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Hannah Arendt, an eventful life

· 13 May 2013 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: biografie · English texts · FILOSOFIE
· Tagged with:

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah ArendtTwice Hannah Arendt. On the front of the biography a drawing as an elderly lady, a famous philosopher, at the back of the book a photo taken in 1933, 27 years old. In between, an eventful life. A brave life.
The 27 year old already had something of a life behind her. She grew up in Königsberg in Preußen (the city of Immanuel Kant and now Kaliningrad in a small Russian enclave) in a well-to-do Jewish family. Her father died when she was seven and she was educated by her mother in a very free way. She went to several universities and especially to Marburg, attracted by the fame of Martin Heidegger (with whom she had a short hidden relationship). Later she went to Heidelberg to study under Karl Jaspers, where she wrote her dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine. She had a lifelong friendly relationship with Karl Jaspers and his Jewish wife.
In 1933 it became clear to her that she had no future in Nazi Germany and she emigrated to Paris. There she worked to support and aid Jewish refugees. At one time she was imprisoned in Camp Gurs but was able to escape after a couple of weeks. Eventually it became clear that Paris was not safe: with the German military occupation of northern France, and the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps, even by the Vichy collaborator regime in the unoccupied south, Arendt was forced to flee France. In 1940, she married the German poet and Marxist philosopher Heinrich Blücher, by then a former Communist Party member.
In 1941, she escaped with her husband and her mother to the United States with the assistance of the American diplomat Hiram Bingham1, who (illegally) issued life-saving visas to her and around 2500 other Jewish refugees.

Living in New York, Arendt wrote for the German language newspaper Aufbau and directed research for the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction. In 1944, she began work on what would become her first major political book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In 1946, she published “What is Existenz Philosophy,” and from 1946 to 1951 she worked as an editor at Schoken Books in New York. In 1951, The Origins of Totalitarianism was published, after which she began the first in a sequence of visiting fellowships and professorial positions at American universities and she attained American citizenship.

In 1958, she published The Human Condition and Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess. In 1959, she published “Reflections on Little Rock,” her controversial consideration of the emergent Black civil rights movement. In 1961, she published Between Past and Future, and traveled to Jerusalem to cover the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker.

In 1963 she published her controversial reflections on the Eichmann trial, first in the New Yorker, and then in book form as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In this year, she also published On Revolution. In 1967, having held positions at Berkeley and Chicago, she took up a position at the New School for Social Research in New York. In 1968, she published Men in Dark Times.

In 1970, her husband Heinrich Blücher died. That same year, Arendt gave her seminar on Kant’s philosophy of judgement at the New School (published posthumously as Reflections on Kant’s Political Philosophy, 1982). In 1971 she published “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” and the following year Crisis of the Republic appeared. In the next years, she worked on her projected three-volume work, The Life of the Mind. Volumes 1 and 2 (on “Thinking” and “Willing”) were published posthumously. She died on December 4, 1975, having only just started work on the third and final volume, Judging.


1. This Hiram Bingham was the son of the explorer that discovered Machu Picchu in Peru.

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