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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Four Faces of Evil

I always thought that Hannah Arendt's treatment of the "banality of evil" in Eichmann in Jerusalem was insightful. But now reading The Brothers for a class on John Foster and Allen Dulles, I realize the insufficiency of treating evil as banality. I suggest three other kinds of evil in human behavior.

Arendt's insight into Eichmann during his trial was that he was unthinking in his bureaucratic function for the Nazis in organizing the death camps for the Jews. If, in considering the Nazi phenomenon, she had written on the Führer Hitler himself and his key henchmen, I am sure she would have described them as the shapers of the policy much differently. And I think Hitler's Secretary Bormann represents an evil apart from both Hitler and Eichmann. And Field Marshall Rommel is completely separate.

1. The Banality of Evil is for the 95% of us who go along without noting the consequences for others or really caring about them. We just want to earn our living. It is to our interest to follow orders. We accept what we are told by the media and pass along our opinions without questioning them. We live the unexamined life. We accept the official version of history with its stereotypes and categories. We are patriotic. We behave and accept the prevailing morality that separates the good guys (us) from the bad guys (others) no matter what it is.

2. The Purity of Evil is practiced by the shapers and architects--those who have moved themselves into a position of uncontaminated power. They create, know, and promote the Truth. They are the Righteous who decide the Right. They are the True Patriots who teach what true patriotism is. They are the Saviors of Civilization and will use whatever means desirable to achieve their goals. The Enemy is anyone who obstructs or counters their vision of the True and the Right. They personally identify their success in power and wealth with that of their party or corporation or nation.

3. The Triviality of Evil is carried out by those who enjoy the game. They focus on their ability to make things happen for the Shapers by manipulating the Go-alongers. They are focused on winning whatever game they are called upon to play, knowing how to move the pawns, and even check the kings of the other side. The are comic figures. They are the strategists and the organizers who get a kick out of seeing things happen by their mechanizations which sometimes work, but often fail.

4. The Sincerity of Evil belongs to those who think, who understand consequences even those unintended, who have a sense of ambiguity about the world and its evil, and who could make a difference but choose to go along with the Shapers and Gamers. They think they just use, but are usually used by, the Shapers and Gamers. They are the ones about whom tragedies are written.

The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer is the story of how we got where we are today and especially how George Bush and Barack Obama were faced with and made terrible choices in regards to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the US role in the world. The characters in this tragicomedy are John Foster Dulles who represents the Purity of Evil in his missionary zeal to make America the Jerusalem on the Hill that defeats all contenders. Allen Dulles represents the Triviality of Evil as the playboy womanizer gamer who loves to develop strategies that sometimes win and often lose, but certainly sets up the US as the mover and shaker of the world. Eisenhower (and Kennedy and Johnson to follow) represent the Sincerity of Evil, the "realists" who reluctantly buy into the world vision of Dulles and their plutocratic friends' (we call them both "neocons" and "neoliberals" today).

Then there are the publishers, the editors, the reporters, the politicians, the bishops, the professors, the managers of companies, labor leaders, the generals, and the rest of us who went along. Back to the Banality of Evil.

Yes, there were courageous theologians and clergy, students, labor leaders, artists who protested the vision and actions of the Dulles brothers and their circle of elite friends. Just as in Nazi Germany, Poland, and France. But hardly enough. And the American Century and American Exceptionalism was born to thrive and fall as is happening as I write.

(To be continued

  • what these evils have in common
  • how can we confront these evils
  • how ethics and politics connect)

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