My goal is to explore with you key works by the political theorist, Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and several of her essays.
As a public intellectual, Arendt brought humanities’ perspectives to bear on central 20th century questions, issues remaining salient in the present. In writing that spanned nearly a dozen books and scores of essays, including those published in major literary journals of her time, but also in her voluminous correspondence, Arendt investigated the problem of evil and terror in the contemporary age, provided a philosophical perspective on violence in politics, explored how dramatic advances in science and technology changed relationships between humans and the natural world, controversially sought to defend a “realm of privacy” against over-intrusive technologies and social practices, and examined the conditions of democratic rule and the scope and significance of global human rights. As Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, her biographer, wrote in Why Arendt Matters (2006), today, Arendt’s wisdom on these and other topics seems more germane now than ever.
October 2006 marked the centennial of Hannah Arendt’s birth in Hannover, Germany. Around the world, conferences were held to celebrate the life and work of this brilliant political philosopher. Yet Hannah Arendt refused to call herself a philosopher. She was a complicated and controversial person: a woman who never considered her sex an obstacle in her life, a Jew who was called anti-Semitic for her controversial portrait of Adolf Eichmann as a “thoughtless,” “terrifyingly normal” person, and a rigorous thinker who wrote passionately about hatred and love. She tackled some of the thorniest moral and political questions of modern times. Her contentious positions on violence, politics, moral judgment and the role of forgiveness and love in human affairs made her as well known in literary and political circles for her brave, powerful prose, as she was among academicians for her philosophical arguments. Margareth von Trotta’s recent film, Hannah Arendt: The Movie, has played around the world to critical acclaim, generating increased interest in Arendt. More recently, the Israeli filmmaker, Ada Ushpiz, directed a documentary on Arendt: “Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.” Ms. Ushpiz will join us for a screening of her film during the first week of the seminar.