Is the Holocaust axiomatic
Hannah Arendt Revisited
On the other hand, her analysis of the trial of "Eichmann in Jerusalem", which bears the subtitle "Report on the banality of evil", was highly controversial, especially among Jewish intellectuals in the USA. Some contemporaries who previously valued her then ostracized her for years . An anthology "Hannah Arendt Revisited", edited by Gary Smith, deals with the reactions to Hannah Arendt's report and its further reception history, which tries to place Arendt's report in the context of her work.
The point of orientation of the volume is the problem that history often attracts public attention through brilliant essayists and sharp-tongued polemicists than through historians who strive for objectivity. Even today, Raul Hilberg, the author of the large study on "The Annihilation of the European Jews", sees his life's work destroyed by Hannah Arendt: She not only made use of Hilberg's historical material, sometimes without giving an exact source. Rather, Hilberg apparently still feels that she is overshadowing the debates about the Holocaust with her brilliant style and public attention.
In any case, her trial report sparked a storm of indignation that Hannah Arendt herself saw as a conspiracy and character assassination. It was not only upset that she criticized the politically expedient conduct of the trial by the Israeli public prosecutor and that she made the behavior of the Jewish councils jointly responsible for the Holocaust. Above all, her words about the banality and everydayness of Eichmann's personality, which demonic all the demonic of the cruel deeds, aroused outrage.
Hannah Arendt then tried to defend herself with the words: "No matter how monstrous the deeds were, the perpetrator was neither monstrous nor demonic (..): it was not stupid, but a strange, very authentic inability to think." Gary Smith counters this in the unguided anthology: "Arendt refused to look into the sick, sadistic nature of the perpetrator and walked with all the pride of her intelligence over the historical experience and the current feelings of her contemporaries."
These accusations do not seem strange today simply because they are contradicting themselves: Why should the cold intelligence not be so strict about the facts? Rather, both criticisms hit the center of Hannah Arendt's own intellectual claims for truthfulness and public discourse. In one of her most famous essays, "Truth and Politics", the first version of which appears in 1965, a few years after the Eichmann report, she insists that there are objective truths in politics and history that cannot be arbitrarily interpreted and interpreted are:
"On closer inspection, however, it is astonishingly evident that any principle and any virtue can be sacrificed to the raison d'état rather than just truth and truthfulness. We can easily imagine a world that knows neither justice nor freedom, and we can of course refuse to even to ask whether a life in such a world is worth the effort. Strangely enough, this is not possible with the much more apolitical idea of truth. It is about the existence of the world, and not a man-made world that determines it is to survive the short life span of mortals in it, will ever be able to fulfill this task if people are not willing to do what Herodotus was the first to consciously do, namely "legein ta eonta": to say what is. No duration, however one imagines it, can even be thought without people who bear witness to what is and appear for them because it is t. "
But isn't Hannah Arendt's claim to truthfulness in politics and history perhaps too extensive, especially in view of the Holocaust? As a consequence, Arendt denies the legitimacy of the Israeli court. She regards the crimes of the Holocaust as crimes against humanity, so that only an international court could have judged them. But Hitler, Eichmann and the SS, Gary Smith points out, murdered millions of Jews in order to drive them out of humanity. And could Israel miss the opportunity? For the first time in history, the victims sat in court over the executioners - unlike the Nuremberg trials of the victorious powers of World War II.
Hannah Arendt could not or would not understand the role that the Eichmann trial played for Israel when a people tried to insure itself of its history. Gershom Scholem then broke with her, whom he previously valued as a Zionist fighter and friend of his friend Walter Benjamin. In her contribution to the anthology, the renowned Harvard professor Seyla Benhabib also notes "a terrifying lack of sense of proportion, sensitivity and prudence" in Arendt's Eichmann report.
But for Hannah Arendt the trial gave away the historically unique opportunity to gain not only a balanced, but also a legally balanced insight into the true course of history. Arendt's claim, however, should be taken more seriously than many of her critics. Because not only does she elevate it to her own subjective maxim, which she follows - inspired by her teacher Karl Jaspers throughout her life - the collection of essays "The Forbidden Tradition" has just been re-edited by Jüdischer Verlag, which impressively confirms this claim. Hannah Arendt recognizes in this maxim rather a general basic definition of occidental humanity, which perhaps one cannot simply ignore, even in view of the extremely understandable interests of the victims of the Holocaust. In her lecture "Truth and Politics" she states:
"The history of this attitude, which is only concerned with the truth, is older than all of our theoretical and scientific traditions, older than the tradition of philosophical and political thought. I would like to believe that its origin coincides with the emergence of the Homeric epics , in which the song Stinune does not withhold or vilify the defeated man and the deeds of the Trojans are no less praised than those of the Achaeans, who testify for Hector as for Achilles. Such 'objectivity' is in vain in the other cultures of antiquity search; nowhere else has one ever been able, at least in the judgment, to let go of your enemy justice again, nowhere else to indicate that world history is not the last judgment, that victory or defeat must not have the last word on the judgment, although they but apparently the last word is for the fate of the people. (..) Here lies the g The historical root of the entire occidental 'objectivity', this strange passion for intellectual integrity at any price, which only existed in the Aabendland and which made it the birthplace of science. "
But not only Hannah Arendt's criticism of the conduct of the case is on the line of fire. Even today, the judgment of Eichmann himself as a dull bureaucrat and banal everyday folk is still disputed from many quarters. Gary Smith points out that Eichmann was then the last surviving strategist of the genocide of the Jews - a face that Hannah Arendt would have lost sight of from a polemical perspective.
But maybe Arendi's position only sounds so polemical because she takes a higher point of view that she still claims when she expresses impressions or opinions. Eichmann describes her as a mundane desk clerk who doesn't even look scary. On the contrary, she wrote to her second husband Heinrich Blücher that Eichmann, who sat in his glass case with a cold and sneezed, looked like a 'buffoon'. He does not give the impression that he is driven by hatred or that he is greedy for blood.
Perhaps many people reacted so violently to these statements in their emotional dismay because they were justified by Hannah Arendt with objective distance, so it was not so easy to contradict them. Hannah Arendt not only claims truthfulness, but also claims that opinions should not be arbitrary, but rather weighed as much as possible. To do this, she thinks it is necessary to talk to other people and to discuss things in public:
"Opinions have no axiomatic certainty. They are not evident, but require justification, they are not imposed, but are the result of deliberation. The deliberation that leads to the formation of an opinion - in contrast to thinking that aims at truth - is true discursive; it passes through the locations that are given in the various parts of the world, the views that arise from them and are opposed to one another, until it has finally distilled a relatively impartial overall view from a plethora of such partisan partial views. "
For many, Hannah Arendt's relatively impartial view of the Eichmann trial in the face of the Holocaust was unbearable. Some later apologized for their violent reactions. When Hannah Arendt died on December 4th, 1975 - Amos Eton points this out in his contribution to "Hannah Arendt Revisited" - she was rather at the low point of her fame. Today, more than 50 years after the Holocaust, it is experiencing a renaissance. Many of their insights - especially about intellectual honesty and the questionability of partisan statements - attract attention because they are all the more necessary in a confusing and disoriented world if one does not want to be seduced by any means.
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