Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt in 1975
Born (1906-10-14)14 October 1906
Linden, Prussian Hanover, German Empire
Died 4 December 1975(1975-12-04) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Resting place Bard College, New York
Other names
  • Johanna Cohn Arendt
  • Hannah Arendt Bluecher
Parent(s) Paul Arendt, Martha Cohn

Philosophy career
Alma mater
Notable work
Era Twentieth-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Doctoral advisor Karl Jaspers[5]
Main interests
Political theory, modernity, philosophy of history
Notable ideas
Website www.hannaharendtcenter.org

Johanna "Hannah" Arendt (/ˈɛərənt, ˈɑːrənt/; German: [ˈaːʁənt];[9] (Hannah Arendt Bluecher) 14 October 1906 – 4 December 1975) was a German-born American philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.

Arendt was born in Hanover, but largely raised in Königsberg in a secular merchant Jewish culture. Her parents were social democrats, but her father died when she was seven. After completing her secondary education, she studied at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a brief affair, but who had a lasting influence on her thinking. She obtained her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 at the University of Heidelberg with Karl Jaspers. That year she married Günther Stern, but soon began to encounter increasing antisemitism in 1930s Germany. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and while researching antisemitic propaganda for the Zionist Federation of Germany in Berlin that year, she was denounced and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. On release, she fled Germany, living in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before settling in Paris. There she worked for Youth Aliyah, assisting young Jews to emigrate to Palestine. Divorcing Stern in 1937, she married Heinrich Blücher in 1940, but when Germany invaded France in 1940 she was detained by the French as an alien, despite having being stripped of her German citizenship in 1937. She escaped and made her way to the United States in 1941 via Portugal. She settled in New York, which remained her principle residence for the rest of her life. She became a writer and editor and worked for the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, becoming an American citizen in 1950. With the appearance of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, her reputation as a thinker and writer was established and a series of seminal works followed. These included The Human Condition in 1958, and both Eichmann in Jerusalem and On Revolution in 1963. She taught at many American universities, while declining tenure-track appointments. She died suddenly from a heart attack in 1975, at the age of 69, leaving her last work, The Life of the Mind, unfinished.

Her works cover a broad range of topics, but she is best known for those dealing with the nature of power and evil, as well as politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. In the popular mind she is best remembered for the controversy surrounding the trial of Adolf Eichmann, her attempt to explain how ordinary people become actors in totalitarian systems, which was considered an apologia, and for the phrase "the banality of evil". She is commemorated by institutions and journals devoted to her thinking, the Hannah Arendt Prize for political thinking, and on stamps, street names and schools, amongst other things.

Early life and education (1906–1929)

Family of origin

The Arendt Family
Hannah Arendt with her grandfather, Max, in 1907
Hannah with her mother in 1912
Hannah as a schoolgirl, studying in the family library in 1920

Hannah Arendt was born Johanna Cohn Arendt[10][11] in 1906 into a comfortable educated secular family of German Jews in Linden, Prussia (now a part of Hanover), in Wilhelmine Germany. The family were merchants of Russian extraction from Königsberg,[lower-alpha 1] the East Prussian capital. There, Hannah's paternal grandfather, Max Arendt (1843–1913), was a prominent business man and local politician.[12] Of his children, Henriette Arendt (1874–1922) was a policewoman who became a social worker,[13] and Paul Arendt (1873–1913) an engineer. Hannah was the only child of Paul and Martha (born Cohn) Arendt (1874–1948),[14] who were married on April 11, 1902.[15][16] Martha Arendt was a musician, educated in France, and the couple were social democrats.[10] Paul Arendt was employed by an electrical engineering firm in Linden, and they lived in a frame house on the market square (Marktplatz).[17] The Cohns had originally come to Königsberg from nearby Russian territory (now Lithuania) in 1852, as refugees from anti-semitism there, and made their living as tea importers, J. N. Cohn & Company becoming the largest business in the city. The Arendts had reached Germany from Russia a century earlier.[18][19]

The Arendt family moved back to Königsberg in 1909, because of Paul Arendt's deteriorating health.[20][6] Hannah's father suffered from a prolonged illness with syphilis and had to be institutionalised in 1911, dying on October 30 1913 when Hannah was only seven, leaving her mother to raise her.[15][21] There they lived at Hannah’s grandfather’s house at Tiergartenstrasse 6, a leafy residential street adjacent to the Königsberg Tiergarten, in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Hufen.[22] Hannah grew up in circles that included many intellectuals and professionals. It was a social circle of high standards and ideals. As she recalled it:

My early intellectual formation occurred in an atmosphere where nobody paid much attention to moral questions; we were brought up under the assumption: Das Moralische versteht sich von selbst, moral conduct is a matter of course.[23]

This was a particularly favourable period for the Jewish community in Königsberg, an important center of the Haskalah (enlightenment).[24][25] Arendt's family was thoroughly assimilated ("Germanized")[26] and she later remembered: "With us from Germany, the word 'assimilation' received a 'deep' philosophical meaning. You can hardly realize how serious we were about it."[27] Arendt came to define her Jewish identity negatively after encountering antisemitism as an adult.[27] She came to greatly identify with Rahel Varnhagen, the eighteenth-century Prussian socialite[21] who desperately wanted to assimilate into German culture, only to be rejected because she was born Jewish.[27] Arendt later said of Varnhagen that she was "my very closest woman friend, unfortunately dead a hundred years now."[27] Varnhagen would later become the subject of a biography by Hannah.[28] After the First World War ended, Hannah's mother organised social democratic discussion groups and became a follower of Rosa Luxembourg as socialist uprisings broke out across Germany.[29] Luxembourg's writings would later influence Hannah's political thinking. In 1920 Martha Cohn married Martin Beerwald (1869–1941), an ironmonger and widower, and they moved to his home at Busoldstrasse 6,[30] providing Hannah with improved social and financial security. Hannah was fourteen at the time and acquired two older stepsisters, Clara (20) and Eva (19).[31]


Königin-Luise-Schule in Königsberg ca. 1914

Hannah Arendt enrolled in the Szittnich School, Königsberg (Hufen-Oberlyzeum), on Bahnstrasse in August 1913, but her studies there were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, forcing the family to temporarily flee to Berlin on August 23, 1914, in the face of the advancing Russian army.[32] There they stayed with her mother's sister, Margarethe Fuerst, and her three children, where Hannah attended school in Berlin-Charlottenburg.[33] When Königsberg appeared to be no longer threatened, they returned after ten weeks, spending the remaining war years there at her grandfather's house. Arendt was a precocious child, who started a philosophy club at her school and who, by the age of 14, had already read Kierkegaard, Jaspers' Psychologie der Weltanschauungen and Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason). Kant, whose home town was also Königsberg, was an important influence in her thinking, and it was Kant who had written presciently about Königsberg "such a town is the right place for gaining knowledge concerning men and the world even without travelling".[34] Arendt attended the Königin-Luise-Schule for her secondary education, a girl's gymnasium on Landhofmeisterstrasse.[35]

Early homes
Hannah Arendt's birthplace in Linden
Tiergartenstrasse, Königsberg 1920s
Lutherstrasse 4, Marburg
Schlossberg, Heidelberg

Her education at the Luise-Schule ended in 1923 when she was expelled for boycotting a teacher. Instead, her mother arranged for her to audit classes at the University of Berlin, including classics and Christian theology under Romano Guardini, enabling her to successfully sit the entrance examination (Abitur) for the University of Marburg, where she enrolled in 1924.[36] There she studied classical languages, German literature, protestant theology with Rudolf Bultmann and philosophy with Nicolai Hartmann and Martin Heidegger.[37] According to Hans Jonas, her only Jewish classmate, in her year at the university, Arendt (17) began a long and problematic romantic relationship with Heidegger (35),[38] who was married and for which she was later criticized because of his support for the Nazi Party after being elected rector at the University of Freiburg in 1933. Nevertheless, he remained one of the most profound influences on her thinking.[39] The details of the relationship remained a secret till Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's biography of Arendt appeared in 1982. At that time, Arendt and Heidegger had died, but Heidegger's wife Elfride Petri (1893–1992) was still alive. At Marburg, Arendt lived at Lutherstrasse 4.[40]

After a year at Marburg, Arendt spent a semester at Freiburg University, attending the lectures of Edmund Husserl.[8] In 1926 she moved to the University of Heidelberg, where in 1929, she completed her dissertation under the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers (1883–1969), a friend of Heidegger's.[29] Her thesis was entitled Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin: Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation ("On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine: Attempt at a philosophical interpretation").[41] She remained a lifelong friend of Jaspers and his wife, Gertrud Mayer (1879–1974), developing a deep intellectual relationship with him.[42] At Heidelberg, her circle of friends included Hans Jonas, who had also moved from Marburg to study Augustine, working on his Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem. Ein philosophischer Beitrag zur Genesis der christlich-abendländischen Freiheitsidee (1930),[lower-alpha 2] and also a group of three young philosophers Karl Frankenstein, Erich Neumann and Erwin Loewenson.[43] She also met Karl Blumenfeld, a Zionist, at a lecture, who introduced her to Jewish politics. In 1929, she also met the Jewish philosopher Gunther Stern (1902–1992) and began a relationship with him.[29] At Heidelberg, she lived in the old town (Altstadt) near the castle, at Schlossberg 16. The house was demolished in the 1960s, but the one remaining wall bears this plaque commemorating her time there.[44]

Arendt at Heidelberg 1926–1929
Hannah Arendt (2nd from right) with friends at Heidelberg University 1928
Plaque marking Arendt's residence in Heidelberg

On completing her dissertation, Hannah Arendt turned to Rahel Varnhagen and the question of assimilation as the subject for her Habilitationsschrift[lower-alpha 3] and hence an academic teaching career. However 1929 was also the year of the Depression and the end of the golden years (Goldene Zwanziger) of the Weimar Republic, which was to become increasingly unstable over its remaining four years. Arendt, as a Jew, had little if any chance of obtaining an academic appointment in Germany.[46] Nevertheless she completed most of the work before she was forced to leave Germany.[47]


Germany (1929–1933)

In 1929, in Berlin, the year her dissertation was published, she and Günther Stern were married. He started writing using the less Jewish sounding nom-de-plume of Günther Anders, i.e "Other", and they moved permanently to an apartment in Berlin in 1930.[21] In 1932, Arendt was deeply troubled by reports that Heidegger was speaking at National Socialist meetings. She wrote, asking him to deny that he was attracted to National Socialism. Heidegger replied that he did not seek to deny the rumors (which were true), and merely assured her that his feelings for her were unchanged.[27]

As a Jew in Nazi Germany, Arendt was prevented from making a living and discriminated against. By 1933, life for the Jewish population in Germany was becoming precarious. Adolf Hitler became Bundeskanzler (Chancellor) in January, and the Reichstag was burned down (Reichstagsbrand) the following month. This led to the suspension of civil liberties, and attacks on the left and in particular, members of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party: KPD). Stern, with his communist associations fled to Paris, but Arendt stayed on to become an activist, but knowing her time was limited, using their Berlin apartment as a waystation for fugitives.[48]

She took a public position by publishing part of her largely completed biography of Rahel Varnhagen as Originale Assimilation: Ein Nachwort zu Rahel Varnhagen 100 Todestag (Original Assimilation: An Epilogue to the One Hundredth Anniversary of Rahel Varnhagen's Death) in the Kölnische Zeitung on March 7, 1933 and a little later also in Jüdische Rundschau.[lower-alpha 4][46] In the article she argues that the age of assimilation that began with Varnhagen's generation had come to an end with an official state policy of antisemitism. She opened with the declaration:

Today in Germany it seems Jewish assimilation must declare its bankruptcy. The general social antisemitism and its official legitimation affects in the first instance assimilated Jews, who can no longer protect themselves through baptism or by emphasizing their differences from Eastern Judaism.[lower-alpha 5][51]

She researched antisemitism for some time, joining Kurt Blumenfeld's Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland (Zionist Federation of Germany). Her research at the Prussian State Library, which was illegal at that time,[52] led to her being denounced by a librarian for anti-state propaganda and the arrest of both Hannah and her mother by the Gestapo, serving eight days in prison. Her notebooks were in code and could not be deciphered, and she was released by a sympathetic young arresting officer to await trial.[21][37][53]

France (1933–1941)

Paris (1933–1940)

On release, realising the danger she was now in, Arendt and her mother fled Germany[21] following the established escape route over the Erzgebirge Mountains into Czechoslovakia and on to Prague and then Geneva, where she worked for some time at the League of Nations. From Geneva they traveled to Paris in the autumn, where she was reunited with Stern, joining a stream of refugees.[54] While Arendt had left Germany without papers, her mother had travel documents and returned to Königsberg and her husband.[55] In Paris, she befriended Stern's cousin, the Marxist literary critic and philosopher, Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) and also the Jewish philosopher Raymond Aron (1905–1983).[54] She started working for Agriculture et Artisanat and then the similar Youth Aliyah, a Zionist organisation affiliated with Hadassah, that helped young Jewish orphans[56] emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine as agricultural workers, saving many from the holocaust,[57][58][21] and eventually becoming Secretary-General (1935–1939).[11][54] Her work with Youth Aliyah involved finding the orphans food, clothing and education, social workers and lawyers, but above all, fund raising.[37] With the Nazi annexation of Austria and invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Paris was flooded with refugees, and she became the special agent for the rescue of the children from those countries.[11] She then became assistant to the philanthropist Baroness Germaine de Rothschild (1884–1979), overseeing her contributions to Jewish charities.[54][59]

In Paris, she also met the German poet and Marxist philosopher, Heinrich Blücher (1899–1970), in 1936.[21][60] Blücher had been a founding member of the KPD but had been expelled due to his work in the Conciliator faction. In 1937, she was stripped of her German citizenship and she and Günther Stern divorced that year. In 1938, she completed her biography of Rahel Varnhagen,[28][61][62] although this was not published till 1958.[63][21] In April 1939, following the horrors of Kristallnacht (November 1938), Martha Beerwald realised her daughter would not return and made the difficult decision to leave her husband and join Hannah in Paris. One stepdaughter had died and the other had moved to England, Martin Beerwald would not leave and she no longer had any close ties to Königsberg.[64] On January 16, 1940, Hannah and Blücher married, shortly after their divorces were finalized.[65]

Internment and escape (1940–1941)

On May 5, 1940, in anticipation of the Germany invasion of France and the Low Countries that month, the Gouverneur général of Paris issued a proclamation ordering all "enemy aliens" between 17 and 55, who had come from Germany (predominantly Jews) to report separately for internment. The women were gathered together in the Vélodrome d'Hiver on May 15. Hannah's mother, being over 55 was allowed to stay in Paris. She described the process of making refugees as "the new type of human being created by contemporary history...put into concentration camps by their foes and into internment camps by their friends".[65] [66] Arendt was sent to Camp Gurs, in south-west France, close to the Spanish border, a week later. The camp had originally been set up to accommodate refugees from Spain. On June 22, France capitulated and signed the Compiègne armistice, dividing the country. Gurs was in the southern Vichy controlled section. In the ensuiing chaos she managed to obtain liberation papers enabling her to leave the camp, with about 200 of the 7,000 women held there. There was no Résistance then, but she managed to walk and hitchhike north to Montauban,[lower-alpha 6] near Toulouse where she knew she would find help.[66][67]

Montauban had become an unofficial capital for former detainees, and her friend Lotta Sempell Klembort was staying there. Heinrich's camp near Paris had been evacuated in the wake of the German advance and he had also managed to make his way to Montauban, where the two of them led a fugitive life. Eventually they managed to secure visas and cross the border into Spain. They relied on visas illegally issued by the American diplomat Hiram Bingham, who aided roughly 2,500 Jewish refugees in this way. Varian Fry, another American humanitarian, paid for their travel and helped obtain the visas. From Spain they traveled to Lisbon, Portugal and eventually secured a passage to New York with her mother in 1941.[68]

New York

Upon arriving in New York, Arendt became active in the German-Jewish community. From 1941 to 1945, she wrote a column for the German-language Jewish newspaper Aufbau, writing on anti-semitism, refugees and the need for a Jewish army. She also wrote for other German émigré publications. She was also an editor at Schocken Books, which published a number of her works.[21] Beginning in 1944, she was the director of research and Executive Director for the Commission of European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, and in that capacity traveled to Europe after the war.[69][70][71] Together with her husband, she lived at 370 Riverside Drive in New York and at Kingston, New York, where Blücher taught at nearby Bard College for many years.[21][72]


In the 1950s Arendt wrote some of her most important works, including The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951),[73] The Human Condition (1958)[74] and On Revolution (1963).[75][21] Arendt began corresponding with the American author Mary McCarthy, six years her junior, in 1950 and they soon became lifelong friends.[76][77] In 1950, Arendt also became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[78] The same year, she started seeing Martin Heidegger again, and had what the American writer Adam Kirsch called a "quasi-romance," that lasted for two years, with the man who had previously been her mentor, teacher, and lover.[27] During this time, Arendt defended him against critics who noted his enthusiastic membership in the Nazi party. She portrayed Heidegger as a naïve man swept up by forces beyond his control, and pointed out that Heidegger's philosophy had nothing to do with National Socialism.[27]


Arendt taught at many institutions of higher learning, but preserving her independence, consistently refused tenure-track positions. She served as a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame, University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University (where she was the first woman to be appointed a full professor in 1959), and Northwestern University. She also taught at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1967, where she was a member of the Committee on Social Thought, The New School in Manhattan where she taught as a university professor from 1967 until her death in 1975, Yale University, where she was a fellow, as well as the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University (1961–62, 1962–63).[21][79] She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962[80] and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1964.[81] At the time of her death, she was University Professor of Political Philosophy at the New School.[72]

In 1974, Arendt was instrumental in the creation of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford University. She wrote a letter to the president of Stanford to persuade the university to enact Mark Mancall's vision of a residentially-based humanities program.[72]


In addition to her affair with Heidegger, and her two marriages, Hannah Arendt had a number of close friendships. Friendship, she described as being one of "tätigen Modi des Lebendigseins" (the active modes of being alive), [82] and to her, friendship was central to the concept of politics.[83] She always had a beste Freundin. In her teens she formed a lifelong relationship with Anne Mendelssohn Weil ("Annchen").[lower-alpha 7] On emigrating to America, Hilde Frankel, Paul Tillich's secretary and mistress, filled that role till her death in 1950. After the war Arendt was able to return to Germany and renew her relationship with Anne, who made several visits to New York, especially after Heinrich Blücher 's death in 1970. Their last meeting was in Tegna, Switzerland in 1975, shortly before Hannah's death.[85] With Hilde's death, Mary McCarthy became her closest friend and confidante. Another friend was the German philologist Ernst Grumach, whom she had met when he was Anne's boyfriend.[40][86][87]

Final illness and death

While Heinrich Blücher had survived a cerebral aneurysm in 1961, he remained unwell after 1963, sustaining a series of heart attacks, but on October 31, 1970 he died of a massive heart attack, leaving Arendt alone. She had previously told Mary McCarthy "Life without him would be unthinkable".[88] Hannah Arendt was also a heavy smoker and was frequently depicted with a cigarette in her hand. She sustained a near fatal heart attack while lecturing in Scotland in May 1974 and although she recovered she remained in poor health afterwards, and continued to smoke.[89] On the evening of December 4 1975, shortly after her 69th birthday, she had a further heart attack in her apartment while entertaining friends, and was pronounced dead at the scene.[90] She was buried alongside Blücher at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.[72]

After her death the title page of the final part of The Life of the Mind (Judging) was found in her typewriter, which she had just started, consisting of the title and two epigraphs. This has subsequently been reproduced (see image).[91]


Arendt wrote works on intellectual history as a philosopher, using events and actions to develop insights into contemporary totalitarian movements and the threat to human freedom presented by scientific abstraction and bourgeois morality. In addition to her major texts she published a number of anthologies, including Between Past and Future (1961),[92] Men in Dark Times (1968)[93] and Crises of the Republic (1972).[94] She also contributed to many publications, including The New York Review of Books, Commonweal, Dissent and The New Yorker.[21] She is perhaps best known for her accounts of Adolf Eichmann and his trial,[95] because of the intense controversy that it generated.[96] She was also a minor poet, but she kept this very private.[97]

Political theory and philosophical system

While Arendt never developed a coherent political theory and her writing does not easily lend itself to categorization, the tradition of thought most closely identified with Arendt is that of civic republicanism, from Aristotle to Toqueville. Her political concept is centered around active citizenship which emphasizes civic engagement and collective deliberation.[8] She believed that no matter how bad, government could never succeed in extinguishing human freedom, despite observing how modern societies frequently retreat from democratic freedom with its inherent disorder for the relative comfort of administrative bureaucracy. Her political legacy is her powerful defense of freedom in the face of an increasingly less than free world.[21] Nor does she adhere to a single systematic philosophy, but rather spans a range of subjects covering totalitarianism, revolution, the nature of freedom and the faculties of thought and judgment.[6]

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

Arendt's first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951),[73] examined the roots of Communism and Nazism. The book is structured as three essays, Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism. In this book, Arendt argues that totalitarianism was a "novel form of government," that "differs essentially from other forms of political oppression known to us such as despotism, tyranny and dictatorship"[98] in that it applied terror to subjugate mass populations rather than just political adversaries.[99][100] The book was opposed by some on the left on the grounds that it presented the two movements as equally tyrannical.[101] She further contends that Jewry was not the operative factor in the Holocaust, but merely a convenient proxy. That totalitarianism in Germany was, in the end, about terror and consistency, not eradicating Jews only.[102][100]

A second, enlarged edition was published in 1958, and contains a chapter (14) dealing with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, entitled Epilogue: Reflections on the Hungarian Revolution. Subsequent editions omitted this chapter, which was published separately in English (Totalitarian Imperialism: Reflections on the Hungarian Revolution)[103] and German (Die ungarische Revolution und der totalitäre Imperialismus)[104] in 1958.[105]

The Human Condition (1958)

In what is arguably her most influential work, The Human Condition (1958),[74] Arendt differentiates political and social concepts, labor and work, and various forms of actions; she then explores the implications of those distinctions. Her theory of political action, corresponding to the existence of a public realm, is extensively developed in this work. Arendt argues that, while human life always evolves within societies, the social part of human nature, political life, has been intentionally realized in only a few societies as a space for individuals to achieve freedom. Conceptual categories, which attempt to bridge the gap between ontological and sociological structures, are sharply delineated. While Arendt relegates labor and work to the realm of the social, she favors the human condition of action as that which is both existential and aesthetic.[8]

Between Past and Future (1961)

Between Past and Future is an anthology of six essays written between 1954 and 1961, and later expanded, and deals with a variety of different philosophical subjects including freedom, education, authority, tradition, history and politics. The essays share the central idea that humans are living between the past and the uncertain future. They must permanently think to exist, and each man is required to learn thinking. For a long time humans have resorted to tradition, but in modern times, this tradition has been abandoned, there is no more respect for tradition and culture. In these essays, Arendt tries to find solutions to help humans think again today. According to her, there is no way to live again with tradition, and modern philosophy has not succeeded in helping humans to live correctly.[92]

On Revolution (1963)

Arendt's book On Revolution[75] presents a comparison of two of the main revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. She goes against a common view of both Marxist and leftist views when she argues that France, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success. The turning point in the French Revolution occurred when the leaders rejected their goals of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In the United States, the founders never betray the goal of Constitutio Libertatis. Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men had been lost, however, and advocates a "council system" as an appropriate institution to regain that spirit.[106]

Men in Dark Times (1968)

The anthology of essays, Men in Dark Times, presents intellectual biographies of some creative and moral figures of the twentieth century, such as Walter Benjamin, Karl Jaspers, Rosa Luxemburg, Hermann Broch, Pope John XXIII, and Isak Dinesen.[93]

Crises of the Republic (1972)

Crises of the Republic was the third of Arendt's anthologies, and as the subtitle Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience, On Violence, Thoughts on Politics and Revolution indicates, consists of four interconnected essays on contemporary American politics and the crises it faced in the 1960s and 1970s. The first essay, Lying in Politics looks for an explanation behind the administration's deception regarding the Vietnam War, as revealed in the Pentagon Papers. Civil Disobedience examines the opposition movements, while the final Thoughts on Politics and Revolution is a commentary, in the form of an interview on the third essay, On Violence.[94][107]

On Violence

On Violence, the third of these essays, distinguishes between violence and power. Arendt maintains that, although theorists of both the left and right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Power comes from the collective will and does not need violence to achieve any of its goals, since voluntary compliance takes its place. As governments start losing their legitimacy, violence becomes an artificial means toward the same end and is, therefore, found only in the absence of power. Bureaucracies then become the ideal birthplaces of violence since they are defined as the "rule by no one" against whom to argue and, therefore, recreate the missing links with the people they rule over.[107]

Posthumous publications

The Life of the Mind (1978)

Arendt's last major work, The Life of the Mind[108] remained incomplete at the time of her death. During Arendt's tenure at the New School, in 1974, she presented a graduate level political philosophy class entitled, Philosophy of the Mind. It was during these class lectures that Arendt crystallized her concepts. The class was based on her working draft of Philosophy of the Mind, which was later edited to Life of the Mind. Arendt's working draft of Philosophy of the Mind was distributed to graduate students at the New School during her visiting professorship in 1974. She conceived of a trilogy based on the mental activities of thinking, willing, and judging. Stemming from her Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland (1972–1974),[109] her last writing focused on the first two. In a sense, Life of the Mind went beyond her previous work concerning the vita activa. In her discussion of thinking, she focuses mainly on Socrates and his notion of thinking as a solitary dialogue between oneself. This appropriation of Socrates leads her to introduce novel concepts of conscience—an enterprise that gives no positive prescriptions, but instead, tells one what I cannot do if I would remain friends with myself when I re-enter the two-in-one of thought where I must render an account of my actions to myself—and morality—an entirely negative enterprise concerned with forbidding participation in certain actions for the sake of remaining friends with oneself. She died suddenly five days after completing the second part, with the first page of Judging, still in her typewriter. The task then fell to McCarthy to edit the first two parts and provide some indication of the direction of the third.[110][111]

Although Arendt's exact intentions in the third part are unknown, she did leave manuscripts (such as Thinking and Moral Considerations and Some Questions on Moral Philosophy) and lectures (Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy) concerning her thoughts on the mental faculty of Judging. The first two articles were edited and published in an anthology (Responsibility and Judgement) by Jerome Kohn, one of Arendt's assistants and a director of the Hannah Arendt Center at The New School in New York, in 2003.[112] The last was edited and published by Ronald Beiner, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, in 1982.[113]

Collected works

After Hannah Arendt's death a number of her essays and notes have continued to be edited and published posthumously by friends and colleagues, including those that give some insight into the unfinished third part of The Life of the Mind. The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age (1978),[114] is a collection of 15 essays and letters from the period 1943–1966 on the situation of Jews in modern times, to try and throw some light on her views on the Jewish world, following the backlash to Eichmann, but proved to be equally polarising.[115][116] A further collection of her writings on being Jewish was published as The Jewish Writings (2007).[117][118] Other work includes the collection of forty, largely fugitive,[lower-alpha 8] essays, addresses, and reviews entitled Essays in Understanding 1930–1934: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism (1994),[119] that presaged her monumental The Origins of Totalitarianism,[73] in particular On the Nature of Totalitarianism (1953) and The Concern with Politics in Contemporary European Philosophical Thought (1954).[120] The remaining essays were published as Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975 (2018).[121] Her notebooks which form a series of memoirs, were published as Denktagebuch in 2002.[122][123]

Some further insight into her thinking is provided in the posthumous publication of her correspondence with Karl Jaspers (1992),[42] Mary McCarthy (1995),[77] Heinrich Blücher (1996),[124] Martin Heidegger (2004),[125] and Walter Benjamin (2006). other correspondence that has been published, include those with a number of women friends such as Hilde Fränkel and Anne Mendelsohn Weil (see Relationships).[126] [127]

Arendt and the Eichmann trial (1961–1963)

On hearing of Adolf Eichmann's capture and plans for his trial, Hannah Arendt contacted The New Yorker and offered to travel to Israel to cover it. The offer was accepted and in her subsequent reporting of the 1961 trial in 1963,[128] which evolved into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963),[95] Arendt was critical of the way the trial was conducted in Israel and coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the phenomenon of Eichmann. She examined the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions. Arendt's argument was that Eichmann was not a monster, contrasting the immensity of his actions with the very ordinariness of the man himself. Eichmann, she stated, not only called himself a Zionist, having initially opposed the Jewish persecution, but also expected his captors to understand him. She pointed out that his actions were not driven by malice, but rather blind dedication to the regime and his need to belong, to be a joiner. In his own words:

I sensed I would have to live a leaderless and difficult individual life, I would receive no directives from anybody, no orders and commands would any longer be issued to me, no pertinent ordinances would be there to consult—in brief, a life never known before lay ahead of me.[128]

What Arendt observed, during the trial was a bourgeois sales clerk, who found a meaningful role for himself and a sense of importance in the Nazi movement. She noted that his addiction to clichés and use of bureaucratic morality clouded his ability to question his actions, "to think". This led her to set out her most famous, and most debated, dictum “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”[128][21]

Arendt was also critical of the way that some Jewish leaders, notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust, which she described as a moral catastrophe. While her argument was not to allocate blame, rather she mourns what she considered a moral failure of compromising the imperative that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. She describes the cooperation of the Jewish leaders in terms of a disintegration of Jewish morality "this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter in the whole dark story". Widely, misunderstood, this caused an even greater controversy and particularly animosity toward her in the Jewish community and in Israel.[21]

Arendt was profoundly shocked by the response, writing to Karl Jaspers "People are resorting to any means to destroy my reputation...They have spent weeks trying to find something in my past that they can hang on me". Her critics included The Anti-Defamation League and many other Jewish groups, editors of publications she was a contributor to, faculty at the universities she taught at and friends from all parts of her life.[129] Her friend Gershom Scholem, a major scholar of Jewish mysticism, broke off relations with her. Arendt was criticized by many Jewish public figures, who charged her with coldness and lack of sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. Because of this lingering criticism neither this book nor any of her other works were translated into Hebrew, until 1999.[130] Arendt responded to the controversies in the book's Postscript;

The controversy began by calling attention to the conduct of the Jewish people during the years of the Final Solution, thus following up the question, first raised by the Israeli prosecutor, of whether the Jews could or should have defended themselves. I had dismissed that question as silly and cruel, since it testified to a fatal ignorance of the conditions at the time. It has now been discussed to exhaustion, and the most amazing conclusions have been drawn. The well-known historico-sociological construct of "ghetto mentality"… has been repeatedly dragged in to explain behavior which was not at all confined to the Jewish people and which therefore cannot be explained by specifically Jewish factors… This was the unexpected conclusion certain reviewers chose to draw from the "image" of a book, created by certain interest groups, in which I allegedly had claimed that the Jews had murdered themselves.[131]

Arendt ended the book by writing:

Just as you Eichmann supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

Prior to Arendt's depiction of Eichmann, the popular image had been, as the New York Times put it "the most evil monster of humanity".[132] Rejections of Arendt's characterization of Eichmann[133] and allegations of racism against her have persisted ever since.[134] Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard, states that Arendt neither defended Eichmann, nor denied that his actions were evil and that he was an anti-semite, nor that he should be executed for his actions. But rather that we should understand that those actions were neither monstrous, nor sadistic. In understanding Eichmann, Arendt argues, we come to understand a greater truth about the nature of evil, that individuals participate in atrocities from an inability to critically examine blind allegiance to ideologies that provide a sense of meaning in a lonely and alienating world. Thus, she concludes, thoughtless zealotry is the face of evil in the modern world.[21]

Selected publications



Articles and essays






In 1961, while covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt wrote a letter to Karl Jaspers that Adam Kirsch described as reflecting "pure racism" toward Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. She wrote:

On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.[27]

Although Arendt remained a Zionist both during and after World War II, she made it clear that she favored the creation of a Jewish-Arab federated state in Palestine, rather than a purely Jewish state. She believed that this was a way to address Jewish statelessness and to avoid the pitfalls of nationalism.[135][118]

It was not just Arendt's analysis of the Eichmann trial that drew accusations of racism. In her 1958 essay in Dissent entitled Reflections on Little Rock[136] she expressed opposition to desegregation following the 1957 Little Rock Integration Crisis in Arkansas. As she explains in the preface, for a long time the magazine was reluctant to print her contribution, so far did it appear to differ from the publication's liberal values. Eventually it was printed alongside critical responses. Later the New Yorker would express similar hesitancy over the Eichmann papers. So vehement was the response, that Arendt felt obliged to defend herself in a sequel.[137] The debate over this essay has continued since.[138] William Simmons devotes a whole section of his 2011 text on human rights (Human Rights Law and the Marginalized Other)[139] to a critique of Arendt's position and in particular on Little Rock.[140] While a number of critics feel she was fundamentally racist,[141] many of those who have defended Arendt's position have pointed out that her concerns were for the welfare of the children, a position she maintained throughout her life. She felt that the children were being subjected to trauma in order to serve a broader political strategy of forcible integration.[142] While over time Arendt conceded some ground to her critics, namely that she argued as an outsider, she remained committed to her central critique that children should not be thrust into the frontlines of geopolitical conflict.[143]

Critique of human rights

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt devotes a lengthy chapter (The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man)[144] to a critical analysis of human rights, in what has been described as "the most widely read essay on refugees ever published".[145] Arendt is not skeptical of the notion of political rights in general, but instead defends a national or civil conception of rights.[146] Human rights, or the Rights of Man as they were commonly called, are universal, inalienable, and possessed simply by virtue of being human. In contrast, civil rights are possessed by virtue of belonging to a political community, most commonly by being a citizen. Arendt's primary criticism of human rights is that they are ineffectual and illusory because their enforcement is in tension with national sovereignty.[147] She argued that since there is no political authority above that of sovereign nations, state governments have little incentive to respect human rights when such policies conflict with national interests. This can be seen most clearly by examining the treatment of refugees and other stateless people. Since the refugee has no state to secure their civil rights, the only rights they have to fall back on are human rights. In this way Arendt uses the refugee as a test case for examining human rights in isolation from civil rights.[148]

Arendt's analysis draws on the refugee upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century along with her own experience as a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany. She argued that as state governments began to emphasize national identity as a prerequisite for full legal status, the number of minority resident aliens increased along with the number of stateless persons whom no state was willing to recognize legally.[149] The two potential solutions to the refugee problem, repatriation and naturalization, both proved incapable of solving the crisis. Arendt argued that repatriation failed to solve the refugee crisis because no government was willing to take them in and claim them as their own. When refugees were forcibly deported to neighboring countries, such immigration was deemed illegal by the receiving country, and so failed to change the fundamental status of the migrants as stateless. Attempts at naturalizing and assimilating refugees also had little success. This failure was primarily the result of resistance from both state governments and the majority of citizens, since both tended to see the refugees as undesirables who threatened their national identity. Resistance to naturalization also came from the refugees themselves who resisted assimilation and attempted to maintain their own ethnic and national identities.[150] Arendt contends that neither naturalization nor the tradition of asylum was capable of handling the sheer number of refugees. Instead of accepting some refugees with legal status, the state often responded by denaturalizing minorities who shared national or ethnic ties with stateless refugees.[148]

Arendt argues that the consistent mistreatment of refugees, most of whom were placed in internment camps, is evidence against the existence of human rights. If the notion of human rights as universal and inalienable is to be taken seriously, the rights must be realizable given the features of the modern liberal state.[151] She concluded "The Rights of Man, supposedly inalienable, proved to be unenforceable–even in countries whose constitutions were based upon them–whenever people appeared who were no longer citizens of any sovereign state".[152] Arendt contends that they are not realizable because they are in tension with at least one feature of the liberal state—national sovereignty. One of the primary ways in which a nation exercises sovereignty is through control over national borders. State governments consistently grant their citizens free movement to traverse national borders. In contrast, the movement of refugees is often restricted in the name of national interests.[153] This restriction presents a dilemma for liberalism because liberal theorists typically are committed to both human rights and the existence of sovereign nations.[148]

In one of her most quoted passages,[154] she puts forward the concept that human rights are little more than an abstraction:

The conception of human rights based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships - except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.[155]

Several authors have written biographies that focus on the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger.[156][38][39] In 1999, the French feminist philosopher Catherine Clément wrote a novel, Martin and Hannah,[157] speculating on the trianglular relationship between Heidegger and the two women in his life, Arendt and Heidegger's wife Elfriede Petri. In addition to the relationships, the novel is a serious exploration of philosophical ideas, that centers on Arendt's last meeting with Heidegger in Freiburg in 1975. The scene is based on Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's description in Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (1982),[40] but reaches back to their childhoods, and Heidegger's role in encouraging the relationship between the two women.[158] The novel explores Heidegger's embrace of Nazism as a proxy for that of Germany and, as in Arendt's treatment of Eichmann, the difficult relationship between collective guilt and personal responsibility. Clément also brings Hannah's other mentor and confidante, Karl Jaspers, into the matrix of relationships.[159]


Hannah Arendt is widely considered one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century.[8] As a political theorist, moral philosopher and polemicist, she is unmatched in both range and rigor.[160] In her will she established the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust as the custodian of her writings and photographs.[161] Her personal library was deposited at Bard College at the Stevenson Library in 1976, and includes approximately 4,000 books, ephemera, and pamphlets from Arendt's last apartment. The college has begun archiving some of the collection digitally, which is available at The Hannah Arendt Collection.[162] Her life and work is recognized by the institutions most closely associated with her teaching, by the creation of Hannah Arendt Centers at both Bard (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities)[163] and The New School,[164] both in New York State. In Germany, her contributions to understanding authoritarianism is recognised by the Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung (Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism) in Dresden, and her political thinking by the Hannah-Arendt-Preis für politisches Denken (Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking) established in 1995. In Oldenburg, the Hannah Arendt Center at Carl von Ossietzky University was established in 1999,[165] and holds a large collection of her work (Hannah Arendt Archiv),[166] and administers the internet portal HannahArendt.net (A Journal for Political Thinking)[167] as well as a monograph series, the Hannah Arendt-Studien.[168] In 2017 a journal, Arendt Studies, was launched to publish articles related to the study of the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt.[169] Many places associated with her, have memorabilia of her on display, such as her student card at the University of Heidelberg (see image).[170]

Arendt's life remains part of current culture and thought. In 2012 the German film, Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta was released. The film, with Barbara Sukowa in the title role, depicted the controversy over Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial and subsequent book,[95] in which she was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.[171][172] In 2016, the filmmaker Ada Ushpiz produced a documentary on Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.[173] The New York Times designated it a New York Times critics pick.[160] Since the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, some journals are resurrecting her ideas to help make sense of the situation.[174][175]

Of the many photographic portraits of Arendt, that taken in 1944 by Fred Stein (see image), whose work she greatly admired,[lower-alpha 10] has become iconic, and has been described as better known than the photographer himself,[177] having appeared on a German postage stamp.(see image) Among organizations that have recognized Arendt's contributions to civilization and human rights, is the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).[178]


Many of the houses in which Hannah Arendt lived, bear commemorative plaques, such as that shown here for Heidelberg, and her birth town of Linden, Hannover celebrates her name in a variety of ways. The city library has a Hannah Arendt Room, exhibiting her personal possessions. Her house bears a plaque, two schools and a road (Hannah-Arendt-Weg) near the town hall are named after her, as is the square in front of the state parliament (Hannah-Arendt-Platz). There is a Hannah Arendt Fellowship and a Hannah Arendt Chair at the Helene-Lange-Schule, while Hannover celebrates Hannah Arendt Days (Hannah Arendt Tagen).[179]

Hannah Arendt has been honoured by the use of her name in many contexts, including:

See also


  1. After World War II Königsberg became Kaliningrad, Russia
  2. Augustin and the Pauline freedom problem. A philosophical contribution to the genesis of the Christian-Western idea of freedom
  3. Arendt's original Habilitationsschrift subject was German Romanticism, which she abandoned[45]
  4. Original Assimilation was eventually published in English in 2007, as part of the collection Jewish Writings.[49]
  5. "Die jüdische Assimilation scheint heute in Deutschland ihren Bankrott anmelden zu müssen. Der allgemein gesellschaftliche und offiziell legitimierte Antisemitismus trifft in erster Linie das assimilierte Judentum, das sich nicht mehr durch Taufe und nicht mehr durch betonte Distanz zum Ostjudentum entlasten kann."[50]
  6. Gurs to Montauban, about 300 km
  7. Anne Mendelssohn: Descendant of Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), an influential local family. Left Germany for Paris at the same time as Arendt. Married the philosopher Eric Weil (1904-1977) in 1934, worked for the French Resistance under the alias Dubois. She died on July 5, 1984[84]
  8. Fugitive writings: Dealing with subjects of passing interest
  9. "Civil Disobedience" originally appeared, in somewhat different form, in The New Yorker. Versions of the other essays originally appeared in The New York Review of Books
  10. Arendt wrote to Stein "It is my honest opinion that you are one of the best portrait photographers of the present day"[176]


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  13. Riepl-Schmidt 2005.
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  19. Young-Bruehl 2004, pp. 5–7.
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  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Berkowitz 2013.
  22. Young-Bruehl 2004, pp. 10, 26.
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  29. 1 2 3 Villa 2000, p. xiii.
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  109. Addison 1972–1974.
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  111. Mckenna 1978.
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  113. Arendt 1992.
  114. Arendt 1978b.
  115. Dannhauser 1979.
  116. Botstein 1983.
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  119. Arendt 2011.
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  122. Arendt 2002.
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  124. Arendt & Blücher 2000.
  125. Arendt & Heidegger 2004.
  126. Arendt 2017.
  127. Arendt & Benjamin 2006.
  128. 1 2 3 Arendt 1963.
  129. Heller 2015, p. 1.
  130. Elon 2006a.
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  132. NYT 1960.
  133. Walters 2015.
  134. Frantzman 2016.
  135. Seliger 2011.
  136. Arendt 1959.
  137. Arendt 1959a.
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  139. Simmons 2011.
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  142. Lebeau 2016.
  143. Pickett 2009.
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  145. Lamey 2011, p. 14.
  146. Arendt 1976, p. 389.
  147. Lamey 2011, pp. 17–19.
  148. 1 2 3 Birmingham 2006.
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  150. Arendt 1976, p. 378–384.
  151. Lamey 2011, pp. 27–29.
  152. Arendt 1976, p. 293.
  153. Lamey 2011, pp. 239–240.
  154. Lamey 2011, p. 18.
  155. Arendt 1976, p. 299.
  156. Ettinger 1997.
  157. Clément 2001.
  158. Kristeva 2001.
  159. Schroeder 2002.
  160. 1 2 Scott 2016.
  161. Kohn 2018.
  162. Bard 2018.
  163. HAC Bard 2018.
  164. Bernstein 2017.
  165. HAC Oldenburg 2018.
  166. HAArchiv 2018.
  167. Heuer 2018.
  168. Grunenberg 2018.
  169. Barry 2017.
  170. UHeidelberg 2015.
  171. BBFC 2018.
  172. IMDb 2012.
  173. Zeitgeist 2015.
  174. Williams 2017.
  175. Grenier 2017.
  176. AIE 2018.
  177. Heinrich 2013.
  178. UNHCR 2017.
  179. Hannover 2017.
  180. Shenhav 2007.
  181. Geohack 2018.
  182. HAGH 2018.
  183. HAGB 2018.
  184. HAGL 2018.
  185. HAG Berlin 2018.
  186. Doodle 2014.
  187. Onfray 2014.


Articles (journals and proceedings)



Books and theses


Critical works

Chapters and contributions

Dictionaries and encyclopedias

Magazines and newspapers



Institutions and organizations

External images

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