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Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History

Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History: Imperialism, Nation, Race, and Genocide

Richard H. King
Dan Stone
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History
    Book Description:

    Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) first argued that there were continuities between the age of European imperialism and the age of fascism in Europe inThe Origins of Totalitarianism(1951). She claimed that theories of race, notions of racial and cultural superiority, and the right of 'superior races' to expand territorially were themes that connected the white settler colonies, the other imperial possessions, and the fascist ideologies of post-Great War Europe. These claims have rarely been taken up by historians. Only in recent years has the work of scholars such as Jurgen Zimmerer and A. Dirk Moses begun to show in some detail that Arendt was correct.

    This collection does not seek merely to expound Arendt's opinions on these subjects; rather, it seeks to use her insights as the jumping-off point for further investigations - including ones critical of Arendt - into the ways in which race, imperialism, slavery and genocide are linked, and the ways in which these terms have affected the United States, Europe, and the colonised world.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-544-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Richard H. King and Dan Stone

    One hundred years after her birth, Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) scarcely needs the usual sort of introduction, since her work has become so well known of late. Much of it has at least. The point of this collection is to foreground aspects of her work, especially drawn fromThe Origins of Totalitarianism(1951), which bear on imperialism, slavery, race, and genocide but have been neglected in the general revival of interest in Arendt.

    There are several ways to characterize the new perspective on Arendt that we are trying to develop. First, we want to shift attention away from Arendt the...

  4. Part I: Imperialism and Colonialism

    • Chapter 1 Race Power, Freedom, and the Democracy of Terror in German Racialist Thought
      (pp. 21-37)
      Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

      When Chancellor Bismarck suddenly undertook a policy of overseas expansion in 1884, Germany was almost wholly unprepared for the legal and ideological stresses of colonial domination. Since it was determined from the outset that overseas polities would not be brought into the German federation as member states, the German constitution provided no model for the incorporation of colonial territories and German citizenship law was equally useless for defining the status of Germany’s new subjects. Dominant thinking among officials and the public was very much influenced by the traditions of the old Prussian territorial state, where expansion was generally coupled with...

    • Chapter 2 Race Thinking and Racism in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism
      (pp. 38-53)
      Kathryn T. Gines

      In Part Two ofThe Burden of Our Time(1951), published asThe Origins of Totalitarianismin America and then reissued with additional prefaces in 1958 and 1966, Hannah Arendt utilizes her usual method of distinction making by differentiating colonialism and imperialism along with race-thinking and racism.¹ In what follows I examine how these sets of distinctions are interrelated and how they influence Arendt’s analysis of Africans and African Americans in the contexts of imperialism and slavery. As I outline (and when necessary summarize) Arendt’s analysis, I make the following arguments: (1) The systematic oppression that occurred during the “colonial”...

    • Chapter 3 When the Real Crime Began: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and the Dignity of the Western Philosophical Tradition
      (pp. 54-67)
      Robert Bernasconi

      After the end of the Second World War a number of Black philosophers attacked the tendency of most European and North American observers to isolate the Nazi genocide from the history of the West. In the view of these Black philosophers, Nazism had been prepared for by the crimes of colonialism and imperialism. They also argued that many of the canonical figures of the Western philosophical tradition were implicated in these same crimes, for example, by investing in, supporting, or remaining silent about, the Atlantic slave trade or, later, imperialism. Furthermore, they claimed that the failure of philosophers and others...

    • Chapter 4 Race and Bureaucracy Revisited: Hannah Arendt’s Recent Reemergence in African Studies
      (pp. 68-86)
      Christopher J. Lee

      In October 1904, an extermination order was issued by General Lothar von Trotha in the sparsely colonized territory of German Southwest Africa (contemporary Namibia). As a consequence of an anti-colonial uprising that had broken out in early January of that year, members of the Herero community were to be shot on sight, with those escaping direct execution to be driven into the Omaheke Desert where they would be left to die from exposure. This policy did not exclude women or children. In short, this order sought in explicit terms to eliminate the Herero people and thus end a conflict that...

    • Chapter 5 On Pain of Extinction: Laws of Nature and History in Darwin, Marx, and Arendt
      (pp. 87-106)
      Tony Barta

      These are not words that can be found in the first edition of Hannah Arendt’s great workThe Origins of Totalitarianism, conceived during the Second World War and published in 1951. In it, the continuities between the age of European imperialism and the age of fascism in Europe were traced through theories of race, notions of racial and cultural superiority, and the right of “superior races” to expand territorially. An idiosyncratic history linking the failure of the bourgeoisie, “the decline of the nation state,” and “the alliance between mob and capital” provided some brilliant insights into the newly baptized phenomenon...

  5. Part II: Nation and Race

    • Chapter 6 The Refractory Legacy of Algerian Decolonization: Revisiting Arendt on Violence
      (pp. 109-129)
      Ned Curthoys

      In this chapter I discuss Hannah Arendt’s critique of revolutionary and anticolonial violence in her essayOn Violence(1969), which makes a critical distinction between violence and legitimate political activity. It has often been assumed that Arendt’s disquisition on the political dangers of violence was written in response to the growing militancy of the student movement and the appropriation of a rhetoric of violent revolution by the New Left in the United States, France, Germany, and other Western countries by the late 1960s. The Paris barricades of May 1968, the riots of that same year at the Democratic National Convention...

    • Chapter 7 Anti-Semitism, the Bourgeoisie, and the Self-Destruction of the Nation-State
      (pp. 130-146)
      Marcel Stoetzler

      This chapter is about a series of contradictions in Hannah Arendt’s writings, contradictions that she names and explores, and contradictions in her own discourse. Arendt’s writings are a declaration of antipathy to the bourgeoisie by a thoroughly bourgeois writer, a defense of the nation-state based on dislike of nationalism, a defense of traditional bourgeois values from modern bourgeois domination, and an account of the modern state that granted the Jews emancipation at a point when, by becoming national, it was in the process of preparing the renewal of the Jews’ exclusion and persecution.

      Hannah Arendt “explained the centrality of anti-Semitism...

    • Chapter 8 Post-Totalitarian Elements and Eichmann’s Mentality in the Yugoslav War and Mass Killings
      (pp. 147-170)
      Vlasta Jalušiě

      In the large body of literature about the Holocaust and Nazi totalitarianism today, the extinction of the European Jewish population is treated as an unparalleled act that cannot and should not be repeated. “Never again” has become the motto of commemorations of the victims of Nazi terror in general and as such it represents the heart of the politics of memory, which, through awareness of the Holocaust’s warning, has attempted to create conditions in which the repetition of such an unparalleled crime would be impossible. However, in spite of the persistent claims in the genocide scholarship of its uniqueness and...

  6. Part III: Intellectual Genealogies and Legacies

    • Chapter 9 Hannah Arendt on Totalitarianism: Moral Equivalence and Degrees of Evil in Modern Political Violence
      (pp. 173-190)
      Richard Shorten

      To be found at the interstices of the current academic literatures on the relation between history and memory, on the nature and sources of modern political violence, and on the problem of totalitarianism is an idiosyncratic series of questions that has the effect of making the thought of Hannah Arendt acutely relevant. One of these questions—or, at least, the broad question that I have in mind—concerns how the historical experiences of imperialism, Nazism, and Stalinism might be both understood and situatedvis-à-visone another, and how their status and relation might be clarified.

      This question arises at the...

    • Chapter 10 Hannah Arendt, Biopolitcs, and the Problem of Violence: From animal laborans to homo sacer
      (pp. 191-204)
      André Duarte

      It would be hard to find another thesis in political theory less questioned than the traditional identification of violence and politics. This is true to such an extent that the possibility of a nonviolent politics may seem chimerical, likewise that of tracing a conceptual distinction between power and violence. Even if it is true that not all violent phenomena are political phenomena, we tend to feel quite certain that there could be no politics without violence. As we know, Hannah Arendt is among those very few thinkers in contemporary political theory who refuse the strict identification of politics and violence,...

    • Chapter 11 The “Subterranean Stream of Western History”: Arendt and Levinas after Heidegger
      (pp. 205-216)
      Robert Eaglestone

      What sort of a book isThe Origins of Totalitarianism?One of Arendt’s strongest defenders, Seyla Benhabib, writes that it is too “systematically ambitious and over-interpreted” to be strictly history, “too anecdotal, narrative and ideographic” for social science, and is “too philosophical” for political journalism.¹ In this chapter I will argue that the work is not only, as others have argued, an act of storytelling, but also an attempt to reframe the stories we tell. I use the word “reframe” precisely because of its Heideggerian echoes. As Arendt’s extraordinarily abstruse fable “Heidegger the Fox” suggests and as much scholarship has...

    • Chapter 12 Hannah Arendt and the Old “New Science”
      (pp. 217-231)
      Steven Douglas Maloney

      Hannah Arendt’s political writings are frequently analyzed through the lenses of her German-Jewish identity or her tutelage underexistenzphilosophers like Martin Heidegger or Karl Jaspers. This approach has been useful in understanding much of what Arendt was trying to offer in her writings, but it also restricts our understanding of Arendt in very significant ways. Too much focus on Arendt’s direct influences (teachers, identity, place in history) has created an environment where academic work on Arendt has tried to dig into every possible historical clue it can to “come to terms” with her thought, in the same way that...

    • Chapter 13 The Holocaust and “The Human”:
      (pp. 232-249)
      Dan Stone

      It may or may not be the case, as an eminent literary critic wants us to believe, that Shakespeare is to be credited with inventing our notion of “the human.”² It is, however, apparently clear who destroyed it. “It seems,” Jacob Talmon wrote forty years ago, “that nazism achieved considerable success in stifling in many of its adherents the sense of the unity of the human species.”³ On the one hand, then, we should not be surprised to find critics such as Aimé Césaire talking of “pseudohumanism” in the wake of colonialism and the Holocaust. Césaire says of humanism that...

    • Conclusion Arendt between Past and Future
      (pp. 250-261)
      Richard H. King

      Ironically for a thinker who has been accused—with some justification—of Eurocentrism, the issues Hannah Arendt addressed inThe Origins of Totalitarianism(1951) and her work up to the early 1960s are as relevant to the “globalized” world of today as they were to the events of her own time. Already during World War II, Arendt had realized that the West was entering an era that demanded a fundamental rethinking of its basic concepts and traditions. In particular, she contended that “the idea of humanity” entailed the moral necessity of assuming “the obligation of global responsibility . . ....

  7. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 262-270)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 271-274)
  9. Index
    (pp. 275-284)