Born 14 October 1906, Hanover, Germany; died 4 December 1975
Daughter of Paul and Martha Cohn Arendt; married HeinrichBleucher, 1940
The only child of nonreligious, German-Jewish parents, Hannah Arendt received her formal education in Germany. She studied philosophy under Karl Jaspers at Heidelberg and took her doctorate in 1928, after completing a dissertation on St. Augustine. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, she fled to France then emigrated to the United States. Arendt made her greatest mark on the American academic community; an innovative and forceful political theorist, she taught at various universities across the country.
Arendt's best known work, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951, 1958), deals with the rise of totalitarianism in Germany and Russia. It offers a description of the fundamental structure of a totalitarian regime and presents an account of social and political conditions—such as the growth of imperialism and anti-Semitism—on which they were built. Above all, Arendt attributed the success of totalitarian movements to what she termed "organized loneliness." Loneliness, for Arendt, is not merely solitude; it is a condition in which individuals have lost contact with the world as well as with one another. Worldless people do not understand themselves as belonging to the world because they no longer have the ability to add anything of their own to that world. Without a world shared between them, such people lack a "common sense"—they cannot differentiate between reality and fiction—and are easily manipulated by the logic of totalitarian ideology. To Arendt, the rise of Nazism and Stalinism epitomized the crisis of the modern age. She treated totalitarianism as a radically new form of government, a form that was the outgrowth of experiences peculiar to modernity. Such experiences must be countered by a "new political principle" capable of upholding human dignity.
In The Human Condition (1958), Arendt drew a picture of the classical polis, arguing that Periclean Athens made a sharp distinction between the public and the private realms: the private realm of the household was dominated by necessity, whereas human beings could be free in public. The separation of these two spheres signified to Arendt that certain activities thrive on concealment, while others demand a public audience. Delineating three basic modes of human activity—labor, work, and action—she suggested that only the last is a truly political activity. (In Between Past and Future, 1954, she held that "the raison d'être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action.") Only action is free, for it is the "spontaneous beginning of something new," the capacity to initiate.
In contrast, neither work nor labor belong in the public realm. Work—the creation of durable objects as opposed to articles of consumption—is dominated by a politically destructive meansends mentality. Labor—the ceaseless process in which we engage in order to insure our physical survival—is an activity to which we are driven by necessity. Arendt criticized the modern state that, in its preoccupation with matters such as the allocation of economic goods, gives public status to labor. This failure to distinguish between public and private has permitted the political sphere to be conquered by the forces of necessity and has deprived citizens of a public realm in which action is possible. Action requires an audience, for only through the presence—and the memory—of other people can individuals leave their personal marks in the world. To Arendt, only by appearing in the world in this manner can human beings guarantee the reality of their identities as separate and unique individuals. Thus human dignity is secured through the creation and maintenance of a public space.
In On Revolution (1963), Arendt analyzed the character of revolutionary movements of the modern age. She was attracted to the American Revolution because she believed it had to do not just with liberation from oppression but with the foundation of political freedom. Limited government, Arendt insisted, was not the aim of the American founders: in order to forge a unity between 13 separate states, they had to create new power. In guaranteeing the space in which action could take place, the Constitution became the "foundation of freedom." Arendt considered it unfortunate that revolutionary thought of the 19th and 20th centuries addressed the French Revolution rather than the American. The French Revolution was dominated by the need to alleviate mass poverty; it failed because no true political entity can be built where the citizenry lives in such destitution. While applauding the American Revolution as a political movement, Arendt deplored modern revolutions focusing on the amelioration of social ills rather than on the creation of a public realm.
Although the concept of action plays a major role in Arendt's work, she does not ignore the relationship between thought and action. Toward the end of her life, Arendt turned her attention increasingly to the phenomenon of thought. The New Yorker sent her to Jerusalem in 1961 to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Her report, which appeared first as a series of articles and then as Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), aroused considerable and bitter controversy. Arendt shocked her readers by asserting that while Eichmann's behavior had been monstrous, his character was not. What struck Arendt most about the Nazi war criminal was his banality. The Life of the Mind (1977), suggests that Eichmann's ability to commit monstrous crimes was related to his lack of thought. The capacity to judge between good and evil, in other words, is related to thought. In Thinking, the first volume of this two-part posthumously published work, Arendt maintained a distinction between reason and intellect, thinking and knowing. It is through thinking that human beings attempt to satisfy their quest for meaning.
To some, Arendt was an elitist who cared little about the suffering masses around the world. To others, her sensitive writings on political action and the public arena, authority, tradition, violence, and truth provide insight into some of the most perplexing dilemmas of the modern era. It is in the nature of political theory to challenge old ways of thinking and to force its audience to think about political things from a new perspective. In the spirit of this tradition, Arendt may be controversial and frustrating, but she is never dull.
Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin (1930). Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess (1947). Men in Dark Times (1968). On Violence (1969). Crises of the Republic (1969). Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman (1974).
Barnouw, D., Visible Spaces: Hannah Arendt and the German-Jewish Experience (1990). Benhabib, S., The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (1996). Bergen, B. J., The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt and "The Final Solution" (1998). Bowen-Moore, P., Hannah Arendt's Philosophy of Natality (1989). Burks, V. C., A Speculative History of Freedom: Thoughts Inspired by a Reading of Hannah Arendt's Theory (dissertation, 1994). Canovan, M., Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought (1992). Canovan, M., The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt (1977). Clarke, J. P., Hannah Arendt: Revisioning a Politics of Action Through a Politics of Judgement (dissertation, 1993). Corvo, A., The World In-between: Hannah Arendt's Philosophy of Education (dissertation, 1989). Curtis, K., Our Sense of the Real: Aesthetic Experience and Arendtian Politics (1999). Disch, L. J., Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy (1994, 1996). Dossa, S., The Public Realm and the Public Self: The Political Theory of Hannah Arendt (1989). Ettinger, E., Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (1995). Felder, D. G., The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time: A Ranking Past and Present (1996). Gottsegen, M. G., The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt (1994). Hansen, P. B., Hannah Arendt: Politics, History and Citizenship (1993). Hinchman, L. P. and S. Hinchman, eds., Hannah Arendt: Critical Essays (1994). Honig, B., ed., Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt (1995). Kateb, G., Hannah Arendt: Politics, Conscience, Evil (1984). Kielmansegg, P. et al, eds., Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss: German Emigres and American Political Thought After World War II (1997). Kuracina, S. J., Hannah Arendt's Phenomenology of Politics (dissertation, 1983). Lloyd, M. J., Liberalism and Republicanism and the Thought of Hannah Arendt (dissertation, 1993). May, D., Hannah Arendt (1986). May, L. and J. Kohn, eds., Hannah Arendt: Twenty Years Later (1996). McGowan, J., Hannah Arendt: An Introduction (1998). McGowan, J. P. and C. J. Calhoun, eds., Hannah Arendt and the Meaning of Politics (1997). Nordquist, J., Hannah Arendt (1989). Nordquist, J., Hannah Arendt (II): A Bibliography (1997). Parekh, B. C., Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy (1981). Passerin d'Entreves, M., The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt (1994). Pateman, C. and M. L. Shanley, eds., Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory (1991). Ring, J., The Political Consequences of Thinking: Gender and Judaism in the Work of Hannah Arendt (1997). Stone-Mediatore, S. R., Hannah Arendt, Experience, and Political Thinking: Storytelling as Critical Praxis (1997). Villa, D. R., Politics, Philosophy, Terror: Essays on the Thought of Hannah Arendt (1999). Washington, J., Hannah Arendt's Conception ofthe Political Realm (dissertation, 1978). Waterman, R. D., Political Action: Dialogues with Hannah Arendt (dissertation, 1983). Watson, D., Arendt (1992). Young-Bruehl, E., Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (1982).
NR (15 June 1963). NYTBR (19 May 1963, 28 May 1978). Political Theory 5 (May 1977). Review of Politics (Jan. 1953). Prins, B., Hannah Arendt: Totalitarianism, Domination, and Personal Responsibility (video, 1988). The Holocaust: Judgment in Jerusalem (video, 1987, 1998).
Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was born in Hannover, Germany on October 14 to a Jewish family of Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany. She studied philosophy at Marburg, Freiberg, and Heidelberg. At Marburg she was a pupil of the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), with whom she had an affair, and at Heidelberg she did her doctoral dissertation on love in Saint Augustine with the philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969). When Hitler came to power in 1933, Arendt left Germany and for eighteen years was a "stateless person," first in Paris, where she worked with Jewish refugee groups, and then, after the outbreak of war, in the United States. From 1929 to 1937 she was married to Günther Anders (1902–1992), a journalist, philosopher, and essayist. Arendt became an American citizen in 1951 and for the rest of her life lived in New York with her second husband, the historian Heinrich Blücher (1899–1970). She died on December 14.
The Human Condition
Arendt's major work with implications for science and technology was The Human Condition (1958). It is an inquiry into the vita activa, that is, "human life in so far as it is actively engaged in doing something" (p. 22). Within the vita activa Arendt distinguishes between three fundamental human activities, labor, work and action, each of which corresponds to a different condition of human existence.
Labor includes all the repeated tasks of daily life—growing food, cooking, washing up, cleaning—to which there is no beginning or end. If labor "produces" anything at all, it is something, such as food, that is consumed almost as soon as it is produced. People labor because they are living, embodied beings; thus, life is the condition of labor.
Work is the activity through which people produce durable things—tables, chairs, buildings, but also institutions—that together form the world they inhabit. Humans may use the things of the world made by work and that use may wear those things out, but unlike the food that people consume, this destruction is incidental; it is not an inherent feature of that use. The durability of what work produces means that work has a definite end in the thing made as well as a clear beginning. People work to build a world, and so the world, or "worldliness," is the condition of work.
Action is the capacity to do something new, something that could not have been expected from what has happened before, that reveals who the actor is, and that cannot be undone once it has been accomplished. It derives from the fact of a person's uniqueness as an individual. Action is beginning a boundless unpredictable process of action and reaction. The condition of action is human plurality: a person can labor or work alone as well as with others, but action always requires the presence of others, who, like the actor, are unique human beings. Politics arises out of people acting together, so action constitutes the political realm.
Since the industrial revolution, new technology has transformed work in two ways. First, "automatic" machines and the assembly line transformed work into labor by transforming it into a process without beginning or end, done merely to "earn a living." This means that it is done for the sake of life rather than to build a world. Second, technologies such as nuclear power, synthetic chemicals, and genetic engineering all start new, unprecedented processes that would not exist on earth in the absence of those technologies. Because they are starting something new, the human capacity they make use of must be that of action. In the sphere of human affairs the boundlessness and unpredictability of action can be limited by promising and forgiveness, options that are not available with actions into nature. The inability to limit boundlessness and unpredictability has resulted in uncertainty becoming the defining characteristic of the human situation.
Arendt stresses that humans are "conditioned beings," although the conditions of human existence—the earth, birth and death as well as life, the world and plurality—never condition people absolutely. The earth is the natural environment in which people live, as other animals do, and is characterized by constant cyclical movement: Each new generation replaces the previous one in a process that is indifferent to the uniqueness of individuals.
The world is the condition of human existence that people have made themselves. Biological life is sustained by the earth, but life as a unique, human individual can be lived only in a durable, stable world in which that individual has a place—an identity. The world is always to some extent public in that unlike private thoughts and sensations, it can be perceived by others as well as by oneself. The presence of these others with different perspectives on a world that retains its identity when seen from different locations is what assures the individual of the reality of the world and of themselves (Human Condition, p. 50).
The world is related to action in that action always takes place in the world and is often about the world. Political action attempts to change the world. The deeds and words of action constitute an intangible but still real in-between, the web of human relationships that overlies the tangible objective reality of the world. Because it overlies the world, the forms that can be taken by the web of human relationships must depend on, although they are not determined by, what the world is like. To be a home for men and women during their lives on earth the world "must be a place fit for action and speech" (Human Condition, p. 173).
Arendt's most important work, The Human Condition, was only part of a lifelong effort to understand what happened to her world during the first half of the twentieth century. For instance, her first major work, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), analyzed the political systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, with their historical roots in anti-Semitism and imperialism. Totalitarianism, Arendt concluded, required atomized, individualized masses: people who had lost any sense of living in a common world for which they shared responsibility. Totalitarianism made life subject to "inevitable" natural or historical processes and thus destroyed the possibility for human action.
Arendt's most controversial work was a report on the trail of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (1906–1962). Her conclusion contained the phrase "the banality of evil," which encapsulated her view that the evil done by Eichmann was not a result of base motives, but of his inability to think. The evil resulting from modern technology could also be described as banal. It is not the result of extraordinary actions by people of ill intent, but of unthinking "normal" behaviour, using the technology that has become integral to everyday life in the western world.
In the posthumously published The Life of the Mind (1981) Arendt attempted to complement her interpretation of the vita activa with one of the vita contemplativa. This contains an account of thought that has important implications for thought and knowledge in science and for the relationship between science and technology.
In an approach clearly influenced by Arendt, Langdon Winner has suggested that the most important question to ask of technology is, "What kind of world are we making?" (Winner 1986). The clear implication of Arendt's argument is that questions concerning the nature of the world, and therefore of technology, are political questions. They cannot be decided simply by reference to science, or by technical decision procedures, but only through political debate: the exchange of opinions among people who share, but have different perspectives on, a common world. This position continues to animate many discussions of science, technology, and ethics in ways that can be deepened by dialogue with Arendt's thought.
Arendt, Hannah. (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, Hannah. (1964). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking.
Arendt, Hannah. (1968). Between Past and Future. New York: Viking Compass Edition with additional text. This collection of essays contains further discussion of some of the concepts relevant to science and technology developed in the human condition.
Arendt, Hannah. (1973). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Arendt, Hannah. (1981). The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Canovan, Margaret. (1992). Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press. A good general introduction to Arendt's work that emphasizes its origins in her thoughts on totalitarianism.
Winner, Langdon. (1986). The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
A Jewish refugee from Hitler, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) analyzed major issues of the 20th century and produced a brilliant and original political philosophy.
Hannah Arendt was born in 1906 in Hanover, Germany, the only child of middle-class Jewish parents of Russian descent. A precocious child whose father died in 1913, she was encouraged by her mother in intellectual and academic pursuits. As a university student in Germany (1924-1929) she studied with the finest and most original scholars of that time: with Rudolf Bultmann in New Testament and Martin Heidegger in philosophy at Marburg, with the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl at Freiburg, and with the existentialist Karl Jaspers at Heidelberg. She remained close friends with Heidegger and Jaspers throughout her life.
After receiving her Ph.D. and marrying Gunther Stern, both in 1929, she worked on a biography of Rahel Varnhagen, a noted 19th-century hostess, which analyzed Varnhagen's relationship to her Jewish heritage. In 1933 Arendt was arrested and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo for gathering evidence of Nazi anti-Semitism. She fled to France where she worked for Jewish refugee organizations until 1940 when she and her second husband, Heinrich Blücher, were interned in southern France. They escaped and made their way to New York in 1941.
Throughout the war years Arendt wrote a political column for the Jewish weekly Aufbau and began publishing articles in leading Jewish journals. As her circle of friends expanded to include leading American intellectuals, her writings found a wider audience. Her first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), argued that modern totalitarianism was a new and distinct form of government which used ideology and terror to control the mass society that emerged as European nation-states were undermined by anti-Semitism, racism, and imperialism. As the first major effort to analyze the historical conditions that had given rise to Hitler and Stalin, Origins was highly acclaimed and widely studied in the 1950s.
Labor, Work, and Action
A second major work, The Human Condition (1958), followed. Here and in a companion volume of essays, Between Past and Future (1961), Arendt gave explicit and systematic treatment to themes which had been present in her earlier work and which were to characterize all her mature writings. First was the radical character of the modern situation. In the face of unprecedented problems such as totalitarianism, mass society, automation, the possibility of travels through space, and the eclipse of public life, humans were no longer able to find solutions in established traditions of political authority, philosophy, religion, or even common sense. Her solution was as radical as the problem: "to think what we are doing."
In The Human Condition Arendt rethinks the vita activa, the three fundamental human activities of labor, work, and action, and their relationships. These activities were properly arranged, she argued, only when they were seen in relationship to the distinction between the public and the private. In her view the public provided the space of appearances among humans which speech and action required, and the private protected labor, the interaction of humans with nature and their bodies, from public view. When this distinction breaks down, as it has in modern times, mass society results in which neither true individuality nor true common action is possible.
The Human Condition also developed two other major themes of her work, freedom and worldliness. She was fond of quoting St. Augustine (on whose doctrine of love she wrote her doctoral dissertation): "That there be a beginning, man was created before whom there was nobody." Freedom, or this human capacity for new beginnings, was the "lost treasure" bequeathed by no testament or tradition, rediscovered in every revolution, and radically threatened by mass society and totalitarianism.
The world, comprised of all fabricated things from houses to works of art, Arendt saw as providing a specifically human habitation which protected us and our creations from the ravaging processes of nature. Since this world existed before and continued after the appearance of each individual in it, it offered the possibility of a worldly immortality such that the character and achievements of humans could be remembered after they pass from the world. Here her thought had its most radically secular character. Action, the highest and most worldly human capacity, found worldly rather than divine solutions for its predicaments. Thus she quoted with approval Machiavelli's maxim to "love our country more than the safety of our soul."
The Human Condition established Arendt's academic reputation and led to a visiting appointment at Princeton— the first woman full professor there. Her Princeton lectures became On Revolution (1963), a volume which expressed her enthusiasm at becoming an American citizen by exploring the historical background and institutional requirements of political freedom.
The Banality of Evil
In 1961 she attended the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi functionary who had been involved in the murder of large numbers of Jews during the Holocaust. Her reports, which appeared first in The New Yorker and then as Eichmann in Jerusalem (1964), were frequently misunderstood and rejected, especially her claim that Eichmann was more bureaucratic and banal rather than radically evil. Her public reputation among even some former friends never recovered from this controversy.
At the University of Chicago (1963-1967) and the New School for Social Research in New York City (1967-1975) her brilliant lectures and affectionate concern inspired countless students in social thought, philosophy, religious studies, and history. Frequently ill-at-ease in public, she was an energetic conversationalist in smaller gatherings. Even among friends, though, she might sometimes excuse herself and become totally absorbed in some new line of thought that had occurred to her. Playful in the company of men, after the death of her husband in 1970 she attracted marriage proposals from W. H. Auden and Hans Morgenthau.
During the later 1960s she devoted herself to a variety of projects: essays on current political issues (the Pentagon Papers, violence, civil disobedience) published as Crises of the Republic (1972); portraits of men and women who offered some illumination even in the dark times of the 20th century, which became Men in Dark Times (1968); and a two-volume English edition of Karl Jaspers' The Great Philosophers (1962 and 1966).
In 1973 and 1974 she delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, which were subsequently published as The Life of the Mind (1979). Conceived as a volume on the contemplative life parallel to The Human Condition on the active life, it too was intended to focus on three human capacities: thinking, willing, and judging. While all three were independent of the active life, the political role of each was also examined, from the role of thinking in opposing evil to the ability of judging to measure the achievements and failures of our public life. Only the first two topics were actually addressed in the lectures she delivered; she died of a heart attack in New York City on December 4, 1975, as she was beginning work on the third. Fortunately, earlier lectures on Kant's Critique of Judgment suggested what her approach to judging would have been, and these were published posthumously as Lectures in Kant's Political Philosophy (1982).
Honored throughout her later life by a series of academic prizes, frequently attacked for controversial and eccentric judgments, Hannah Arendt died as she lived—a brilliant and original interpreter of human capacities and prospects in the face of modern political disasters.
The definitive biography of Arendt is Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, For Love of the World (1982). It includes a comprehensive bibliography. Arendt's political thinking is summarized in Margaret Canovan, The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt (1974). Essays by Arendt on Jewish questions, Zionism, and the Eichmann controversy can be found in Ron H. Feldman, editor, Hannah Arendt: The Jew as Pariah (1978).
Several volumes of essays on Arendt have appeared. Melvyn A. Hill, editor, The Recovery of the Public World (1979) includes a a response by Arendt, and both Social Research (Spring 1977) and Salmagundi (Spring-Summer 1983) devoted issues to her. Her teaching style and its effect on students is described by Peter Stern and Jean Yarbrough in American Scholar (Summer 1978) and Melvyn A. Hill in The University of Chicago Magazine (Spring 1976). Of the many obituaries which appeared following Arendt's death, those in the New York Review of Books (January 22 and May 13, 1976) by Mary McCarthy and Robert Lowell are especially revealing.
Barnouw, Dagmar., Visible spaces: Hannah Arendt and the German-Jewish experience, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.
May, Derwent, Hannah Arendt, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England; New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin Books, 1986. □
Arendt, Hannah 1906-1975
A political theorist endowed with a flair for grand historical generalization, Hannah Arendt focused contemporary thought, particularly in scholarly circles, on the novelty of the tyranny that afflicted Europe in the twentieth century. Her most influential book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, emphasized the parallels between the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
Arendt was born on October 14, 1906, to middle-class Jewish parents in Hanover, Germany. After studying theology and philosophy at the University of Marburg, she specialized in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. As the National Socialists drew closer to power, she became a political activist and, beginning in 1933, helped German Zionists publicize the plight of the victims of Nazism. For the remainder of the decade, Arendt lived in Paris, aiding in the efforts to relocate German Jewish children to Palestine. In 1940 she married a former communist, Heinrich Blücher; later that year they were interned in southern France along with other stateless Germans and Jews after the Nazi invasion. Arendt and her husband landed in the United States in May 1941. While living in New York City during and after World War II, Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, the year she secured U.S. citizenship.
No book traced more insightfully the steps that Hitler and Stalin took toward creating their distinctively modern despotisms, nor calculated more evocatively how grievously wounded civilization had become as a result of the concentration camps, the slave labor camps, the extermination camps. In exposing the operations of “radical evil,” she demonstrated that with the superfluity of life toward which it aimed, totalitarianism marked a crucial discontinuity in the very notion of what it has meant to be human. The Origins of Totalitarianism asserted that the hell that medieval visionaries could only imagine had been put into practice in Auschwitz and Treblinka and in the Gulag Archipelago.
Her book exerted its greatest impact during the bleakest phase of the cold war, because of Arendt’s insistence upon the resemblances between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Such claims also engendered doubt among scholars, who noted her limited access to Soviet sources. Nevertheless, her emphasis on the precariousness of European Jewry while Enlightenment ideals of human rights were collapsing, plus her argument that Nazism was conducting two wars—one against the Allies, the other against the Jewish people—became truisms in the history of the Holocaust.
In 1963 came a sequel of sorts, and her most controversial work. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil did not portray the S.S. lieutenant colonel who had directed the transportation of Jews to their deaths as an anti-Semitic fanatic. He was instead an energetic organization man whose primary attribute was a sense of duty. Nonetheless, her book endorsed the Israeli verdict that he be hanged for his crimes. Arendt’s view that Eichmann’s iniquity did not stem from sadistic impulses to orchestrate genocide, but was the result rather of sheer thoughtlessness (a failure to think through what he was doing), led her back in the final phase of her career to the formal philosophical approaches that had marked her German education. Arendt died in New York City on December 4, 1975.
SEE ALSO Totalitarianism
Whitfield, Stephen J. 1980. Into the Dark: Hannah Arendt and Totalitarianism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Stephen J. Whitfield
Early life and career
Hannah Arendt was born on October 14, 1906, in Hanover, Germany, the only child of middle-class Jewish parents of Russian descent. A bright child whose father died in 1913, she was encouraged by her mother in intellectual and academic pursuits. As a university student in Germany she studied with the most original scholars of that time: Rudolf Bultmann (1888–1976) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) in philosophy; the phenomenologist (one who studies human awareness) Edmund Husserl (1859– 1938); and the existentialist (one who studies human existence) Karl Jaspers (1883– 1969). In 1929 Arendt received her doctorate degree and married Gunther Stern.
In 1933 Arendt was arrested and briefly imprisoned for gathering evidence of Nazi anti-Semitism (evidence that proved the Nazis were a ruthless German army regime aimed at ridding Europe of its Jewish population). Shortly after the outbreak of World War II she fled to France, where she worked for Jewish refugee organizations (organizations aimed at helping Jews that were forced to flee Germany). In 1940 she and her second husband, Heinrich Blücher, were held captive in southern France. They escaped and made their way to New York in 1941.
Throughout the war years Arendt wrote a political column for the Jewish weekly Aufbau, and began publishing articles in leading Jewish journals. As her circle of friends expanded to include leading American intellectuals, her writings found a wider audience. Her first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), argued that modern totalitarianism (government with total political power without competition) was a new and distinct form of government that used terror to control the mass society. "Origins" was the first major effort to analyze the historical conditions that had given rise to Germany's Adolph Hitler (1889–1945) and Russia's Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), and was widely studied in the 1950s.
Labor, work, and action
A second major work, The Human Condition (1958), followed. Here, and in a volume of essays, Between Past and Future (1961), Arendt clearly defined themes from her earlier work: in a rapidly developing world, humans were no longer able to find solutions in established traditions of political authority, philosophy, religion, or even common sense. Her solution was as radical (extreme) as the problem: "to think what we are doing."
The Human Condition established Arendt's academic reputation and led to a visiting appointment at Princeton University—the first time a woman was a full-time professor there. On Revolution (1963), a volume of her Princeton lectures, expressed her enthusiasm at becoming an American citizen by exploring the historical background and requirements of political freedom.
In 1961 Arendt attended the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann (1906–1962), a Nazi who had been involved in the murder of large numbers of Jews during the Holocaust (when Nazis imprisoned or killed millions of Jews during World War II). Her reports appeared first in The New Yorker and then as Eichmann in Jerusalem (1964). They were frequently misunderstood and rejected, especially her claim that Eichmann was more of a puppet than radically evil. Her public reputation among even some former friends never recovered from this controversy.
At the University of Chicago (1963–1967) and the New School for Social Researchin New York City (1967–1975), Arendt's brilliant lectures inspired countless students in social thought, philosophy, religious studies, and history. Frequently uneasy in public, she was an energetic conversationalist in smaller gatherings. Even among friends, though, she would sometimes excuse herself and become totally absorbed in some new line of thought that had occurred to her.
During the late 1960s Arendt devoted herself to a variety of projects: essays on current political issues, such as civil unrest and war, published as Crises of the Republic (1972); portraits of men and women who offered some explanation on the dark times of the twentieth century, which became Men in Dark Times (1968); and a two-volume English edition of Karl Jaspers's The Great Philosophers (1962 and 1966).
In 1973 and 1974 Arendt delivered the well-received Gifford Lectures in Scotland, which were later published as The Life of the Mind (1979). Tragically, Arendt never completed these lectures as she died of a heart attack in New York City on December 4, 1975.
Arendt was honored throughout her later life by a series of academic prizes. Frequently attacked for controversial and sometimes odd judgments, Hannah Arendt died as she lived—an original interpreter of human nature in the face of modern political disasters.
For More Information
Kristeva, Julia. Hannah Arendt. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
McGowan, John. Hannah Arendt: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
(b. 14 October 1906 in Hannover, Germany; d. 4 December 1975 in New York City), political philosopher, professor, and author of Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), an account and assessment of the trial of the Nazi leader.
Arendt was the only child of secular Jewish parents, Paul Arendt, an engineer, and Martha (Cohn) Arendt, a homemaker. At age fifteen Arendt entered the University of Berlin, studying classics and Christian theology. After two years she transferred to Marburg University, where she studied philosophy with the eminent philosopher Martin Heidegger. Two years later she moved to Heidelberg to study with Karl Jaspers, the existentialist philosopher. While studying with Jaspers she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the concept of love in St. Augustine's thought. She received her doctorate in 1928 at age twenty-two.
In 1930 she married Günther Stern, a Jewish philosopher, with whom she fled to Paris in 1933 when the German dictator Adolf Hitler came to power. In 1936 Arendt met Heinrich Blücher, a German political refugee. She and Stern were divorced in 1939, and she married Blücher in 1940. After the outbreak of war they were interned in a detention camp for enemy aliens. They escaped and fled to the United States in 1941.
Arendt became a U.S. citizen in 1951, the same year that saw the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism, her first major political work. Widely praised, the book firmly established her reputation as a writer and scholar. The book analyzed the two major forms of twentieth-century totalitarianism, Nazism and Communism, and sought to establish their genesis in the anti-Semitism and imperialism of the nineteenth century.
Arendt had not previously succeeded in finding teaching positions at American universities, but the stature she achieved through her book's critical acclaim changed that. Over the next two decades she taught at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Brooklyn College, and Columbia, Northwestern, and Cornell Universities. In 1959 she became the first woman to attain a full professorship at Princeton University. In 1967 Arendt was named university professor of political philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City, a position she held until her death.
On Revolution, published in 1963, was a rethinking of the causes and results of modern revolutions, notably those in the United States and France. Generally well received, this book was eclipsed, however, by the publication of Arendt's most influential work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). In 1961 Arendt had accepted an assignment from the New Yorker to cover the trial in Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann, accused of implementing the Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe. Her coverage of the trial was serialized in the magazine and later expanded and published in book form.
Eichmann in Jerusalem was widely read and highly controversial. Many readers misinterpreted her thesis, thinking that by describing Eichmann as banal, Arendt meant he was normal, thus exonerating him. However, Arendt saw Eichmann as an illustration of the problem of a human being within a modern totalitarian system. Bruno Bettelheim, in the New Republic, pointed out that "because of her concentration on the injustice bred by totalitarianism, Arendt at times creates an ambiguity in the evaluation of guilt."
Jewish readers were particularly outraged by her criticism of the state of Israel, the Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and the Israeli attorney general Gideon Hausner, as well as her assessment that the Jews of Europe were complicit in their own slaughter during the Third Reich by passively marching to their deaths.
The Eichmann trial was widely perceived as a model of fairness and justice. Arendt took issue with that perception, delving into the nature of the judicial process and comparing the need for justice with the need for punishment.
Arendt herself asserted she was trying to calmly analyze the situation, to get beyond the emotions, even the hysteria, the trial evoked. She found that, far from being a monster of evil, Eichmann was simply a glorified clerk who was too morally stunted to perceive the impact of his actions. Those who wanted to focus on Eichmann as the principal creator of the Holocaust were disappointed in Arendt's assessment. But she held her ground, commenting, "If you kill a monster you can go to bed and sleep, for there aren't many of them. But if Eichmann was normality, then this is a far more dangerous situation."
The phrase that made her name something of a household word was "the banality of evil," which Arendt used to distinguish Eichmann's actions from a malevolent delight in murder. Rather, she believed, Eichmann arrived at his willing involvement in the Nazis' so-called final solution through a failure or absence of sound thinking and judgment.
During the last decade of her life, Arendt became increasingly concerned with thinking and judgment as political faculties, themes that had interested her throughout her career. Her projected trilogy, The Life of the Mind, was incomplete at the time of her death. The first two volumes, Thinking and Willing, were published posthumously in 1978. She had just begun work on the third volume, Judging, when she died. In 1982 her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy were published, delineating her reflections on political judgment.
Arendt was widely recognized for her achievements. She was awarded honorary degrees from Princeton, Dartmouth, Smith, Notre Dame, Yale, and the New School. In 1975 she became the first woman and the first U.S. citizen to be awarded Denmark's Sonning Prize for contributions to European civilization.
Arendt died in 1975 of a heart attack in her New York City apartment. Her ashes are buried at Bard College, New York City. A longtime friend said of her after her death, "There was a supreme relevance in what she had to say. Whether you thought her right or wrong, what she had to say was invariably important."
See Bhikhu Parkh, Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy (1981), and Dana Villa, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (2000), for a deeper understanding of Arendt's political philosophy. Reviews of Eichmann in Jerusalem are in the New York Times (19 May 1963), the Christian Science Monitor (23 May 1963), the New Republic (15 June 1963), and Commentary (Sept. 1963). An obituary is in the New York Times (6 Dec. 1975).
Natalie B. Jalenak
[OCTOBER 14, 1906–DECEMBER 4, 1975]
German political philosopher
A political theorist with a gift for grand historical generalization, Hannah Arendt focused contemporary thought, particularly in scholarly circles, on the experience of exile and in her most influential book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, confronted the worst horrors of European tyranny.
Arendt was born in Hanover, Germany, and died in New York City. She studied theology and philosophy at the University of Marburg, and then philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. As the National Socialists drew closer to power, she became a political activist and, beginning in 1933, helped German Zionists publicize the plight of the victims of Nazism. Arrested by the Gestapo, Arendt managed to escape to Paris, remaining there for the rest of the decade and aiding in the efforts to relocate German Jewish children to Palestine. In 1940 she married an ex-communist, Heinrich Blücher, but they were separated and interned in southern France along with other stateless Germans when the Wehrmacht invaded later that year. Arendt was sent to Gurs, a camp from which she escaped. She soon joined her husband, and the two reached the United States in May 1941. While living in New York during World War II, Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), published the year she secured U.S. citizenship.
No book was more reverberant in tracing the steps toward the distinctive twentieth-century tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin, or in measuring how grievously wounded Western civilization had become. Arendt demonstrated how embedded racism had become in central and western Europe by the end of the nineteenth century; by then imperialist governments had also succeeded in experimenting with the possibilities of cruelty and mass murder. The third section of her book exposed the operations of "radical evil," with the superfluity of life in the death camps marking an important discontinuity in the very notion of what it meant to be human. Totalitarianism put into practice what had only been imagined in medieval images of hell.
During the cold war of the 1950s, The Origins of Totalitarianism made its author an intellectual celebrity, but also engendered much doubt about her theories. Arendt's insistence on drawing parallels between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—given their obvious ideological conflicts and the savage warfare between the two countries from 1941 to 1945—was especially criticized. When Arendt wrote her book, Soviet sources were barely available, nor could the author read Russian. But her emphasis on the plight of the Jews amid the decline of Enlightenment ideals of human rights, and her assertion that the Third Reich was conducting two wars—one against the Allies, the other against the Jewish people—have become commonplace in the historiography of the Holocaust. More than any other scholar, Arendt made meaningful the idea of totalitarianism as a novel form of autocracy, pushing to unprecedented extremes murderous fantasies of domination and revenge.
Arendt's most controversial work was published in 1963: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. This political and psychological portrait of the SS lieutenant-colonel who had directed the transportation of Jews to their deaths emphasized duty rather than fanaticism as his motivation. She believed that Israel had rightly hanged him in 1962. But Arendt's view that Eichmann had committed evil not because of a sadistic will to do so, or deep-rooted anti-Semitism, but because of thoughtlessness (a failure to think through what he was doing), led Arendt back in the final phase of her career to the formal philosophical approaches that had marked its beginning.
Arendt, Hannah (1951). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Arendt, Hannah (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking.
Whitfield, Stephen J. (1980). Into the Dark: Hannah Arendt and Totalitarianism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Stephen J. Whitfield
ARENDT, HANNAH (1906–1975), political and social philosopher. Born in Hanover, Germany, she studied at the universities of Marburg, Freiburg, and Heidelberg. In the 1930s Arendt married Gunther Stern, a young Jewish philosopher. In 1933, fearing Nazi persecution, she fled to Paris, where she subsequently became friends with Walter *Benjamin and Raymond *Aron. In 1936, she met Heinrich Bluecher, a German political refugee whom she married in 1940, following her 1939 divorce from Stern. After the outbreak of war, and following detention as an "enemy alien," Arendt and Bluecher fled to the U.S. in 1941. From 1944 to 1948 she was successively research director of the Conference on Jewish Relations and chief editor of Schocken Books; from 1949 to 1952 she was executive director of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction. Arendt was professor at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1967 and afterward at the New School for Social Research, New York.
An erudite, provocative, and penetrating writer, Arendt evaluated major developments in modern times. She believed that antisemitism contributed to totalitarianism which she saw as connected with the fall of the nation-state and to the change in the social structure. She advocated freedom based on public participation in politics, a tradition deriving from the Greco-Roman world, in contrast to freedom based on private interests. The former was furthered through revolutions, like the American, the latter through disastrous rebellions like the French. The dehumanizing and depoliticizing process of modern times have led away from genuine freedom to the evils of totalitarianism. Hannah Arendt covered the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker magazine and subsequently published as a book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), which aroused violent controversy. In it she claimed that European Jewish leadership had failed, that the victims were partly responsible for the slaughter by their failure to resist, and that Eichmann represents the "banality of evil." Her other publications include The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951); Rachel Varnhagen – The Life of a Jewess (1957); Between Past and Future (1961); On Revolution (1963); and Men in Dark Times (1969). In 1970, Arendt presented a seminar on Kant's philosophy of judgment at New York City's New School (published posthumously as Reflections on Kant's Political Philosophy (1982)). She published "Thinking and Moral Considerations" in 1971, and the following year Crisis of the Republic (1972). In her final years, she worked on a projected three-volume work. Volumes 1 and 2 (Thinking and Willing) were published posthumously as The Life of the Mind (1981). Arendt died just as she was beginning work on the third and final volume, Judging.
In recent years, attention has focused on Arendt's intense intellectual and sexual relationship with German philosopher Martin Heidegger, whom she met at the University of Marburg in 1924 when she was an 18-year-old student and he was 35, married, and the father of two children. What is striking in this consistently unequal liaison is that it endured throughout Arendt's life, surviving a 17-year hiatus between 1933 and 1950, despite Arendt's knowledge that Heidegger stood accused of advancing the cause of Nazism in the academy and was banned in 1946 from the university of which he was rector. As Berel Lang has written, this lasting connection "overrode her recognition of his character – he had no character, she once concluded – [and] was so deep and constant that even love's blindness hardly explains it." At present, much of the correspondence between Arendt and Heidegger remains in sequestered archives. Certainty as to how the relationship evolved, its importance to Arendt and Heidegger over the course of half a century, and the extent to which their personal connection had an impact on Arendt's thinking will remain for future investigators to determine when the entire record is available.
E. Ettinger, Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (1995); B. Lang, "Snowblind: Martin Heidegger & Hannah Arendt," in: The New Criterion, 14:5 (1996); D. Villa (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (2000); E. Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (20042).
[Richard H. Popkin /
Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]