Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem sparked a storm of controversy when it was published in 1963. Roger Berkowitz, a scholar of politics and philosophy and a colleague of WRM’s at Bard, writes that in the years since, it “has remained something to condemn or defend rather than a book to be read and understood.” A new film about the often misunderstood Arendt is now out in some theaters, and it once again raises many of the important questions that linger over over Arendt’s most famous work.The film, Hannah Arendt, is directed by German director Margarethe von Trotta; Barbara Sukowa plays the title role with a “passionate intensity” that won her a Lola, the German equivalent of an Oscar. Roger reviewed the film, and revisits the story Eichmann in Jerusalem, in the Paris Review:
She [Arendt] was astonished that perhaps the most egregious crime in history was administered not by panting sociopaths but by unthinking buffoons. This is what Arendt means by her famous and famously misunderstood dictum, “the banality of evil.” It is one thing to kill your aunt out of malice; crimes can be committed from barbarous motives. But the distance separating malicious murder from administrative genocide is immeasurable. Arendt’s “banality” suggests that the sacrifice of common-sense aversion to evil and authoritarian obedience cannot happen in absent, thoughtless people like Eichmann. […]The importance of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem is not to be found simply in the rightness or wrongness of her conclusions about Adolf Eichmann. Her book has power because of the original force of Arendt’s thinking. The book is a work of judgment in connection to a trial—the process by which we come to terms with one man’s evil deeds. […]Hannah Arendt herself might have been surprised to learn that after fifty years of deadening controversy, it is a film that promises to provoke the serious public debate she sought in publishing her book. Although originally entitled The Controversy, von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt would be more appropriately (if less commercially) entitled The Most Sophisticated Reading Yet of Arendt’s Philosophy to Reach the Mainstream.
Read the whole review here. And for readers who live in New York City, the film is currently being shown at the Film Forum in the West Village; this Wednesday, Roger Berkowitz will be there in person to do a Q & A session after the 6:30pm screening. Get your tickets here.