I heard a quote from one of Josef Fritzl’s lawyers, who said that we shouldn’t think of Fritzl as a monster, and I agree with him.
Monsters can be expected to do monstrous things, and we shouldn’t be surprised when they commit abominable crimes, but monsters only exist in fairy-tales. It’s when ordinary people do monstrous things that we need to sit up and take notice. This is as true of Josef Fritzl as it is of the Nazi Party, or the Khmer Rouge, or Stalin, or any other notorious criminal.
Hannah Arendt’s phrase, the banality of evil, coined to describe Adolf Eichmann in 1963, is as appropriate now as it was then. This is what we all need to watch carefully, in case we forget that evil is not carried on by monsters or devils, or satanic forces, but by ordinary men and women who go out shopping and watch TV and worry about their weight and suffer with ingrown toenails.
Banal, drab, boring people, with day-to-day lives and small mundane concerns when they’re not busy at their monstrous work.
There are few absolute monsters, and even the worst of us has attractive traits. Goebbels was a devoted family man. Hitler was a gifted, very funny mimic and a passable painter. Even Mengele, the cold-blooded doctor who dispensed death to millions, was personally charming and engaging.
Likewise, Josef Fritzl is a boring, drab man with a very nasty streak, but he’s still just a man. We need to constantly remind ourselves that there are no monsters. We need to remember that monsters distract attention from the real danger, because if we ever forget that, we’ll be opening the door for the perpetrators who really do have monstrous acts in contemplation.
19th March 2009
Josef Fritzl has been found guilty on all charges and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric institution.
Previously on Bock: