Category Archives: psychopathy

Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: What is the banality of Evil?

Adolf Eichmann during trial, Wikipedia Commons

Adolf Eichmann during trial, Wikipedia Commons

Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: What is the banality of Evil?

 By Claudia Moscovici

 The wonderful new movie, Hannah Arendt (2012), directed by Margarethe von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa, shows that Arendt’s series of articles on Adolf Eichmann’s trial, covered by The New Yorker in 1961 and subsequently published under the title of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Books, New York, 1963), was a double-edged sword in her career.  On the one hand, it gave Arendt a broader mainstream visibility, in part because of the international controversy it generated. On the other hand, this very controversy cost her several valuable friendships and even jeopardized her reputation in the academia. The controversy hinges upon the manner in which Arendt describes the nature of evil that characterizes the worst genocide in human history: the Holocaust.

Her explanation, captured by the phrase “the banality of evil,” posits that evil deeds are, for the most part, not perpetrated by monsters or sadists. Most often, they are perpetrated by seemingly ordinary people like Adolf Eichmann, who value conformity and narrow self-interest over the welfare of others. The concept of the banality of evil seems intuitive enough. Nontheless, it generated a huge controversy, primarily because critics interpreted it as exonerating Adolf Eichmann and indicting the victims of the Holocaust: particularly the Jewish leaders who were compelled by the Nazis to organize the Jewish people for mass deportations and eventual extermination.

Was Arendt putting the criminals and the victims in the same boat? Or, even worse, does her notion of the banality of evil end up blaming the victims? I don’t think so. In what follows, I’d like to explain why by outlining Arendt’s two explanations of the banality of evil: the first one being people who naturally lack empathy and conscience in any circumstances (like Eichmann) and who thrive in totalitarian regimes; the second understood as evil actions (or callous indifference) that even people who do have a conscience are capable of under extreme circumstances.

1.     Adolf Eichmann and the banality of psychopathy

Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Nazi regime and one of the key figures in the Holocaust. With initiative and enthusiasm, he organized the mass deportations of the Jews first to ghettos and then to extermination camps throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Once Germany lost the war, he fled to Argentina. Years later, he was captured by the Mossad and extradited to Israel. In a public trial, he was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was found guilty and executed by hanging.

In her accounts of the trial, Arendt is struck by the contrast between Eichmann’s monstrous deeds and his average appearance and banal, technocratic language. Unlike other Nazi leaders notorious for crimes against humanity, such as Amon Goeth or Josef Mengele, Eichmann didn’t seem to be a disordered sadist. More remarkably given his actions against the Jewish people, unlike Hitler, Eichmann wasn’t even particularly anti-Semitic.

Although six psychiatrists testified during the trial to Eichmann’s apparent “normality,” in her articles Arendt emphasizes the fact that his normalcy is only a mask. In fact, she highlights the aspects of his behavior under questioning that were anything but normal: his self-contradictions, lies, evasiveness, denial of blame about the crimes he did commit and inappropriate boasting about his power and role in the Holocaust for crimes there’s no evidence he committed. Arendt is particularly struck by this man’s absolute lack of empathy and remorse for having sent hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths. To each count he was charged with, Eichmann pleaded “Not guilty in the sense of the indictment.” (p. 21) This leads Arendt to ask: “In what sense then did he think he was guilty?” (p. 21) His defense attorney claimed that “Eichmann feels guilty before God, not before the law,” but Arendt points out that Eichmann himself never acknowledges any such moral culpability.

If he denies any moral responsibility it’s because, as Arendt is astonished to observe, he doesn’t feel any. Although, surprisingly enough, none of the forensic psychologists see Eichmann as a psychopath, Arendt describes Eichmann in similar terms Hervey Cleckley uses to describe psychopathic behavior in his 1941 groundbreaking book, The Mask of Sanity. First and foremost, Eichmann is a man with abnormally shallow emotions. Because of this, he also lacks a conscience. Even though he understands the concept of law, he has no visceral sense of right and wrong and can’t identify with the pain of others. His extraordinary emotional shallowness impoverishes not only his sense of ethics, but also his vocabulary. Arendt gives as one of many examples Eichmann’s desire to “find peace with his former enemies” (p. 53). Arendt states that “Eichmann’s mind was filled to the brim with such sentences” (p.53). These stock phrases are a manifestation of Eichmann’s empty emotional landscape; his behavior towards the Jews even more so.

It is surprising to me that in a review of Hannah Arendt the movie that also focuses on Eichmann in Jerusalem, Mark Lilla believes that Hannah Arendt was duped by Eichmann’s mask of sanity. He argues that Arendt’s search for a more general explanation of evil blinded her to Eichmann’s particular disorder: “But the other impulse, to find a schema that would render the horror comprehensible and make judgment possible, in the end led her astray. Arendt was not alone in being taken in by Eichmann and his many masks, but she was taken in.” (Mark Lilla, “Arendt and Eichmann: The New Truth,” The New York Review of Books, November 21, 2013). In her description of Adolf Eichmann as a man without conscience and empathy, I didn’t see any evidence that she was duped by him in the same way the psychiatrists testifying at his trial obviously were.

Yet, Arendt emphasizes, even ordinary people capable of empathy and remorse can still cause extraordinary harm in unusual circumstances.  This constitutes the second understanding of the banality of evil she develops: namely, the banality of conformity, which is what I’ll cover next week.

Claudia Moscovici, Literaturesalon

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The Seducer


The Seducer, my new novel about psychopathic seduction, is now in print, available for purchase on amazon.com and other bookstores.

http://www.amazon.com/Seducer-Novel-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0761858075/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326297451&sr=1-1

Advance Praise for The Seducer:

Like the best, most delicious novels, Claudia Moscovici’s psychological thriller, The Seducer, grips you in its opening pages and holds you in its addictive clutches straight through to its dramatic, remarkable conclusion. This is a fascinating novel, on every page of which Moscovici’s intimate understanding of the psychology of psychopaths and their victims gleams with a laser’s concentrated brilliance. The result is a narrative that builds with a patient, yet propulsive, force; a narrative whose intensity and suspense, in tandem, leave the reader eager to know, at every step of the way, what happens next? I encourage the reader to start this novel with a full set of nails, because it’s a nail biter in the most literal sense.

Steve Becker, MSW, LCSW LoveFraud.com feature columnist, Expert/Consultant on Narcissism and Psychopathy

What is love in this seductive new novel? Hypnotic attraction or deadly trap? A dream come true or a world filled with obsessions in the absence of genuine feelings? The Seducer probes the chilling depths of alienation and selfishness as the heroine, Ana, is caught in the spider’s web of her narcissistic lover, Michael. No magic, just cruelty. Claudia Moscovici wrote a powerful novel about an unfortunate reality many women face: the unraveling of their romantic dreams as love turns into a cold and calculated game of chess.

Carmen Firan, author of Words and Flesh

The Seducer offers a thrilling look at the most dangerous men out there, that every woman is warned about and many encounter: the psychopathic predator. We’ve seen these men featured in the news for their gruesome crimes. But few would expect them to be the charming, debonair, romantic seducers that love stories are made of. When the heroine of the novel, Ana, met Michael, she was in for the roller-coaster ride of her life. In her exciting second novel, The Seducer, Claudia Moscovici depicts with talent and psychological accuracy the spellbinding power of these charming yet dangerous Don Juans.

D. R. Popa, author of Lady V and Other Stories (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007)

Claudia Moscovici’s new psychological thriller, The Seducer, reminds us of classics like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, but with a  contemporary twist. The new seducer is a psychopath, a dangerous predator without genuine emotion. And yet, we remain fascinated as he charms two women: one of them utterly dependent, the other seduced but autonomous. The reader’s outrage toward the reprehensible Michael may feel neutralized by the author’s meticulous studies of the psychopath in action and by what I call “ethical irony,” an often hidden moral perspective. Moscovici’s epic of betrayal and self-deception draws the reader into the convoluted mind of sexual predators and their victims. The narrative is bold, vivid and lucid.

Edward K. Kaplan, Brandeis University




 

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The Seducer: A Modern Cautionary Tale

 

The Seducer by Claudia Moscovici

During the nineteenth century, novelists like Flaubert and Tolstoy viewed literature as interlinked with education. In their minds, literature was not reducible to its educational value. Novels, however, represented one of the most moving and creative means of doing both things at once: entertaining and instructing the general public. The great masterpieces of nineteenth-century literature, Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, show what happens when women lose their sense of self and boundaries and get involved with dangerous men. My new novel perpetuates this literary tradition for our times. The Seducer shows what happens to two women who get involved with a social predator. The modern seducer, however,  is no harmless and frivolous player, like Madame Bovary‘s Rodolphe. He’s a vicious psychopathic sex addict posing as Mr. Right.

There’s no better time for reading educational fiction, intended to simultaneously enlighten and entertain you, than in the days following the new year. This is the time when most of us do some soul searching, to see how we can improve ourselves and better our lives. During these days, advertisers deluge us with new products–diet aids, exercise equipment, beauty supplies and how to books–all intended to show us that their products will help us lead a better and healthier life.

Most of the time, however, these self-help tools are like band aids for the soul. They may help us marginally improve ourselves if we already lead good lives, with loving partners and have a healthy self esteem. But no beauty treatment, exercise equipment or diet formula can change an inherently bad relationship, heal a partner suffering from a personality disorder, or give you a sense of worth. Self respect must come from within: from a healthy attitude towards yourself and others. Consequently, if you’ve spent months or even years struggling in a toxic relationship with a disordered partner, the best thing you can do for yourself this new year is face reality and leave the toxic relationship. This will not be possible, however, unless you learn how to respect yourself.

In my new novel, The Seducer, I  illustrate how a lack of adequate self esteem and insecurities can lead some women directly into the arms of social predators. These dangerous men know how to flatter them initially, only to later gradually isolate them from others, play upon their insecurities and gnaw at their self-esteem. The insidious process of eroding one’s sense of self and boundaries is most obvious in the interaction between Michael, a sociopathic sex addict, and Karen, his loving partner who can’t escape their toxic relationship no matter how much he mistreats her. And mistreat her he does: he cheats on her with dozens of women; lies to her; plays catch and release games by breaking up with her and then feigning love and contrition to get back into her life; makes her feel insecure about her body image leading her to bulimia and food addiction; encourages her to feel unattractive by unfavorably comparing her to other women and undermining her self-worth. For many of you who are–or have been–involved with bad men, this story will sound very familiar, as fiction will reflect your real life.

The Seducer also shows how even women who have high self esteem, like the main character, Ana, can fall into the trap set by psychopathic seducers. Such men flatter you, reflect your dreams and pose as your soul mates. Only once you fall into their clutches do they show their true colors and start eroding your boundaries and self image. You can witness for yourself the whole process of psychopathic seduction in The Seducer, previewed on Neatorama’s Bitlit.

The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.

Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.

As a novelist and literary critic, I believe that this lesson can be learned as much from literature as from life. Novels can touch you on both an intellectual and an emotional level. I’m hoping that my modern cautionary tale, The Seducer, will  introduce you to a fictional world that mirrors and magnifies the psychological reality within you to help you see more clearly–and surmount–the real challenges you face in life.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

http://www.amazon.com/Seducer-Novel-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0761858075/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326297451&sr=1-1


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Advance Praise for The Seducer


Advance Praise for my new novel about psychopathic seduction, The Seducer:

Like the best, most delicious novels, Claudia Moscovici’s psychological thriller, The Seducer, grips you in its opening pages and holds you in its addictive clutches straight through to its dramatic, remarkable conclusion. This is a fascinating novel, on every page of which Moscovici’s intimate understanding of the psychology of psychopaths and their victims gleams with a laser’s concentrated brilliance. The result is a narrative that builds with a patient, yet propulsive, force; a narrative whose intensity and suspense, in tandem, leave the reader eager to know, at every step of the way, what happens next? I encourage the reader to start this novel with a full set of nails, because it’s a nail biter in the most literal sense.

Steve Becker, MSW, LCSW LoveFraud.com feature columnist, Expert/Consultant on Narcissism and Psychopathy

What is love in this seductive new novel? Hypnotic attraction or deadly trap? A dream come true or a world filled with obsessions in the absence of genuine feelings? The Seducer probes the chilling depths of alienation and selfishness as the heroine, Ana, is caught in the spider’s web of her narcissistic lover, Michael. No magic, just cruelty. Claudia Moscovici wrote a powerful novel about an unfortunate reality many women face: the unraveling of their romantic dreams as love turns into a cold and calculated game of chess.

Carmen Firan, author of Words and Flesh

The Seducer offers a thrilling look at the most dangerous men out there, that every woman is warned about and many encounter: the psychopathic predator. We’ve seen these men featured in the news for their gruesome crimes. But few would expect them to be the charming, debonair, romantic seducers that love stories are made of. When the heroine of the novel, Ana, met Michael, she was in for the roller-coaster ride of her life. In her exciting second novel, The Seducer, Claudia Moscovici depicts with talent and psychological accuracy the spellbinding power of these charming yet dangerous Don Juans.

D. R. Popa, author of Lady V and Other Stories (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007)

Claudia Moscovici’s new psychological thriller, The Seducer, reminds us of classics like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, but with a  contemporary twist. The new seducer is a psychopath, a dangerous predator without genuine emotion. And yet, we remain fascinated as he charms two women: one of them utterly dependent, the other seduced but autonomous. The reader’s outrage toward the reprehensible Michael may feel neutralized by the author’s meticulous studies of the psychopath in action and by what I call “ethical irony,” an often hidden moral perspective. Moscovici’s epic of betrayal and self-deception draws the reader into the convoluted mind of sexual predators and their victims. The narrative is bold, vivid and lucid.

Edward K. Kaplan, Brandeis University

http://www.amazon.com/Seducer-Novel-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0761858075/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326297451&sr=1-1



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The Seducer: A Novel

I have just published my second novel, The Seducer, a psychological thriller about dangerous love and psychopathic seduction. Please find below a more detailed description of The Seducer:

My native country, Romania, is best known for a fictional character, Dracula, which is only loosely based on a historical fact: the infamous legend of Vlad Tepes. Novels that draw upon this legend—ranging from Anne Rice’s genre fiction, to the popular Twilight series, to Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite The Historian–continue to be best sellers. Yet, ultimately, no matter how much they may thrill us, the “undead” vampires we encounter in novels are harmless fictional characters that play upon our fascination with evil. However, real-life vampires, or individuals who relish destroying the lives of others, do exist. We see them constantly featured in the news and, if we don’t know how to recognize them, sometimes we even welcome them into our lives.

What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charming, charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody some of the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the fundamental incapacity to love. To such men, other people, including their own family members, friends and lovers, are mere objects or pawns to be used for their own gratification and sometimes quite literally discarded when no longer useful and exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.

My novel, The Seducer, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. It traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling alienated from her husband and trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be caring, passionate and charismatic; her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath, transforming what seemed to be the perfect love story into a psychological nightmare. Ana discovers that whatever seemed good about her lover was only a facade intended to attract her, win her trust and foster her dependency. His love was nothing more than lust for power, fueled by an incurable sex addiction. His declarations of love were nothing but a fraud; a string of empty phrases borrowed from the genuine feelings of others. Fidelity turned out to be a one-way street, as Michael secretly prowled around for innumerable other sexual conquests.

To her dismay, Ana finds that building a romantic relationship with a psychopathic partner is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time. Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention gradually turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others. Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and apparent honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present, as well as the invariably hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism. Mutuality, equality and respect—everything she thought the relationship was founded upon—become gradually replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.

The Seducer relies upon the insights of modern psychology and sensational media stories to demystify the theme of seduction we find in classic literary fiction. In its plot and structure, my novel deliberately echoes elements of the nineteenth-century classic, Anna Karenina. In its style and content, it fits in with contemporary mainstream psychological fiction such as Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true. As much a cautionary tale as a story about the value of real caring, forgiveness and redemption, The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

http://www.amazon.com/Seducer-Novel-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0761858075/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326297451&sr=1-1


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A Literary Profile of the Abuser: Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue

Many of us who love  Lolita have its unforgettable first lines committed to memory: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three…”  Using exquisite prose, Nabokov sketches in an extremely compelling manner the profile of a pedophile and his victim. Unlike many other psychological novels, he doesn’t turn tragedy into redemption and pathology into love. There’s nothing redeeming or redeemable about the sociopathic pedophile and his sick love for Lolita.

Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue follows in Lolita‘s footsteps as a great work of psychological fiction. Psychological, because the author sketches in such a realistic fashion the profile of the abuser that I’m tempted to say her novel should be available in every domestic violence shelter under the category of “nonfiction.” And yet, one can’t forget that Black and Blue is above all a work of fiction, masterfully crafted. Its beginning echoes the first lines of Lolita, in fact, the novel which it resembles in style even more than in content:

“The first time my husband hit me I was nineteen years old. One sentence and I’m lost. One sentence and I can hear his voice in my head, that butterscotch-syrup voice that made goose bumps rise on my arms when I was young, that turned all of my skin warm and alive with a sibilant S, the drawling vowels, its shocking fricatives. It always sounded like a whisper, the way he talked, the intimacy of it, the way the words seemed to go into your gutys, your head, your heart.” (1)

The message of Black and Blue is similar to that of nonfiction books on dangerous men, which attempt to educate the public and empower the victims. Abusers are often charming. Abusers don’t usually begin intimate relationships with overt abuse. Abusers can be entrancing and romantic, at least at first, during the wooing phase. Abuse doesn’t get better; it escalates. Abusers push the limits of their victims’ tolerance, little by little, until they dominate their targets. Abuse is above all a power game. The abusers are generally narcissistic individuals who lack empathy and want total control. The victims, however, aren’t necessarily weak or passive. They can be strong and loving men and women, like Frannie Benedetto. Abuse is a tragedy without a silver lining.

It’s one thing to read this familiar message in self-help books and pamphlets and quite another to feel it in a great work of fiction. From the very first lines, Black and Blue gets under your skin. It reveals the mindset of both abuser and abused. It traces the emotional scars of the child or children who have to endure these sad family dynamics. “My son scarcely ever cries. And his smile comes so seldom that it’s like bright sunshine on winter snow, blinding and strange.” (26)  Such beautiful language for such ugly facts… Perhaps this is the best way to bring the abuse to life for others. Above all, Black and Blue puts you in the shoes of all those who have the courage to run away from it without ever looking back.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

http://www.amazon.com/Seducer-Novel-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0761858075/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326297451&sr=1-1


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