From "Misreading Eichmann in Jerusalem" by Roger Berkowitz in yesterday's NYT:
That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe. It is this thoughtless commitment that permits idealists to imagine themselves as heroes and makes them willing to employ technological implements of violence in the name of saving the world.
I haven't seen the movie Hannah Arendt yet because it hasn't arrived in Seattle. But in watching the trailers and reading about it I was surprised to learn that Arendt was roundly excoriated for her depiction of Eichmann in her New Yorker dispatches and the book she wrote about the trial. And I was surprised to learn from Berkowitz that the consensus since then about her depiction of Eichmann is that Arendt's book on Eichmann is good philosophy but bad history. Berkowitz defends Arendt, and says that she would be wrong if she said Eichmann was simply a bureaucratic automaton, but that's now what she said. She said that Eichmanns evil lay in his surrendering to a movement and allowing his own autonomy to be obliterated by his merging with it. This is the other side of 'movement politics'.
I think there are a lot of directions to take this, but the one that interests me at the moment is how people understand the nature of the 'autonomy' that Eichmann surrendered? If Eichmann should have resisted, what is the ground for it? When your entire horizon is filled by norms and everyone you know accepts and reinforces those norms, and those norms are broadly reinforced as noble and idealistic, what resources does an Eichmann have to think or believe otherwise? And why should he think otherwise?
People who have religious commitments have a good answer for that, but I'm curious what the arguments might be for those who don't. Doesn't it just come down to aesthetic preference? Well, you prefer an aesthetic of humaneness and respect--good for you, but I choose power and glory and noble violence. Who are you to say I'm wrong? On what basis can you reason with me? To what in me can you appeal?