“The banality of evil.”

From The Chronicle Review:

In Why Arendt Matters (Yale University Press, 2006), a staunchly devotional brief for the continuing relevance of political theorist Hannah Arendt, by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Arendt’s much-acclaimed biographer, the author complains that despite writing “more than a dozen dense volumes” that include several “masterpieces of political analysis,” and posthumously becoming “the subject of hundreds of books and articles,” Arendt “lives on in newspeak through just four words.”

“The banality of evil.”

Young-Bruehl brandishes the phrase at the outset, lamenting, “This is the sound bite by which Hannah Arendt has become popularly known.” What, the noted psychoanalyst asks, “do people make of it when, every time some especially appalling, hard-to-fathom mass crime takes place, ‘the banality of evil’ turns up in their morning papers or jumps out of the mouths of TV pundits?”

A former Ph.D. student of Arendt at the New School, Young-Bruehl grieves at how The New York Times Week in Review juxtaposed photos of Adolf Eichmann and Saddam Hussein at their respective trials with the caption, “From Banality to Audacity.” It accompanied a story in which Arendt’s phrase “was predictably and reverently invoked — and completely misunderstood.”

More here.