Stern, Sol. Commentary. 136, no. 2 (2013): 43-48.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In the history of American publishing, there has never been anything quite like the fevered public debates, the personal recriminations, the civil war of ideas, unleashed by Arendt’s deliberately provocative account of the trial of a perpetrator of the Final Solution. Meetings were organized to denounce the author, angry rebuttals were issued, and the polemical fireworks continued for almost three years in magazines such as Commentary, Partisan Review, Dissent, and The New Leader. A who’s who of the most important public intellectuals of the 1960s weighed in.
Arendt was fiercely attacked for proposing that Eichmann was a “nobody,” an unthinking bureaucrat and a cog in the machinery of the Final Solution rather than one of its masterminds. She was also denounced for accusing leaders of the Judenrate,the Jewish councils in Nazi-occupied Europe, for having engaged in “sordid and pathetic” behavior that made it easier for the Nazis to manage the logistics of the extermination process. Among those who criticized the book on these and other grounds were Irving Howe, Norman Podhoretz, Lionel Abel, and Walter Laqueur. But there were also a significant number of highly regarded writers who defended Arendt, among them Mary McCarthy, Daniel Bell, Bruno Bettelheim, Hans Morgenthau, and Alfred Kazin.