Eichmann's Mind: Psychological, Philosophical, and Legal Perspectives

José Brunner


This essay discusses various representations of Eichmann's mind that were fashioned on the occasion of his trial in Jerusalem in 1961. Gideon Hausner the prosecutor presented the defendant as demonic. Hannah Arendt, the German-born American Jewish philosopher portrayed him as banal or thoughtless. Limiting themselves to the issue of mens rea in their judgment, the Israeli Supreme Court justices described Eichmann's mind as controlled by criminal intent.

While these views have been widely discussed in the literature, much of this essay focuses on a hitherto little noted perspective on Eichmann's mind that was formulated by the mental health experts who examined Eichmann for the prosecution. As compared to the inclusionist, confictual, and complex picture these experts presented of Eichmann's mind, Arendt's and Huusner's views appear similar in their reductionism, rather than diametrically opposed, while the approach of the Supreme Court justices to Eichmann's mind can be regarded as restrictive.

Methodological problems involved in all these different perspectives are discussed, and it is argued that even though the psychological outlook declares itself to be non-judgmental, it does, in fact, entail a dimension of moral judgment. Finally, Eichmann 's recently declassified memoirs are adduced and interpreted as lending some support to the psychological, inclusionist perspective on Eichmann's mind.

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