Eichmann’s punishment and justice

Reading “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” I immediately found myself wondering what the punishment for Eichmann would be since it is clear he is presumed to be, and is in fact, guilty of these crimes. As I continued reading about these crimes, I began to feel as if there is no punishment fit to his crimes, that no individual can ever receive such a severe punishment for suffering caused against an entire group of people. Ardent addresses these concerns. Some critics against the death penalty state, “The most common arguement was that Eichmann’s deeds defied the possiblity of human punshiment” (250). Others who attempted to address this gap between the severity of the crimes committed and the absence of an equivalent punishment propose more creative punishments such as “Eichmann should have spent the rest of his life at hard labor … (250). However, I feel this would not be fitting as it implies that law has the capability of closing the gap between justice and the crimes committed through various punishments, which I don’t believe is not possible in the case of Eichmann. 

Ardent also addresses those who called this punishment, “unimaginative,” which caught my eye reading because it is synonymous to banal, the essence, Ardent argues, of Eichmann’s evil. Ardent herself does not believe this is a reason to not inflict the death penalty (in her ideal version of the trial in her epilogue, she states he “must hang” (279)). In this framing, I do not think Ardent criticizes the punishment, but rather the trial and audience which failed to explore alternative manners of conduct in the courtroom, such as questioning Eichmann’s testimony of his lack or guilt, lack of hate, and lack of agency in his crimes. Reading this part of the book in particular, it seemed that critics looked for alternative punishments to close this gap between his crime and punishment, when Ardent perhaps wants them to embody this alternative approach to looking at things in trial and future for different ways of measuring justice. As a reader, it seems Ardent wants me to look at the development of the law different going forward, in manners such as the creation of “an international penal law” (273) reckoning with the fact that justice for the victims through punishment of the criminal may not ever be possible in the aftermath WW2 and could occur again.

One thought on “Eichmann’s punishment and justice”

  1. Great connection between Arendt’s critique of the “unimaginative” character of the trial verdict and the “banality” of Eichmann’s crimes. One of the most intriguing and complex aspects of Arendt’s work (in this text and others) is her insistence on the imagination as having political and ethical dimensions. Would love to hear more thoughts from you about what that means.

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