Personal responsibility under totalitarian regimes

Tamar de Waal


After witnessing the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt realized that it is a misconception that the occurrence of international crimes (and radical evil) mostly implicates the work of people with evil motives. For this reason, she developed a new form of criminal liability that falls between the two forms of liability of traditional criminal law. By analyzing and emphasizing the role of the ‘hanger-on’ criminal, Arendt got convinced that, when international crimes take place, besides evil intentions or culpable negligence, also thoughtlessness should establish personal criminal liability for them, as when evil occurs without reflection upon it, it can spread limitlessly. Within this theory, each person participating in a bureaucratic institution that is part of a totalitarian regime should be held personally responsible. Although never implemented in practice, this way of reasoning is an interesting contribution to the thinking on international criminal law.


Hannah Arendt; personal responsibility; totalitarianism; radical and banal evil; thoughtlessness

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Copyright (c) 2012 Tamar de Waal

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