Hannah Arendt

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Arendt, Hannah (14 October 1906 - 4 December 1975)

Arendt, a German-American political theorist who was the daughter of secular Jewish parents, studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger at the University of Marburg, and had a long romantic relationship with her teacher, one that has been criticized because of his support of and membership in the Nazi Party.

During one of their separations, she moved to Heidelberg and with Karl Jaspers as her advisor wrote a dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine.

In 1929 she married Günther Anders in Berlin, and they divorced in 1937. In 1940 she married Heinrich Blücher, a member of the Germany Communist Party. He encouraged her to become involved with Marxism and political theory - her Marxism was unorthodox, however, as shown in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958).

Her other works include The Human Condition (1958), Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), and The Life of the Mind (1977). The 1958 work was controversial in its exploration of the complicity of the European nations in the destruction of the Jews and of what she termed the “eerie banality of the Nazi evil.” The 1977 work was incomplete at the time of her death but has been published.

In 1950 she became a naturalized citizen of the United States and was a visirting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University; and Northwestern University. In 1959 she became the first woman appointed a full professorship at Princeton.

She was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Arendt was not a believer in God. Dying at the age of 69, she was buried at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York - her husband had taught there for many years.

Selected Works

Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin. Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation (1929)
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
Rahel Varnhagen: the life of a Jewess (1958,
Translated by Richard and Clara Winston)
The Human Condition (1958, 1998)
Die ungarische Revolution und der totalitäre Imperialismus (1958)
Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (1954,
Reissued with additional text in 1968)
On Revolution (1962)
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
Men in Dark Times (1968)
Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts
on Politics and Revolution (1969) Civil Disobedience originally appeared, in
somewhat different form, in The New Yorker. Versions of the other essays
originally appeared in The New York Review of Books.
The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age (1978,
Edited with an introduction by Ron H. Feldman
Life of the Mind (1978, 1981)
Responsibility and Judgment (2005)
Love and Saint Augustine (2003, Edited with an Interpretive Essay by Joanna
Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Scott)
Responsibility and Judgment (2003, Edited with an introduction by Jerome Kohn)
Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism (2005,
Edited by Jerome Kohn)
On Violence (1970)
Men in Dark Times (970)
Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy (1992, Edited and with an Interpretive
Essay by Ronald Beiner)
Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers Correspondence, 1926–1969 (1992, Edited by
Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner, translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber)
Within Four Walls: The Correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Heinrich
Blücher, 1936-1968 (2000, Edited by Lotte Kohler, translated by Peter Constantine)
The Portable Hannah Arendt (2003, and Peter Baehr)
Letters, 1925-1975/Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger (2004, Edited by Ursula
Ludz, translated Andrew Shields)
The Origins of Totalitarianism: Introduction by Samantha Powers (2004)
The Promise of Politics (2005, Edited and with an Introduction by Jerome Kohn)
On Revolution (2006, and Jonathan Schell)
Between Past and Future (2006 and Jerome Kohn
Arendt und Benjamin: Texte, Briefe, Dokumente (2006, Edited by Detlev Schöttker
and Erdmut Wizisla)
Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (2006, with Amos Elon)
The Jewish Writings (2007, Edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman)
The Promise of Politics (2007)
Reflections on Literature and Culture (2008, Edited and with an introduction
by Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb)

(For a description of her intellectual as well as physical attraction to Heidegger, see the entry for Martin Heidegger. The two had a sexual relationship despite his never expressing regret about the Holocaust and his not helping his Jewish students, although he did not actively harass or persecute them.)

Hannah Arendt, A Film

Fred Kaplan, in The New York Times (26 May 2013), wrote about a film concerning Arendt:

Fifty years ago, a small book called “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” by a New School philosophy professor named Hannah Arendt set off a storm like few books before or since. Among Upper West Side intellectuals it sparked, as the critic Irving Howe put it, “a civil war,” siring vicious debates and souring lifelong friendships. It also sold more than 100,000 copies and reshaped the way people have thought about the Holocaust, genocide and the puzzle of evil ever since.
Adolph Eichmann in the protective booth used for his trial in Jerusalem, which began in 1961. Hannah Arendt covered the case for The New Yorker and turned the articles into her 1963 book.
“The Controversy” — as people simply called the growing dispute — is largely forgotten now, and the intense rancor it inspired might seem improbable. But a new movie about the episode, “Hannah Arendt,” which opens Wednesday at Film Forum, revives the debates and the era.
Its director, Margarethe von Trotta, a veteran of the New German Cinema, was skeptical when a friend suggested she make this film 10 years ago. “My first reaction was, how can I make a film about a philosopher, someone who sits and thinks?” she recalled in a phone interview from her home in Paris.
She and her American screenwriter, Pamela Katz, wrote a treatment that covered Arendt’s whole life, but it was too long and diffuse. They decided to focus instead on the Eichmann affair. “It’s better for filmmakers to have a confrontation, not just abstraction,” Ms. von Trotta said.
In May 1960, Adolf Eichmann — the last surviving Nazi higher-up, who had fled to Argentina at the end of the war — was kidnapped by Mossad agents, flown to Jerusalem and tried for crimes against humanity.
Arendt, a Jewish-German refugee and author of a celebrated tome, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” offered to cover the trial for The New Yorker. (Her book originally ran as a five-part article.)
She made two particularly provocative points. The first was that Eichmann, a senior SS officer, was not the malicious organizer of the Nazi death camps, as Israeli prosecutors charged, but rather a mediocre bureaucrat, “a leaf in the whirlwind of time,” as Arendt put it; “not a monster” but “a clown.” Hence the enduring phrase from her book’s subtitle: “the banality of evil.”
Arendt’s second point was that the “Jewish Councils” in Germany and Poland were complicit in the mass murder of their own people. They helped the Nazis round up the victims, confiscate their property and send them off on trains to their doom. Without these Jewish leaders, Arendt wrote, “there would have been chaos and plenty of misery, but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four-and-a-half and six million people.” She added, “To a Jew, this role of the Jewish leaders” was “undoubtedly the darkest chapter of this whole dark story.”
For these ideas, Arendt was pilloried as a self-hating Jew. The Anti-Defamation League sent out letters urging rabbis to denounce her on the High Holy Days. Jewish organizations paid researchers to peruse her book for errors. Some of her closest friends didn’t speak to her for years, if ever again.
At the time, Israel was just 15 years old: tiny, weak and impoverished. The prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had ballyhooed the Eichmann trial — one of the first global media events — to build support for his fledgling state and to educate people about the Holocaust. In America, Jewish professionals, especially in academia, were just coming into their own, as blacklists and quotas withered away. And here was the great scholar Hannah Arendt downplaying their great catch and airing their dirty laundry.
Some of the attacks on Arendt — that she sympathized with Eichmann or demonized the Jewish victims more than their Nazi killers — were over the top. But some of Arendt’s views were over the top as well, not least her portrait of Eichmann. Her “banality of evil” thesis rests on the premise that Eichmann committed his deeds with no awareness of their evil, not even with virulent anti-Semitism. In fact, though, much evidence — some of it known at the time, some unearthed since — indicates that Eichmann very much knew what he was doing.
In 1957 in Argentina, a former SS officer named Willem Sassen interviewed Eichmann at length. The tapes, which were rediscovered only a few years ago, reveal Eichmann boasting that he had helped draft the letter ordering the Final Solution and that several times, he refused requests from fellow officers to free a favored Jew.
“I worked relentlessly to kindle the fire,” he says. “I was not just a recipient of orders. Had I been that, I would have been an imbecile. I was an idealist.”
David Cesarani, in his 2004 biography, “Becoming Eichmann,” unearthed a speech from as far back as 1937 in which the idealist was clearly “in the grip of a fantasy that there was a world Jewish conspiracy against Germany,” an enemy that must be destroyed.
At the time of the trial, much was made of Eichmann’s remark to a comrade toward the end of the war: “I will gladly jump into my grave in the knowledge that five million enemies of the Reich have already died like animals.” Arendt wrote that he had been merely “boasting” — which led Howe to comment, “That kind of boast was hardly the talk of a featureless cog in a bureaucratic machine.”
Amos Elon, a prominent Israeli journalist who generally defended Arendt, allowed in his introduction to her book’s paperback edition that Arendt “had a tendency to draw absolute conclusions on the basis of casual evidence.”
The casual evidence of Eichmann’s banality was his cliché-ridden testimony on the witness stand. “His inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else,” she wrote. He testified that he was just doing his job, unthinkingly, and Arendt believed him.
Even Arendt’s friends spoke of her snobbery. In this case, her snobbery toward Eichmann’s bad grammar blocked her from seeing what was obvious to everyone else, that he was lying in an attempt to save his skin.
Arendt misread Eichmann, but she did hit on something broader about how ordinary people become brutal killers. The postwar generation of young Germans took Arendt’s book as inspiration to rebel against their parents, who may not have personally killed Jews during the war but knew what was going on and did nothing.
In America, protesters invoked the “banality of evil” to rail against the outwardly decent family men who dropped bombs on North Vietnam or sat in nuclear-missile silos, ready to push the button — seeing them as the cold war’s version of Arendt’s “desk murderers.”
Ms. von Trotta has built a career making films about strong women who go their own way, at times alienating everyone around them. “Rosa Luxemburg” was about the Communist rebel who didn’t fit in with any party sect. “Vision” was about Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century nun-mystic who composed music that transcended all ages. (Both figures, as is Arendt, were played by Barbara Sukowa, who in the new film really seems to be a philosopher locked in deep thought.)
“I identify with these women,” Ms. von Trotta said. “Maybe it’s because I grew up stateless.”
(Her mother came from an aristocratic Russian family, fled after the revolution and settled in Berlin, where Margarethe was born — though, under German law, that didn’t make her a citizen).
“There’s a bit of this in Hannah,” she went on. “She left Germany when the Nazis took over. She was imprisoned in France for being German. She didn’t feel she had a home until she came to America. Then the attacks on the Eichmann book felt like a third exile.
“I’m not a missionary,” she added. “I don’t make films to have a message. I make films about people that I like or that interest me. But if there’s a message in this film, it’s that you should think for yourself, don’t follow an ideology or a fashion. Hannah called this ‘thinking without banisters.’ ”

{Paul Edwards, “Heidegger’s Quest for Being,” Journal of Philosophy 64:437-470, 1989; DGC}