenbaum’s misbegotten hit job on Hannah Arendt and her conception of the banality of evil has been said this morning at length by Steven Menashi at the American Scene. (Extra fun: in touching on Carlin Romano’s recent hit job on Heidegger, Menashi makes the point which I noted had gone entirely unmade in the long, hysterical combox criticism aimed at Romano: even Strauss, Heidegger’s great foe, insisted we couldn’t wave him away. This is relevant even for those who think Strauss and Heidegger were merely the Spy vs. Spy of Nietzscheans.)

So, since Steve has done most of the talking for me, I’ll let — who else? — Rieff do the rest:

. . . when the human lowers itself in the vertical of authority, there is always the shock of the revelation that that lowering can scarcely be called animal. Such lowerings as went under the category of sin or transgression were beneath baseness. They were nothing. Hannah Arendt calls this nothing the ‘banality of evil.’ And she is correct, so long as one understands the nothing of banality, its meaninglessness. It is the kind of transgression which the transgressor cannot recognize as a transgression. So the human, as transgressor, once the very idea of transgression is repressed, has fallen through the bottom of sacred order ( Crisis of the Officer Class , 161-62).

Articles by James Poulos

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