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Communication Ethics in Dark Times

Hannah Arendt's Rhetoric of Warning and Hope

Ronald C. Arnett

Publication Year: 2012

Renowned in the disciplines of political theory and philosophy, Hannah Arendt’s searing critiques of modernity continue to resonate in other fields of thought decades after she wrote them. In Communication Ethics in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt’s Rhetoric of Warning and Hope, author Ronald C. Arnett offers a groundbreaking examination of fifteen of Arendt’s major scholarly works, considering the German writer’s contributions to the areas of rhetoric and communication ethics for the first time.  

Arnett focuses on Arendt’s use of the phrase “dark times” to describe the mistakes of modernity, defined by Arendt as the post-Enlightenment social conditions, discourses, and processes ruled by principles of efficiency, progress, and individual autonomy. These principles, Arendt argues, have led humanity down a path of folly, banality, and hubris. Throughout his interpretive evaluation, Arnett illuminates the implications of Arendt’s persistent metaphor of “dark times” and engages the question, How might communication ethics counter the tenets of dark times and their consequences? A compelling study of Hannah Arendt’s most noteworthy works and their connections to the fields of rhetoric and communication ethics, Communication Ethics in Dark Times provides an illuminating introduction for students and scholars of communication ethics and rhetoric, and a tool with which experts may discover new insights, connections, and applications to these fields.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I offer my thanks and gratitude to Duquesne University, the Spiritan community, and my colleagues in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. I am deeply thankful to Heather Blum, senior graduate research assistant, for her outstanding work on this project. ...

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Prologue: Modernity as Gollum—Arendt’s Warning

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pp. 1-5

This interpretive project underscores Hannah Arendt’s warning about the tragic consequences of modernity. Contrary to assessments of Arendt as a modernist, this project follows her ongoing criticism of modernity and its fulcrum commitment to “progress.” Arendt would not be surprised to discover our continuing fascination with war, ...

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1. The Derivative Self and the Responsive Turn: Love and Saint Augustine

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pp. 6-16

Love and Saint Augustine is the result of Arendt’s dissertation on Augustine, a major cornerstone in her scholarly foundation and a fulcrum point for her philosophical and practical engagement with unchallenged assumptions of modernity. Arendt’s work with Augustine began her scholarly struggle with the messiness of existence. ...

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2. The Desire to Belong: Rahel Varnhagen

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pp. 17-28

Arendt’s second major work, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess, works as a case study warning us about the danger of an unrestrained desire to belong. This book examines the phases of exclusion, beginning with the moment in which there is a welcome without intention of the possibility of genuine inclusion, ...

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3. Totalization and Organized Loneliness: The Origins of Totalitarianism

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pp. 29-46

Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was an answer to one of the fundamental questions of her historical moment: how does totalitarianism find its life and its endurance within the human community? Arendt’s post–World War II analysis assumed that we had not seen the last of totalitarian regimes. .

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4. A Community of Memory at Risk: Between Past and Future

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pp. 47-61

Arendt offers insight into the emergence of a vacuous moment, one in which the life of tradition no longer brings together past and future. Arendt offers Between Past and Future as a counter to modernity’s disdain for tradition. She asks: How do you explain the gap between past and future? ...

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5. Modernity’s Amnesia, Forgotten Existential Demands: The Human Condition

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pp. 62-76

The human condition, as understood by Arendt, finds its identity in the interplay of “labor, work, and action.” Arendt’s definitions are not conventional, and they continue to generate much scholarly debate. The contention of this chapter is that labor, work, and action are central metaphors in Arendt’s critique of modernity’s amnesia, ...

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6. The Taken-for-Granted: On Revolution

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pp. 77-89

In On Revolution, Arendt does not fall quickly upon the side of revolution; the modern rendition of revolution gives her serious pause. Her contention is that the combination of modernity and revolution moves us closer to false optimism than to tenacious hope. Modernity confuses progress with optimism. ...

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7. The Banality of Evil: Eichmann in Jerusalem

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pp. 90-104

Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in 1963. She attended Adolf Eichmann’s trial in the formal capacity as a reporter for the New Yorker; Arendt had proposed to the New Yorker that she assume the role of trial reporter in 1961 when it was clear that Eichmann would go on trial in Israel.1 ...

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8. The Temporality of Judgment: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy

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pp. 105-116

Arendt was a great admirer of Immanuel Kant, even as she critiqued the historical moment that constituted his scholarly formation driven by the fatalistic allure of “progress.” Even a philosopher as grand as Kant could not escape the “unity of contraries” of being a part of a historical moment while simultaneously conceptualizing what others cannot comprehend. ...

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9. Lamp Holders and Holy Sparks: Men in Dark Times

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pp. 117-131

In Men in Dark Times, Arendt offers insight into ten persons who provided a tenacious sense of hope in dark times. The method of their bringing light in dark times, for Arendt, began with their meeting of others in the public domain—whether or not their ideas met with the current consensus or were condoned or wanted. ...

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10. Forgotten Roots: Crises of the Republic

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pp. 132-145

Arendt questions whether or not the end of human action is conceivable, that human beings might cease to exist, as we become increasingly dependent upon science and its role as the handmaiden of technical violence. She states that one symptom of our historical moment is the loss of faith in tradition and authority; ...

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11. Recovering Human Meaning, the Silent Side of Speech: Essays in Understanding

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pp. 146-169

Meaningfulness is derivative of the capacity to understand a particular phenomenon. Understanding is the key to meaningfulness. The criterion for proper understanding, however, does not rest with the person but with existence. There is a demand from existence that we understand things properly; ...

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12. Otherwise Than Convention: Responsibility and Judgment

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pp. 170-182

This chapter examines essays penned mainly within the last decade of Arendt’s life, pieces centered upon two major metaphors, responsibility and judgment. Arendt’s impetus for this series of essays was to provide a response to critics; her scholarship was and is controversial and required her own defense. ...

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13. An Enlarged Mentality: The Promise of Politics

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pp. 183-196

The promise of politics, for Arendt, is health within the public domain, a health defined by public access to the stating and the hearing of opinion, the meeting of difference. She frames politics as an engine that brings human lives together in acts of deliberation that give us an identity as citizens in the public sphere. ...

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14. Clarity of a Situated and Responsive Voice: The Jewish Writings

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pp. 197-219

Arendt wrote as a scholar who was called to attend to historical events of her time with Judaism as a central issue. She was responsive to the realities of anti-Semitism and later to the construction of Israel. She wrote engagingly regarding the historical moment, as a scholar situated within the questions of her time as a Jewish woman, ...

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15. Navigating Darkness: Responsibility and The Life of the Mind

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pp. 220-241

The Life of the Mind was Hannah Arendt’s final work. She died just as she began the final volume of this book; the first page of the last segment, entitled Judgment, was found in her typewriter. In this concluding scholarly work, Arendt offers insight into the meeting of existence with her analysis of the complexity of thinking ...

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16. Countering the Magic of Modernity: Meeting Darkness and Rejecting Artificial Light

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pp. 242-266

Arendt deconstructs a world of mere talk and impatience; she unmasks the modernist euphemism—optimism. She reminds us that conversation must be content-filled. Communicative substance drives the reality of change when it meets and addresses the temporal demands of existential life. ...


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pp. 267-282


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pp. 283-292


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pp. 293-306

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Author Biography

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Ronald C. Arnett (PhD, Ohio University, 1978) is the chair of and a professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies and the Henry Koren, C.S.Sp., Endowed Chair for Scholarly Excellence at Duquesne University. He is the author or a coauthor of six books and three edited volumes, ...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809331338
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809331321

Publication Year: 2012