Why Arendt Matters
Saturday, October 14, marks the centennial of the birth of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), the German-born political philosopher whose analysis of the nature of power, totalitarianism, and the “banality of evil” still resonates powerfully in our own time. “So it is no accident,” says Edward Rothstein in the New York Times, “that in discussing Arendt’s importance more than 30 years after her death, Iraq and terrorism are often mentioned alongside her views of power and violence, statelessness and totalitarianism; her most solemn assessments of the traumatic past become warnings for the imminent future.”
This point is driven home in a new book, Why Arendt Matters, written by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Arendt’s doctoral student in the early 1970s who wrote the definitive biography of her mentor in 1982 (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, now in its Second Edition). Young-Bruehl considers what Arendt’s analysis of the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union can teach us about our own times, and how her revolutionary understanding of political action is connected to forgiveness and making promises for the future.