"Little Eichmanns" are people 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 name comes from Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi bureaucrat who helped to orchestrate the Holocaust, but claimed that he did so without feeling anything about his actions, merely following the orders given to him.
The use of "Eichmann" as an archetype stems from Hannah Arendt's notion of the "banality of evil". According to Arendt in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Eichmann relied on propaganda rather than thinking for himself, and carried out Nazi goals mostly to advance his career, appearing at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality while displaying neither guilt nor hatred. She suggested that this most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi war criminals were manifestly psychopathic and fundamentally different from ordinary people.
The idea that Eichmann — or, indeed, the majority of Nazis or of those working in such regimes — actually fit this concept has been criticized by those who contend 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. German political scientist Clemens Heni goes so far as to say the phrase "belittles the Holocaust".
The phrase has been attributed to anarcho-primitivist writer John Zerzan, from his essay Whose Unabomber? written in 1995, although it had already been coined by the 1960s, as various prior examples are known. It 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 essay Ward Churchill wrote shortly after the attacks. 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.
- Diffusion of responsibility
- Extreme careerism
- Milgram experiment
- Moral disengagement
- Collective Responsibility
- Busk, Larry (July 31, 2015). "Sleepwalker: Arendt, Thoughtlessness, and the Question of Little Eichmanns" (PDF). Social Philosophy Today. 31. doi:10.5840/socphiltoday201573023. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
- Arendt, Hannah (1977). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Penguin Books.
- Özkırımlı, Umut (October 31, 2017). "On the Banality of Evil and 'Little Eichmanns'". Ahval.
- for example, see Jason, Gary J (17 August 2015). "Are We All Little Eichmanns?; The Killing Compartments: The Mentality of Mass Murder, Author: Abram de Swann New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, 332 pp". Philosophia. 44 (1). doi:10.1007/s11406-016-9694-y. S2CID 147548088.
- Heni, Clemens (Fall 2008). "Secondary Anti-Semitism:From Hard-core to Soft-core Denial of the Shoah". Jewish Political Studies Review. 20 (3/4): 82.
- Mann, Barbara Alice (February 26, 2017). "And Then They Build Monuments to You". In Churchill, Ward (ed.). Wielding Words Like Weapons: Selected Essays in Indigenism, 1995–2005. PM Press.
- Zerzan, John (2002) . "Whose Unabomber?". Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilisation. Los Angeles: Feral House. ISBN 978-0-922915-75-0. Archived from the original on 2009-03-18.
- Dornberg, John (1961). Schizophrenic Germany. MacMillan. p. 52.
- 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.
- Mumford, Lewis (1970). The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. II. New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-15-163974-8.
- Reid, T.R. (February 5, 2005). "Professor Under Fire For 9/11 Comments: Free Speech Furor Roils Over Remarks". Washington Post.
- Churchill, Ward (February 1, 2005). "Ward Churchill Statement". Daily Camera. Archived from the original on 1 June 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.
- Ivie, Robert L. (Fall 2006). "Academic freedom and antiwar dissent in a democratic idiom". College Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press. 33 (4): 76–92. doi:10.1353/lit.2006.0055.
Churchill was made notorious for views he expressed on 9/11 about the culpability of Americans, including the victims of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, whom he labeled 'little Eichmanns' rather than innocent civilians. When this provocative label was brought into focus three years later, in the superheated context of a coordinated and persistent national assault on academic freedom by the politically ascendant right, it prompted a rebuke of Churchill in a formal resolution passed by the Colorado House of Representatives and a call by the state's governor for Churchill to resign his position as professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. The attack on Churchill motivated in turn a university investigation that concluded Churchill was operating within his right of free speech but should be investigated further for related charges of plagiarism and misrepresentation of his Native-American ethnicity.
- Fritch, John; Palczewski, Catherine Helen; Farrell, Jennifer; Short, Eric (Spring 2006). "Disingenuous controversy: responses to ward Churchill's 9/11 essay". Argumentation and Advocacy. 42 (4): 190–205. doi:10.1080/00028533.2006.11821654. S2CID 141233099.
- Churchill, Ward (September 2001). "'Some People Push Back': On the Justice of Roosting Chickens". Pockets of Resistance. 20. Archived from the original on 2018-04-16. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- The dictionary definition of Little Eichmann at Wiktionary