Totalitarianism: Hannah Arendt

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Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher who grew up in Germany and was born into a Jewish family. Arendt was one of the most prominent and influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Throughout her works, she discussed extremely catastrophic political events that she experienced, and tried to examine these situations in relation to their meaning and how their historical importance is able to change our own moral and political judgements. (d'Entreves, 2016) The film ‘Hannah Arendt’ depicts how Arendt responded to trial of Adolf Eichmann, a member of the Nazi government. The film shows how Arendt received extreme criticism and abuse for her view on the Eichmann trial. However, she does not abandon her opinion and remains strong…show more content…
This was one of her first major works and was an obvious response to the catastrophic events of her time. This includes the rise of Nazi Germany and how the Jewish people were treated, as well as the rise of Soviet Stalinism which also carried millions of deaths with it. (Yar, n.d.) With this, Arendt hoped to explain how totalitarianism happened as a “modern utopian problem” during the twentieth century, which arose from a combination of imperialism, anti-Semitism and extreme statist bureaucracies. (Litwack, n.d.) Many people at the time were shocked at Arendt’s work, as it spoke negatively of European life during its reconstruction after war. Arendt explained that totalitarianism was not trying to rewind to a time of earlier oppressive governments. Rather, it was a “revolutionary form of radical evil” that was executed to be intentionally destructive in modern politics. Arendt saw that due to how easily people accepted propaganda, critical thinking was necessary if individuals were to overcome totalitarianism. (Litwack, n.d.) Arendt states that these totalitarian governments are based on terror and ideological fiction. Previous tyrannies used terror as a way of gaining and then holding onto power. New totalitarian governments did not show a clear rationality for their use of terror. Therefore, Arendt explains that terror was now not “a means to a political end, but an end in itself”.…show more content…
In relation to thinking, she hopes to make it clear that it is different from “knowing”. Understanding is having knowledge, whereas thinking applies to beyond knowledge and conveys questions that cannot simply be answered by using knowledge. (Yar, n.d.) Thinking does not refer to gaining a solid answer, rather it constantly gives more questions about people’s actions and more. For Arendt, thinking is fundamental for political actions. She felt that this concept of questioning the meaning of actions and experiences was not part of the Eichmann trial, thus leading her to state the “banality” of Eichmann’s evil. (Yar, n.d.) Arendt’s idea of judgement can be linked in with her notion of thinking, but it also stands as its own concept. She had planned to extensively examine her notion of judgement in the third volume of ‘The Life of the Mind’, but sadly died before she could do so. However, she wrote a series of lectures on Immanuel Kant’s political philosophy in which she discusses judgement. Arendt was no longer concerned with judging “as a feature of political life”, but was now focusing on judgement as a part of the life of the mind. Her theory of judgement uses two models. The actors are those who judge in order to act. The spectators are those who judge to gain a full understanding from history.
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