The Evil of Banality: On the Life and Death Importance of Thinking by Elizabeth Minnich
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
256 pages. $85.00 hardcover, $29.95 paperback.
"It flips it, and it gets people thinking again," Elizabeth Minnich tells me, as we sit on a friend's couch on New York City's Upper West Side in February. "It was driving me crazy that across the media, people would talk about the 'banality of evil,' and for that to become a banality itself was really unbearable."
Minnich is explaining the title other most recent book, The Evil of Banality--a conscious flipping of the subtitle of Hannah Arendt's famous book on the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. Minnich, a lifelong civil rights and justice activist who now lives in North Carolina, had been a teaching assistant for Arendt at the New School in New York City while the renowned scholar was defending her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, published in 1963.
"I took a course with her called 'Political Experiences of the Twentieth Century,' which is about Europe between the wars, and then the rise of the Nazis and the development of totalitarianism. And, after the first course, she asked me to be her teaching assistant. I said, 'But I've only had one philosophy course,' and she said, Ach, ach, doesn't matter!' She really was not conventional. So I sat in on her large lecture courses and was in her small seminar courses," Minnich, now a professor of moral philosophy at Queens University of Charlotte and senior fellow for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, recalls a half century later.
"And it was after she had written the book about the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, and she was still being asked to speak about it publicly. She hadn't yet given up trying to explain herself, because it got so ugly and she took me with her to a lot of those conversations."
The book Eichmann in Jerusalem was intensely controversial when it appeared, first as a series of articles in The New Yorker. Arendt described Eichmann not as an evil demon, but as a banal, ordinary person.
"It was precisely this lack of imagination," she wrote, "which enabled him to sit for months on end [leading up to the trial] facing a German Jew who was conducting the police interrogation, pouring out his heart to the man and explaining again and again how it was that he reached only the rank of lieutenant colonel in the S.S. and...