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Hannah Arendt on Eichmann: The Public, the Private and Evil Shiraz Dosa The Review of Politics, Vol. 46, No, 2 (Apr., 1984), 163-182. Stable URL: httplinksstor.orgsici?sici=0034-6705'% 28 19840452046%3 A2%3C 163% 3AHAOETP®3B2.0,.CO®IB2-Z, The Review of Politics is currently published by University of Notre Dame du Tac on behalf of Review of Politics. Your use of the ISTOR archive indicates your acceptance of ISTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at flip: feworwjtor org/aboutterms.htmal. ISTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in par, that unless you fave obtained pcior permission, you may not dowaload an cnt isus of @ journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe ISTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial uss. Please contact the publisher cegarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at hal, Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transtnission. ISTOR is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating and preserving a digital archive of scholarly journals. For more information regarding ISTOR, please contact support hup:shrwwjstor.orgy Mon Nov 14 13:13:14 2005 Hannah Arendt on Eichmann: The Public, the Private and Evil Shiraz Dossa Since its publication, Bichmaan ia Jeusalon has provoked a storm of controver- sy. With afew exceptions, erties reacted tothe albstance of Arends thesa with Considerable bierness and hostility, This anile argues tha her detractors badly Imisunderstood Arendt Decause they were insuliienly conversane with, oF Unaware of, her politcal theory. Fundamental co this theory. articulated at Jength in her The Human Condit, isthe crucial distinction hetween the public and the private, None of her erdcs, including thase wha sympathized with ‘Arendt, bave understood that her critical analysts of Pichmann’s conduee and of the expanse of the Jewish leadership 0 the tage fate that befell thelr people makes sense on the peculiar tertain of her paliial ceory and parcularly in terms of the ublieprivate distinction which is atthe care ofthis theory. ‘The taient for political theorizing that Arendt revealed in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) was cormmandingly and more cogently displayed a few years later in The Human Condition (1958). Though discerning critics acknowledged the considerable caliber of her mind and her learning, they were inclined to marvel ‘more at her judgmental audacity about complex problems in the tradition of political thought and about the nature of the tradition itself, Few among them took her theoretical efforts seriously as political theory, in part because of her own negligence in discur- sively defending her theary. There was the fact as well that it was an uncommon theory of politics, not easily understood or ap- propriated, Arendt’s political themes and passions were distinctly European; her intellectual style was equally European in its easy acquaintance with the world of ideas, Inevitably, Arendt became 2 cultural figure of repute, a literary phenomenon, more con- versed about than thoughtfully read. Arend’s Fickmann in Jerusalem appeared in this secing, more or less, in 1963. Her critical and characteristically daring judgments elicited an unusually mordant reaction, even bearing in mind the contentious nature of the issues in question. But this response, steeped in righteous anger, derived its inspiration and its authority, paradoxically, from a failure to appreciate that Arendt’s judgments made sense in terms of her political theory and its suppositions, None of her critics have understood this. Por chat matter, none of her admiring defenders, as far as I know, have seen. (his 163 164 ‘THE REVIEW OF POLITICS either. The inability of her detractors to take into account this crucial fact was the main reason for the ensuing misunderstand- ing. For the substance of the bitter controversy, provoked by her book, was that she had harshly judged Jewish behavior in face of the terror of the “final solution” as essentially immoral, that her account exonerated Bichmann because he was banal and con- demned his victims for failing to fight back, indeed for cooperating with thei killers." ‘Though her judgment was certainly harsh, she did not even come close to condemning the “Jewish leaders'— only the leaders, not the Jewish people—by some absolute moral yardstick. In- deed, Arendt subscribed to no such standard. Her critics misread her “public” judgment as an absolute moral judgment and then chose to read inta it things which Arendt had never said. For in- stance, she never said that the victims were guilty of their own mutder, that Eichmann was innocent, that the Jews should have fought back, that justice was not done at Jerusalem, These charges are all false, yet they were routinely voiced at the height of the cantroversy.? Why was stich misreading so rampant? The answer has to da with Arend’s audacity in raising questions about something which had long been considered canonical: the image of the Jew as victim. In The Origins of Toalitarianism, as early as page 5, she hhad hinted at her dissatisfaction with arguments which presup- posed the “perfect innocence" of victims of mass murder. Arendt was not persuaded by theories which completely “discharged” the victims of all “responsibility,"* She did not say and did not mean that the victims were therefore guilty. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, she. was far more vocal and far more specific in questioning the victim image. What seems ta have cut deep is that she raised such questions in the context of the trial of a ‘man responsible (with others) for the murder of millions of Jews.? Challenging the victim image in this context was bound to cast doubt on the total innocence of the survivors and the victims. For, as Norman Fruchter has argued in much stronger language, Arendt in effect “questioned the myth of the victim which Jews cend to substitute for their history" and which “guarantees {them| a unified identity.”* Understandably her simultaneous depiction of Eichmann as a banal mediocrity must have been too hard to bear with equanimity ‘One does not have to accept Fruchter’s characterization of the ARENDT ON EICHMANN: 165 victim image as a “myth” to recognize the truth in his argument. ‘The uniformly bitter and angry tone of Arendt’s critics is other- wise puzzling and unintelligible. The following headline in the In- termountain Jewish News was a uniquely vulgar expression of this bitcerness: "Self-Hlating Jewess Writes Pro-Eichmann Series.”? But the same sentiment was aiso apparent in a Jewish scholar as serious and as learned as Gershom Scholem. In his letter to Arendt, he accused her of lacking “habath Israel: ‘Lave of the Jewish peo- ple...’ and engaging in “a mockery of Zionism."* On the second point, Scholem was essentially right. What is intriguing about these criticisms, and this is only partly true of Scholem, is that they do not face up squarely to the questions raised by Arendt. Instead, her critics, on the one hand, deny her thesis and proceed to question her motives and, on the other, attempt t0 discredit her historical scholarship. Jacob Robinson's And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight: The Bichmann Trial, the Jewish Catastrophe, and Hannah Arenak’s Narrative? has yet to be equaled in its vigorous commitment to do the latter, Robinson uncovered many minor mistakes in dates, names, places, but in spite of fastidious devotion to his task, he failed to undermine her thesis, Nor did he advance a counterargument.2° Robinson's failure eloquently proves what should have been clear to him all along: that Arendt’ thesis was neither an exercise in scholarship in contemporary Jewish history, nor was i based ‘on such a claim, The basic historical fact essential to her thesis, that the Judenrat (council of Jewish leaders) had “cooperated” with the Nazi authorities in the area under Eichmann’s jurisdiction, was never in dispure, Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews!" had already established this fact, and Arendt relied on Hilberg’s evidence to argue her casc.'? But the substance of her case depended on her peculiar theoretical judgments. Few of her critics scemed able or inclined (0 understand this—the one exception who deserves mention is Norman Podhoretz. He was astute enough to sec that the ques- tions Arendt raised could not “be answered by scholarship.""3 But they couldl and indeed they were answered on the ground of her theary of polities, I Fundamental to Arendt’s political theory is the distinction be-