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The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt and Jules-Pierre Mao

The Expanse and Philosophy (ed. Jeffrey L. Nicholas)



In this chapter, I draw upon Hannah Arendt's (in)famous discussion of Adolf Eichmann to explore the features of one of the Expanse universe's greatest villains: Jules-Pierre Mao. Like Eichmann, Mao seems largely a product of his social class and unable to participate meaningfully in projects of moral imagination. Unlike Eichmann, however, Mao is not a mere cog in the machine but rather the designer of the machine, and this primacy of place deserves our special attention when it comes to adjudicating the immorality of the protomolecule experiments. I argue that what should really trouble us about the character of Mao is precisely what Arendt argued should trouble us about Eichmann: namely, that great evil does not require over-the-top zealots to come to fruition. Sometimes it simply requires the polite, mundane, ambitious, and bureaucratic -- features that makes this sort of evil particularly pernicious.

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