Between the Diabolical and the Banal: Margalit on Humanism and Radical Evil

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In this paper, I wish to discuss the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit’s revival of the notion of “radical evil” in his book
On Compromise and Rotten Compromises (2010). Margalit, like Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, sees the historical
events of 20th century totalitarianism, specifically, Nazi cruelty and humiliation, as exemplifying an assault on morality itself
(by attacking its enabling assumption of a shared humanity). Famously, Arendt withdrew, or complicated, her understanding
of Nazi evil in her later notion, in Eichmann in Jerusalem, of the “banality” of evil. Contrary to both Arendt and Margalit, I
shall argue that evil is neither radical nor banal. Arendt was right to withdraw the notion of radical evil, and Margalit does not
make better sense of it, given the explanatory vacuity of attributing such motives to human agents. Yet, there is nothing banal
in the conscious and intentional perpetration of evil, thoughtlessly or otherwise. The myriad ways through which the human
pursuit of the good turn into monstrosities are historically, sociologically and psychologically deep and worthy of critical and
theoretical reflection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophy International Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


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