What will we not do for money and status?
Here’s Corey Robin on Hannah Arendt.
Many people believe that great crimes come from terrible ideas: Marxism, racism and Islamic fundamentalism gave us the Gulag, Auschwitz and 9/11. It was the singular achievement of Eichmann in Jerusalem, however, to remind us that the worst atrocities often arise from the simplest of vices. And few vices, in Arendt’s mind, were more vicious than careerism. ‘The East is a career,’ Disraeli wrote. And so was the Holocaust, according to Arendt. ‘What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.’ Genocide, she insisted, is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.
The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s criticism of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neocons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.
— “Dragon-Slayers” by Corey Robin in the London Review of Books, 4 Jan 2007