Responsibility and Judgment
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Responsibility and Judgment gathers together unpublished writings from the last decade of Arendt’s life, where she addresses fundamental questions and concerns about the nature of evil and the making of moral choices. At the heart of the book is a profound ethical investigation, “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy,” in which Arendt confronts the inadequacy of traditional moral “truths” as standards to judge what we are capable of doing and examines anew our ability to distinguish good from evil and right from wrong. We also see how Arendt comes to understand that alongside the radical evil she had addressed in earlier analyses of totalitarianism, there exists a more pernicious evil, independent of political ideology, whose execution is limitless when the perpetrator feels no remorse and can forget his acts as soon as they are committed.
Responsibility and Judgment is an indispensable investigation into some of the most troubling and important issues of our time.
were—in order to save them from the feeble-minded, Satanic ingenuity of all the others? IV Reading the trial proceedings, one must always keep in mind that Auschwitz had been established for administrative massacres that were to be executed according to the strictest rules and regulations. These rules and regulations had been laid down by the desk murderers, and they seemed to exclude—probably they were meant to exclude—all individual initiative either for better or for worse. The
done nothing to bring this situation about. They were not responsible for the Nazis, they were only impressed by the Nazi success and unable to pit their own judgment against the verdict of History, as they read it. Without taking into account the almost universal breakdown, not of personal responsibility, but of personal judgment in the early stages of the Nazi regime, it is impossible to understand what actually happened. It is true that many of these people were quickly disenchanted, and it is
of the command “Thou shalt kill,” not thy enemy but innocent people who were not even potentially dangerous, and not for any reason of necessity but, on the contrary, even against all military and other utilitarian considerations. The killing program was not meant to come to an end with the last Jew to be found on earth, and it had nothing to do with the war except that Hitler believed he needed a war as a smoke screen for his nonmilitary killing operations; those operations themselves were
striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world. I mentioned the quality of being a person as distinguished from being merely human (as the Greeks distinguished themselves as logon echon from the barbarians), and I said that to speak
supported is weak, for Federal subvention is intended in these instances to match and supplement local contributions and does not transform the schools into Federal institutions, like the Federal district courts. It would be very unwise indeed if the Federal government—which now must come to the assistance of more and more enterprises that once were the sole responsibility of the states—were to use its financial support as a means of whipping the states into agreement with positions they would