We’ve imbued our political parties with morals. For example, Republicans care about life. Thus, they will appoint pro life judges. Democrats care about human rights. Thus, they’ll be better at foreign policy—saying NO to Russia.
Bviously this is simplified. Also obviously I have no right to write about Hannah Arendt. A brilliant thinker.
This weekend I watched the movie Hannah Arendt. I knew about her peripherally like in the sense she was one of the people (émergie who fled Nazi Germany) who helped ferment The New School where my daughter went.
Once I saw the movie I was able to sort her into—Oh you thought that up, that line of thinking, about the question of evil. The movie released in 2012, Hannah Arendt died in 1975. Some of her books are:
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Revised ed.; New York: Schocken, 2004.
The Human Condition (1958) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1968.
I was surprised at how relevant and timely the movie felt. The notion of evil and abdicating what we know is right in order to achieve a particular outcome that we believe is ultimately right. For example voters in Alabama. Voting for a man who likely if elected will be thrown out of the Senate or at least censored because they
1) Cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat
2) They feel Judge Roy Moore will be a moral leader and see to it that the “right” people get on the Supreme Court
3) Some believe that he’s God’s chosen (more on that later)
Belief is a tricky thing because in some of these cases people have abandoned their beliefs wholecloth. They’ve left off thinking all together.
Hannah Arendt in her pursuit of understanding evil in a post WWII, post-Hitler, post-Auschwitz, nuclear world struggled with alliances and fealties. She would not sacrifice what she believed just to keep things normal, to protect the status quo, or to satisfy family, friends, or country. That isn’t how philosophy works. Philosophy isn’t nationalistic or gender-specific. It has affairs and dabbles in various camps in order to get a reading, a report of what that space occupies. Thus, she angered many Jews.
When she wrote that evil was ordinary and that given a chance we would—all of us—sell out our mother, our tribe, our deepest sense of right and wrong for a higher purpose—or in Eichmann’s case, per someone’s order.
It’s how Trump got elected.
The very people who need a tax break, healthcare, housing, recovery treatment, safe food and drinking water, who care about family, the unborn voted against their interests. Against the published news reports, even against the candidate’s own words—they decided to believe in an alternative.
So we are at a crossroads. Of fake news, fake facts, conspiracies. The Russia Thing, if you will. People have decided to believe whatever they want because either there are no facts or they chose to believe in alternative facts.
Hannah Arendt got into trouble by blurring the edges of what the Western world fought and died for, by diluting their mottos and deconstructing their manifestos. We all have the ability to be evil. It is an individual choice and one frankly not all of us are able to acknowledge, myself included. I’ve held my nose and voted for someone I didn’t like just because they’d make the trains run on time.
Thus, some good Christian people are going to vote for Judge Roy Moore.
I think what Hannah Arendt was saying is that we are all capable of killing, of supporting killers, that we will find a way to justify genocide, and rationalize mass murder. Just don’t make us think about it too deeply or have to explain why.