"Little Eichmanns" are persons participating in society whose actions, while on an individual scale may seem relatively harmless even to themselves, taken collectively create destructive and immoral systems in which they are actually complicit.
The use of "Eichmann" as an archetype stems from Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil; she wrote in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil that Eichmann relied on propaganda rather than thinking for himself, and carried out Nazi goals mostly to advance his career. She called him the embodiment of the "banality of evil" as he appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality and displayed neither guilt nor hatred. She suggested that this most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi criminals were manifestly psychopathic and fundamentally different from ordinary people.[pages needed]
Published examples of usage
Poet Anne Sexton uses "Eichmann" as a metaphor representing one's own guilt and murderous impulses, first (specifically as "little Eichmanns", perhaps the earliest usage of the phrase) in "Live" (1967):
Like many of us –
little Eichmanns, little mothers –
I promise to love more if they come,
because in spite of cruelty
and the stuffed railroad cars for the ovens,
I am not what I expected, not an Eichmann.
The poison just didn't take....
Lewis Mumford collectively referred to as "Eichmanns" the people willing to placidly carry out the extreme goals of socio-political "megamachines", in The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine (1970):
In every country there are now countless Eichmanns in administrative offices, in business corporations, in universities, in laboratories, in the armed forces: orderly, obedient people, ready to carry out any officially sanctioned fantasy, however dehumanized and debased.
The concept of justice should not be overlooked in considering the Unabomber phenomenon. In fact, except for his targets, when have the many little Eichmanns who are preparing the Brave New World ever been called to account?
The phrase gained prominence in American political culture several years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when a controversy ensued over the 2003 book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens (republishing a similarly titled 2001 essay) by Ward Churchill, shortly after the attacks received renewed media scrutiny. In the essay, Churchill used the phrase to describe technocrats working at the World Trade Center:
If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.
The idea that Adolf Eichmann—or, indeed, the majority of Nazis or of those working in such regimes—actually fit this concept has been criticized by historians such as Michael Burleigh, who contends that Eichmann and the majority of Nazis were in fact deeply ideological and extremely anti-Semitic, with Eichmann in particular having been fixated on and obsessed with the Jews from a young age.
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- Arendt, Hannah (1994). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New Yor: Penguin Books.
- Sexton, Anne (1967). "Live". Live or Die. ISBN 978-0395081808.. Reprinted and analyzed in: Horváth, Rita (2005). "'My Business Is Words': The Poetry of Anne Sexton". "Never Asking Why Build – Only Asking Which Tools": Confessional Poetry and the Construction of the Self. Philosophiae Doctores. 36. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. pp. 117–118. ISBN 9789630582322. OCLC 61133213. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Sexton, Anne (1971). "The Wonderful Musician". Transformations. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-618-08343-X.. Excerpted and analyzed in Horváth (2005), p. 117.
- Mumford, Lewis (1970). The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. II. New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 279. ISBN 0-15-163974-4.
- Zerzan, John (2002) . "Whose Unabomber?". Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilisation. Los Angeles: Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-75-X.
- Churchill, Ward (February 1, 2005). "Ward Churchill Statement". Daily Camera. Archived from the original on June 1, 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
- Churchill, Ward (November 1, 2003). On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality. AK Press. ISBN 978-1902593791.
- Churchill, Ward (September 2001). "'Some People Push Back': On the Justice of Roosting Chickens". Pockets of Resistance. 20. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Burleigh, Michael (2010). Moral Combat: A History of World War II. London: Harper Press. pp. 415–417. ISBN 978-0-00-719576-3.