Triner 1 Marina Triner POLI110DA: Professor Strong, TA: Rick Barrett May 6, 2009 Eichmann and the Ethics of Responsibility

: A New Theory of Democracy In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hanna Arendt argues against elements of the Jerusalem court’s verdict, providing her own justification for why Eichmann must be hanged. Her argument draws on her theory of ‘action’ in the Human Condition, and thus depicts her larger understanding of the conditions that make Being possible. By proclaiming “politics is not the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same” (375), Arendt means that contrary to the basic assumptions of modern jurisprudence, a criminal’s intent is not the grounds for prosecution; thus she eliminates a variety of common justifications for modern prosecution. Arendt makes this claim to establish Eichmann’s offense as a formal crime, a crime against the human way of existence in itself, making it impossible to punish. Eichmann’s crime was committed against humanity as a whole as it was destructive to a condition of possibility for human life. Though I agree with Arendt’s justification for Eichmann’s verdict, allowing witnesses to speak for the defense in her own version of a trial could add to remembrance, thus contributing to Arendt’s theory of ‘action’, though the witnesses would still be irrelevant to the trial’s proceedings. I will argue that the death penalty, according to Arendt, should be a result of Eichmann’s formal crime as one of interference with plurality and remembrance, and not as a punitive measure.

In constructing her own reasoning for why Eichmann must be hanged, Arendt eliminates a few common assumptions of modern jurisprudence, demonstrating the formality of Eichmann’s

By equating obedience and support (375). however. demonstrating a lack of intent in supporting the eventual result (374).Triner 2 crime. Arendt reviews Eichmann’s obedience. distinguishing human beings from other forms of existence. 3 June). or the ability to begin something entirely new and original (ibid). because Eichmann’s ideals do not change the consequence of his ‘unintentional’ actions. through word and deed. regardless of their intent. Eichmann can’t be dismissed as innocent (374). Rather. Throughout Eichmann in Jerusalem. This obedience coupled with a lack of intent does not equate to lack of support. Arendt’s explanation of plurality as essential to being human further illustrates her reasoning for designating Eichmann’s crime as formal. Unlike young children. Arendt builds a theory of human life out of three fundamental concepts: labor. work. ‘action’. thus destroying a significant . and action (Strong. In her justification of Eichmann’s death sentence. she concludes that Eichmann’s only goal was to assure his personal advancement (379). Out of the three. the author aims to contest this. there is a common assumption in modern legal systems that “intent to do wrong is necessary for the commission of a crime” (373). which his lawyers tried to use as evidence to show his innocence. is most crucial to being human as it entails complete freedom. While Eichmann disobeyed orders on very few occasions. demonstrating the centrality of “individual moral responsibility” (387). eliminating human life also eliminates the ability to produce ‘action’. Arendt finds precisely these occasions as anomalies in midst of normal behavior (382). As Arendt argues. individuals in the realm of politics always exhibit support for the bureaucracy within which they obey. While birth in itself is a large part of original creation. This individual responsibility in obeying and supporting a systematic killing of millions constituted a formal crime against the every nature of the human life form. the author includes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to explain that although the entirety of Germany served as part of the bureaucratic death machine.

and the presence of plurality continually reaffirms ‘action’ through acknowledgement (ibid). Though his removal from the earth can’t reverse his actions in any way. his crime is not specific to Jews. In such a process of conversation with others. More importantly. 1 Apr. and thus the formal nature of the crime demands the death penalty. thus disturbing plurality. In Truth and Politics. The meaning of action is also created through retrospectively studying history and past creation (Strong. but a crime that disturbed the human way of living. Such activity is crucial because it assures constant renewal of ‘action’ and its preservation for generations to come. homosexuals. an individual both learns about himself and herself and learns about the community. In other words.Triner 3 characteristic of being human. Because of this. remedying such an offense is far beyond what human relations can do. When individuals reflect on the past they attain new meaning for their acts and preserve them through remembrance. Arendt further establishes Eichmann’s crime as formal by introducing the concepts of narrative and remembrance as they relate to action. a formal crime.). 3 June). Arendt illustrates this concept of a community in which each individual learns the opinions of others and thus orients himself or . Nonetheless. each human birth into the world allows for a unique individual contribution of creation. Eichmann declared that he did not want to share the earth with certain groups of people (375). rather than a specific group of individuals. so that others can build upon it. Poles. This idea begins to establish Eichmann’s crime as one related to humanity at large. no individual on earth can be expected to want to share the earth with someone who aimed to remove a possibility condition for human existence (375). etc. thus creating the political (Strong. ‘action’ as a category that includes creation through uninhibited freedom demands plurality wherein numerous individuals reaffirm the activity of one another and are themselves engaging individually in creative and diverse creation. In his crime.

3 June).Triner 4 herself within a community of creators (556). One cannot be punished in the absence of plurality. and when humanity is destroyed. Punishment itself is a part of humanity. as his actions destroy the human power to do so. Eichmann committed a formal crime. this faculty is not available. they were making sure that future generations would not be made aware of the crimes committed (Storng. namely plurality and the political public space. Arendt simply concludes by stating that no one should be expected to want to share the earth with him (375). It is in this community where constant acknowledgement of words and deeds occurs so as to sustain the conditions for humanity to exist. Because Eichmann’s actions threatened to destroy the condition that distinguished humanity from other forms of existence. an absence that invalidates the human form of existence as such. when the Nazis aimed to destroy all human evidence of genocide. . 3 June). In detailing why Eichmann must be hanged. Punishing Eichmann is impossible as he has been responsible for the destruction of those same conditions. Arendt states that Eichmann’s behavior “transcends the realm of human affairs” (Strong. as a man who was obedient and responsible for the results of the Nazi regime. It does so because it destroys the realm of humanity. This is done because Arendt does not believe that hanging Eichmann could provide a resolution for his behavior or alleviate those who suffered from it. that make it possible for human beings to punish others as part of a distinctly human sphere of existence. She never once mentions his death sentence as a punitive measure against his actions. the death penalty cannot punish Eichmann’s formal crime. Thus. and therefore he must be hanged (375). By destroying these individuals they destroyed a political space of creation that made up the very possibility condition necessary for human existence. As a response to Eichmann’s formal crimes. it is impossible to punish him. human beings simply do not wish to share the earth with him. Thus. While a punishment is part of human existence.

This is consistent with her overall argument. the idea of allowing witnesses from the Holocaust speak about their experiences could contribute to remembrance in profound ways. they were unsuccessful in destroying all remnants of the Holocaust. nor would it relate to Eichmann’s eventual verdict. these witnesses could celebrate their own narratives. It would simply serve to attempt to reconstruct important parts of ‘action’ through the freedom of discussing past history. Arendt’s controversial work that criticizes important elements of the Jerusalem court’s ruling on Eichmann provides a theory on human existence in itself. Though she believes it is beyond human power to punish Eichmann. unrelated as they are to the actual trial. allowing these witnesses to participate in Arendt’s version of a trial would not be contradictory to her theory. While the Nazis threatened to remove that possibility completely. she does argue that generally. reflection on past human action is a necessary part of human existence (Strong. it might be of some use to bring some of the individuals that remain to tell the story of those ‘actions’ that the Nazis tried to erase. thus contributing to the human condition. it would allow for a partial remembrance to occur. continuing human existence by refusing to eliminate a huge party of history from within the human narrative. However. However. These remnants include many of the witnesses presented by the prosecution during the trial.Triner 5 Despite the consistency in Arendt’s argument concerning her justification for Eichmann’s fate. Regardless of whether Eichmann was tried in a Jewish or international court. because of the formality of the crime (372). I see great validity in her claim of not being able to punish Eichmann for his crimes. a remembrance that had almost been destroyed. 3 June). Though this would be no means provide a remedy to the atrocities. though it would surely not add validity to the trial itself. as well as her argument about the formality of Eichmann’s crimes. who Arendt condemns as unimportant to the proceedings. By depicting Eichmann’s .

The inability of humans to punish Eichmann is a logical conclusion to the fact that Eichmann destroys human power and human existence in profound ways. . Though by no means can a trial restore human plurality or make up for Eichmann’s horrific actions. they could contribute an important elements of humanity to human existence as a whole. it can in some way contribute to remembrance by using witnesses as the only remnants of an event that attempted to destroy human existence and human evidence of that same destruction. She does not deny the atrocities caused to these groups. Because Eichmann destroys a part of plurality and the human public sphere in which remembrance occurs. These witnesses would not be of use to the trial.Triner 6 behavior as disruptive to the human form of life as such. but puts them in a wider context that places them as violations against human Being. Arendt removes the possibility of judging this crime on the basis of specific acts against specific peoples. nonetheless. he must also be eliminated from the human realm.

San Diego. 2003. 1 Apr. 2 June 2009. University of California. 2009. New York: Penguin Classics. La Jolla. University of California. Tracy. Ed.” Freedom and Discipline: Political Thought in the Twentieth Century. “Hanna Arendt. La Jolla. Peter Baehr. San Diego.Triner 7 Works Cited Arendt. The Portable Hannah Arendt. “The Appeal of the Community. Strong. Strong. Hannah.” Freedom and Discipline: Political Thought in the Twentieth Century. . Tracy.

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