The phrase “the banality of evil” was coined by Hannah Arendt, the controversial subject of Ada Ushpiz’s documentary Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt. She was inspired (for want of a better word) by the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, who oversaw the mass deportation of Jews to the ghettos and concentration camps. The German-Jewish Arendt came to realize that for the millions of deaths he facilitated, Eichmann was not a demon or an embodiment of evil, but just a shallow, infuriatingly dumb man who refused to acknowledge the suffering of others or the blood on his hands. This did not endear Arendt to her fellow Jews, who found nothing banal about the Holocaust, and disapproved of the relationship she maintained with noted Nazi supporter Martin Heidegger. Though it focuses on her thoughts about humanity’s predilection toward evil acts, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt covers the whole of her life, and it is not a hagiography, giving plenty of time to those who disagree with her. But many of her ideas are no less relevant today: the need for diversity; the dangers of ideologies; and how totalitarian elements enter a free society under the vague promise of making one’s country great again, if you just follow a single voice and don’t ask questions.
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