Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 388
Arendt's thesis that ordinary people can easily be turned to evil has often been compared to two experiments performed in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. Both the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment appear to confirm her theory.
The Milgram experiment ran at the same time as the Eichmann trial and attempted to answer the question of how far people will go in obedience to authority. Individuals from all walks of life were selected to administer electric shocks to actors playing as test subjects. An authority figure in a white lab coat reassured those administering the shocks that they were helping the subjects to learn. A surprising number of ordinary people were willing to turn the electric shocks up to what would have, in reality, been a lethal dose, even when the test subjects screamed in agony. This experiment showed that people will put obedience to authority ahead of the dictates of their own consciences: evil, in fact, can be banal.
Likewise, in the 1971 the Stanford prison experiment, well-balanced people chosen to play prison guards quickly turned cruel and sadistic toward the "inmates," causing the experiment to be shut down in six days.
The two experiments, performed in a society supposedly dedicated to personal freedom and individuality, underscored the importance of people thinking carefully about the moral choices they make. The monster of evil we fear may be lurking inside all of us, not "out there" in a group of raving sociopaths that we can...
(The entire section contains 388 words.)
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