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Hannah Arendt Edit Profile

also known as Johanna Arendt

Social Critic , political philosopher

Hannah Arendt, German author, political scientist. Recipient award National Institute Arts and Letters, 1954; Lessing Preis, Hamburg, 1959; Freud preis Deutsche Akademic fûr Sprache und Dichtung, 1967. Guggenheim fellow, 1952-1953. Rockefeller fellow, 1959-1960, 69-70.

Background

Arendt, Hannah was born on October 14, 1906 in Hannover, Germany. Daughter of Paul and Martha (Cohn) Arendt.

Education

German-bom, she left her highly assimilated family and upper-middle-class home in Hanover to study at universities in Heidelberg, Marburg, and Freiburg (1924-1929). Bachelor of Arts, Königsberg Pr., 1924. Student universities Marburg, Freiburg. Doctor of Philosophy., Heidelberg U. (Germany), 1928.

H.L.D., Bard College, 1959, Goucher College, 1960. Honorary degree Smith College, 1966, York University, Toronto, 1968, Loyola University, Chicago, 1970, Yale, 1971, Princeton, Notre Dame, 1972.

Career

Came to the United States, 1941, naturalized, 1951. Social worker, Paris, France, 1934-1940. Research director Conference on Jewish Relations, 1944-1946.

Chief editor Schocken Books, Inc., 1946-1948. Executive director Jewish Cultural Reconstrn., New York City, 1949-1952. Visiting professor University of California at Berkeley, 1955, Princeton, 1959, Columbia, 1960, others.

Professor University of Chicago, 1963-1967. University professor New School for Social Research, New York City, 1967-1975.

In 1933, she fled from Nazism to Paris, where she worked with Youth Aliya, serving as its French director between 1935 and 1938 and accompanying groups of young Jewish refugees to Palestine.

In 1940, a refugee herself, she was interned in the Gurs concentration camp in France but reached the United States in 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt intervened on behalf of a hundred intellectuals and their families. Having proven herself a scholar of great ability and penetration with her essay, “From Dreyfus to France Today” (1942), she was chosen as the research director of the Conference on Jewish Relations and editor in chief of Schocken Books.

Later, she directed the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (1948-1952) and taught at the University of Chicago and the New School for Social Research in New York.

Her critiques of modernity, read and misread by political scientists, philosophers, historical sociologists, liberals and conservatives alike, embrace both a commitment to the concept of private property and a sympathy for Third World revolution, a resolve to be an active participant in world politics and a penetrating cynicism about the role of the intelligentsia.

Her report on the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), made her a household name in Jewish circles. An acrimonious Jewish intellectual controversy erupted over this work. She was accused of blaming the European Jewish leadership for having failed to save its people from destruction through resistance, of minimizing Eichmann’s crimes and claiming that each individual has a capacity for such evil as his, and of insisting that Israel had no right to try or execute the former Nazi war criminal.

Hans Morgenthau and others defended her publicly and her contacts with the Jewish community resumed slowly. She maintained an active membership on the board of directors of the Conference on Jewish Social Studies until shortly before her death.

Views

Hannah Arendt was a complex and wide-ranging thinker whose work cannot easily be summarized. She was a critic of modern mass society which, with its tendency to atomization, alienation, anomie and diffusion of responsibility, was fertile ground for what she called ‘totalitarianism’, in which individual human life becomes meaningless and freedoms are eroded. To counteract this tendency she advocated the separation of public life from social and economic life.

She looked back to the Greek polis and, to a lesser extent, the early United States of America as models for what public life should be. In these societies individual citizens sought to excel in service to the community, and authority was vested in institutions to which they were committed. Arendt’s ideas have been extensively discussed and they have been widely influential.

Her critics have, however, doubted their philosophical underpinning. One commentator questions her identification of the broad notion of ‘the public’ with the comparatively narrow notion of ‘the political'. Without that identification it is not so clear that political action is as central a part of a proper human life as Arendt maintained.

Quotations: To Scholem’s accusation of her lack of ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people), she reportedly replied, “You are quite right.... I have never in my life loved any people or collective.... Indeed I love ‘only’ my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons.”

Membership

Fellow American Academy Arts and Sciences (Emerson-Thoreau medal 1969). Member American Academy Political Science, American Society Political and Legal Philosophy, National Institute Arts and Letters.

Connections

Married Heinrich Bluecher, 1940 (deceased).

father:
Paul Arendt

mother:
Martha (Cohn) Arendt

spouse:
Heinrich Bluecher