The Banality of Evil: Genocide, Slavery, Holocaust and War

  • Melissa Dearey
Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


Chapter 7 addressed the question of why individuals actually do evil, focusing on a selection of theories developed from social psychology and ethnography which mainly concentrated on emotional, corporeal and, perhaps most controversially of all, situational factors that dispose people to indulge in such wicked and destructive behaviours, whether criminal, deviant or both. This chapter continues our explorations of social-scientific theories and concepts of evil by focusing on the phenomenon and consequences of what has been called collective evil, i.e. the manifestation of evil on a large scale involving and/or with the complicity phenomena such as complicity of many people, including but not limited to genocide, war, holocaust and slavery. Here, we consider the still controversial and challenging thesis about the nature and origins of evil in this atrocious arena as articulated by the philosopher Hannah Arendt, a thesis that she developed during her coverage of the Eichmann trial in 1961, contemporaneously with Stanley Milgram’s initial obedience experiments in the early 1960s. From my experience of teaching this subject and text, and indeed from reading the scholarly research on genocide and the like, part of the lasting legacy of Arendt’s argument about evil is how it has itself suffered as a result of the need to shock (of more later).


Jewish People Charismatic Leader Modern Nation State Past Wrong Radical Evil 
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Copyright information

© Melissa Dearey 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Dearey
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HullUK

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