The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt late in life
Hannah Arendt late in life

Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 - December 4, 1975) was an American political theorist of German origin. She had often been described as a philosopher, although she always refused that label.

Born of secular Jewish parents in Hanover and raised in Königsberg (the hometown of her admired precursor Immanuel Kant) and Berlin, Arendt studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger at the University of Marburg. She appears to have had a short romantic relationship with Heidegger, an entanglement that has occasioned much criticism due to his later Nazi sympathies. After breaking off the relationship, Arendt moved to Heidelberg to write a dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of St. 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 a Jew, 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 invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps, Hannah Arendt had to flee from France. In 1940, she married the German poet and philosopher Heinrich Blücher. Hannah Arendt emigrated with her husband and her mother to the United States with the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry. She then became active in the German-Jewish community in New York and wrote for the weekly Aufbau.

After World War II, she had a reconciliation of sorts with Heidegger, and testified on his behalf in a German denazification hearing.

Hannah Arendt in her early adulthood
Hannah Arendt in her early adulthood

Arendt's work deals with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism. 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 - of the failure of good or just ordinary people to take risks. She also wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism, which attempted to trace the roots of communism and fascism and their link to anti-semitism. This book was controversial because it compared two subjects that many scholars believed were, by definition, opposites.

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

Selected Works

  • The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
  • Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman (1958)
  • The Human Condition (1958)
  • Between Past and Future (1961)
  • On Revolution (1963)
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
  • Men in Dark Times (1968)
  • The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age; Edited by Ron H. Feldman (1978)
  • Life of the Mind (1978)

External links

Last updated: 05-06-2005 12:18:47
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04