Hannah Arendt

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Hannah Arendt
Hannah arendt-150x150.jpg
Hannah Arendt from a 1988 German stamp
among the Women in German history series
Born (1906-10-14)14 October 1906
Linden, German Empire (present-day Hanover, Germany)
Died 4 December 1975(1975-12-04) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Nationality Prussia (till 1937)
United States (1951)
Alma mater University of Marburg
University of Heidelberg
Website www.hannaharendtcenter.org
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Main interests
Political theory, modernity, philosophy of history
Notable ideas
Homo faber, animal laborans, the labor–work distinction, banality of evil, vita activa and vita contemplativa, praxis as the highest level of the vita activa,[1] auctoritas, natality[2]

Johanna "Hannah" Arendt[3] (/ˈɛərənt/ or /ˈɑrənt/; German: [ˈaːʀənt];[4] 14 October 1906 – 4 December 1975) was a German-born American political theorist. Though often described as a philosopher, she rejected that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular" and instead described herself as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact that "men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world."[5] An assimilated Jew, she escaped Europe during the Holocaust and became an American citizen. Her works deal with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. The Hannah Arendt Prize is named in her honor.

Life and career[edit]

Arendt was born into a secular family of German Jews in Linden (now a part of Hanover), the daughter of Martha (born Cohn) and Paul Arendt.[6] She grew up in Königsberg (renamed Kaliningrad and annexed to the Soviet Union in 1946) and Berlin. At the University of Marburg, she studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger.

According to Hans Jonas, her only German-Jewish classmate, Arendt embarked on a long and highly problematic romantic relationship with Heidegger, for which she later was criticized because of Heidegger's support for the Nazi Party when he was rector at the University of Freiburg.

In the wake of one of their breakups, Arendt moved to Heidelberg, where she wrote her dissertation under the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine. In 1929, in Berlin, she married Günther Stern, later known as Günther Anders. (They divorced in 1937.) The dissertation was published in 1929. Arendt was prevented from qualifying for a professorship because she was Jewish. She researched anti-Semitism for some time before being arrested and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1933.[7]


In 1933, Arendt left Germany for Czechoslovakia and then Geneva, where she worked for some time at the League of Nations before leaving for Paris, where she befriended the Marxist literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, her first husband's cousin. While in France, she worked to support and aid Jewish refugees. In 1937, she was stripped of her German citizenship. In 1940, she married the German poet and Marxist philosopher Heinrich Blücher, a founding member of the KPD who had been expulsed due to his work in the Conciliator faction. Later that year, after the German military occupation of northern France, the Vichy regime began deporting foreign Jews to internment camps in the unoccupied south of France, and she was interned in Camp Gurs as an "enemy alien".

New York[edit]

Like many others Arendt was able to leave Gurs after a few weeks and left France in 1941 with her husband and her mother, traveling via Portugal to the United States. They relied on visas illegally issued by the American diplomat Hiram Bingham, who aided roughly 2,500 Jewish refugees in this way. Varian Fry, another American humanitarian, paid for their travel and helped obtain the visas. Upon arriving in New York, Arendt became active in the German-Jewish community. From 1941 to 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.[8]


After World War II, she returned to Germany and worked for Youth Aliyah, a Zionist organization, which saved thousands of children from the Holocaust and settled them in the British Mandate of Palestine.[9] She became a close friend of Karl Jaspers and his wife, developing a deep intellectual friendship with him.[10] She began corresponding with the American author Mary McCarthy around this time.[11]

In 1950, Arendt became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[12] She served as a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame, University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University, and Northwestern University. In 1959, she was named the first female lecturer at Princeton. She also taught at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1967, where she was a member of the Committee on Social Thought; The New School in Manhattan; Yale University, where she was a fellow; and, the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University (1961–62, 1962–63).[13]

She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962 and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1964.[14][15]

Arendt was instrumental in the creation in 1974 of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford University. She wrote a letter to the president of Stanford University to persuade the university to enact Mark Mancall's vision of a residentially-based humanities program.[16]


Arendt died in New York City on 4 December 1975, at age 69, of a heart attack. She was buried alongside her husband, Heinrich Blücher, at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.


The Origins of Totalitarianism[edit]

Arendt's first major book was titled The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which traced the roots of Stalinism and Nazism in both anti-Semitism and imperialism. The book was opposed by the Left on the grounds that it presented the two movements as equally tyrannical. She further contends that Jewry was not the operative factor in the Holocaust, but merely a convenient proxy. Totalitarianism in Germany was, in the end, about terror and consistency, not eradicating Jews only.

The Human Condition[edit]

Main article: The Human Condition

In what is arguably her most influential work, The Human Condition (1958), Arendt distinguishes between the concepts "political" and "social", and "labor" and "work", and between various forms of action, and then explores the implications of those distinctions. Her theory of political action, corresponding to the existence of a public realm, is extensively developed in this work. Arendt argues that, while human life always evolves within societies, the social-being part of human nature, political life, has been intentionally constructed by only a few of these societies as a space for individuals to achieve freedom through the construction of a common world. These conceptual categories, which attempt to bridge the gap between ontological and sociological structures, are sharply delineated. While Arendt relegates labor and work to the realm of the "social", she favors the human condition of action as the "political" that is both existential and aesthetic.[17]

Men in Dark Times[edit]

Her collection of essays, Men in Dark Times, presents intellectual biographies of some creative and moral figures of the twentieth century, such as Walter Benjamin, Karl Jaspers, Rosa Luxemburg, Hermann Broch, Pope John XXIII, and Isak Dinesen.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil[edit]

Main article: Eichmann in Jerusalem

In her reporting of the 1961 Adolf 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 the phenomenon of Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction. She was sharply critical of the way the trial was conducted in Israel. She also was critical of the way that some Jewish leaders, notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust. This caused a considerable controversy and even animosity toward Arendt in 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 Holocaust. Because of this lingering criticism, neither this book nor any of her other works were translated into Hebrew until 1999.[18]

Arendt ended the book by writing:

Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

On Revolution[edit]

Arendt presents a comparison of two of the main revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. She goes against a common view of both Marxist and leftist views when she argues that France, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success. The turning point in the French Revolution occurred when the leaders rejected their goals of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In America, the Founding Fathers never betray the goal of Constitutio Libertatis. However, Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men had been lost, and advocates a “council system” as an appropriate institution to regain that spirit.

On Violence[edit]

Arendt's essay On Violence distinguishes between violence and power. She maintains that, although theorists of both the Left and Right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Power comes from the collective will and does not need violence to achieve any of its goals, since voluntary compliance takes its place. As governments start losing their legitimacy, violence becomes an artificial means toward the same end and is, therefore, found only in the absence of power. Bureaucracies then become the ideal birthplaces of violence since they are defined as the "rule by no one" against whom to argue and, therefore, recreate the missing links with the people they rule over.

The Life of the Mind[edit]

Her posthumous book, The Life of the Mind (1978, edited by Mary McCarthy), remained incomplete. During Arendt's tenure at the New School in 1974, she presented a graduate level Political Philosophy class entitled, "Philosophy of the Mind." It was during these class lectures, that Arendt crystallized her concepts. The class was based on her working draft of "Philosophy of the Mind," which was later edited to "Life of the Mind." Arendt's working draft of Philosophy of the Mind was distributed to graduate students at the New School during her visiting professorship in 1974. Also, stemming from her Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, her last writing focused on the mental faculties of thinking and willing. In a sense Life of the Mind went 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).

Arendt's critique of human rights[edit]

In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt devotes a lengthy chapter to a critical analysis of human rights. Arendt isn’t skeptical of the notion of political rights in general, but instead defends a national or civil conception of rights.[19] Human rights, or the Rights of Man as they were commonly called, are universal, inalienable and possessed simply in virtue of being human. In contrast, civil rights are possessed in virtue of belonging to a political community, most commonly by being a citizen. Arendt’s primary criticism of human rights is that they are ineffectual and illusory because their enforcement is in tension with national sovereignty.[20] She argued that since there is no political authority above that of sovereign nations, state governments have little incentive to respect human rights when such policies conflict with national interests. This can be seen most clearly by examining the treatment of refugees and other stateless people. Since the refugee has no state to secure their civil rights, the only rights they have to fall back on are human rights. In this way Arendt uses the refugee as a test case for examining human rights in isolation from civil rights.

Arendt’s analysis draws on the refugee upheavals in the first half of the 20th century along with her own experience as a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany. She argued that as state governments began to emphasize national identity as a prerequisite for full legal status, the number of minority resident aliens increased along with the number of stateless persons for whom no state was willing to legally recognize.[21] The two potential solutions to the refugee problem, repatriation and naturalization, both proved incapable of solving the crisis. Arendt argued that repatriation failed to solve the refugee crisis because no government was willing to take them in and claim them as their own. When refugees were forcibly deported to neighboring countries such immigration was deemed illegal by the receiving country, and so failed to change the fundamental status of the migrants as stateless.[22] Attempts at naturalizing and assimilating refugees also had little success.[22] This was primarily due to resistance from both state governments and the majority of citizens, since both tended to see the refugees as undesirables who threatened their national identity. Resistance to naturalization also came from the refugees themselves who resisted assimilation and attempted to maintain their own ethnic and national identities.[23] Arendt contends that neither naturalization nor the tradition of asylum were capable of handling the sheer amount of refugees. Instead of accepting some refugees with legal status, the state often responded by denaturalizing minorities who shared national or ethnic ties with stateless refugees.

Arendt argues that the consistent mistreatment of refugees, most of whom were placed in internment camps, is evidence against the existence of human rights. If the notion of human rights as universal and inalienable is to be taken seriously, they must be realizable given the features of the modern liberal state.[24] Arendt contends that they are not realizable because they are in tension with at least one feature of the liberal state, national sovereignty. One of the primary ways in which a nation exercises sovereignty is through control over national borders. State governments consistently grant their citizens free movement to traverse national borders. In contrast, the movement of refugees is often restricted in the name of national interests.[25] This presents a dilemma for liberalism in that liberal theorists are typically committed to both human rights and the existence of sovereign nations.


In the intended third volume of The Life of Mind, 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 her notion of judging remains unknown, Arendt did leave manuscripts (such as Thinking and Moral Considerations and 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, an assistant of Arendt and a director of the Hannah Arendt Center at The New School in New York, and the last was edited and published by Ronald Beiner, 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 archiving some of the collection digitally, which is available at The Hannah Arendt Collection.[26]

In popular culture[edit]


Selected works[edit]

  • Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin. Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation (1929).
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Revised 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), also in March 2000. 400 pages. ISBN 978-0-8018-6335-6.
  • Die ungarische Revolution und der totalitäre 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, unfinished at her death, Ed. Mary McCarthy, 2 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978). ISBN 0-15-107887-4.
  • Hannah Arendt/Karl Jaspers Correspondence, 1926–1969. 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 reprint edition, September 10, 1983, ISBN 0-300-03099-1. 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 Blücher, 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, 1925–1975, 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 Schöttker and Erdmut Wizisla (2006).
  • The Jewish Writings. Edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman. Schocken Books (2007).
  • Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. Written by Bettina Stangneth. Alfred A. Knopf (2014).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fry, Karin, "Arendt, Hannah" in Women-philosophers.com.
  2. ^ "Arendt" entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Section 4
  3. ^ Kelsey Wood (Pulaski Technical College). "Hannah Arendt bio at Literary Encyclopedia". Litencyc.com. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Arendt". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  5. ^ Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998.
  6. ^ John McGowan (15 December 1997). Hannah Arendt: An Introduction. University of Minnesota Press. 
  7. ^ http://biography.yourdictionary.com/hannah-arendt
  8. ^ Sznaider, Natan (20 October 2006). "Human, citizen, Jew". Haaretz. Retrieved 28 August 2012. 
  9. ^ Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn (1 August 2000). Encyclopedia of women's history in America. Infobase Publishing. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Arendt, Hannah; Jaspers, Karl (1992). Correspondence 1926-1969. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-107887-4. 
  11. ^ Arendt, Hannah; McCarthy, Mary (1995). Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975. Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-20251-4. 
  12. ^ Pfeffer, Anshel (9 May 2008). "Dear Hannah". Haaretz. Retrieved 28 August 2012. 
  13. ^ Guide to the Center for Advanced Studies Records, 1958–1969 at Wesleyan University
  14. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Deceased Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  16. ^ Bird, David (6 December 1975). "Hannah Arendt, Political Scientist, Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2008. 
  17. ^ "Arendt" entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Section 3
  18. ^ Elon, Amos. Introduction. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. By Hannah Arendt. New York: Penguin, 2006, xxi.
  19. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1973-03-21). The Origins of Totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 389. ISBN 0547543158. 
  20. ^ Lamey, Andy (2011-04-05). Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What To Do About It. Doubleday Canada. pp. 17–19. ISBN 9780307367921. 
  21. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1973-03-21). The Origins of Totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 379–81. ISBN 0547543158. 
  22. ^ a b Arendt, Hannah (1973-03-21). The Origins of Totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 378–84. ISBN 0547543158. 
  23. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1973-03-21). The Origins of Totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 379. ISBN 0547543158. 
  24. ^ Lamey, Andy (2011-04-05). Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What To Do About It. Doubleday Canada. pp. 27–29. ISBN 9780307367921. 
  25. ^ Lamey, Andy (2011-04-05). Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What To Do About It. Doubleday Canada. pp. 239–40. ISBN 9780307367921. 
  26. ^ "Hannah Arendt Collection at Stevenson Library, Bard College". Bard.edu. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  27. ^ Yo-Yo Boing!, Introduction by Doris Sommer, Harvard University. Latin American Literary Review Press. 1998. ISBN 0-935480-97-8. 
  28. ^ Shenhav, Yehouda (3 May 2007). "All aboard the Arendt express". Haaretz. Retrieved 28 August 2012. 
  29. ^ "Hannah Arendt Gymnasium, Haßloch". Hagh.bildung-rp.de. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  30. ^ "Hannah Arendt Gymnasium, Barsinghausen" (in German). Han-nah.de. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  31. ^ "Hannah Arendt Gymnasium, Lengerich" (in German). Hag-lengerich.de. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  32. ^ "Hannah Arendt Gymnasium, Berlin" (in German). Hag-berlin.net. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  33. ^ Kasper Heinrich: Fotografien von Fred Stein: Der Poet mit der Kleinbildkamera. Der Spiegel 11/19, 2013
  34. ^ [1]
  35. ^ http://www.franceculture.fr/emission-contre-histoire-de-la-philosophie-saison-12-la-pensee-post-nazie

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Works about Arendt: