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Eichmann’s self-immunizing mixture of anti-Semitic clichés, his antiquated idiom of German patriotism and the craving for the warrior’s honor and dignity, led Arendt to conclude that Eichmann could not “think” — not because he was incapable of rational intelligence but because he could not think for himself beyond clichés. He was banal precisely because he was a fanatical anti-Semite, not despite it.

Although Arendt was wrong about the depth of Eichmann’s anti-Semitism, she was not wrong about these crucial aspects of his persona and mentality. She saw in him an all-too familiar syndrome of rigid self-righteousness; extreme defensiveness fueled by exaggerated metaphysical and world-historical theories; fervent patriotism based on the “purity” of one’s people; paranoid projections about the power of Jews and envy of them for their achievements in science, literature and philosophy; and contempt for Jews’ supposed deviousness, cowardice and pretensions to be the “chosen people.” This syndrome was banal in that it was widespread among National Socialists.

But by coining the phrase “the banality of evil” and by declining to ascribe Eichmann’s deeds to the demonic or monstrous nature of the doer, Arendt knew that she was going against a tradition of Western thought that sees evil in terms of ultimate sinfulness, depravity and corruption...

Who's On Trial, Eichmann or Arendt? - NYTimes.com

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