Sun, 25 Feb 2018

Writings on Hannah Arendt

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Die Ohnmacht der Demokratie (The

Philosophie Magazin, Sonder Ausgabe "Hannah Arendt, Die Freiheit des Denkens."

Drones and the Question of "The Human"

Carnegie Journal of Ethics & International Affairs, volume 28, issue 02, pp. 159-169.


The increasing reliance on drones is threatening our humanity—but not because of the inhumane ways we use Predator drones in warfare. It is a mistake “to use the term “drone” to refer only to these much publicized military devices. Drones, more precisely understood, are intelligent machines that—possessed of the capacity to perform repetitive tasks with efficiency, reliability, and mechanical rationality—increasingly displace the need for human thinking and doing. The trend Jünger and Turkle worry about is unmistakable: we are at risk of losing the rich and mature relationships that mark us as human. The rise of social robots, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other one-dimensional machines that act like humans—without the perceived human weaknesses of distraction, emotion, exhaustion, quirkiness, risk, and unreliability—answers a profound human desire to replace human judgment with the more reliable, more efficient, and more ra- tional judgment of machines. For all the superficial paeans to human instinct and intuition, human beings, in practice, repeatedly prefer drone-like reliability to the uncertain spontaneity of human intuition. In other words, we confront a future in which “human” is a derogatory adjective signifying inefficiency, incompetence, and backwardness.

Read the essay Here

Reconciling Oneself to the Impossibility of Reconciliation: Judgment and Worldliness in Hannah Arendt's Politics

This essay will appear in: "Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch” ed. by Roger Berkowitz and Ian Storey (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016)



In this essay I argue that reconciliation is a central and guiding idea that deepens our understanding of Arendt’s politics, plurality, and judgment. I also show that the judgment to reconcile with world is inspired by Arendt’s engagement with Heidegger on the questions of thinking, forgiveness, and reconciliation, as well as by her own efforts to think through her personal and intellectual reconciliation with Heidegger. I present nine theses that Arendt advances around the theme of reconciliation found in her Denktagebuch. Theses 1–4 address reconciliation—as distinct from forgiveness, guilt, and revenge—as a political act of judgment, one that affirms solidarity in response to the potentially disintegrating experience of evil. Thesis 5 situates Arendt’s discussion of reconciliation in her critiques of Hegel and Marx. Thesis 6 considers the central role of reconciliation in Arendt’s book Between Past and Future and argues that the “gap between past and future” is Arendt’s metaphorical space for a politics of reconciliation understood as the practice of thinking and judging without banisters, as she put it, in a world without political truths. Theses 7 and 8 turn to Arendt’s engagement with Heidegger on the question of reconciliation, arguing that her embrace of reconciliation with an evil world is a response to the errors of Heidegger’s worldless thinking. Finally, Thesis 9 turns to Arendt’s final judgment of Adolf Eichmann, arguing that her refusal to reconcile herself with Eichmann exemplifies the limits of reconciliation; Arendt’s decision not to reconcile with Eichmann and to demand his death is Arendt’s paramount example of political judgment. Judgments for reconciliation and nonreconciliation are judgments that can reenliven and reimagine political solidarity in the wake of great acts of evil.

Read a Draft of the essay here


Instituting freedom: Steve Buckler and Hannah Arendt on an Engaged Political Theory

European Journal of Political Theory 2014, Vol. 13(3) 372–377

Steve Buckler’s Hannah Arendt and Political Theory is most revealing in the final chapter, ‘‘The Role of the Theorist.’’ I did not know Buckler, but this final chapter of his last book must stand as his apologia, his attempt—mediated through Arendt—to offer an account of a lifelong pursuit of an engaged politics. The theorist, Buckler writes, thinks and speaks from ‘‘the standpoint of the reflective citizen rather than [the standpoint] Arendt takes to be the traditionally accented voice of the philosopher’’ (154). He writes political theory as a citizen first, which means that he shows a general concern for ‘‘the enactment of the political and the conditions of its sustainability—the common world that provides us with grounds of common sense and terms within which we can interact coherently’’ (154). Unlike so much political theorizing today that takes critical thinking to demand criticism of everything, Buckler insists that theorists ‘‘must now share a common concern with the actor—albeit from a different experiential perspec- tive—a concern with the world and with its unguaranteed active maintenance’’ (161). The thinker today must think ‘‘for the sake of the world,’’—he must love the world—and thus must attend to the world and even tend to the worldly in ways that moderate the unlimited criticism of those theorists who do not recognize the precariousness of the modern world.

European Journal of Political Theory 2014, Vol. 13(3) 372–377

Read the Essay here


The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, First Edition. Edited by Michael Gibbons. © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Justice is the virtue of acting rightly and properly with regard to others (political justice) and with regard to oneself (moral justice). Justice is also understood as the good, the appropriate, or what is right in a given situation. Rhadamanthus, the Greek judge of the dead, meted out justice according to the maxim: “Suffer what you have done.” The Roman jurist Ulpian writes: “Justice is the constant and perpetual will to render to each man his due.” The Golden Rule holds: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What these examples of folk wisdom share is the sense that justice is about proportionality and also singularity. The claim that justice is “to give to each his/ her own” expresses the aspiration for justice as equity. Because no two persons or circum- stances are the same, laws that treat everyone equally are, as Plato argued in the Statesman, stubborn and stupid. It is better, Plato concludes, to be governed by a wise philosopher- king than by rigid laws. Plato’s greatest student, Aristotle, agrees that there will always arise new cases for which the application of the law will be unjust. But his solution is not to discard law in favor of a philosopher-king, but to allow wise judges to straighten the defects in law. It is just, Aristotle writes in the Nichomachean Ethics (NE), to rectify the defect in law by deciding as the lawgiver would himself decide if he were present. This rectification of law, or equity, is one fundamental aspiration of justice: to do what is fitting in each particular instance.

Read the Essay here

Should We Justify War

Published in "Just War in Religion and Politics," ed. by Jacob Neusner, Bruce Chilton, and R.E. Tully (University Press of America, 2013).


Abstract: In speaking of "just war," we speak not of justice but of justification. As a matter of justification, just war theory can and often does work to exclude and preclude the question of justice in war. What is needed, rather, is a determination to recall that justice, and not merely justification, has a place in war. Instead of the justifications offered by just war theorizing, we must demand that those who fight and we who think about war not blind ourselves to the illumination of justice amidst the fog of war's justifications.



Misreading 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'

The Stone in the New York Times. July 7, 2013.


In The Stone in The New York Times, I argue that a new critical consensus is emerging around Hannah Arendt's thesis about the "fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."  This new consensus holds that Arendt was right in her general claim that many evildoers are normal people but was wrong about Eichmann in particular. As Christopher R. Browning summed it up recently in The New York Review of Books, “Arendt grasped an important concept but not the right example.” Behind this consensus is new scholarship on Eichmann’s writings and reflections from the 1950s, when he was living among a fraternity of former Nazis in Argentina, before Israeli agents captured him and spirited him out of the country and to Israel. In recent decades, scholars have argued that the Sassen interviews show that Arendt was simply wrong in her judgment of Eichmann because she did not have all the facts. But this new consensus is wrong. See why Here

Lonely Thinking: Hannah Arendt on Film

The Paris Review Daily


In 1963, The New Yorker published five articles on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi chief of Bureau IV-B-4, a Gestapo division in charge of “Jewish Affairs.” Written by political thinker and Jewish activist Hannah Arendt, the articles and ensuing book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, unleashed what Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals. While some reviews cursed Arendt as a self-hating Jew and Nazi lover, the Jewish Daily Forward accusing her of “polemical vulgarity,” Robert Lowell termed her portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” and Bruno Bettelheim said it was the best protection against “dehumanizing totalitarianism.” Across the city, Arendt’s friends chose sides. When Dissent sponsored a meeting at the Hotel Diplomat, a crowd gathered to shout down Alfred Kazin and Raul Hilberg—then the world’s preeminent Holocaust scholar—for defending Arendt, while in The Partisan Review Lionel Abel opined that Eichmann “comes off so much better in [Arendt’s] book than do his victims.”

Read the rest of my review of "Hannah Arendt" in The Paris Review. Here

Hannah Arendts erste Briefe an Karl Jaspers und Martin Heidegger: Freundschaft, Versöhnung und Wiederaufbau einer gemeinsamen Welt

Nach dem Krieg! - Nach dem Exil? Erste Briefe/First Letters 1945-1950, II, ed. Detlef Garz and David Kettler (Text und Kritik, 2012).

Apologies. This article is not currently available online.

The Angry Jew: Hannah Arendt on Revenge and Reconciliation

Roger Berkowitz, Philosophical Topics, Fall 2011.

Sholom Schwartzbard killed Simon Petlura in an act of revenge. He admitted his crimeand a French jury acquitted him in 1927. For Hannah Arendt, Schwartzbard’s actions show that revenge can, in certain circumstances, be in the service of justice. This paper explores Hannah Arendt’s distinction between reconciliation and revenge and argues that Hannah Arendt embraces revenge as one way in which politics and justice can happen in the world, but only under certain conditions. First, Arendt only endorses revenge when the crime calling forth vengeance is extraordinary, one that bursts the bounds of traditional legality. Second, the avenger must give himself up for judgment to the legal system, asking a jury to judge whether his extraordinary act was just even though it was illegal. These are strict conditions and will only rarely be met. When they are, revenge can be a profoundly political act in the service of justice, one that can restore a broken political order.

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The Power of Non-Reconciliation – Arendt’s Judgment of Adolf Eichmann (2011).

View the full article here.

Hannah Arendt and Human Rights

The Handbook of Human Rights (Routledge, 2011)

Hannah Arendt approaches human rights as someone who lived through their failure in the first half of the 20th century. A German Jew, Arendt understood antisemitism, experienced the denationalization of the Jews in Germany, and witnessed how the world and even the diaspora Jewish community largely ignored the plight of European Jewry. Arendt also saw how other minority peoples in Europe - Germans in Russia, Slovaks in Czechloslavakia, muslims in Yugoslavia, Gypsies, and many others - were systematically denaturalized, persecuted, and killed - all, as she emphasized, within the strictures of national and international law. For Arendt, the failure of human rights is a fundamental fact of modern times.

Read the full article here.

Thinking in Dark Times

in Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, ed. Roger Berkowitz, Jeff Katz, and Thomas Keenan (2009)

In Bertold Brecht’s poem “To Posterity,” the poet laments:

Truly, I live in dark times!
An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead
Points to insensitivity. He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news.
What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
And he who walks quietly across the street,
Passes out of the reach of his friends
Who are in danger?

Brecht’s poem inspires the title of one of Hannah Arendt’s lesser read books, Men in Dark Times. For Arendt, dark times are not limited to the tragedies of the 20th century; they are not even a rarity in the history of the world. Darkness, as she would have us understand it, does not name the genocides, purges, and hunger of a specific era. Instead, darkness refers to the way these horrors appear in public discourse and yet remain hidden. As Arendt observes, the tragedies to which Brecht’s poem refers were not shrouded in secrecy and mystery, yet they were darkened by the “highly efficient talk and double-talk of nearly all official representatives who, without interruption and in many ingenious variations, explained away unpleasant facts and justified concerns.” Similarly today, the various outrages--environmental, economic, and governmental--that confrontus daily are hidden in plain sight. Darkness, for Arendt, names the all-too-public invisibility of inconvenient facts, and not simply the horror of the facts themselves.

View the full PDF here.

Thinking in Dark Times - Six Questions for Roger Berkowitz

Harpers Magazine, (2009)

Fordham University Press has just put out Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, a collection of papers from a conference convened at Bard College to mark Arendt’s hundredth birthday. I put six questions to Roger Berkowitz, a professor at Bard and academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking, about issues addressed in the book.

Read the full interview here.

Solitude and the Activity of Thinking

in Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, ed. Roger Berkowitz, Jeff Katz, and Thomas Keenan (2009)

“The true predicaments of our time.” Hannah Arendt wrote, “will assume their authentic form only when totalitarianism has become a thing of the past.” The totalitarianisms in Germany and the Soviet Union were only symptoms of these true predicaments, of what Arendt early on calls the mass society characterized by “organized loneliness.” Later, covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann, she would come to see that the bond between totalitarianism and loneliness is the phenomena of thoughtlessness.

View the full PDF here.

The Judge as Tragic Hero: An Arendtian Critique of Judging, Articles/Research Notes v.4 (2008)

- Revised version, originally published in The Graduate Review (cont. as Critical Sense) v. 1, #1 (1994)

In his book Justice Accused,1 Robert Cover explores how and why ante-bellum Federal judges who were opposed to slavery consistently upheld the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.2 These judges claimed that despite their strong personal convictions that slavery was immoral and wrong, they were constrained by the U.S. Constitution to declare the Act constitutional.3 As Cover convincingly demonstrates, however, the arguments for the constitutionality of the Act of 1850 were not widely perceived to be ironclad, even in 1850.4 Nevertheless, the judges, at least some of whom were sincere in their opposition to slavery, upheld the Act.

Read the full article here.

Revolutionary Constitutionalism: Some Thoughts on Laurie Ackermann's Dignity Jurisprudence

Acta Juridica (2008)

- Reprinted in Dignity, Freedom and the Post-Apartheid Legal Order, ed. by Alfred Barnard (Jutta, 2009).

Justice Laurie Ackermann’s decision in Ferreira is a study in tonal dissonance. Ackermann’s 232 paragraph legal opinion begins slowly. It plots out the judicial history of the case; it wades through questions of jurisdiction and standing; and it frames the question of the case all without offering a narrative version of the facts.

One must read carefully and between the lines to discern that the case concerns a plaintiff, Clive Ferreira, who was employed by Prima Bank Holdings Ltd., a corporation that had gone bankrupt and ceased operations. Mr. Ferreira was summoned to give sworn testimony about the affairs and property of Prima Bank. He declined, asserting a right not to offer self-incriminating testimony. In doing so, Ferreira violated section 417 of the Companies Act that requires such testimony in administrative proceedings and also expressly allows that such testimony ‘may thereafter be used in evidence’ in a criminal proceeding.

View the full PDF here.

Hannah Arendt and Human Rights

Philosophy in Review (December, 2007). Review of Peg Birmingham's Hannah Arendt and Human Rights

Apologies. This article is not currently available online.