On the sixtieth anniversary of the hanging of Adolf Eichmann 1

This essay is from the New English Review, May, 2022.

June 1, 2022, will be the 60th anniversary of the execution of Adolf Eichmann.

He was the arch administrator of Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish problem” by systematic murder. The plan was conceived by Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS and Hitler’s second-in command. Between 1942 and 1945—the last three years of the Second World War—SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann carried it out. He organized the killing of approximately six million Jews of all ages, most of them by poison gas.

After the Third Reich was defeated in 1945 and Hitler and Himmler had committed suicide, Eichmann sought refuge from justice in South America under the name Ricardo Klement. Some twelve years after the establishment in 1948 of the independent Jewish state of Israel, the Israeli secret service traced Eichmann to Argentina, captured him, smuggled him out of the country and brought him to Jerusalem. There he was humanely imprisoned, politely interrogated, tried by a legally constituted tribunal, judged, and condemned.

The proceedings were conducted with scrupulous regard to the law and all the safeguards it provided: due process, evidence, cross examination of witnesses, argument for the defense. He was found guilty of multiple crimes against the Jewish People, of crimes against humanity, and of war crimes; and he was acquitted on certain parts of the indictment where proof was considered inadequate. He was sentenced to death.

Granted permission to appeal, he had his death sentence confirmed by the higher court. The appeal judges declared:

“In deciding to confirm both the verdict and the sentence passed on Adolf Eichmann, we know only too well how utterly inadequate is the death sentence when we consider the millions of deaths for which he was responsible. Even as there is no word in human speech to describe his deeds, so there is no punishment in human law to match his guilt.”

And on June 1,1962, a few minutes after midnight, he was hanged.

Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish-American philosopher, was sent by the chic New Yorker magazine to report on Eichmann’s trial. She considered the proceedings to be flawed. She questioned whether the Israeli court had jurisdiction to try the crimes of which Eichmann stood accused. She argued that the Nazi policy of discrimination against the Jews was a “national issue”, so persons accused of implementing it should be tried in a German court. Deportations, however, affect other countries, therefore those accused of organizing them should be brought before an international court. So should those accused of genocide because it is “a crime against humanity”. The specific human genus marked down for total extermination in this case was the Jewish people, but the crime was nevertheless, in her view, against all humankind, so the obligation fell upon the world, not the Jewish state, to call its perpetrators to account. The fact that the world had shown little interest in tracking down Nazi fugitives was no discouragement to her optimism that it would see justice done.

She was not alone in having doubts on the question of jurisdiction. Legal opinion had been divided over the legitimacy of the court which had tried Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Argument over type of tribunal, applicable law, and definition of Eichmann’s crimes were necessary, and the Jerusalem court itself examined such questions and gave reasoned answers to them. Fortunately, the judges had a more realistic understanding than Arendt of how the murder of Jews was estimated by the world at large, so they kept him well secured in their own jurisdiction.

Arendt’s criticism was not limited to those conscientiously debated issues. She also objected to the terms of the judgment. Although she accepted that the “guilty” verdict was just, and even agreed that Eichmann deserved the sentence of death (unlike some other liberal critics – such as the British publisher Victor Gollancz, who recommended that he be acquitted with the words, “Go, and sin no more”), she caviled at the judges’ reasons for their verdict. They should, she thought, have “dared to address their defendant” in these terms:

“Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune [Eichmann’s defense being chiefly that he too was a victim of the Nazi regime, forced to obey immoral orders] that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”

In other words, what Arendt thought Eichmann the mass murderer was most guilty of; what she identified as his chief and most appalling offense; what she thought his judges should be hardest on; what alone would justify his being put to death, was—hubris.

This coolly detached opinion of hers is not, however, the point to which she most urgently directed her readers’ attention. The most important lesson she drew is encapsulated in her famous generalization, a phrase on the nature of evil. It is displayed in the title of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and the book ends (but for an Epilogue and Postscript) with a re-statement of it. It is her firm conclusion.

“Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the Protestant minister …  who offered to read the Bible with him … He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect, with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees, he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. ‘I don’t need that,’ he said when the black hood was offered him.  He was in complete command of himself, nay, he was more: he was completely himself.  Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubige [a God believer], to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. [Yet] he then proceeded: ‘After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them.’ In the face of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was ‘elated’ and he forgot that this was his own funeral. It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” [All italics are the author’s]

For Hannah Arendt, the story required a fascinating demon, not a bespectacled clerk. Even when he stood under the noose, she laments, when history needed him to speak pathetic or terrifying words of pride or remorse, the best he could come up with were embarrassingly trivial funeral clichés. He was a dull person; not exactly stupid in her assessment, but not a thinking man. He was a mere instrument of evil, but with his final banal remarks he summed up a lesson that evil itself was banal.

Hannah Arendt was wrong about what Eichmann had been. He had not been a lowly bureaucrat unthinkingly carrying out orders; not “just a small cog in Adolf Hitler’s extermination machine” as he claimed, but a zealous, dedicated, ideological, leading Nazi. He had an entire bureau under him, a department of his own in the Reich Security Head Office.

She apparently never found this out. Between 1973 and 1975, she delivered a series of lectures on how philosophers from ancient Greece to modern Germany have dealt with the subjects of thinking and willing. They were collected—and published after her death—in two volumes under the title The Life of the Mind. In her introduction, she refers to her report on the Eichmann trial and changes what she had meant by “the banality of evil”: not that evil was banal (which is clearly what she wrote), but only that this particular evil-doer was banal. “I was struck by a manifest shallowness [in him] … The deeds were monstrous, but the doer … was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.” And she added: “Behind that phrase, I held no thesis or doctrine … although I was dimly aware of the fact that it went counter to our tradition of thought—literary, theological, or philosophic—about the phenomenon of evil.”

“Dimly aware”? Of “our” tradition of thought? She was perfectly aware that it went counter to her tradition of thought. She had studied philosophy at Marburg under Martin Heidegger—with whom she had a love-affair—and at Heidelberg under Karl Jaspers. In the introduction to The Life of the Mind she clearly states: “Evil, we have learned, is something demonic; its incarnation is …  the fallen angel … that superbia of which only the best are capable.”

That is as far as she goes in dealing with the aggrandizement of evil in “our tradition of thought”. She does not touch on it again in the chapters that follow.

Who are the “we” who learned that evil is something “of which only the best are capable”? The answer is: students of German philosophy. For over a hundred years, the most esteemed German philosophers—and artists—had been romanticizing evil. More and worse, they urged its practice. They despised morality. Most influentially, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) denigrated it; Richard Wagner (1813-1883) considered it a corrupting imposition on the pure, brave, superior, heroic German character, a taint for which the Jews, through Christianity, were to blame; and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), hated it with raging passion. And with raging passion he praised evil, praised the powerful who do evil on a vast scale. To him evil was “beautiful”, a source of intoxicating joy. He tops the list of revered German sages who romanticized evil, but Arendt does not so much as mention this, though she writes about him at length in The Life of the Mind.

It wasn’t as if Nietzsche did not know what evil was. He knew it was suffering, physical torment, mental anguish. He was a sick man, subject to acute pain and nausea, but in the worst throes of his suffering he would cry out for more of it, because to endure and rise above suffering was a means to attain genius—the creative genius of the Superman.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, through the persona of Zarathustra (who bears no resemblance to the historical figure), he urges those who would be “noble” to be “ruthless”. In Beyond Good and Evil he eagerly anticipates a new caste of supermen who will rule over Europe. Under their enlightened rule, slavery will be necessary. In The Joyous Science he declares that these heroes will be able to commit terrible deeds of cruelty, torture, and mass murder, and yet remain blithe and light-hearted. “All those who create are hard … the noblest are totally hard.” They will be the glory of the human race, acting out of instinct, not thought. Thinking, reason, morality destroy creative inspiration and are inimical to life. “Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and return, necessitates torment, destruction, the will to annihilate.”

The Nazis took the philosophy of Nietzsche as an instruction textbook, and Heinrich Himmler echoed him when he said in his infamous 1943 speech to SS officers explaining how just was the genocide of the Jews:

“Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through and—with the exception of human weakness—to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned.”

Martin Heidegger—teacher, mentor, lover of Hannah Arendt, and to her mind a profound thinker—was a devout Nazi. He declared emphatically that he was not concerned with ethics. What he was greatly concerned with was the German nation, which must, he said in his rectorial address at the University of Freiburg in 1933, “preserve at the deepest level those forces that are rooted in the earth and its own blood”. The essence of the race, he said, was embodied in Adolf Hitler. “The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law.” Hitler, he said, would “heal” the nation. Only when, contrary to this prediction, the Führer led Germany to defeat and shame, did Martin Heidegger discern something he could call evil meaning it was bad. He wrote in a Letter on Humanism two years after the ending of the Second World War, when the atrocity of the Holocaust was known throughout the world: “Perhaps the distinguishing feature of the present age lies in the fact that wholeness as a dimension of experience is closed to us. Perhaps this is the only evil.”


Jillian Becker   May 22, 2022

Marxism versus morality 2

On the left, the concept of objective truth is increasingly deemed a form of white supremacy.

From time to time, staunchly and admirably conservative Dennis Prager writes in defense of what he (along with many others) likes to call “Judeo-Christian” values. We generally reject the term for reasons we give here. But we accept its use in the article below because he gives it a definition which makes it palatable to reason.

He writes at the Daily Signal:

All of my life, I have said that the left’s moral compass is broken. And all of my life, I was wrong.

Why I was wrong explains both the left and the moral crisis we are in better than almost any other explanation.

I was wrong because in order to have a broken moral compass, you need to have a moral compass to begin with. But the left doesn’t have one.

This is not meant as an attack. It is a description of reality. The left regularly acknowledges that it doesn’t think in terms of good and evil. Most of us are so used to thinking in those terms—what we call “Judeo-Christian”—that it is very difficult for us to divide the world in any other way.

But since Karl Marx, the left (not liberalism; the two are different) has always divided the world, and, therefore, human actions, in ways other than good and evil. The left, in Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous words, has always operated “beyond good and evil.”

It all began with Marx, who divided the world by economic class—worker and owner or exploited and exploiter. To Marx and to Marxism, there is no such thing as a good or an evil that transcends class. Good is defined as what is good for the working class; evil is what is bad for the working class.

Therefore, to Marxists, there is no such thing as a universal good or a universal evil. …

By which is meant that –

Whether an act is good or evil has nothing to do with who committed the act—rich or poor, male or female, religious or secular, member of one’s nation or of another nation. Stealing and murder are morally wrong, no matter who stole or who murdered.

That is not the case for Marx and the left.

As Marx put it in “Das Kapital”:

Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the cultural development thereby determined. We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate, and forever immutable moral law.

Fifty-three years later, Marx’s foremost disciple, Vladimir Lenin, architect of the Russian Revolution, proclaimed:

We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. … We do not believe in an eternal morality. … We repudiate all morality derived from non-human (i.e. God) and non-class concepts.[Address to the Third Congress of the Russian Young Communist League, Oct. 2, 1920.]

As professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith, director of Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions, wrote in 1957:

For Marxism there is no reason … for not killing or torturing or exploiting a human person if his liquidation or torture or slave labor will advance the historical process.

This is how Marx’s ideological heirs, today’s leftists, view the world—with one important difference: Morality is not determined only by class, but by race, power, and sex as well.

In Left-think, racism is wrong – as it is in reason. But only for some people, not for all – a position reason rejects.

It is left-wing dogma that a black person cannot be a racist. Only whites can be racist. And, indeed, all whites are racist.

It is increasingly a left-wing position that when blacks loot, they are only taking what they deserve, or, as the looters often put it, looted goods are “reparations”. A Black Lives Matter organizer in Chicago, Ariel Atkins, recently put it this way:

I don’t care if somebody decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store because that makes sure that person eats. That makes sure that person has clothes. That is reparations. Anything they want to take, take it because these businesses have insurance.[Chicago Tribune, Aug. 17, 2020.]

Another non-moral left-wing compass concerns power. Just as right and wrong are determined by class (worker and owner/rich and poor) and race (white and people of color), good and evil are also determined by power (the strong and the weak).

Power is wrong – unless of course it is in the hands of the Left.

That’s why leftists protest and riot whenever a confrontation between a police officer and a black person ends with the death of an unarmed black person. … The death is automatically deemed murder.

And causes the world over are right or wrong according to that criterion:

That explains much of the left’s hatred for two countries in particular—America and Israel. America is wrong when it does almost anything in the world that involves weaker countries—assassinates the most important Iranian terrorist, builds a wall between itself and Mexico, opposes unlimited immigration. It is wrong because it is much stronger than those other countries.

The left’s antipathy to Israel derives from both the power compass and the race compass. Because Israel is so much stronger than the Palestinians and because Israelis are classified as white (despite the fact that more than half of all Israelis are not white), the left deems Israel wrong.

So, when Israel justifiably attacks Gaza for raining rockets over Israel, the world’s left vehemently attacks Israel—because it is so much stronger than the people of Gaza and because whites have attacked people of color.

In Left-think, rape is wrong – as it is in reason – but only for some people.

When a woman accuses a man of sexually harassing or raping her, the left’s reaction is not, “Let us try to determine the truth as best we can.” It is, “Believe women.” One must automatically “believe women” …

Unless, as we have seen lately, the accusation is brought against a leading Democrat, such as Joe Biden, the Left’s candidate for the presidency. In his case the woman must not be believed.

… because, on the left, it is not only morality that doesn’t transcend race, power, class or sex; truth doesn’t either.

Posted under Ethics, Israel, Leftism, Marxism, United States by Jillian Becker on Sunday, September 27, 2020

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A famous socialist advocates “humane” mass murder 59

In this video, the Socialist George Bernard Shaw advocates the gassing of people he regards as useless to society.

Shaw, an amusing and much acclaimed playwright, was highly sympathetic to the National Socialist Adolf Hitler, the Fascist Socialist Benito Mussolini, and the Dictators of the Union of Socialist Republics Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

Where does the idea that you need to justify your existence come from?

And with it the idea that the justification must only be according to what and how much you do for others? 

As a general moral theory, it was given birth to by Christianity. It is the very essence of Christian moral doctrine. It drives the Christian conscience towards self-sacrifice and martyrdom.

It was inherited by Socialism/Communism/Marxism/Progressivism. The Left. (Not by Hitler’s  National Socialism. Shaw was inconsistent there.)

We live in an age when the Left is so ungrateful for what the Enlightenment and capitalism have done for humankind, its minions so bent on destroying the great achievements of liberty and prosperity, that they deserve to lose the inventors, the doers and makers, the sustainers of our civilization – the Atlases who carry our world on their shoulders. Beware! Atlas can become exasperated. As he does in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. 

Ayn Rand has the characters who speak for her say:

We are on strike against martyrdom — and against the moral code that demands it. We are on strike against those who believe that one man must exist for the sake of another. We are on strike against the morality of cannibals, be it practiced in body or in spirit. We will not deal with men on any terms but ours — and our terms are a moral code which holds that man is an end in himself and not the means to any end of others.


I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Like Adam Smith, she and all capitalists know (whether they express the notion or not), that the best way of earning a living is to provide other people with something – goods or services – that they will pay you for. The benefit is mutual.

We cannot live without others. We cannot help having an effect on them or stop them having an effect on us, and we are happy when the effect is beneficial. But we do not need to live for them.  

It’s surely hard enough sustaining your own life and the lives of your natural dependents. To think up a single formula for sustaining and ordering the lives of millions, as the Left does, is to be absurd or insane; and the implementation of it is tyranny and mass murder. No two lives are so exactly matched that the same conditions will affect them equally. Let them be free, each to choose his own path. He may be self-centered, he may be avaricious; he may be self-denying, he may be altruistic. He pursues his own happiness.

Because of her insistence that we do not live for the sake of others, Ayn Rand has been likened to Friedrich Nietzsche. (By, for instance, Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now. See our post, Enlightenment, atheism, reason, and the humanist Left, April 12, 2018.)

Nietzsche was a weak, unhealthy, mentally deranged German philosopher who invented and adulated an imaginary super-strong Super-Man. The Super-Man would be above conventional morality. His existence would be far more important than the lives of the superfluous multitudes who are fit only to be trampled down. (A belief of his that was shared by Hitler.)

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is nothing like Nietzsche’s. Rather, it is close to that of the Epicureans. They were atheists (though to save themselves from contumely and attack they would wave the subject away by saying yes, yes, okay, there are gods, but they live very far from us human beings and have nothing whatever to do with us). They accepted that to live is to suffer, so the best way an individual can live his life is by finding ways to enjoy it as much as he can. To pursue his own happiness. As a school of thought they were not sybarites; they did not advocate living luxuriously, though they had nothing against anyone doing so if he chose. Their chief pleasure lay in intellectual exploration. They were not Atlases; they did not carry the world on their shoulders. But they saw no sense in creeds of self-sacrifice, whether to men or to gods.


(Hat-tip to Don L for the link to the video)