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Arendt Studies

Volume 4, 2020

Alex CainOrcid-ID
Pages 107-127

Arendt’s Contradictions
Eichmann in Jerusalem in the Perspective of Arendt’s Practice of Socratic Dialogue

Commentators often note that there are contradictions, or at least inconsistencies, in Arendt’s work. On the one hand, Arendt is accused of theoretical inconsistencies, insofar as she makes claims in her later work that seem incompatible with claims she made earlier. On the other hand, Arendt has been accused of contradicting herself morally, with some commentators claiming that Arendt should not have written Eichmann in Jerusalem the way she wrote it. Both views place the treatment of the 1961 Eichmann trial at the center of Arendt’s thought, and cast it as representing a radical shift from Arendt’s earlier work. This article shows that both views fail to acknowledge the importance of what I call the “archetype of non-contradiction” in Arendt’s work. I argue that, viewed in perspective, her treatment of the Eichmann trial is simply another instance of Arendt attempting to follow the archetype of non-contradiction, practicing tentative and fluid thinking, and maintaining her friendship with herself.