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Thinking in Dark Times:Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Roger Berkowitz Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking, Bard College

Publication Year: 2009

Hannah Arendt is one of the most important political theorists of the twentieth century. In her works, she grappled with the dark events of that century, probing the nature of power, authority, and evil, and seeking to confront totalitarian horrors on their own terms. This book focuses on how, against the professionalized discourses of theory, Arendt insists on the greater political importance of the ordinary activity of thinking. Indeed, she argues that the activity of thinking is the only reliable protection against the horrors that buffeted the last century. Its essays explore and enact that activity, which Arendt calls the habit of erecting obstacles to oversimplifications, compromises, and conventions.Most of the essays were written for a conference at Bard College celebrating the 100th anniversary of Arendt's birth. Arendt left her personal library and literary effects to Bard, and she is buried in the Bard College cemetery. Material from the Bard archive-such as a postcard to Arendt from Walter Benjamin or her annotation in her copy of Machiavelli's The Prince-and images from her life are interspersed with the essays in this volume.The volume will offer provocations and insights to Arendt scholars, students discovering Arendt's work, and general readers attracted to Arendt's vision of the importance of thinking in our own dark times.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book originates in an unusual conference that was held at Bard College to celebrate Hannah Arendt’s one-hundredth birthday. For the conference, “Thinking in Dark Times: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt,” we invited a wide range of public intellectuals, artists, journalists...

Editors’ Note

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pp. xi

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Introduction: Thinking in Dark Times

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pp. 3-14

Brecht’s poem inspires the title of one of Hannah Arendt’s less celebrated books, Men in Dark Times. For Arendt, dark times are not limited to the tragedies of the twentieth century; they are not even a rarity in the history of the world..

Part I: Politics

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pp. 15-69

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Reflections on Antisemitism

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pp. 17-27

In October 1956, exactly fifty years ago to the month that we celebrate Hannah Arendt’s one-hundredth birthday, the two Cold War colossi were being simultaneously convulsed by the uprising in Budapest and its repression by Soviet tanks. At the same time, the final act...

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Fiction as Poison

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pp. 29-42

I translate the question, “What does it mean to think about politics?” into “What does it mean to think about politics today in the spirit of Hannah Arendt?” Thinking in the spirit of Arendt signifies among other things that we should summon up attentive worry...

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A Discriminating Politics

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pp. 43-54

Terror and its cognates have come to signify the darkest excesses of contemporary and twentieth-century political life. They include in their fold aggressive claims to purity; murderous manifestations of programmatic and religious self-certainty; paranoid and devastating responses...

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Hannah Arendt’s Political Engagements

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pp. 55-62

There was a special poignancy to our celebrations of Arendt’s centenary in 2006 through many conferences, since so many of us were and are still gripped by concern with the “crises of our republic,” as one of those conferences was called. Many fear that what Jonathan Schell has aptly...

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What Does It Mean to Think About Politics?

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pp. 63-69

Hannah Arendt was a thinker who concerned herself with, more than anything else, politics. But what does it mean to think about politics? There is a difference in Hannah Arendt’s thought (and on this point she presents herself as a follower of Kant) between...

Part II: Lying and Politics

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pp. 71-92

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A Lying World Order: Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism

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pp. 73-78

I want to address the question whether totalitarianism is a threat today. I think a caveat is in order as I make some remarks about this question; and that is that for Hannah Arendt totalitarianism was the crystallization of several elements that together constituted...

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Lying and History

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pp. 79-92

I would like to address the problem of violence in the political realm by focusing on a question that, I believe, emerges out of several late works by the twentieth-century political thinker Hannah Arendt: What is history in the time of what Arendt calls...

Part III: Citizenship

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pp. 93

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The Experience of Action

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pp. 95-102

What is the activity of democratic citizenship?” That is a provocatively odd question with which to frame a discussion of the legacy of Hannah Arendt’s thought, and particularly a discussion of her thought about thinking and its political significance. From one angle...

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Dissent in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Civil Disobedience and Constitutional Patriotism

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pp. 105-114

There has been much talk of late regarding the so-called paradox of democratic constitutionalism in debates surrounding constitutional design, amendment, and interpretation.1 As Frank Michelman puts it, “constitutional theory is eternally hounded, if not totally consumed...

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Promising and Civil Disobedience: Arendt's Political Modernism

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pp. 115-127

Since this essay offers a dense sliver of a much longer exposition, let me begin by simply stating my conclusion. Premise: when she wrote The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt did not and could not have truly grasped the meaning of her own basic concepts: beginning, action...

Part IV: Evil and Eichmann in Jerusalem

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pp. 129-157

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Is Evil Banal? A Misleading Question

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pp. 131-138

I have been asked to address the question “Is evil banal?” I am going to be confrontational because I think that this question is badly formulated. This is the type of question that invites serious misinterpretations of Arendt. I find the question objectionable for three reasons...

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Banality and Cleverness: Eichmann in Jerusalem Revisited

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pp. 139-144

Hannah Arendt’s famous argument in Eichmann in Jerusalem was that Eichmann was not a demon on a mission from Hell, but a crass, ludicrous, pathetic individual.1 Faced with a media blitz that depicted him as the quintessence of perversion (how could so much evil be concentrated...

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Judging the Events of Our Time

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pp. 145-152

I begin with a quotation from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism: “An insight into the nature of totalitarian rule . . . might serve . . . to introduce the most essential political criterion for judging the events of our time: will it lead to totalitarian rule...

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Arendt’s Banality of Evil Thesis and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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pp. 153-157

Following the publication of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, less than two decades after the Holocaust, the early “career” of her thesis concerning the banality of evil met with intense resistance. For Jews, a belief in the banality...

Part V: Judaism and Cosmopolitanism

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pp. 159-217

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Liberating the Pariah: Politics, the Jews, and Hannah Arendt

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pp. 161-178

The essay that follows is a condensed version of a piece written not long after Hannah Arendt’s death in 1975. The original essay took its impetus from a request from Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic, that I review Ronald H. Feldman’s pioneering...

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Hannah Arendt’s Jewish Experience: Thinking, Acting, Judging

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pp. 179-196

The members of this panel have been asked to consider the following question: “What is the importance of Hannah Arendt’s Jewish identity?” Though a response might be fashioned in categories of particularism and universalism, is there not something problematic about...

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The Pariah as Rebel: Hannah Arendt's Jewish Writings

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pp. 197-206

Hannah Arendt was born in 1906 in Germany and died in 1975 in New York. Between those bookends, her life played out during what she termed the “dark times” of the twentieth century. She was a political and cultural critic, publishing many essays and books...

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Hannah Arendt’s Jewish Identity

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pp. 207-212

The topic of Hannah Arendt’s Jewish identity can be approached from many directions. In this essay, I am going to consider Arendt in the context of the vision of world history articulated by her teacher and mentor Karl Jaspers, in which her people, the Jews of Palestine, were...

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Jewish to the Core

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pp. 213-217

Hannah Arendt was born Jewish and undoubtedly remained Jewish until she died. This fact must be stressed, because as recently as 2001 she was accused by the intellectual historian Richard Wolin of being a “non-Jewish Jew,” an expression he adopted from the Marxist biographer Isaac Deutscher for...

Part VI: Thinking in Dark Times

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pp. 219-245

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Thinking Big in Dark Times

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pp. 221-228

In dark times we need to resist the temptation to miniaturize the human spirit, to paraphrase Amartya Sen’s telling phrase.1 We have to think big, even if we often feel overwhelmed and powerless before a world that acts from thoughtless myths and the reputed commands...

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Crimes of Action, Crimes of Thought: Arendt on Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Judgment

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pp. 229-236

In the winter of 1932–1933, correspondence between Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt was abruptly terminated. It requires little imagination or speculation to understand the cause of the long and lasting silence between the two. More disquieting for some...

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Solitude and the Activity of Thinking

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pp. 237-245

“The true predicaments of our time,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “will assume their authentic form only when totalitarianism has become a thing of the past.”1 The totalitarianisms in Germany and the Soviet Union were only symptoms of these true predicaments, of what Arendt early on calls the mass society...

Part VII: Sites of Memory

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pp. 247

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Exile Readings: Hannah Arendt's Library

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pp. 249-260

On May 1, 1972, the photographer Jill Krementz took a picture of Hannah Arendt in her library.1. As Lotte Kohler remembers it, this library was set up partly in the dining room of Arendt’s Riverside Drive apartment and partly in the study of her husband, Heinrich Blücher...

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Remembering Hannah: An Interview with Jack Blum

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pp. 261-268

On the final day of the conference Thinking in Dark Times, celebrating Hannah Arendt’s one-hundredth birthday, a group of attendees gathered by Hannah Arendt’s gravesite to hear Arendt’s friend Jack Blum offer some remembrances of her. Blum’s stories, some humorous...

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My Hannah Arendt Project

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pp. 269-272

During my German-language studies at the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv in 2003, I came across Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the only one of her books that had been translated into Hebrew at the time. There it was, standing behind a window in the institute’s foyer...


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pp. 273-292


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pp. 293-294


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pp. 295-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248544
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230754
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230759

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Arendt, Hannah, -- 1906-1975 -- Political and social views.
  • Political ethics.
  • Political science -- Philosophy
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