HANNAH ARENDT BIOGRAPHICAL DATA: 1906: Born October 26, in Hannover. 1909: Emigration to Königsberg. 1913: Death of her father. 1924-1928: Studies philosophy, theology and Greek in Marburg, Freiburg and Heidelberg. 1929: Marriage to Günther Stern (Anders). 1933: Imprisoned by the Gestapo and escape to Paris. 1940: Marriage to Heinrich Blücher and detention in the concentration camp Gurs. 1941: Emigration to the United States. 1941-1944: Editor of the journal ‘Aufbau’. 1953-1956: Professor at Brooklyn College (New York). 1963-1967: Professor at University of Chicago. 1967-1975: Professor at the New School of Social Research (New York). 1975: Died December 4, in New York.
MAJOR WORKS Liebesbegriff bei Augustin (1929). Rahel Varnhagen: Lebensgeschichte einer deutschen Jüdin aus der Romantik (1939). The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition (1944). The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). The Human Condition (1958). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). On Revolution (1963). On Violence (1970). The Life of the Mind (1975).
INTENTIONS The philosophy of Arendt is a reflection about the vita activa (especially in The Human Condition) and the vita contemplativa (especially in The Life of the Mind). Features of the vita activa > labour, work and action. Features of the vita contemplativa > thinking, willing and judging. The intentions to study both: - to reconstruct the kind of action and thinking that resulted in National Socialism and Stalinism. - to do justice to the intrinsic value of political action in comparison to labour and work. - to sketch the path from the zoon politikon to the animal laborans. - to analyze the political crisis of the modern age.
ANTI-FOUNDATIONALISM According to Arendt philosophy is not about epistemology, but about politics. Since Plato many philosophers impose their standards of truth upon politics. This totalitarian way of thinking can’t do justice to the plurality of lifestyles and cultures. Thinking without a banister (Denken ohne Geländer) > there is not a fixed foundation upon which to base thinking. Critique of the logocentric tradition in philosophy, because it suppresses plurality. Arendt criticizes grand narratives that presuppose historical necessity and neglect contingency.
PHILOSOPHICAL STYLE Arendt insists that her philosophy was grounded in “personal experiences”. She never perceived herself as a professional philosopher: “I do not belong to the circle of philosophers.” Personal experiences of political events as point of departure of reflection. A mixture of a narrative and an analytical style. The integration of different kind of discourses (literature, history, philosophy, etc.).
PHILOSOPHY AFTER AUSCHWITZ Auschwitz – imprinted as the name for all concentration camps - is for philosophers like Arendt and Adorno a breaking point in history. When Arendt heard for the first time about Auschwitz, about Nazis who systematically exterminate innocent people in death camps, she couldn’t believe it: “That was in 1943. And at first we didn’t believe it (…) And then a half-year later we believed it after all, because we had the proof. (..) It was really as if an abyss had opened… This ought not to have happened. And I don’t mean just the number of victims. I mean the method, the fabrication of corpses and so on. (…) Something happened there to which we cannot reconcile ourselves. None of us ever can.” For Arendt the concentration camps were “the most consequential institution of totalitarian rule.”
THE JEWISH QUESTION In many works Arendt reflects on the so-called Jewish question The Jewish question -refers to designate a whole series of shifting, loosely related, historical, cultural, religious, economic, political, and social issues; - is an expression initially gained popularity in the writings of anti-semites; - is related to an underlying anxiety about the fate of the Jewish people in the modern age. Arendt: “I have refused to abandon the Jewish question as the focal point of my historical and political thinking.”
OUTLAWS Outlaws > Jewish parvenu and the Jewish pariah. Rahel Varnhagen: despite her parvenu tendencies and aspirations, she finally affirms herself as a rebel, i.e. a pariah. There is a hidden tradition of the Jew as a pariah. Schlemihl > lord of dreams (a Traumweltherscher as, for example, Heinrich Heine). Conscious pariah > a political response to the situation (for example Bernard Lazare or women who refuse to accept or assimilate to prevailing social relationships).
TOTALITARIANISM Totalitarianism > the totalitarian consciousness and the totalitarian rule are intertwined and penetrate the whole state. Arendt is interested in the origins of totalitarianism. Two types of origins: 1.The socio-psychological constellation > anti-Semitism. 2.The socio-cultural constellation > imperialism.
ANTI-SEMITISM Arendt criticizes clichés about anti-Semitism > the expression of an increased nationalism and Jews as a scapegoat. Anti-Semitism increases just at the nation-states in Europe becomes weaker and there is an emergence of ethnic pan-Slavic and pan-German movements. The Jew is at first place seen as a pariah and not that much as a scapegoat. The totalitarian disaster starts with the decline of the republican nation-state.
IMPERIALISM Imperialism > a mechanism characterized by “expansion for the sake of expansion”, that is related to power and capital. Power is imperialistic because it is uncoupled from the nationstate and directed to a worldwide expansion. Capital is imperialistic because its accumulation will conquer all the pre-capitalist domains in the world. Colonialism is the experimental garden for 1) racist ideologies and 2) bureaucratic forms of domination. Driven by ideologies as pan-Slavism and pan-Germanism totalitarian regimes made out of racism and bureaucracy a destructive force.
EVIL War criminal Adolf Eichmann – who hide himself in Argentina – was in 1960 kidnapped by the secret service of Israel. Arendt wrote a report about the Eichmann trial. Central thesis > evil is not absolute, but banal. Eichmann was an average citizens for whom it was honourable to do what his leaders asked him to do (“Befehl ist Befehl!).
THEORY AND PRACTICE ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ > to show that National Socialism and Stalinism is mainly the product and Anti- Semitism and Imperialism. ‘The Human Condition’ > what kind of action and thinking led to National Socialism and Stalinism? Vita contemplativa > theory. Vita activa > praxis. The philosophical opposition between theory and praxis makes people blind for a more differentiated view on human action. Theory and praxis are intertwined > one should study the vita contemplativa and the vita activa.
A POLITICAL ANIMAL Arendt argues that the separation of the private sphere and the public sphere is a precondition for a modern democracy. Zoon politikon (Aristoteles) > political animal. Social life > is dominated by biological needs. Political life > is of a higher order than the social life. Liberty > manifests itself rather in political life than in social life. Political virtue > to participate as an active citizen in the public sphere.
A CLASSICAL DICHOTOMY PUBLIC SPHEREPRIVATE SPHERE Polis (political activity)Oikos (domestic life) Governmental authority (state) Self-regulation (market, family) Transparent (open)Not transparent (closed)
THREE FORMS OF HUMAN ACTIVITY In order to clarify the specific character of the public sphere, Arendt reflects on human activity. Vita activa comprehends three forms of activity: 1. Labour (ponos; Arbeiten) > biological reproduction. 2. Work (poiesis, technê; Herstellen) > the production of tools and things. 3. Action (praxis; Handeln) > showing your uniqueness via deliberation.
ANIMAL LABORANS Labour is the activity that concerns the human condition of life. Central question: does labour fulfils the biological needs of mankind? In order to secure the maintenance of life labour is a never-ending story. Labour is a kind of bondage, because it is induced by necessity. It refers to consumption and depolitization. Labour belongs to the private sphere, i.e. the oikos.
HOMO FABER Work is the activity that concerns the human condition of worldliness. Central question: does work creates a world that is useful for mankind? It is “the activity which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence, which is not embedded in, and whose mortality is not compensated by, the species’ ever- recurring life-cycle.” Work is the creation of artefacts, i.e. things that are not given in nature. It refers to the establishment of a secunda natura.
ZOON POLITICON Action is the activity that refers to the human condition of plurality. Central question: does an action recognizes the plurality of perspectives and the struggle for freedom? Plurality is a question of identity and difference, “because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.” It presumes the recognition that people judge an act from different perspectives. Via an action mankind realizes its freedom.
NATALITY Freedom is the ability to make a new start. It is rooted in natality > by virtue of being born every individual introduces something that is new in the world. Although labour and work are also related to natality, action implies re-enacting the new beginning of the birth of an individual: “the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity of beginning something anew, that is of acting.”
THE MODERN AGE The modern age is characterized by a political crisis caused by the oppression of action. The ‘animal laborans’ dominates the ‘zoon politicon’ > instrumental reason undermines public deliberation. The oikos becomes more important than the polis. The current reconfiguration of the relation between the public realm and the private realm implies a depolitization. World alienation > the loss of an intersubjectively constituted world of public action that is helpful to figure out what is (for the moment) the truth, what’s one identity and what has to be done. Earth alienation > the attempt of people to escape via modern technology from their earth-bound condition.
THE RIGHTS OF STATELESS MIGRANTS The experience of being an illegal migrant (displaced person or so-called illegal immigrants) is important for the Arendt. The experience of statelessness. The tension between inclusive human rights and the demand for territorial national sovereignty. Human rights were understood to be inalienable, ahistorical universal rights which were to be upheld even against the sovereignty of the state. Problem: how can human rights be guaranteed and protected? Arendt > the most basic right is “the right to have rights (and that means to live in a framework where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions) and a right to belong to some kind of organized community.”
“That the soft water in movement In time will winn from the mighty hard stone You know, the hard will lose.” Bertold Brecht
RECOMMENDED 1.The Human Condition (1958) [translations in several languages]. 2.The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) [translations in several languages]. 3.Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt. For Love of the World (1982) [translations in several languages].