Corey Robin has a piece in the newest LRB about Hannah Arendt, and particularly The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem. The argument is that Arendt has been persistently been widely misunderstood, and had the unconvincing and fuzzy psychologising of her writing on totalitarianism taken as overly central. I confess I've not read either On The Origins of Totalitarianism or Eichmann in Jerusalem, but only The Human Condition, so it may well be that Robin is right about Arendt's views as expressed in the two books I haven't read. If her views in The Human Condition are representative, and the secondary literature I've read gives me reason to think so, though, then Robin is guilty of as serious a misreading of Arendt himself, and one which rather undermines the argument of the piece.
Robin argues that Eichmann in Arendt's eyes was not a faceless bureaucrat, blindly following rules, shuffling his victims into the gas chambers as though they were papers being moved from one tray to another, but a man consumed by ambition, the drive to succeed. It was this motivation, the appeal of social status, rather than what we might in Weberian terms call the iron cage of rationality, which allowed Eichmann to slaughter hundreds of thousands, Robin claims is central to Arendt's account. This, though, looks strange to me: it looks like an odd distinction for Arendt to cleave to and particularly to moralise in the way that Robin claims.
Arendt placed a great deal of importance of human agency, the possibility of freedom in an agonistic political realm, the history of the decline of which she traced in The Human Condition. She claimed it had been overtaken by various more functionalist aspects of human life, the reproduction of human life and the reproduction of the human world of objects respectively, and thus all the normative possibility was draining out of the world. Ambition, which drives people on to the kinds of great deeds which are characteristic of the agonistic political realm Arendt so esteemed, could hardly be a serious character flaw, if steered towards its proper place, whilst the rule of faceless bureaucrats, who apply the norms of reproduction of various sorts to what is properly unconstrained, is an intrinsic part of the narrative of loss she wishes to construct.
It would seem to me that it is for Arendt precisely because Eichmann was a faceless bureaucrat that his ambition was so dangerous, if indeed it was his ambition that made him dangerous at all. It was because he was a faceless bureaucrat, steeped in norms appropriate for a sphere of quasi-biological reproduction - the endless cycle of birth and death - that he was unable to see the moral horror of what he was doing: an unambituous man, a man merely concerned to avoid trouble with his superiors, to seek the approval of his family, driven by any motive that made it easier for him to bury himself in his work, could have done what Eichmann did, because, for Arendt, the point about what Eichmann did is that it ignores the proper status of those he sent to the gas chambers. The reason Eichmann was able to ignore that status was because of the increasing degree to which norms of quasi-biological reproduction had reached beyond their proper place, and subverted the practices of the public sphere. Whether or not he did it out of ambition is irrelevant: what matters is that he couldn't see he was doing something wrong, and that was not something that ambition, at least in the parts of Arendt's typology I'm familiar with, could do.
I also get the impression that Robin's discussion of Arendt's anti-Zionism is mistaken. This is primarily because what motivates Arendt's anti-Zionism so far as I am aware is a worry about nationalism more generally, which, quite apart from the crimes it commits, tends to, by requiring them to adhere to certain norms, deny the citizens of the states it rules their proper freedom. The same sort of denial of status occurs: individuals are subordinated to some norm which does not allow them as unpredictably, as wilfully, as they ought to be able to. Equally, the fuzzy psychologising of Arendt's account of totalitarianism seems to make more sense: the subsumption into a mass which apparently accompanies it is to be seen as part and parcel of the disappearance of a privileged public sphere and its replacement by an exaltation of the baser aspects of the human condition. More interestingly though, one wonders what, consistently applied, Robin's dislike of ambition would say about the article and his use of Arendt in it: is distorting an author in order to use them as a stick to beat some fairly unpopular - at least amongst the relevant audience - enemies the kind of thing that gets motivated by ambition? Surely not.