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Inspiring Thursday: Hannah Arendt

 “Courage is indispensible because in politics not life but the world is at stake.” 
― Hannah Arendt, 
Between Past and Future

Born in 1906 Hanover Germany and deceased in New York in 1975, Arendt was a leading political philosopher and a prominent scholar of the twentieth century. Her Jewish upbringing coupled with her outstanding courage, resistance and strength remains a source of inspiration for many women striving to assert themselves in a masculine environment.

She was an educated scholar and attended renowned establishments such as Marburg University and Heidelberg University. In 1933, Arendt´s life was marked by the tragedy of the Second World War and Nazism where she fled to Paris and got involved with Jewish refugee organisations. By that time, Arendt became a political activist and helped the German Zionist Organisation to publicly disclose the dire situation of the victims of the Nazi Regime. Arendt also did research on anti-Semitic propaganda, for which she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940 and was taken to the internment camp at Gurs. It is said that Arendt won the sympathy of a Berlin jailer and was released to later escape to Paris.

During the post war period, she became a lecturer at high-profile American Universities including Princeton, Berkeley, Chicago and the New School as a professor of political philosophy.

Her most notable works include, her book on Rahel Varnhagen (1929) with whom she very much identified, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958). Arendt is also known for her compelling essays on the topics of freedom, revolution and authority. In many of her pieces she attempts to understand how political events of her time influenced public moral and political judgement. She stressed the need for the creation of a new alternative framework to Nazism and Stalinism by introducing a novel set of philosophical categories that could “illuminate the human condition” (Stanford, 2019).

“If there is a tradition of thought with which Arendt can be identified, it is the classical tradition of civic republicanism originating in Aristotle and embodied in the writings of Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Jefferson, and Tocqueville” (Stanford). This wave of political thinkers had very specific views on the determinants of being a citizen. It suggested that political activity was achieved through the active participation of citizens using their power of agency, develop their capacities of judgement and reach concerted action.

After her passing, the city of Hanover honored her with the Hannah-Arendt-Way in Badenstedt (1986) and the Hannah-Arendt-Path in the Maschpark (1990’s) along with the Hannah-Arendt-Days and the Hannah-Arendt-Stipendium.

Although, Arendt’s life has made her an unclassifiable political thinker, her ideas have been subject to debate. Nevertheless, she offers valuable lessons on citizenship and the occupation of the public space which are still applicable today for the feminist movement. Women must continue to occupy the digital and public space for mentalities to change and voices to be heard. Her stance against totalitarian regimes is an exemplary model to stand against oppressing gender normative standards that continue to curb the freedom of women and all genders. As she has expressed, power does not stem from strength, force nor violence but from the capacity to “act in concert for a public political purpose” (Stanford, 2019). Indeed, the concerted activities and the plurality of agents is crucial for the success of a movement. While she has not been described a feminist per se her works and political actions have demonstrated her deep understanding of the “female condition” of difference.

 

Written by Claire Davis, WAVE Intern

Sources

“Hannah Arendt”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/arendt/

“Hannah Arendt Bibliography”. Encyclopedia of World Biography.  https://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Arendt-Hannah.html

Duda, Sybille, “Hannah Arendt”. Fembio.   http://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/biography/hannah-arendt/

“Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) ”. Jewish Virtual Library.      https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hannah-arendt

Rensin, Emmett, “You don´t know Hannah Arendt”. The Outline. 2017. https://theoutline.com/post/980/misinterpreting-hannah-arendt?zd=1&zi=kfim3xlp

Cutting-Gray, Joanne. (1993). “Hannah Arendt, Feminism, and the Politics of Alterity: ´What Will We Lose If we Win´?”. Hypatia. 8(1), 35-54. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3810300.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents