In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt argued that Adolf Eichmann did not fulfill a necessary condition for punishment: he did not have an 'intent to do wrong'. Eichmann wanted to be a law abiding citizen. Thus he was able to commit terrible acts that, according to the laws of Nazi Germany, were not crimes. Because of his inability to think, Eichmann never realized what he was doing. This is what Arendt called the banality of evil. Yet she was of the opinion that Eichmann deserved to be hanged. The reason for the death penalty in his case was the fact that he committed crimes against humanity. Arendt wrote her reasoning in a direct address to Eichmann. She seemed to suppose that Eichmann would have been able to understand this reasoning, in spite of his inability to think. A necessary condition for punishment seems to be the ability of the convict to understand the meaning of punishment and the moral and legal norms which are expressed by punishment. When this ability is absent, punishment of war criminals becomes a political act to eliminate enemies of the human race. That would go against modern conceptions of punishment as a meaningful communicative act towards the perpetrator.
- Banality of evil
- purpose of punishment