What drives people to cooperate with evil? I explore this question with Alex Faludy, a journalist based in Budapest, and Robert Ericksen, Kurt Mayer Chair of Holocaust Studies Emeritus at Pacific Lutheran University. We consider the cases of Nazi and communist totalitarianism, and ask whether people in those regimes were unwitting accomplices or conscious collaborators with evil.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the trial and conviction of Adolf Eichmann, one of the primary organizers of the Jewish Holocaust. In her famous account of the trial, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “banality of evil” to describe how Eichmann, whom she believed to be a mediocre bureaucrat, could mindlessly arrange the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust. Alex took issue with Arendt in a recent article for Unherd, arguing that Eichman was both extremely calculating and rabidly antisemitic. Robert Ericksen draws on his book, Complicity in the Holocaust, to argue that German support for Hitler did not depend on the totalitarian character of the regime. And I do my best to defend Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis, by drawing parallels and lessons from the experience of communism in Eastern Europe.
Questions about “complicity in evil” are difficult and complicated, and we did our best to get a handle on the issues. Personally, I learned a lot from our conversation. I hope you enjoy the podcast and consider subscribing on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.