Tony Judt on The ‘Problem of Evil’ in Postwar Europe

“Meanwhile, we should all of us perhaps take care when we speak of the problem of evil. For there is more than one sort of banality. There is the notorious banality of which [Hannah] Arendt spoke — the unsettling, normal, neighborly, everyday evil in humans. But there is another banality: the banality of overuse—the flattening, desensitizing effect of seeing or saying or thinking the same thing too many times until we have numbed our audience and rendered them immune to the evil we are describing. And that is the banality— or “banalization”—that we face today.

After 1945 our parents’ generation set aside the problem of evil because —for them—it contained too much meaning. The generation that will follow us is in danger of setting the problem aside because it now contains too little meaning. How can we prevent this? How, in other words, can we ensure that the problem of evil remains the fundamental question for intellectual life, and not just in Europe? I don’t know the answer but I am pretty sure that it is the right question. It is the question Hannah Arendt asked sixty years ago and I believe she would still ask it today.”

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