Tag: Hannah Arendt

References No One Seems to Have Checked

Amos Elon on how Eichmann in Jerusalem was treated after its publication: Hand-me-downs from one critic to another drew on alleged references in the book which no one seemed to have checked. The argument was by no means restricted to academic circles but exercised young and old, historians, philosophers, journalists, as in the case of [Anthony] Grafton’s father; priests of several faiths; atheists; community functionaries; and professional propagandists.

Did Hannah Arendt Ever See Eichmann Testify? A Second Reply to Richard Wolin

In his critique of Seyla Benhabib’s account of the Arendt/Eichmann controversy, which I wrote about earlier today, Richard Wolin makes an additional claim I’ve been puzzling over: Second, a perusal of Arendt’s correspondence indicates that so great was her impatience with the proceedings that she never saw Eichmann testify. Arendt endured chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner’s lengthy opening statement and, following an absence of several weeks, returned to Jerusalem to witness the final verdict. But, remarkably, she never saw Eichmann himself take the stand. (Here, one suspects that Arendt’s rather brazen disregard for the value of testimony, not to speak of the norms of journalism, is an instance of Germanic philosophical arrogance. As J. G. Fichte said, if the facts fail […]

The Arendt Wars Continue: Richard Wolin v. Seyla Benhabib

Richard Wolin has written a response to Seyla Benhabib’s New York Times piece on Arendt and Eichmann. I hesitate to weigh in on this controversy for two reasons. First, I know both Richard and Seyla, and Richard is a colleague. And even though, when it comes to Arendt, I have consistently found Seyla to have the better of the argument, I have a great deal of respect for both of them and their work. Second, I may be writing about the war over Eichmann in Jerusalem in a lengthier piece in the coming months—More than a half-century after its publication, how is it that this book still manages to get under people’s skin? Is there any other book, not allied to a […]

Thinking about Hannah Arendt and Adolph Eichmann on Erev Rosh Hashanah

George Steiner writes somewhere that the deepest source of anti-Semitism may lie in three Jews: Moses, Jesus, and Marx. Three Jews who formulated a great and demanding ethics/politics, an almost unforgiving and humanly unbearable ethics/politics, that the rest of the world has repeatedly bridled at and hated. And never forgiven the Jews for. Setting aside the bit of self-congratulation that lies at the heart of that formulation—ah, we Jews, we’re so ethical and righteous—I wonder if some part of that may not lie at the heart of the rage and reaction that Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem has elicited over the years. There is something unforgiving at the heart of that book. It is a relentless indictment—not just, pace what Arendt herself […]

Why Arendt might not have read Benito Cereno (if she did indeed not read Benito Cereno)

For a change of pace… In On Revolution, Hannah Arendt makes the argument that one of the reasons the French Revolution took such a violent and authoritarian turn was that it allowed the social question—simplistically put, issues of poverty and the poor—to enter and then dominate public discussion. Unlike the American Revolution, which was more properly concerned with truly political questions like the organization of public power, constitutions, and civic action. Once issues of economic need are put on the table, Arendt suggests, tyranny cannot be far off. So pressing and overwhelming are the physical needs of the body, so much do they cry out for our response, that they almost introduce, by their very nature, an element of compulsion […]

The Higher Sociopathy

In the annals of moral casuistry, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the perils of moral reasoning than this defense, brought to you by The New Republic, of the slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza: We can say that there is a principle worth fighting and dying for: Civilians cannot be used to make just wars impossible and morality will not be used as a tool to disarm. And once we have that principle, the proportionality calculation changes. The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve […]

The Disappointment of Hannah Arendt (the film)

So I finally saw Hannah Arendt this weekend. As entertainment, it was fine. I enjoyed the tender portrayal of Arendt’s marriage to Heinrich Blücher (though the rendition of her relationship to Mary McCarthy was painful to watch). I loved the  scenes in their apartment. Even though the depiction of its style and decor was more Mad Men than Morningside Heights, and the roominess, airiness, and light of the apartment gave little suggestion of the thick and heavy German hospitality for which Arendt and Blücher were famous. And, yes, a lot of the dialogue was painfully wooden and transparently devoted to narrative exposition, but I didn’t mind that so much. My real problem with the film is that I can’t, for the […]

Hannah Arendt, Lawrence of Arabia, and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

This peculiar preoration by Geoffrey Gray in The New Republic (h/t Aaron Bady) about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370— I’ve found myself asking a different question: Do we really want to find this missing plane at all? The families of the victims deserve answers, of course, but as the days go on and more nautical miles are searched for missing debris, there’s an undeniable urge for investigators to keep on looking, not find anything, and let the mystery endure. The New York Times‘s Farhad Manjoo argues that the “terror” isn’t only that we can’t find the plane, but being off the grid itself, untethered to our friends and family. I disagree. Our “hyperconnectivity,” as he calls it, is the very reason we […]

The N Word in Israel

Jodi Rudoren has a fascinating piece in the Times on proposed legislation in Israel that seems to be gaining ground. Israel is on the brink of banning the N-word. N as in Nazi, that is. Parliament gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a bill that would make it a crime to call someone a Nazi — or any other slur associated with the Third Reich — or to use Holocaust-related symbols in a noneducational way. The penalty would be a fine of as much as $29,000 and up to six months in jail. Backers of the law say it is a response to what they see as a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world as well as an increasing, casual […]

The History of Fear, Part 4

Today, in part 4 of our series on the intellectual history of fear, we turn to Hannah Arendt’s theory of total terror, which she developed in The Origins of Totaltarianism (and then completely overhauled in Eichmann in Jerusalem.) I’m more partial, as I make clear in my book, to Eichmann than to Origins. But Origins has always been the more influential text, at least until recently. It’s a problematic though fascinating book (the second part, on imperialism, is especially wonderful). But one of the reasons it was able to gain such traction is that it managed to meld Montesquieu’s theory of despotic terror with Tocqueville’s theory of democratic anxiety. It became the definitive statement of Cold War social thought in […]

The Question of Palestine at Brooklyn College, Then and Now

In 1942, Brooklyn College hired a young instructor to teach a summer course on Modern European history. Though academically trained, the instructor was primarily known as the author of a series of incendiary articles in the Jewish press on Jewish politics and Zionism. An active though ambivalent Zionist, the instructor did not shy from scorching criticism of the movement for Jewish settlement in Palestine. She had already come to some unsettling conclusions in private. In an unpublished essay, she compared the Zionists to the Nazis, arguing that both movements assumed that the Jews were “totally foreign” to other peoples based on their “inalterable substance.” She wrote in a letter that she found “this territorial experiment” of the Jews in Palestine […]

Thomas Jefferson: American Fascist?

It’s Old Home Week in the American media. First there was the welcome back of Abraham Lincoln (and the brouhaha over the Spielberg film). Now Thomas Jefferson is in the news. But where it was Lincoln the emancipator we were hailing earlier in the week, it’s Jefferson the slaveholder who’s now getting all the press. Yesterday in the New York Times, legal historian Paul Finkelman wrote a bruising attack on Jefferson titled “The Monster of Monticello.” This was a followup to some of the controversy surrounding the publication of Henry Wiencek’s new book on Jefferson, which makes Jefferson’s slaveholding central to his legacy. Finkelman’s essay has already prompted some pushback. David Post at The Volokh Conspiracy (h/t Samir Chopra) wrote: […]

All that good, expensive gas wasted on the Jews!

People sometimes ask why I’m a fan of Hannah Arendt. I’ve a complicated relationship to her work, so I wouldn’t characterize myself as a complete fan. But I do love reading her, and one of the reasons I do is that she had such a brutal and unforgiving sense of irony, which she often held in reserve for only the most morally addled sectors of the bourgeoisie. (In this respect she was quite like Brecht and other Weimar modernists.) Nowhere is this more on display than in Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is probably my favorite Arendt text. Here’s a representative passage (pp. 110-111). My next story is even more to the point, since it concerns someone who was not a “leader,” […]

The Army as a Concentration Camp

Reading this terrific piece about James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, I stumbled across this passage from Jones’s WWII, a nonfiction treatment of the Second World War: Everything the civilian soldier learned and was taught from the moment of his induction was one more delicate stop along this path of the soldier evolving toward acceptance of his death. The idea that his death, under certain circumstances, is correct and right. The training, the discipline, the daily humiliations, the privileges of “brutish” sergeants, the living en masse like schools of fish, are all directed toward breaking down the sense of the sanctity of the physical person, and toward hardening the awareness that a soldier is the chattel (hopefully a […]

NYPD in Israel: Hannah Arendt on the Best Police Department in the World

In Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt famously argued that one of the hallmarks of Nazism was the supremacy of the police over the military, even in—especially in—occupied territories. Nothing quite signaled totalitarianism’s obliteration of the distinction between the domestic and the international, its aspiration to world rule, as this. Above the state and behind the facades of ostensible power, in a maze of multiplied offices, underlying all shifts of authority and in a chaos of inefficiency, lies the power nucleus of the country, the super-efficient and super-competent services of the secret police. The emphasis on the police as the sole organ of power, and the corresponding neglect of the seemingly greater power arsenal of the army, which is characteristic of […]

Careerism: Prolegomena to a Political Theory

Someone recently tweeted this article on Hannah Arendt that I wrote in the London Review of Books many moons ago.  Re-reading it, I was reminded of this closing passage on careerism. I’ve long wanted to write two books of political theory: one on careerism and the other on collaboration. Both are topics that don’t get much, if any, treatment in contemporary theory. Yet both have been central pillars of modern political life. Alas, it doesn’t look like I’ll get to these books any time soon.  So in the meantime, there’s this: The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In […]

Anti-Semite and Jew

As someone who identifies as Jewish—who periodically goes to shul, celebrates some if not all of the holidays, and tries at least some (ahem) of the time to get off the internets for shabbos—yet opposes Zionism, I thought I’d heard all the charges that have been and could be made against me and my tribe. But yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic writer and one of the leading voices of liberal Zionism in this country, threw a new one into to the mix. In my experience, those Jews who consciously set themselves apart from the Jewish majority in the disgust they display for Israel, or for the principles of their faith, are often narcissists, and therefore seem to suffer from an […]

Whenever I read a professional Chomsky-basher…

Whenever I read the work of a professional Chomsky-basher*—you know, the person whose passport to mainstream respectability is stamped with a Chomsky-is-the-most-dastardly-person-on-the-face-of-the-earth visa—or someone who attacks anarchists or leftists in order to maintain his or her liberal street cred, I’m reminded of this passage from Hannah Arendt: In the following chapter, Karl Marx will be criticized. This is unfortunate at a time when so many writers who once made their living by explicit or tacit borrowing from the great wealth of Marxian ideas and insights have decided to become professional anti-Marxists, in the process of which one of them even discovered that Karl Marx himself was unable to make a living, forgetting for the moment the generations of authors whom […]