Banality, and the Little Man on the Podium
September 17, 2002
By Mike McArdle
"Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of
examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to
pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent
of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it
'conditions' men against evildoing?" - Hannah Arendt on Adolph
Eichmann, The Banality of Evil
Eichmann was a bureaucrat whose job it was to move political
prisoners, mostly Jews to the deaths camps of Europe during
World war II. He did his job with cold, detached efficiency.
But what had startled political scientist Hannah Arendt as
she covered his war crimes trial for the New Yorker in 1961
was Eichmann's stunning ordinariness. He had been a file clerk,
a vacuum salesman and a man who had facilitated mass murder.
But he could never understand, even at his trial why he had
been singled out. He had simply followed the established procedures,
everyone had done it. He had never considered - before, during,
or after the fact - the implications of what he had done.
In a different time and a different place he would have still
been selling vacuums.
Another truly ordinary man walked to a podium in New York
this week to address the nations and leaders of the world.
He would have sold sound systems or been a convenience store
manager if his name had been other than what it is. Well,
maybe he would have been an assistant manager. But an accident
of birth dictated higher things for him. He didn't feel the
need to work hard for these things, he expected them. When
he couldn't get things on his own there were always people
there to give them to him. He did what they said and never
asked questions. Dump the stock, take the money, it'll be
okay. Wešll take care of it.
The people who handle him want to have a war so they needed
him to go in and have a diplomatic temper tantrum at the UN.
He had to show those multilateral globalists who's boss. The
one-worlders were going to find out that we're going to have
our war and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.
He surely hadn't thought about the possible implications.
The rest of the world sees possible tragedy and political
upheaval. But there aren't any shades of gray in the eyes
of this most simplistic of men. It's only right and wrong,
good and evil. There's really nothing else to think about,
is there ?
He quit drinking when he hit forty. Pretty soon after that
he had latched onto Jesus Christ whom he once described in
a debate as his favorite political philosopher. But he didn't
think about Christ any more than he had pondered Jack Daniels.
His religion is as empty as his college degrees, just another
bit of credentialing that he never dwelt much upon. Christ
wasn't a political philosopher but it's clear that he hadn't
thought enough about his middle-aged discovery to discern
that, and of course his demeanor after making the statement
made it clear that he never realized how preposterous his
words were. He just never thought about it. Why should he?
He just needed a stock answer to get him through the quiz.
So there was going to be war. That's what they had told him
and he wasn't going to ask any questions or provide any justifications
. It didn't matter that in his lust to remove an evil he could
murder thousands of innocents or tens of thousands or more.
It's us and them, white hats and black hats. No further concentration
will be required.
Last year they had told him he had to protect stem cells
and frozen embryos and so he did. But, of course it would
never occur to him to look at the obscene contradiction between
the supposed sacredness of cells and the moral depravity of
his role killing Afghan wedding guests and now Iraqi children
and grandmothers and shopkeepers. You have to think to see
the contradiction. And it was all just too much trouble.
The ugly, bullying, blackmailing spectacle at the UN should
have shown the assembled nations of the world something that
Hannah Arendt saw so vividly at Eichmanns trial 40 years ago.
Sometimes the greatest threats to the world can be perpetrated
not by the two-bit dictator in the ill-fitting military suit
who schemed and cheated his way to power. He had to think
to get and stay there and has to know the limits of his power
lest he be destroyed by transgressing them. Sometimes the
far greater evil is the small, simplistic person who has enormous
power land in his lap and will never think about the morality
or implications of its use.