Arendt, Hannah

Arendt, Hannah hänˈä ärˈənt [key], 1906–75, German-American political theorist, b. Hanover, Germany, B.A. Königsberg, 1924, Ph.D. Heidelberg, 1928. In 1925 she met Martin Heidegger, who greatly influenced her thought and who became both her teacher and briefly her lover. Later, in Heidelberg, she became a student of Karl Jaspers, another important influence. A Jew, Arendt fled Germany in 1933, immigrated (1941) to the United States, lived in New York City, and was naturalized in 1950.

As her English improved, Arendt became a regular contributor of articles to leading American journals. Her wartime essays have been collected in The Jewish Writings (2008). Also a successful academic, she became a lecturer and Guggenheim fellow, 1952–53; visiting professor at the Univ. of California at Berkeley, 1955; the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton, 1959; and visiting professor of government at Columbia, 1960. From 1963 to 1967 she was professor at the Univ. of Chicago, and in 1967 she became university professor at the New School for Social Research.

With the publication of Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) her status as a major political thinker was firmly established. In this book she examined the major forms of 20th-century totalitarianism—National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism—and attempted to trace their origins in the anti-Semitism and imperialism of the 19th cent. Her second major American publication, The Human Condition (1958), likewise received wide acclaim. Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), her analysis of the Nazi war crimes based on observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, stirred considerable controversy and became known particularly for her concept of “the banality of evil.” She also posited that Eichmann suffered from an “inability to think” and did not really understand Naziism, ideas that have been disputed by several later scholars.

Arendt also served as research director of the Conference on Jewish Relations (1944–46) and executive director of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, New York City (1949–52). Her other writings include On Revolution (1963), Men in Dark Times (1968), On Violence (1969), and Crises of the Republic (1972).

See L. Kohler and H. Saner, ed., Hannah Arendt–Karl Jaspers: Correspondence, 1926–1969 (tr. by R. and R. Kimber, 1992), C. Brightman, ed., Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, 1949–1975 (1995), and U. Ludtz, ed., Letters, 1925–1975: Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger (2003); biographies by E. Young-Bruehl (1982) and M.-I. Brudny (2008); E. Ettinger, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger (1995), D. Villa, Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political (1995), and R. Wolin, Heidegger's Children (2001); studies by S. J. Whitfield (1980), L. Bradshaw (1989), and H. F. Pitkin (1998); B. Stangneth, Eichmann before Jerusalem (2011, tr. 2014); A. Ushpiz, dir., Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt (documentary, 2016).

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