Banal and Fetishized Evil: Implicating Ordinary Folk in Genocide Education



Hannah Arendt, Ernest Becker, genocide, social studies, terror management theory


Genocide education would benefit from a renewed focus on how ordinary people perpetuate atrocities more so than villains. Ordinary evil is often understood via Hannah Arendt’s political theory, which explains how folks can contribute thoughtlessly to genocide. This banality of evil explains an important aspect of human behavior, especially when understood in conjunction with Elizabeth Minnich’s work on intensive and extensive evil, as well as Stanley Milgram’s research on obedience. Yet, Arendt, Minnich, and Milgram do not explain ordinary people who become eager killers. Thus, the addition of Ernest Becker’s idea of the fetishization of evil is important. Students would benefit from engaging with Arendt and Becker’s theories in tandem, as well as from learning about disobedience and ways to expand fetishized perceptions of others.

Author Biography

Cathryn van Kessel, University of Alberta

Cathryn van Kessel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary Education at the University of Alberta.