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Johanna "Hannah" Arendt (/ˈɛərənt, ˈɑːrənt/; German: [ˈaːʁənt];[9] (Hannah Arendt Bluecher) 14 October 1906 – 4 December 1975) was a German-born American philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology, had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.

Hannah Arendt
Portrait of Hannah Arendt, 1949 by Fred Stein
Hannah Arendt, 1949
by Fred Stein
Born (1906-10-14)14 October 1906
Linden, Prussian Hanover, German Empire
Died 4 December 1975(1975-12-04) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Resting place Bard College, New York
Other names
  • Johanna Cohn Arendt
  • Hannah Arendt Bluecher
Parent(s) Paul Arendt, Martha Cohn

Philosophy career
Alma mater
Notable work
Era Twentieth-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Doctoral advisor Karl Jaspers[5]
Main interests
Political theory, modernity, philosophy of history
Notable ideas
Signature of Hannah Bluecher-Arendt.png

Arendt was born in Hanover, but largely raised in Königsberg in a secular merchant Jewish culture. Her parents were social democrats, but her father died when she was only seven. After completing her secondary education she studied at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a brief affair, but who had a lasting influence on her thinking. She obtained her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 at the University of Heidelberg with Karl Jaspers. That year she married Günther Stern, but soon began to encounter increasing antisemitism in 1930s Germany. Hitler came to power in 1933, and while researching antisemitic propaganda for the Zionist Federation of Germany in Berlin that year, was denounced and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. On release she fled Germany, living in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before settling in Paris. There she worked for Youth Aliyah, assisting young Jews to emigrate to Palestine. Divorcing Stern in 1927, she married Heinrich Blücher in 1940, but when Germany invaded France in 1940 she was detained as an alien, despite having being stripped of her German citizenship in 1937. She escaped and made her way to the United States in 1941 via Portugal. She settled in New York, which remained her principle residence for the rest of her life, becoming a writer and editor and working for the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, becoming an American citizen in 1950. With the appearance of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, her reputation as a thinker and writer was established and a series of seminal works followed. She taught at many American universities, while declining tenure-track appointments. She died suddenly from a heart attack in 1975, at the age of 69, leaving her last work, The Life of the Mind unfinished.

Her works deal cover a broad range of topics, but are best known for those dealing with the nature of power and evil and the subjects of politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. In the popular mind she is best remembered for the controversy surrounding the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and her attempt to explain how ordinary people become actors in totalitarian systems, which was considered an apologia, and the phrase "the banality of evil". She is commemorated by institutions and journals devoted to her thinking, the Hannah Arendt Prize for political thinking, and on stamps, street names and schools, amongst other things.


Early life and education (1906–1929)Edit

Family of originEdit

The Arendt Family
Hannah Arendt with her grandfather, Max in 1907
Hannah with her mother in 1912
Hannah as a schoolgirl, studying in the family library in 1920

Hannah Arendt was born Johanna Cohn Arendt[10][11] in 1906 into a comfortable educated secular family of German Jews in Linden, Prussia (now a part of Hanover), in Wilhelmine Germany. The family were merchants of Russian extraction from Königsberg,[a] the East Prussian capital. There, Hannah's paternal grandfather, Max Arendt (1843–1913), was a prominent business man and local politician.[12] Of his children, Henriette Arendt (1874–1922) was a policewoman who became a social worker,[13] and Paul Arendt (1873–1913) an engineer. Hannah was the only child of Paul and Martha (born Cohn) (1874–1948) Arendt ,[14] who had married on April 11, 1902.[15][16] Martha Arendt was a musician and the couple were social democrats.[10] Paul Arendt was employed by an electrical engineering firm in Linden, and they lived in a frame house on the market square (Marktplatz).[17] The family moved back to Königsberg in 1909, because of her father's deteriorating health.[18][6] Her father suffered from a prolonged illness with syphilis and had to be institutionalised in 1911, dying on October 30 1913 when Hannah was only seven, leaving her mother to raise her.[15][19] There they lived at Hannah’s grandfather’s house at Tiergartenstrasse 6, a leafy residential street adjacent to the Königsberg Tiergarten.

This was a particularly favourable period for the Jewish commmunity in Königsberg.[20] Arendt's family was thoroughly assimilated ("Germanized")[21] and she later remembered: "With us from Germany, the word 'assimilation' received a 'deep' philosophical meaning. You can hardly realize how serious we were about it."[22] Arendt came to define her Jewish identity negatively after encountering antisemitism as an adult.[22] She came to greatly identify with Rahel Varnhagen, the eighteenth-century Prussian socialite[19] who desperately wanted to assimilate into German culture, only to be rejected because she was born Jewish.[22] Arendt later said of Varnhagen that she was "my very closest woman friend, unfortunately dead a hundred years now."[22] After the First World War, her mother became a follower of Rosa Luxembourg, whose writings would influence Hannah. In 1920 Martha Cohn married Martin Beerwald, an ironmonger and widower, and they moved to his home on Busoldstrasse, providing Hannah with a more secure home. Hannah was fourteen and acquired two older stepsisters, Clara (20) and Eva (19).[23]


Hufen-Oberlyzeum ca. 1923
Königin-Luise-Schule in Königsberg ca. 1914

Hannah Arendt enrolled in the Szittnich School, Königsberg on Bahnstraße in August 1913, but her studies there were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, forcing the family to temporarily flee to Berlin on August 23, 1914, in the face of the advancing Russian army.[24] There they stayed with her mother's sister, Margarethe Fuerst and her three children. and Hannah attended school in Berlin-Charlottenburg.[25] When Königsberg appeared to be no longer threatened, they returned, spending the remaining war years there at her grandfather's (Max Arendt) house. Arendt was a precocious child, who started a philosophy club at her school and who, by the age of 14, had already read Kierkegaard, Jaspers' Psychologie der Weltanschauungen and Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason). Kant, whose home town was also Königsberg, was an important influence in her thinking. She attended the Königin-Luise-Schule for her secondary education, a girl's gymnasium on Landhofmeisterstraße.[26]

Her education at the Luise-Schule ended in 1923 when she was expelled for boycotting a teacher. Instead her mother arranged for her to audit classes at the University of Berlin, including classics and Christian theology under Romano Guardini enabling her to successfully sit the entrance examination (Abitur) for the University of Marburg, where she enrolled in 1924.[27] There she studied classical languages, German literature and philosophy with Martin Heidegger.[28] According to Hans Jonas, her only German-Jewish classmate, in her year at the university, Arendt began a long and problematic romantic relationship with Heidegger,[29] who was married and for which she was later criticized because of his support for the Nazi Party while he was rector at the University of Freiburg. Nevertheless, he remained one of her most profound influences on her thinking.[30] After a year at Marburg, Arendt spent a semester at Freiburg University, attending the lectures of Edmund Husserl.[8] In 1926 she moved to the University of Heidelberg, where in 1929, she completed her dissertation under the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers. Her thesis was entitled Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin: Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation ("On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine: Attempt at a philosophical interpretation").[31] She remained a lifelong friend of Jaspers and his wife, developing a deep intellectual relationship with him.[32]

Early homes
Hannah Arendt's birthplace in Linden
Tiergartenstrasse, Königsberg 1920s
The house in Marburg


Günther Stern and Hannah Arendt in 1929

In 1929, in Berlin, the year her dissertation was published, she married Günther Stern (who wrote using the nom-de-plume Günther Anders).[19] In 1932, Arendt was deeply troubled by reports that Heidegger was speaking at National Socialist meetings. She wrote, asking him to deny that he was attracted to National Socialism. Heidegger replied that he did not seek to deny the rumors (which were true), and merely assured her that his feelings for her were unchanged.[22] As a Jew in Nazi Germany, Arendt was prevented from making a living and discriminated against. She researched antisemitism for some time, joining Kurt Blumenfeld's Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland (Zionist Federation of Germany). Her research led to her being denounced by a librarian for anti-state propaganda and arrest by the Gestapo, serving eight days in prison, but being released after befriending a jailer.[19][28][33]

Paris (1933–1941)Edit

On release, realising the danger she was in, Arendt fled Germany[19] to Prague and then Geneva, where she worked for some time at the League of Nations. Then, in Paris, she befriended her first husband's cousin, the Marxist literary critic and philosopher, Walter Benjamin. In France, she worked for Youth Aliyah, a Zionist organisation affiliated with Hadassah, that helped young Jewish orphans[34] emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine as agricultural workers, saving many from the holocaust,[35][36][19] and becoming Secretary-General (1935–1939).[11] Her work with Youth Aliyah involved finding the orphans food, clothing and education, social workers and lawyers, but above all, fund raising.[28] With the Nazi annexation of Austria and invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Paris was flooded with refugees, and she became the special agent for the rescue of the children from those countries.[11]

In Paris, she also met the German poet and Marxist philosopher, Heinrich Blücher (1899–1970), in 1936.[19][37] Blücher had been a founding member of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party: KPD) who had been expelled due to his work in the Conciliator faction. In 1937, she was stripped of her German citizenship and she and Günther Stern divorced that year. In 1940, she and Blücher married following his divorce. In May that year, after the German Invasion of France, Arendt and Blücher were interned as "enemy aliens", but separately. Arendt was laced in Camp Gurs, in south-west France but she managed to escape before the Germans reached the area.[38] In Paris, she completed her biography of Rahel Varnhagen,[39] in 1938[40][41] although this was not published till 1958.[42][19]

New YorkEdit

Arendt 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, writing on anti-semitism, refugees and the need for a Jewish army. She also wrote for other German emigré publications. She was also an editor at Schocken Books, which published a number of her works.[19] Beginning in 1944, she was the director of research and Executive Director for the Commission of European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, and in that capacity traveled to Europe after the war.[43][44][45] Together with her husband, she lived at 370 Riverside Drive in New York and at Kingston, New York, where Blücher taught at nearby Bard College for many years.[19][46]


Hannah Arendt with Heinrich Blücher, New York 1950

In the 1950s Arendt wrote some of her most important works, including The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951),[47] The Human Condition (1958)[48] and On Revolution (1963).[49][19] Arendt began corresponding with the American author Mary McCarthy in 1950, six years her junior, and they became life long friends.[50][51] In 1950, Arendt also became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[52] The same year, she started seeing Martin Heidegger again, and had what the American writer Adam Kirsch called a "quasi-romance," that lasted for two years, with the man who had previously been her mentor, teacher, and lover.[22] During this time, Arendt defended him against critics who noted his enthusiastic membership in the Nazi party. She portrayed Heidegger as a naïve man swept up by forces beyond his control, and pointed out that Heidegger's philosophy had nothing to do with National Socialism.[22]


Hannah Arendt lecturing in Germany, 1955

Arendt taught at many institutions of higher learning, but preserving her independence, consistently refused tenure-track positions. She served as a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame, University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University (where she was the first woman to be appointed a full professor in 1959), and Northwestern University. 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 where she taught as a university professor from 1967 until her death in 1975; Yale University, where she was a fellow, as well as the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University (1961–62, 1962–63).[19][53] She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962[54] and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1964.[55] At the time of her death, she was University Professor of Political Philosophy at the New School.[46]

In 1974, Arendt was instrumental in the creation of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford University. She wrote a letter to the president of Stanford to persuade the university to enact Mark Mancall's vision of a residentially-based humanities program.[46]


In addition to her affair with Heidegger, and her two marriages, Hannah Arendt had a number of close friendships. She always had a beste Freundin. In her teens she formed a lifelong relationship with Anne Mendelssohn Weil (Annchen).[b] On emigrating to America, Hilde Frankel, Paul Tillich's secretary and mistress, filled that role till her death in 1950. After the war Arendt was able to return to Germany and renew her relationship with Anne. With Hilde's death, Mary McCarthy became her closest friend and confidante. Another friend was the German philologist Ernst Grumach, whom she had met when he was Anne's boyfriend.[56][57][58].

Final illness and deathEdit

Hannah Arendt's grave at Bard College Cemetery, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

While Heinrich Blücher had survived a cerebral aneurysm in 1961, he remained unwell after 1963, sustaining a series of heart attacks but on October 31, 1970 he died of a massive heart attack, leaving Arendt alone. She had previously told Mary McCarthy "Life without him would be unthinkable".[59] Hannah Arendt was also a heavy smoker and was frequently depicted with a cigarette in her hand. She sustained a near fatal heart attack while lecturing in Scotland in May 1974 and although she recovered she remained in poor health afterwards, and continued to smoke.[60] On the evening of December 4 1975, shortly after her 69th birthday, she had a further heart attack in her apartment while entertaining friends, and was pronounced dead at the scene.[61] She was buried alongside Blücher at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.[46]


Arendt wrote works on intellectual history as a philosopher, using events and actions to develop insights into contemporary totalitarian movements and the threat to human freedom presented by scientific abstraction and bourgeois morality. In addition to her major texts she published a number of anthologies, including Between Past and Future (1961),[62] Men in Dark Times (1968)[63] and Crises of the Republic (1972).[64] She also contributed to many publications, including The New York Review of Books, Commonweal, Dissent and The New Yorker.[19] She is perhaps best known for her accounts of Adolf Eichmann and his trial,[65] because of the intense controversy that it generated.

Political theory and philosophical systemEdit

While Arendt never developed a coherent political theory and her writing does not easily lend itself to categorization, the tradition of thought most closely identified with Arendt is that of civic republicanism, from Aristotle to Toqueville. Her political concept is centered around active citizenship which emphasizes civic engagement and collective deliberation.[8] She believed that no matter how bad, government could never succeed in extinguishing human freedom, despite observing how modern societies frequently retreat from democratic freedom with its inherent disorder for the relative comfort of administrative bureaucracy. Her political legacy is her powerful defense of freedom in the face of an increasingly less than free world.[19] Nor does she adhere to a single systematic philosophy, but rather spans a range of subjects covering totalitarianism, revolution, the nature of freedom and the faculties of thought and judgment.[6]

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)Edit

Arendt's first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951),[47] examined the roots of Communism and Nazism. In it, Arendt argues that totalitarianism was a "novel form of government," different from other forms of tyranny in that it applied terror to subjugate mass populations rather than just political adversaries.[66] The book was opposed by some on 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. That totalitarianism in Germany was, in the end, about terror and consistency, not eradicating Jews only.

A second, enlarged edition was published in 1958, and contains a chapter (14) dealing with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, entitled Epilogue: Reflections on the Hungarian Revolution. Subsequent editions omitted this chapter, which was published separately in English (Totalitarian Imperialism: Reflections on the Hungarian Revolution)[67] and German (Die ungarische Revolution und der totalitäre Imperialismus)[68] in 1958.[69]

The Human Condition (1958)Edit

In what is arguably her most influential work, The Human Condition (1958),[48] Arendt differentiates political and social concepts, labor and work, and various forms of actions; she 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 part of human nature, political life, has been intentionally realized in only a few societies as a space for individuals to achieve freedom. 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 that which is both existential and aesthetic.[8]

Between Past and Future (1961)Edit

Between Past and Future is an anthology of six essays written between 1954 and 1961, and later expanded, and deals with a variety of different philosophical subjects including freedom, education, authority, tradition, history and politics. The essays share the central idea that humans are living between the past and the uncertain future. They must permanently think to exist, and each man is required to learn thinking. For a long time humans have resorted to tradition, but in modern times, this tradition has been abandoned, there is no more respect for tradition and culture. In these essays, Arendt tries to find solutions to help humans think again today. According to her, there is no way to live again with tradition, and modern philosophy has not succeeded in helping humans to live correctly.[62]

On Revolution (1963)Edit

Arendt's book On Revolution[49] 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 the United States, the founders never betray the goal of Constitutio Libertatis. Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men had been lost, however, and advocates a "council system" as an appropriate institution to regain that spirit.

Men in Dark Times (1968)Edit

The anthology 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.[63]

Crises of the Republic (1972)Edit

Crises of the Republic was the third of Arendt's anthologies, and as the subtitle Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience, On Violence, Thoughts on Politics and Revolution indicates, consists of four interconnected essays on contemporary American politics and the crises it faced in the 1960s and 1970s. The first essay, Lying in Politics looks for an explanation behind the administration's deception regarding the Vietnam War, as revealed in the Pentagon Papers. Civil Disobedience examines the opposition movements, while the final Thoughts on Politics and Revolution is a commentary, in the form of an interview on the third essay, On Violence.[64][70]

On ViolenceEdit

On Violence, the third of these essays, distinguishes between violence and power. Arendt 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.

Posthumous publicationsEdit

The Life of the Mind (1978)Edit

Hannah Arendt in 1975, just before her death

Arendt's last major work, The Life of the Mind[71] remained incomplete at the time of her death. 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. She conceived of a trilogy based on the mental activities of thinking, willing, and judging. Stemming from her 1974 Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, her last writing focused on the first two. 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 oneself. This appropriation of Socrates leads her to introduce novel concepts of conscience—an enterprise that gives no positive prescriptions, but instead, tells one 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 forbidding participation in certain actions for the sake of remaining friends with oneself. She died suddenly five days after completing the second part, with first page of Judging, still in her typewriter. The task then fell to McCarthy to edit he first two parts and provide some indication of the direction of the third.[72][73]

Although Arendt's exact intentions in the third part are unknown, she 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 the mental faculty of Judging. The first two articles were edited and published in an anthology (Responsibility and Judgement) by Jerome Kohn, one of Arendt's assistants and a director of the Hannah Arendt Center at The New School in New York, in 2003.[74] The last was edited and published by Ronald Beiner, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, in 1982.[75]

Collected worksEdit

After Hannah Arendt's death a number of her essays and notes have continued to be edited and published posthumously by friends and colleagues, including those that give some insight into the unfinished third part of The Life of the Mind. The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age (1978),[76] is a collection of 15 essays and letters from the period 1943–1966 on the situation of Jews in modern times, to try and throw some light on her views on the Jewish world, following the backlash to Eichmann, but proved to be equally polarising.[77][78] A further collection of her writings on being Jewish was published as The Jewish Writings (2007).[79][80] Other work includes the collection of forty, largely fugitive,[c] essays, addresses, and reviews entitled Essays in Understanding 1930–1934: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism. (1994),[81] that presaged her monumental The Origins of Totalitarianism,[47] in particular On the Nature of Totalitarianism (1953) and The Concern with Politics in Contemporary European Philosophical Thought (1954).[82]

Some further insight into her thinking is provided in the posthumous publication of her correspondence with Karl Jaspers (1992),[32] Mary McCarthy (1995),[51] Heinrich Blücher (1996),[83] Martin Heidegger (2004),[84] and Walter Benjamin (2006). [85]

Arendt and the Eichmann trial (1961–1963)Edit

On hearing of Adolf Eichmann's capture and plans for his trial, Hannah Arendt contacted The New Yorker and offered to travel to Israel to cover it. The offer was accepted and in her subsequent reporting of the 1961 trial in 1963,[86] which evolved into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963),[65] Arendt was critical of the way the trial was conducted in Israel and coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the phenomenon of Eichmann. She examined 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. Arendt's argument was that Eichmann was not a monster, contrasting the immensity of his actions with the very ordinariness of the man himself. Eichmann, she stated, not only called himself a Zionist, having initially opposed the Jewish persecution, but also expected his captors to understand him. She pointed out that his actions were not driven by malice, but rather blind dedication to the regime and his need to belong, to be a joiner. In his own words "I sensed I would have to live a leaderless and difficult individual life, I would receive no directives from anybody, no orders and commands would any longer be issued to me, no pertinent ordinances would be there to consult—in brief, a life never known before lay ahead of me".[86] What Arendt observed, during the trial was a bourgeois sales clerk, who found a meaningful role for himself and a sense of importance in the Nazi movement. She noted that his addiction to clichés and use of bureaucratic morality clouded his ability to question his actions, "to think". This led her to set out her most famous, and most debated, dictum “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”[86][19]

Arendt was also critical of the way that some Jewish leaders, notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust, which she described as a moral catastrophe. While her argument was not to allocate blame, rather she mourns what she considered a moral failure of compromising the imperative that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. She describes the cooperation of the Jewish leaders in terms of a disintegration of Jewish morality "this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter in the whole dark story". Widely, misunderstood, this caused an even greater controversy and particularly animosity toward her in the Jewish community and in Israel.[19]

Arendt was profoundly shocked by the response, writing to Karl Jaspers "People are resorting to any means to destroy my reputation...They have spent weeks trying to find something in my past that they can hang on me". Her critics included The Anti-Defamation League and many other Jewish groups, editors of publications she was a contributor to, faculty at the universities she taught at and friends from all parts of her life.[87] 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.[88] Arendt responded to the controversies in the book's Postscript;

The controversy began by calling attention to the conduct of the Jewish people during the years of the Final Solution, thus following up the question, first raised by the Israeli prosecutor, of whether the Jews could or should have defended themselves. I had dismissed that question as silly and cruel, since it testified to a fatal ignorance of the conditions at the time. It has now been discussed to exhaustion, and the most amazing conclusions have been drawn. The well-known historico-sociological construct of "ghetto mentality"… has been repeatedly dragged in to explain behavior which was not at all confined to the Jewish people and which therefore cannot be explained by specifically Jewish factors… This was the unexpected conclusion certain reviewers chose to draw from the "image" of a book, created by certain interest groups, in which I allegedly had claimed that the Jews had murdered themselves.[89]

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.

Prior to Arendt's depiction of Eichmann, the popular image had been, as the New York Times put it "the most evil monster of humanity".[90] Rejections of Arendt's characterization of Eichmann[91] and allegations of racism against her have persisted ever since.[92] Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard, states that Arendt neither defended Eichmann, nor denied that his actions were evil and that he was an anti-semite, nor that he should be executed for his actions. But rather that we should understand that those actions were neither monstrous, nor sadistic. In understanding Eichmann, she argues, we come to understand a greater truth about the nature of evil, that individuals participate in atrocities from an inability to critically examine blind allegiance to ideologies that provide a sense of meaning in a lonely and alienating world. Thus, she concludes, thoughtless zealotry is the face of evil in the modern world.[19]

Selected publicationsEdit



Articles and essaysEdit





In 1961 while covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt wrote to Jaspers a letter that Adam Kirsch described as reflecting "pure racism" toward Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. She wrote:

On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.[22]

Although Arendt remained a Zionist both during and after World War II, she made it clear that she favored the creation of a Jewish-Arab federated state in Palestine, rather than a purely Jewish state. She believed that this was a way to address Jewish statelessness and to avoid the pitfalls of nationalism.[93][80]

It was not just Arendt's analysis of the Eichmann trial that drew accusations of racism. In her 1958 essay in Dissent entitled Reflections on Little Rock[94] she expressed opposition to desegregation following the 1957 Little Rock Integration Crisis in Arkansas. As she explains in the preface, for a long time the magazine was reluctant to print her contribution, so far did it appear to differ from the publication's liberal values. Eventually it was printed alongside critical responses. Later the New Yorker would express similar hesitancy over the Eichmann papers. So vehement was the response, that Arendt felt obliged to defend herself in a sequel.[95] The debate over this essay has continued since.[96] William Simmons devotes a whole section of his 2011 text on human rights (Human Rights Law and the Marginalized Other)[97] to a critique of Arendt's position and in particular on Little Rock.[98] While a number of critics feel she was fundamentally racist,[99] many of those who have defended Arendt's position have pointed out that her concerns were for the welfare of the children, a lifelong concern of hers. She felt that the children were being subjected to trauma in order to serve a broader political strategy of forcible integration.[100] While over time Arendt conceded some ground to her critics, namely that she argued as an outsider, she remained committed to her central critique that children should not be thrust into the frontlines of geopolitical conflict.[101]

Critique of human rightsEdit

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.[102] Human rights, or the Rights of Man as they were commonly called, are universal, inalienable, and possessed simply by virtue of being human. In contrast, civil rights are possessed by 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.[103] 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 twentieth 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 whom no state was willing to recognize legally.[104] 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. Attempts at naturalizing and assimilating refugees also had little success. This failure was primarily the result of 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.[105] Arendt contends that neither naturalization nor the tradition of asylum was capable of handling the sheer number 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, the rights must be realizable given the features of the modern liberal state.[106] 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.[107] This restriction presents a dilemma for liberalism because liberal theorists typically are committed to both human rights and the existence of sovereign nations.

In popular cultureEdit

The affair between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger is depicted in the novel Martin and Hannah (2001) by Catherine Clément.[108]


Hannah Arendt is widely considered one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century.[8] As a political theorist, moral philosopher and polemicist, she is unmatched in both range and rigor.[109] In her will she established the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust as the custodian of her writings and photographs.[110] 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.[111] Her life and work is recognized by the institutions most closely associated with her teaching, by the creation of Hannah Arendt Centers at both Bard (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities)[112] and The New School,[113] both in New York State. In Germany, her contributions to understanding authoritarianism is recognised by the Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung (Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism) in Dresden, and her political thinking by the Hannah-Arendt-Preis für politisches Denken (Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking) established in 1995. In 2017 a journal, Arendt Studies, was launched to publish articles related to the study of the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt.[114] Arendt's life remains part of current culture and thought. In 2012 the German film, Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta was released. The film, with Barbara Sukowa in the title role, depicted the controversy over Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial and subsequent book[65], in which she was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.[115][116] In 2016, the filmmaker Ada Ushpiz produced a documentary on Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.[117] The New York Times designated it a NYT's critics pick.[109] Since the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, some journals are resurrecting her ideas to help make sense of the current situation.[118][119]

Of the many photographic portraits of Arendt, that taken in 1944 by Fred Stein (see image), whose work she greatly admired,[e] has become iconic, and has been described as better known than the photographer himself,[121] having appeared on a German postage stamp.(see image) Among organizations that have recognized Arendt's contributions to civilization and human rights, is the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).[122]


Hannah-Arendt Straße in Berlin

Many of the houses in which Hannah Arendt lived, bear commemorative plaques and her birth town of Linden, Hannover celebrates her name in a variety of ways. The city library has a Hannah Arendt Room, exhibiting her personal possessions. Her house bears a plaque, two schools and a road (Hannah-Arendt-Weg) near the town hall are named after her, as is the square in front of the state parliament (Hannah-Arendt-Platz). There is a Hannah Arendt Fellowship and a Hannah Arendt Chair at the Helene-Lange-Schule, while Hannover celebrates Hannah Arendt Days (Hannah Arendt Tagen).[123]

Hannah Arendt has been honoured by the use of her name in many contexts, including:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ After World War II Königsberg became Kaliningrad, Russia
  2. ^ Anne Mendelssohn Weil: Descendent of Felix Mendelssohn
  3. ^ Fugitive writings: Dealing with subjects of passing interest
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ Arendt wrote to Stein "It is my honest opinion that you are one of the best portrait photographers of the present day"[120]


  1. ^ Allen 1982.
  2. ^ Bowen-Moore 1989, p. 119.
  3. ^ Kristeva 2001, p. 48.
  4. ^ Lovett 2018.
  5. ^ Grunenberg 2017, p. 3.
  6. ^ a b c Yar 2018.
  7. ^ Fry 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d e d'Entreves 2014.
  9. ^ Collins 2012.
  10. ^ a b Wood 2004.
  11. ^ a b c LoC 2001.
  12. ^ Heller 2015, pp. 33–34.
  13. ^ Riepl-Schmidt 2005.
  14. ^ Geni 2018.
  15. ^ a b Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 17.
  16. ^ McGowan 1998.
  17. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 13.
  18. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 5.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Berkowitz 2013.
  20. ^ Schuler-Springorum 1999.
  21. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 7.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirsch 2009.
  23. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 28.
  24. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 21.
  25. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 1.
  26. ^ Heller 2015a.
  27. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 34.
  28. ^ a b c Maier-Katkin 2010.
  29. ^ Grunenberg 2017.
  30. ^ Maier-Katkin 2010a.
  31. ^ Arendt 1929.
  32. ^ a b Arendt & Jaspers 1992.
  33. ^ EWB 2010.
  34. ^ Cullen-DuPont 2014, pp 16–17.
  35. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, pp. 137–139.
  36. ^ Whitfield 1998.
  37. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 139.
  38. ^ Vowinckel 2004, p. 38.
  39. ^ Arendt 1997.
  40. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 91.
  41. ^ Azria 1987.
  42. ^ Zohn 1960.
  43. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 188.
  44. ^ Swift 2008, p. 12.
  45. ^ Sznaider 2006.
  46. ^ a b c d Bird 1975.
  47. ^ a b c Arendt 1976.
  48. ^ a b Arendt 2013.
  49. ^ a b Arendt 2006.
  50. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. xii.
  51. ^ a b Arendt & McCarthy 1995.
  52. ^ Pfeffer 2008.
  53. ^ CAS 2011.
  54. ^ AAAS 2018.
  55. ^ AAAL 2018.
  56. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004.
  57. ^ Jones 2013.
  58. ^ Weigel 2013.
  59. ^ Heller 2015, p. 109.
  60. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, pp. 459.
  61. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, pp. 468.
  62. ^ a b Arendt 1961.
  63. ^ a b Arendt 1968.
  64. ^ a b Arendt 1972.
  65. ^ a b c Arendt 2006a.
  66. ^ FCG 2018, Introduction.
  67. ^ Arendt 1958.
  68. ^ Arendt 1958a.
  69. ^ Szécsényi 2005.
  70. ^ Nott 1972.
  71. ^ Arendt 1978a.
  72. ^ Young-Bruehl 2004, p. 467.
  73. ^ Mckenna 1978.
  74. ^ Arendt 2009.
  75. ^ Arendt 1992.
  76. ^ Arendt 1978b.
  77. ^ Dannhauser 1979.
  78. ^ Botstein 1983.
  79. ^ Arendt 2009a.
  80. ^ a b Butler 2007.
  81. ^ Arendt 2011.
  82. ^ Teichman 1994.
  83. ^ Arendt & Blücher 2000.
  84. ^ Arendt & Heidegger 2004.
  85. ^ Arendt & Benjamin 2006.
  86. ^ a b c Arendt 1963.
  87. ^ Heller 2015, p. 1.
  88. ^ Elon 2006a.
  89. ^ Arendt 2006a, pp. 283–284.
  90. ^ NYT 1960.
  91. ^ Walters 2015.
  92. ^ Frantzman 2016.
  93. ^ Seliger 2011.
  94. ^ Arendt 1959.
  95. ^ Arendt 1959a.
  96. ^ Morey 2011.
  97. ^ Simmons 2011.
  98. ^ Simmons 2011a.
  99. ^ Burroughs 2015.
  100. ^ Lebeau 2016.
  101. ^ Pickett 2009.
  102. ^ Arendt 1976, p. 389.
  103. ^ Lamey 2011, pp. 17–19.
  104. ^ Arendt 1976, p. 379–381.
  105. ^ Arendt 1976, p. 378–384.
  106. ^ Lamey 2011, pp. 27–29.
  107. ^ Lamey 2011, pp. 239–240.
  108. ^ Clément 2001.
  109. ^ a b Scott 2016.
  110. ^ Kohn 2018.
  111. ^ Bard 2018.
  112. ^ HAC Bard 2018.
  113. ^ Bernstein 2017.
  114. ^ Barry 2017.
  115. ^ BBFC 2018.
  116. ^ IMDb 2012.
  117. ^ Zeitgeist 2015.
  118. ^ Williams 2017.
  119. ^ Grenier 2017.
  120. ^ AIE 2018.
  121. ^ Heinrich 2013.
  122. ^ UNHCR 2017.
  123. ^ Hannover 2017.
  124. ^ Shenhav 2007.
  125. ^ Geohack 2018.
  126. ^ HAGH 2018.
  127. ^ HAGB 2018.
  128. ^ HAGL 2018.
  129. ^ HAG Berlin 2018.
  130. ^ Doodle 2014.
  131. ^ Onfray 2014.


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Chapters and contributionsEdit

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Institutions and organizationsEdit

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