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Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 ‚Äď December 4, 1975) was an influential German Jewish political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact that "men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world."

Arendt's work deals with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism. Much of her work focuses on affirming a conception of freedom which is synonymous with collective political action among equals.


Hannah Arendt was born into a family of secular Jewish Germans in the city of Linden (now part of Hanovermarker), and grew up in Königsbergmarker and Berlinmarker.

At the University of Marburgmarker, she studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger, with whom she embarked on a long, stormy and romantic relationship for which she was later criticized because of Heidegger's support for the Nazi party while he was rector of Freiburg University.

In the wake of one of their breakups, Arendt moved to Heidelbergmarker, where she wrote her dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine, under the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers. She married G√ľnther Stern, later known as G√ľnther Anders, in 1929 in Berlin (they divorced in 1937).

The dissertation was published the same year, but Arendt was prevented from habilitating, a prerequisite for teaching in German universities, because she was Jewish. She worked for some time researching anti-Semitism before being interrogated by the Gestapomarker, and thereupon fled Germany for Parismarker. Here she met and befriended the literary critic and Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin, her first husband's cousin. While in France, Arendt worked to support and aid Jewish refugees. She was imprisoned in Camp Gursmarker but was able to escape after a couple of weeks.

However, with the German military occupation of northern France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps, even by the Vichy collaborator regime in the unoccupied south, Arendt was forced to flee France. In 1940, she married the German poet and Marxist philosopher Heinrich Bl√ľcher, by then a former Communist Party member.

In 1941, Arendt escaped with her husband and her mother to the United Statesmarker with the assistance of the American diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, who illegally issued visas to her and around 2500 other Jewish refugees, and an American, Varian Fry, who paid for her travels and helped in securing these visas. Arendt then became active in the German-Jewish community in New York. In 1941-1945, she wrote a column for the German-language Jewish newspaper, Aufbau. From 1944, she directed research for the Commission of European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction and traveled frequently to Germany in this capacity.

After World War II she returned to Germany and worked for Youth Aliyah. She became a close friend of Jaspers and his Jewish wife, developing a deep intellectual friendship with him and began corresponding with Mary McCarthy. In 1950, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Arendt served as a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeleymarker, Princeton Universitymarker and Northwestern Universitymarker. She also served as a professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicagomarker, as well as at The New School in New York City, and served as a fellow on the faculty at Yale Universitymarker and Wesleyan Universitymarker in the Center for Advanced Studies (1962-1963). In 1959, she became the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton.

She died at age 69 in 1975, and was buried at Bard Collegemarker in Annandale-on-Hudson, New Yorkmarker, where her husband taught for many years.

Arendt was instrumental in the creation of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford Universitymarker. She wrote a letter to the then president of Stanford University to convince the university to enact Mark Mancall's vision of a residentially-based humanities program.


Arendt theorizes freedom as public and associative, drawing on examples from the Greek "polis", American townships, the Paris Commune, the civil rights movements of the 1960s, and the Hungarian uprising of 1956 to illustrate this conception of freedom. Another key concept in her work is "natality", the capacity to bring something new into the world, such as the founding of a government that endures.

Arendt's first major book was The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which traced the roots of Stalinist Communism and Nazism in both anti-Semitism and imperialism. The book was controversial because it suggested, arguably, that an essential identity existed between the two phenomena. She further contends that Jewry was not the operative factor in the Holocaust, but merely a convenient proxy. Totalitarianism in Germany, in the end, was about megalomania and consistency, not eradicating Jews.

Arguably her most influential work, The Human Condition (1958) distinguishes between labour, work, and action, and explores the implications of these distinctions. These categories, which attempt to bridge the gap between ontological and sociological structures, are rigidly delineated. Her theory of political action, corresponding to the existence of a public realm, is extensively developed in this work.

Another of Arendt's important books is the collection of essays Men in Dark Times. These intellectual biographies provide insight into the lives of some of the creative and moral figures of the 20th century, among them Walter Benjamin, Karl Jaspers, Rosa Luxemburg, Hermann Broch, Pope John XXIII, and Isak Dinesen.

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness‚ÄĒthe tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction. Arendt was extremely critical of the way that Israelmarker conducted the trial. She was also critical of the way that many Jewish leaders (notably M. C. Rumkowski) acted during the Holocaust, which caused an enormous controversy and resulted in a great deal of animosity directed toward Arendt within the Jewish community. Her friend Gershom Scholem, a major scholar of Jewish Mysticism, broke off relations with her. Arendt was criticized by many Jewish public figures, who charged her with coldness and lack of sympathy for the victims of the Shoah. Due to this lingering criticism, her book has only recently been translated into Hebrew. Arendt ended the book by endorsing the execution of Eichmann, writing:

Arendt published another book in the same year that was controversial in its own right: On Revolution, a study of the two most famous revolutions of the 18th century. Arendt went against the grain of Marxist and leftist thought by contending that the American Revolution was a successful revolution, whereas the French Revolution was not. When the masses of France gained the sympathy of revolutionaries, the French Revolution turned away from the legal stability of constitutional government and toward the lawless satisfaction of the constantly regenerating economic needs of these masses. Some saw in this argument a post-Holocaust anti-French sentiment. Nevertheless, it was inveterate in the history of political philosophy, echoing that of Edmund Burke. Arendt also argued that the revolutionary spirit endemic to the founding had not been preserved in America because the majority of people had no role to play in politics other than voting. She admired Thomas Jefferson's idea of dividing counties into townships, similar to the sovietsmarker that appeared during the Russian Revolution. Arendt's interest in such a "council system", which she saw as the only alternative to the state, continued all her life.

Her posthumous book, The Life of the Mind (1978, edited by Mary McCarthy), was incomplete at her death. Stemming from her Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, this book focuses on the mental faculties of thinking and willing (in a sense moving beyond her previous work concerning the vita activa). In her discussion of thinking, she focuses mainly on Socrates and his notion of thinking as a solitary dialogue between me and myself. This appropriation of Socrates leads her to introduce novel concepts of conscience (which gives no positive prescriptions, but instead tells me what I cannot do if I would remain friends with myself when I re-enter the two-in-one of thought where I must render an account of my actions to myself) and morality (an entirely negative enterprise concerned with non-participation in certain actions for the sake of remaining friends with one's self). In her volume on Willing, Arendt, relying heavily on Augustine's notion of the will, discusses the will as an absolutely free mental faculty that makes new beginnings possible.

In the third volume, Arendt was planning to engage the faculty of judgment by appropriating Kant's Critique of Judgment ; however, she did not live to write it. Nevertheless, although we will never fully understand her notion of judging, Arendt did leave us with manuscripts ("Thinking and Moral Considerations", "Some Questions on Moral Philosophy,") and lectures (Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy ) concerning her thoughts on this mental faculty. The first two articles were edited and published by Jerome Kohn, who was an assistant of Arendt and is a director of Hannah Arendt Center at The New School, and the last was edited and published by Ronald Beiner, who is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. Her personal library was deposited at Bard College at the Stevenson Library in 1976, and includes approximately 4,000 books, ephemera, and pamphlets from Arendt's last apartment. The college has begun digitally archiving some of the collection, which is available at The Hannah Arendt Collection


Selected works

  • Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin. Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation (1929)
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Rev. ed.; New York: Schocken, 2004. (Includes all the prefaces and additions from the 1958, 1968, and 1972 editions.)
  • The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).
  • Rahel Varnhagen: the life of a Jewess. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston (1958). Complete ed.; Ed. Liliane Weissberg (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
  • Die ungarische Revolution und der totalit√§re Imperialismus (1958)
  • Between Past and Future: Six exercises in political thought (New York: Viking, 1961). (Two more essays were added in 1968.)
  • On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1963).
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1968).
  • Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968).
  • On Violence. Harvest Books (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1970) (Also included in Crises of the Republic.)
  • Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972). "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, edited with an introduction by Ron H. Feldman (1978)
  • Life of the Mind Ed. Mary McCarthy, 2 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978).
  • Hannah Arendt/Karl Jaspers Correspondence, 1926‚Äď1969 Edited by Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner, translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992).
  • Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism, Ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1994), Paperback ed. (New York: Schocken, 2005).
  • Love and Saint Augustine Edited with an Interpretive Essay by Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Scott (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996/1998).
  • Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. Edited and with an Interpretive Essay by Ronald Beiner (The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  • Within Four Walls: The Correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Bl√ľcher, 1936-1968. Edited by Lotte Kohler, translated by Peter Constantine (New York: Harcourt, 1996).
  • Responsibility and Judgment. Edited with an introduction by Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken, 2003).
  • Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. Letters, 1925‚Äď1975, Ed. Ursula Ludz, translated Andrew Shields (New York: Harcourt, 2004).
  • The Promise of Politics. Edited with an Introduction by Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken, 2005).
  • Arendt und Benjamin: Texte, Briefe, Dokumente. Edited by Detlev Sch√∂ttker and Erdmut Wizisla. (2006)
  • The Jewish Writings. Edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman. Schocken Books. (2007)

See also

Further reading

  • Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (1982), Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-02660-9. (Paperback reprint edition, September 10, 1983, ISBN 0-300-03099-1; Second edition October 11, 2004 ISBN 0-300-10588-6.)
  • Villa, Dana ed. (2000), The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521645713 (hb).
  • Villa, Dana (1995), Arendt and Heidegger: the Fate of the Political, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-04400-7.
  • Villa, Dana (1999), Politics, Philosophy, Terror: Essays on the Thought of Hannah Arendt, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-00935-X.
  • Villa, Dana (2008), Public Freedom, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-13594-6.
  • Harms, Klaus: Hannah Arendt und Hans Jonas. Grundlagen einer philosophischen Theologie der Weltverantwortung. Berlin: WiKu-Verlag (2003). ISBN 3-936749-84-1. (de)
  • Elzbieta Ettinger: Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger, Yale University Press (1997). ISBN 0-300-07254-6.
  • Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Why Arendt Matters. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-12044-3).
  • Dietz, Mary G. Turning Operations: Feminism, Arendt, and Politics, Routledge (2002). ISBN 0-415-93244-0.
  • Julia Kristeva. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Ross Guberman. Columbia University Press. 2001. ISBN 9780231121026
  • Seyla Benhabib. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. Rowan and Littlefield Publishers. 2003. ISBN 9780742521513
  • Jennifer Nedelsky and Ronald Beiner, ed. Judgment, Imagination, and Politics: Themes from Kant and Arendt. Rowan and Littlefield Publishers. 2001. ISBN 9780847699711
  • Birmingham, Peg. Hannah Arendt and Human Rights: The Predicament of Common Responsibility. Indian University Press (2006) ISBN 9780253218650
  • Maurizio Passerin d'Entr√®ves. The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt. New York: Routledge, 1994. ISBN 9780415087902
  • David Keen. 2007. Learning About the Iraq War from Hannah Arendt . Counterpunch. September 24.
  • Roger Berkowitz, Thomas Keenan, Jeffrey Katz, ed.Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics Fordham University Press, 2009


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