Philosophers as Bureaucrats of Sadism


I have been lecturing the past two weeks on Hannah Arendt, moving through her Origins of Totalitarianism before approaching her others works as the semester proceeds. Class discussion has focused around vexing questions about responsibility, which in Arendt means not just those functionaries of violence but also, most controversially, Jews and others caught up in the machinery of violence. I’ll post today’s lecture a bit later, but part of it contains this quotation from Arendt from a 1964 essay on responsibility under a dictatorship:

I had somehow [she is here describing her Eichmann book] taken it for granted that we all still believe with Socrates that it is better to suffer than to do wrong. This belief turned out to be a mistake. There was a widespread conviction that it is impossible to withstand temptation of any kind, that none of us could be trusted when the chips are down…

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