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Why Arendt Matters

Why Arendt Matters

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Why Arendt Matters
    Book Description:

    Upon publication of her "field manual,"The Origins of Totalitarianism, in 1951, Hannah Arendt immediately gained recognition as a major political analyst. Over the next twenty-five years, she wrote ten more books and developed a set of ideas that profoundly influenced the way America and Europe addressed the central questions and dilemmas of World War II. In this concise book, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl introduces her mentor's work to twenty-first-century readers. Arendt's ideas, as much today as in her own lifetime, illuminate those issues that perplex us, such as totalitarianism, terrorism, globalization, war, and "radical evil."Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who was Arendt's doctoral student in the early 1970s and who wrote the definitive biography of her mentor in 1982, now revisits Arendt's major works and seminal ideas. Young-Bruehl considers what Arendt's analysis of the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union can teach us about our own times, and how her revolutionary understanding of political action is connected to forgiveness and making promises for the future. The author also discussesThe Life of the Mind, Arendt's unfinished meditation on how to think about thinking. Placed in the context of today's political landscape, Arendt's ideas take on a new immediacy and importance. They require our attention, Young-Bruehl shows, and continue to bring fresh truths to light.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13456-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    “The banality of evil.” That is the sound bite by which Hannah Arendt has become popularly known. A political theorist and philosopher who before her death in 1975 had written more than a dozen dense volumes, several of them masterpieces of political analysis, and who since her death has been the subject of hundreds of books and articles, lives on in newspeak through just four words. In and of itself, or even sitting in the subtitle of herEichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,the phrase is full of suggestion and portent, but without interpretation it...

  4. one The Origins of Totalitarianism and the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 31-76)

    Even as a young biographer Arendt recognized that if you wanted to understandwhata person thought you also had to understandhowthat person thought. Furthermore, if you wanted to understand whether that thought stayed close to the realities of the world, you had to understand how the person behaved in communicative relationships, that is, relationships “concerned with the common world, which remains ‘inhuman’ in a very literal sense unless it is constantly talked about by human beings.”¹

    When Arendt began writingThe Origins of Totalitarianism(published in 1951), after a decade of life as a refugee, the conditions...

  5. two The Human Condition and Actions That Matter
    (pp. 77-156)

    In her early commentaries on totalitarian elements that existed in the post-totalitarian world of the second half of the twentieth century, Arendt had, as I have said, a single question: Are these elements leading a state toward totalitarianism or not? But by the late 1950s, after the Soviet Union had repudiated Stalinism and McCarthyism had been discredited, she had progressed to a more general sense that totalitarian elements do not necessarily crystallize into a totalitarian state. So it became more important to put the positive side of the question: What elements can preserve freedom or help people achieve freedom?


  6. three Thinking About The Life of the Mind
    (pp. 157-210)

    Each of Arendt’s books and essays contains a reflection on hownotto think about the topic she is going to consider. She had introducedThe Origins of Totalitarianism,her field manual for comprehending a novel form of government, with these somber sentences, which reject prophetic thinking: “This book has been written against a background of both reckless optimism and reckless despair. It holds that Progress and Doom are two sides of the same medal; that both are articles of superstition, not of faith.” A few pages later, she commented again on how not to think: “Comprehension [later she would...

  7. notes
    (pp. 211-218)
  8. works by hannah arendt
    (pp. 219-220)
  9. acknowledgments
    (pp. 221-222)
  10. index
    (pp. 223-232)