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On “radical evil” – Hannah Arendt

10/09/2010

In a letter to Karl Jaspers, dated March 4, 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote the following on “radical evil”:

What radical evil is I don’t know, but it seems to me it somehow has to do with the following phenomenon: making human beings as human beings superfluous (not using them as a means to an end, which leaves their essences as humans untouched and impinges only on their human dignity; rather making them superfluous as human beings). This happens as soon as all unpredictability- which, in human beings, is the equivalent of spontaneity- is eliminated. And all this in turn arises from- or, better, goes along with- the delusion of the omnipotence (not simply of the lust for power) of an individual man. If an individual man qua man were omnipotent, then there is in fact no reason why men in the plural should exist at all – just as in monotheism it is only God’s omnipotence that makes him ONE. So, in this same way, the omnipotence of an individual man would make men superfluous (Kohler, Lotte and Hans Saner, Hannah Arendt Karl Jaspers: Correspondence 1926-1969, #109, 166.)

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