Hannah Arendt

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
(Redirected from Arendt)
Jump to: navigation, search

Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975) was a German political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she always refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact that "men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world."


Arendt was born of secular Jewish parents in the then- independent city of Linden in Lower Saxony (which is now part of Hanover) and was raised in Königsberg (the hometown of her admired precursor Immanuel Kant) and Berlin.

She studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger at the University of Marburg, and had a long, sporadic romantic relationship with him, something that has been criticised because of his Nazi sympathies.

During one of their breakups, Arendt moved to Heidelberg to write a dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine, under the direction of the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers.

The dissertation was published in 1929, but Arendt was prevented from habilitating (and thus from teaching in German universities) in 1933 because she was Jewish, and thereupon fled Germany for Paris, where she met and befriended the literary critic and Marxist mystic Walter Benjamin. While in France, Arendt worked to support and aid Jewish refugees.

However, with the German military occupation of parts of France following the French declaration of war during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to concentration camps, Arendt had to flee from France. In 1940, she married the German poet and philosopher Heinrich Blücher.

In 1941, Arendt escaped with her husband and her mother to the United States with the assistance of the American diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, who illegally issued visas to her and around 2500 other Jewish refugees. She then became active in the German-Jewish community in New York and wrote for the weekly Aufbau.

After World War II she resumed relations with Heidegger, and testified on his behalf in a German denazification hearing. In 1950, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and in 1959 became the first woman appointed a full professorship at Princeton. She also taught at The New School in New York City and served as a visiting scholar on The Committee of Social Thought at The University of Chicago.

On her death at age 69 in 1975, Arendt was buried at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where her husband taught for many years.


Arendt's work deals with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism. Much of her work focuses on affirming a conception of freedom which is synonymous with collective political action among equals.

Arguing against the libertarian assumption that "freedom begins where politics ends," Arendt theorizes freedom as public and associative, drawing on examples from the Greek polis, American townships, the Paris Commune, and the civil rights movements of the 1960's (among others) to illustrate this conception of freedom.

Arguably, her most influential work was The Human Condition (1958) in which she distinguishes labor, work, and action, and teases out the implications of these distinctions. Her theory of political action is extensively developed in this work.

Her first major book was The Origins of Totalitarianism, which traced the roots of Communism and Nazism, and their links to anti-Semitism. This book was controversial because it compared two subjects that some believe are irreconcilable.

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem, she raised the question whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality -- the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.

Her final book, The Life of the Mind was incomplete when she died, but is still widely read in its current form.


Arendt, Hannah 191 Hannah Arendt's insights are also crucial here: she emphasized the distinction between political power and the mere exercise of (social) violence: organizations run by direct non-political authority - by an order of command that is not politically grounded authority (Army, Church, school) - represent examples of violence (Gewalt), not of political Power in the strict sense of the term.

Arendt. 126-7, Conversations