Anika R.
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Who was ... Hannah Arendt?

Who was ... Hannah Arendt?

Oct 15, 2021

๐—›๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—ต ๐—”๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐˜ was born on October 14th, 1906 in Linden (now part of Hannover) into a secular Jewish family. She spent most of her childhood in Kรถnigsberg in East Prussia (now Kaliningrad) and started reading philosophers like Kant, Kierkegaard, and Jaspers at the young age of 14.

Hannah Arendt, 1924

She started studying at the university in Marburg in 1924 where she met Martin Heidegger who had great influence on her philosophical thinking (they also had an affair). In 1926, she moved to Heidelberg and completed her dissertation in 1929 on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine. She also made friends with Karl Jaspers and his wife.

Arendt in 1933 (with cigarette, she was a smoker all her life)

Also in 1929, she married Gรผnther Stern, moved to Berlin and spent more time on political theory. When the situation for Jews in Germany became too dangerous, she fled to Paris where she committed herself to the Jewish cause.

Stern had already emigrated to the US in 1936, they divorced in 1937, and Arendt lost her German citizenship the same year. In 1940, she married Marxist theorist and poet Heinrich Blรผcher with whom she moved to New York in 1941 after the Germans invaded France and she was briefly detained.

Arendt and Blรผcher in the 1950s

In New York, she wrote several critically acclaimed and important books about the totalitarianism and political theory (The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), The Human Condition (1958), On Revolution (1963)), as well as anthologies.

But what she is probably most known for is the term "banality of evil". She attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a major organizer of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem for the New Yorker in 1961. The term 'banality of evil' described Eichmann who seemed an ordinary bureaucrat who found his place within in the Nazi regime, who obeyed orders instead of thinking rationally. The concept of the banality of evil also implied that ordinary people could commit horrific crimes.

Calling Eichmann banal was one of the controversies Arendt's articles (and later book) caused. The other were her criticism of the way the trial was conducted and felt that attorney general Gideon Hausner was using the trial to further prime minister Ben-Gurion's political agenda. She also was critical of the involvement of some Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people during the Holocaust, cooperating with Eichmann.

Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961

Needless to say, many Jewish friends and organizations turned away from Arendt after the publication of "Eichmann in Jerusalem" in 1963 in the New Yorker. Arendt herself shifted her focus from political to moral philosophThe quote "๐—ก๐—ถ๐—ฒ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐—ฅ๐—ฒ๐—ฐ๐—ต๐˜ ๐˜‡๐˜‚ ๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—ฐ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป" (Nobody has the right to obey) is a shortened version from an interview with Joachim Fest in 1964 about the Eichmann trial. Eichmann said that Kant's concept of duty of obedience was his guiding principle. Arendt explained what Kant really meant by saying "๐—ž๐—ฒ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐— ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜€๐—ฐ๐—ต ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ๐—ถ ๐—ž๐—ฎ๐—ป๐˜ ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐—ฅ๐—ฒ๐—ฐ๐—ต๐˜ ๐˜‡๐˜‚ ๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—ฐ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป" (Nobody, according to Kant, has the right to obey.) What Kant had said and what Eichmann so grossly misused is this: "'We must hearken to God, rather than to man,' signifies no more than this, viz. that should any earthly legislation enjoin something immediately contradictory of the moral law, obedience is not to be rendered."

Arendt died of a heart attack in 1975 in New York.

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