Published in Modern Intellectual History, Volume 4, Issue 3, January 1, 2007, pages 463-490.
Copyright © 2007 Cambridge University Press.
The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1479244307001357.
Hannah Arendt’s well-known examinations of the problem of evil are not contradictory and they are central to her corpus. Evil can be banal in some cases (Adolf Eichmann) and radical (the phenomenon of totalitarianism) in others. But behind all expressions of evil, in Arendt’s formulations, is the imperative that it be confronted by thinking subjects and thoroughly historicized. This led her away from a view of evil as radical to one of evil as banal. Arendt’s ruminations on evil are illuminated, in part, by concerns that she shared with her fellow New York intellectuals about the withering effects of mass culture upon individual volition and understanding. In confronting the challenges of evil, Arendt functioned as a “moral historian,” suggesting profitable ways that historians might look at history from a moral perspective. Indeed, her work may be viewed as anticipating a “moral turn” currently afoot in the historical profession.