16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Ghelli

Simone Ghelli, FINO – University of Pavia.

The Normality of Evil. Primo Levi’s Thought Between Necessity and Seduction


This speech aims to deepen what I consider the main problem within Primo Levi’s political thought: the human tendency to inequality. To do so, I would like to start by considering the interpretation of Levi’s understanding of power Simona Forti provides in The New Demons. Forti defines Levi’s concept of the gray zone as the most accurate definition of what she calls the paradigm of «normality of evil». The latter conceives political evil as the result of a «biopolitical pact», where the many offer compliance to power (Forti conceives normality as “following the norm”) in exchange for the continuous «optimisation» of their life.  Taking inspiration from Forti’s biopolitical perspective, I aim to rephrase the paradigm of normality of evil, considering Levi’s understanding of the relationship between power and subject not so much as a matter of life, but as  a matter of privilege. In my opinion, the concept of the gray zone highlights a different genealogy where evil is produced by the «desire for prestige», a passion – I would name it «self-love», taking inspiration from modern anthropological realism – which leads prisoners «to betray natural solidarity with their comrades». Such “voluntary inequality” is the core of Levi’s normality of evil, according to which what leads normality to become the fertile ground for political evil is not only the massive tendency to «follow the norm». It is rather the will to «rise oneself above the norm», to optimize ones condition at the expense of others.