{ responsibility }


“what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act “irresponsibly” and refuse support?” Hannah Arendt referring to totalitarian regimes in her writings in 1964.

Hannah Arendt has written a series of articles reflecting on the trial of the Nazi War criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. She coined the term “Banality of Evil” while unfolding Eichmann behaviour organizing the transportation of Jews to extermination camps. She pointed out the fundamental question on personal judgment that Eichmann missed to answer: “Could I live with myself if I did this deed?”

The answer is individual, but how can we assure personal responsibility based on a common ground of morality? What is it to be responsible?

Responsibility is not to act according to a pre-determined set of rules, but to position oneself as to follow only the rules that will allow you to live with yourself. In that sense, to act ‘irresponsibly’ in certain cases is necessary. Personal judgment is a silent dialogue between the being and itself that opens reflections and critical thinking. It is inherited in human beings as the capacity to think and make reflective judgments. Those who lose the capacity to discern between right or wrong, bad and good, are reduced to a machine. Totalitarian regimes operate in dehumanizing a mass in order to pursue and perpetuate power.

Collective guilt was a term attributed to Germany for perpetrating the Holocaust and it worked as a wash on personal responsibility. If everyone was culpable, then no one was. Collective guilt operates in a false innocence concept similar to neutrality. The opportunism of neutrality opposes the idea that you should act according to your morals. As exposed by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

It is through a political practice and collective encounters that allow individuals to build a common ground of morality. Personal responsibility is a constant act of questioning, reflection and critical thinking in order to continue to live with yourself in the everyday.


– Tatiana Letier Pinto