Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

FASCINATING

There is a very interesting review of a book in the NY TIMES today.  You can read it here.  Drawing on a very large cache of documents dating from the time that Adolf Eichmann was "hiding" in Argentina [the German government apparently knew where he was], the book shows him to have been a fully self-conscious dedicated Nazi who was devoted to the cause of exterminating the Jews.  He was in no way "banal," and knew exactly what he was doing, contrary to the persona he presented during his trial.  This completely undercuts Hannah Arendt's famously controversial thesis in Eichmann in Jerusalem.

One knowledgeable historian made the following striking comment:

“She had the right type but the wrong guy,” said the historian Christopher R. Browning, the author of “Ordinary Men,” an influential 1992 study of a German police battalion that killed tens of thousands of Jews in Poland. “There were all sorts of people like Eichmann was pretending to be, which is why his strategy worked.”

I do not have a dog in this hunt, as they say in the backwoods down here, so I simply call your attention to the book and the review, if you are interested.

7 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

"Then, while reading through the voluminous memoirs and other testimony Eichmann produced while in hiding in Argentina after the war, Ms. Stangneth came across a long note he wrote, dismissing the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, that flew in the face of Arendt’s notion of Eichmann’s 'inability to think'."

This is ironic, given that an often heard objection to Kant's moral theory is that it can't rule out the consistent Nazi. Stangneth is an independent (Of what? The Academy? La, de, da. Maybe that just means that she won a lottery....) philosopher, so I assume she has a grip on most of the really difficult arguments and has, therefore, a pretty good grip on how to estimate someone's ability to think. What could Eichmann have written about Kant that, in her eyes, got him on the able to think side of the fence?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Now, now, Andrew, don't be mean. It may just mean she couldn't get a job teaching philosophy. I don't think I will read the book just to find out. The review makes it sound as though the author thought the mere fact that Eichmann wrote something about Kant showed he was not "banal."

James said...

From the review, I don't see much of anything new added to the debate--at least not on the level of political philosophy where Arendt was working. I find it fascinating the amount of ink wasted in trying to debunk Arendt's Eichmann. For me, these portrayals of Eichmann as a purposeful, self-conscious mastermind of evil do not necessarily conflict with Arendt's account, if the latter is properly understood in the context of Arendt's political philosophy and, importantly here, Arendt's own engagement with Kant.

For example, see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/hannah-arendt-adolf-eichmann-banality-of-evil

Most criticisms of Arendt's Eichmann from cultural critics and historians tend to fall flat for not paying attention to what words like thinking, calculating, judgment, practical/theoretical reason, etc. mean for Arendt vis-a-vis her interpretation of Kant and other philosophers for that matter. It was always important for Arendt to make distinctions between various modes or levels of thinking, and to look for those types of thought that correspond to certain types of political activity. So people tend to misread her at exactly these moments of distinction in which Arendt is most intently engaging with a critical philosophical (rather than political or historical) tradition, particularly from Kant to Heidegger.

I don't know who Stangneth is, but nothing in this review makes me any more optimistic about her ability to understand the underlying philosophical ideas at work in Eichmann in Jerusalem, though I'm sure her presentation of new documentary evidence about the historical Eichmann is welcome.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

James, as I indicated, I have no axe to grind in this argument, but I must say that after reading Judith Butler's essay, to which you provide a useful link, I am unpersuaded that it constitutes a successful defense of Arendt. But then, I am on record as having grave doubts about Arendt's other work, so that may not be surprising.

James said...

Understood. The Butler piece on Arendt was merely meant as a resource for anyone perhaps not familiar with the importance of Kant for Arendt in the context of Eichmann.

I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not aware of your general reservations about Arendt, though I can imagine what they may be. Anyway, an issue for another day...

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Andrew smiles....

Charles Pigden said...

IF Stangreth's stuff holds up, 'right type, wrong guy' sounds just about right to me. There were plenty of people who were as Arendt believed Eichmann to be even if Eichmann himself was not one of them. One reason, I suspect that Arendt's diagnosis provoked such ire, is that if she is right (not about Eichmann himself but about quite a lot of mass-killers) the distance between many of us and many of the monsters of history is not so great as many of would like to think. I discuss the matter (bringing in a good deal of history plus references to Solzhenitsyn) in 'Milgram, Method and Morality'. Two excellent philosophical books partly on this theme are Lars Svendsen's 'A Philosophy of Evil' and Glover's 'Humanity: a Moral History of the Twentieth Century'. This stuff has been at the forefront of my mind lately as I have just finished teaching a course on the subject.