In Arendt's provocative 1963 report in The New Yorker on the Jerusalem trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, she argued he was not the personification of evil, but a pathetic bureaucrat.
Arendt coined the term the 'Banality of Evil', exemplified by Eichmann’s defense that he was simply following orders. She concluded this was not intrinsic evil, it was a failure to think and a repudiation of humanity. Consequently, she was pilloried by many in the powerful New York Jewish community for being a 'self-hating Jew' and having no emotions over the suffering of millions of Jews in the holocaust. One contemporary neo-con accused her of showing a ‘perversity of brilliance’.
In her youth Arendt was ‘Heidegger’s favourite student’, in fact his lover, and she managed to extract from him - the great philosopher - an admission of his political ignorance for his early support of Nazism. Heidegger was pivotal in Arendt’s intellectual development, but she later towered over him not least in courage.
Arendt's critics accused her of failing to love ‘the Jewish people’; she agreed and said she loves her friends. A true agnostic, to me her critique of the concept of evil developed while watching Eichmann attempt to defend himself by sidestepping culpability for atrocity. Hers was an inspired observation that evil is not the opposite of the religious good, and yet perhaps the worst actions are committed by 'nobodies'. Instead of fighting evil perhaps the answer is to undermine it with the light of education and mindfulness.