Monday, January 16, 2012

Thanks for Nada, Hannah

Hannah Arendt's legacy consists of more than her banal (but still widely believed) observation about the Nazis' "banality of evil." As Sol Stern writes, she bequeathed us something far more toxic--the intellectual underpinnings of today's Zionhass:
Since the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, serious scholars have debunked the most inflammatory of Arendt’s charges. Nevertheless, for today’s defamers of Israel, Arendt is a patron saint, a courageous Jewish intellectual who saw Israel’s moral catastrophe coming. These leftist intellectuals don’t merely believe, as Arendt did, that she was the victim of “excommunication” for the sin of criticizing Israel. Their homage to Arendt runs deeper. In fact, their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel and exile it from the family of nations—another kind of excommunication, if you will—derives several of its themes from Arendt’s writings on Zionism and the Holocaust. Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies.
She may have hated Dave (Ben-Gurion) but she remained steadfast in her loyalty and devotion to former amour Marty (Heidegger). That, in a nutshell, tells you practically everything you need to know about her.


Carlos Perera said...

Yeah, Arendt, being an intellectual, wound up believing all sorts of things that, as Orwell observed, only intellectuals could believe.

That said, I found _Eichmann in Jerusalem_ to be an absorbing read. True, her observation on the banality of evil is, well, banal . . . or should be. But, you know, a lot of supposedly sophisticated and cosmopolitan "statesman" types are, incredibly, lulled into thinking that the sanguinary dictator sitting across the negotiating table from them is an alright Joe, since he has good table manners, smiles politely, and makes interesting small talk; in other words, he doesn't look like the devil incarnate. Hitler was famously able to charm foreign diplomats and statesmen, to the degree that William Shirer, who had ample opportunity to observe him working diplomatic receptions, wondered if he had taken the Dale Carnegie courses. Fidel Castro has charmed the pants off--literally, in the case of many women--legions of visiting Western intellectuals and journalists. And Madeleine Albright found Kim Jong-Il to be a convivial fellow and fine host with a winning smile. So, maybe, the reminder that evil often lurks behind an agreeable, "normal" demeanor is not amiss.

scaramouche said...

An absorbing read it may have been, but Arendt got it wrong, wrong, wrong. As a corrective, I'd advise you to read Deborah Lipstandt's recent book about the trial and the last chapter of David Caesarini's Eichmann bio.

Carlos Perera said...

Thanks for the reading suggestions, Scaramouche. I'll add them to my summer 2012 reading list.

Best regards,