The Banality of Evil: Death of a Legend

MAR 12, 2014 | 6:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




March 12, 2014: 6:00 PM


Free; first-come, first-served


Public Programs




A Lecture by Richard Wolin with a Response by Jeffrey Herf

Few claims about the Holocaust have been more tenacious or controversial than Hannah Arendt’s contention that the Nazi executioners were “banal” rather than “evil.” Her argument in Eichmann in Jerusalem sought to highlight the role of non-ideological “desk-murderers” in so-called “administrative mass murder.” But new evidence, primarily from Adolf Eichmann’s long-hidden “Argentine Dossier,” raises serious doubts about her depiction of him as a robotic functionary who was motivated, when all is said and done, by bureaucratic loyalty rather than anti-Semitism. The new findings also raise important questions about future Holocaust interpretation, as well as genocide studies in general. If the “banality of evil” thesis is inapplicable to Eichmann, to whom or to what groups might it apply? And how might one account for the widespread cultural and intellectual appeal of Arendt’s concept?

Admission to this event is first-come, first-served; no reservations.
Richard Wolin is distinguished professor of history, political science, and comparative literature at the Graduate Center. Among his books are Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse; The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism; and The Wind From the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution and the Legacy of the 1960s. He frequently writes on intellectual and political topics for the New Republic, the Nation, and Dissent.
Jeffrey Herf studies the intersection of ideas and politics in modern European history, specializing in 20th-century Germany. His books include Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, which received both the Sybil Halpern Milton Prize from the German Studies Association and the bronze book prize from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust, which received the National Jewish Book Award for work on the Holocaust; and Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys, which received the George Lewis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association.