The Categorical Imperative

Hannah Arendt reported her  surprise to hear Adolf Eichmann, a self-righteous fool of ridiculous proportions who wrestled with his native German language while defending himself in front of three German Jewish judges in Jerusalem, correctly answer a judge’s question about his understanding of Kant’s categorical imperative, which he himself had made reference to.  Arendt seemed shocked that Eichmann, who lived in a world of mindless cliché, had grasped the principle: acting in a way that, if everyone acted that way, the world would be a better, more just place.  Of course, Eichmann’s understanding of Kant came with it’s own grotessquely idiotic punchline.

Eichmann told the judges that Kant’s imperative was a moral test of one’s actions.  If your action was done by everyone, would it make the world a better, more just place?   Or, as Kant put it:  Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

It would be a better, more just world if everyone agreed never to torture another person, say. You could apply that agreement to mankind as a whole and everyone would benefit from it.  Except, of course, those who make their living by torturing others.  Your actions, of course, should never be dictated by comparing yourself to the worst humans, but by holding yourself up to the standards of the best among us.

In Eichmann’s mind he had merely done a difficult job as well as he was able in the interests of what was best for everybody.  You could argue with the Nazi methods, yes, he himself agreed that the mass extermination of people perhaps better banished and sent to live in distant lands, might seem extreme.  He himself, he pointed out, had never personally killed anyone.  However, much as he may have disagreed with his superiors in their method, if the goal was a noble one, a goal you believed in, and the world would be better if the goal was achieved, who was he to question the decisions of wiser people he owed allegiance and obedience to?   If everyone stopped doing their duty because they had a twinge of hesitation, what could humanity ever hope to accomplish?  The universal principle, to Eichmann, the Categorical Imperative, if you will, is that duty is the highest calling, or something along those lines.   And, anyway, he was only making sure the trains were full, and left on time, and arrived on time at their destinations.  As his duty and oath of obedience prescribed. 

As we know, the Devil can quote scripture and a medicore-minded Nazi can wrap his murderous employment in Kantian morality.  Try seriously applying the Categorical Imperative to anything Donald Trump has ever done in his life.  

Every day in the news there are new revelations about the rot at the center of Donald Trump’s world.  A new scandal, some corrupt new detail that turns the stomach.  Picture anything the man and his minions do and imagine everyone in the world doing it. 

Your boss foments a violent riot to overturn an election he lost — you dutifully cover up his crime by destroying all evidence and obstructing all investigations.  You are his Secret Service, after all, you took an oath to protect him.   Your agency paid up to ten times the going rate for hotel rooms while defending POTUS, while his idiot son lyingly claimed he was giving the SS rockbottom, preferential rates.  1.4 million dollars and counting for security to stay in hotels owned by the guy you were sworn to protect, paid to that same grifting, lying dog-hater.  SO?   Do it if you can get away with it is a good universal law, no?

During a deadly pandemic, government health officials were replaced by unqualified loyalist drones like Pence, Kushner and economist Peter Navarro.  Under them the CDC was ordered to cover up how infectious and deadly Covid-19 was, weaponize attempts to combat it, fight masks, vaccines, all efforts to try to control it — America sets the world record for Covid-19 deaths, as a direct result of your boss’s need to score political points during mass death he himself added tens of thousands of American corpses to by his policies, and lack of same.   

Go down the list and see if you can apply even Eichmann’s twisted version of the Categorical Imperative to it.  Everything the motherfucker does — from compulsive lying and bragging, to constant childish whining, to viciously attacking anyone who does not obey his will, to throwing every loyal sidekick under the bus when it benefits him, to his world-class petty vindictiveness, to profiting on misery, to his indifference to mass death while surrounding himself with corrupt cronies who defy legal subpoenas and take the Fifth over and over when forced to answer questions about their flawed vessel master under oath — is despicable and crassly self-serving.

And isn’t that just the point for people who bask in the reflection of the very worst among us and luxuriate in the indulgence of their worst impulses, secure in the warm embrace of their angry, cynical leader who praises Ku Klux Klan supporters and Nazis as very fine people, while begging, deceptively and quite successfully, for money from the least among us?

I picture the book Hannah Arendt would write about their trials.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s