The Communal Machinery of Evil: Reflections on Hannah Arendt

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Virginia Tech Publishing


The fifty-year anniversary of the trial and execution of Adolph Eichmann saw the release of the Margarethe von Trotta film Hannah Arendt. This article considers the film’s achievements in the context of Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and especially her “lesson” that political evil consists not only in some demonic instinct or motive, but in a monstrous lack of imagination, a condition of radical philosophical thoughtlessness. The film is principally a character study of a political philosopher with strong convictions and an abiding concern for what Arendt saw as the unfortunate truth about Eichmann. Largely occluded are the enduring political themes with which Arendt’s many books in political theory dealt – themes including power, conformity, and community. Yet, the film anticipates important moral and political questions of lasting relevance. There remains much to be learned about thoughtlessness in nations where power is broadly shared by the people. Concerns over evil’s precise nature aside, the question of conformity in democracies remains important to consider as nationalist, ethnic, and sectarian sentiments arise anew in Russia, the Middle East, as well as the United States.




Nelson, S.G., 2014. The Communal Machinery of Evil: Reflections on Hannah Arendt. Spectra, 3(2). DOI: