Arendt has been misinterpreted for decades as an ideologue who presented the most evil segments of a men’s souls as the attributes of mediocrity, or better said, banality. Although she is more than right to ascribe the denotation of evil to mediocrity, most do not realize that it is not evil per se that leads to mediocrity, rather that mediocrity is the vessel, the means by which evil can foster, grow, and develop. Evil does not exist in bland men, rather it exists in their blandness itself, in their lack of action, and lack of purpose.
It is on the mindless whims of those who seek power by coercing individuals into herds by the use of force that use the mediocrity of men in order to mold them together and place them into the collective think tank where men who lack any understanding of themselves become brutes, and thus are able to express their truest form of evil- the coercion of others by physical force. The very fact that people follow the masses, rather than themselves is the reason why evil can exist, and precisely why evil, as Arendt has reiterated throughout her career, is banal.
Take for instance the simple moral decrepitude of an individual such as Hitler, Stalin or any other totalitarian dictator. Their power did not lie in the fact that they wished to perpetuate their evil doctrines and manifest them in the world, rather their power lay in the fact that they used the collective and its inherent weakness, as well as its banality, to achieve their goals which lead to unspeakable horrors.
Eichmann, the man who is perhaps the most notorious Nazi to have ever existed, besides Hitler himself, is a perfect example of the kind of individual whose innate evil could have not expressed itself beyond that of a deranged murderer who would be stopped by the appropriate and legal arm of the state, yet within a collective system he was able to materialize his evil using a “legalized” arm of the state. Eichmann was in fact an expression of pure madness that used banality to achieve its ends. It is those such as him that saw men and women as cattle, and not as human beings. Yet, consider the implication of a man like Eichmann in a system where individual rights are the only existent form of rights, and the state function is to hinder individuals such as him who would bring harm to others. Do you think he would be able to succeed in perpetuating the horrors that he did?
Arendt has presented us with a simple axiomatic principle of the definition of evil as something inherently and morally mediocre. Yet, what are the implications of actually taking this statement into account. How does this principle present itself within modern ideas of realism?
A man who lacks self-esteem, finds it superficially in the collective, in the herd, in the group mentality. It is for this reason why most who follow team sports do not do so because they enjoy to see others achieve after a great deal of effort and work, rather because they wish to associate themselves with a collective, and if their team wins to ascribe the efforts and accomplishment of a set of men to themselves, as if somehow if they wear their colors they have also participated in the accomplishment. This is one of the lowest forms of collectivism. Most who ascribe to it do not have a sense of themselves, thus they must feed of the accomplishments of others in order to find some meaning.
Consider the implications of a university student who first joins an educational institution. His or her first concern, most of the time, is to find some meaning to themselves, and their environment. Most do this by joining varsity teams, clubs, associations, and fraternities in order to find a sense of belonging to a group who they believe is something greater than themselves. Few, find their meaning in their work, and it is only through their work that they will accomplish and achieve. The former group does not wish to achieve through the efforts of their own work, but wish to ascribe to the accomplishments of the collective, where everything is shared. The latter, the individual achieves through his or her own efforts, he/she shares nothing, but knows that whatever they accomplished it is theirs, and only theirs.
Now ask yourself where is mediocrity found? Is it not in the man who mindlessly cheers for a team to win because if they do he might find some gratification in the fact that he “belongs” to the supporters? Is it not found in the student who would rather waste his time by joining associations, meetings and clubs to find a sense of belonging rather than to achieve through his work alone?
It is in the mindsets of those who follow a collective in order to feel proud, that innate evil can be used to chain him/her. That is what Arendt meant by its sheer banality. Not the individual who thinks for himself/herself, but in those who follow the thoughts and actions of the group. It is they that refuse to think on their own, and it is through their banal nature, that evil can exist.