Arendt Hannah

Hannah Arendt - Personal data
Date of birth: 14th October 1906
Place of birth: Hanower
Date of death: 4th December 1975
Place of death: New York
Occupation: philosopher

Arendt, Hannah (b. 14 October 1906 in Hannover, died 4 December 1975 in New York) – Jewish American philosopher and political scientist. She studied at universities in Marburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, and Heidelberg. She was a student of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers (who was the supervisor of her doctoral thesis: Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin). She migrated from Germany in 1933, first moving to France and eventually settling in the USA in 1940. She was an active member of various Jewish organisations working in the U.S., including the leftist Partisan Review.

She worked as the director of the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction in 1949-1952. In the years 1955-1975 she gave lectures at, among others, the University of California (1955), Princeton University, University of Chicago (1956, 1963-1967) and the New School for Social Research in New York (1967-1975). In 1951, she published her most famous work – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Polish samizdat edition, vol. 1-2, 1989). Seeking the historical sources of totalitarianism, she pointed to the formation of nation states in 19th-century Europe, which were largely modelled by anti-Semitism. What distinguishes Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism from other works on the issue is not only her underlining the importance of anti-Semitism in the shaping of totalitarian states, but also drawing attention to the equally important fact: totalitarianism is constructed by the destruction of first the political and then the private sphere. The totalitarian reign is based on the total isolation of the individual, its isolation from the outside world (family, friends, social group). The totalitarian state could only achieve its goal through massive terror, closely associated with ubiquitous propaganda and methodical indoctrination.

A collection of Arendt’s essays called Between the Past and the Future was published in 1961 (Polish edition: 1994). It focused on finding the answer to the question of the causes of the deep political crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. According to Arendt, the foundation giving permanence to the Republican regime was the "Roman trinity: religion-authority-tradition," later absorbed by Christianity. When modern thinkers undermined the legitimacy and validity of resorting to tradition and authority, European nations started to undergo transformations leading to the progressive blurring of the ancient distinction between the private and the public sphere. According to Arendt, the individual was becoming completely alienated and the European society  was undergoing atomisation. All this inevitably led to increased social tensions, uniting people in interest groups where authority was replaced by ideological objectives. In this context, tradition was becoming superfluous, the masses were more likely to be influenced by ideologues calling for breaking with the wrong and unjust political structures of the time. Earlier, the result of these developments had usually been revolts or/and rebellion, whereas in modern times – revolution.

Arendt returned to the analysis of the phenomenon of revolution in her work About Revolution (1963, Polish edition in 1991). Her deliberations on coercion and terror were complemented by the thesis of the rationalisation, or even banality of evil, depicted in the book devoted to the trial of A. Eichmann called Eichmann in Jerusalem. The Banality of Evil (1963, Polish edition in 1987). The three-volume work The Life of the Mind was to be the culmination of her scientific and literary career, but only two volumes were published after Arendt’s death in 1987:Thinking (Polish edition 1991) and Will (Polish edition in 1996). The work presents the author’s deliberations on nature and the purpose of thinking, will and judgement – Arendt recognised their full autonomy, in the sense of both their purpose and the rules they follow. Her philosophical views presented in the publication complemented her theory of the philosophy of politics. Other works by Arendt include: Men in Dark Times (1968), On Violence (1970), Crisis of the Republic (1972), Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (1982), About Violence Civil Disobedience (Polish edition 1998), Human Condition (1958, Polish edition in 2000).

Bibliography

  • Bradshaw L., Acting and Thinking. The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt, Toronto 1989.
  • Canovan M., The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt, London 1974.
  • Ettinger E., Hannah Arendt – Martin Heidegger, Kraków 1998.
  • Kateb G., Hannah Arendt. Politics, Conscience, Evil, Oxford 1984.
  • Parekh B., Hannah Arendt and the Search for New Political Philosophy, London 1981.
  • Skarżyński R., “Hannah Arendt — budowanie myśli,” Literatura na Świecie 1985, no. 6.
  • Tokarczyk R., Filozofia polityczna H. Arendt, Lublin 1994.
  • Young-Bruehl E., Hannah Arendt: Love of the World, New Haven 1982.

Włodzimierz Bernacki

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