“The wrongdoer is brought to justice because his act has disturbed and gravely endangered the community as a whole, and not because damage has been done to individuals who are entitled to reparation. It is the body politic itself that stands in need of being repaired, and it is the general public order that has been thrown out of gear and must be restored.” — Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt declares that when a wrong is committed “the wrongdoer is brought to justice because his act has disturbed and gravely endangered the community as a whole… It is the body politic itself that stand in need of being repaired, and it is the general public order that has been thrown out of gear and it must be restored…It is, in other words, the law, not the plaintiff, that must prevail” (1964, p.261)
In her book Men in Dark Times, Arendt explains that darkness does not name the genocides, purges, and hunger that mark the tragedies of the twentieth century. Instead, darkness refers to the way these horrors appear in public discourse and yet remain hidden. Concentration camps in the mid-twentieth century—and now environmental degradation, the emergence of a superfluous underclass, and dangerous economic irresponsibility—confront us daily.
Hannah Arendt was born in Hanover Germany in 1906. She began her formal studies at Marburg University in 1924 and was briefly a student and lover of Martin Heidegger. Arendt continued her education at Freiburg and Heidelburg Universities completing her doctoral dissertation Love and Saint Augustine (Liebesbegriff bei Augustin) at Heidelburg in 1929 under the supervision of Karl Jaspers. In the early 1930’s Arendt was active in the German Zionist Organization, led by Kurt Blumenfeld,. While conducting research for the organization Arendt was arrested by the Gestapo and detained at Alexanderplatz. As she later told, she got on well with her young German guard who let her walk free. She and her then husband Günther Stern fled to Paris, where Arendt completed her biography of Rahel Varnhagen, which remained unpublished until the late 1950’s.
While in France she worked for the organization Youth Aliyah that rescued Jewish youth from the Third Reich; after the War, Arendt returned to the group to help facilitate the relocation of the over 20,000 children they had rescued. In 1936 Arendt and Stern separated and Arendt became involved with Heinrich Blücher. The two married in 1940, Arendt was again imprisoned in a concentration camp, Camp Gurs in the southwest of France. After narrowly escaping, she and Blucher fled Nazi Europe, coming to New York in 1941. She and Blücher lived on Riverside Drive in NYC and in Kingston, NY (near Bard College where Blücher taught for 17 years). They remained devoted to one another until Blücher’s death in 1970.
In the United States Arendt was part of the intellectual circle surrounding the Partisan Review, where she met life-long friend Mary McCarthy. Arendt taught at numerous American universities including the University of Chicago, Berkeley, and Princeton University, where she was the first woman awarded a full professorship. She came to be most closely associated with the New School for Social Research, where she served as professor of political philosophy until her death.
The 1950’s saw the publication of what are commonly considered Arendt’s major works: her comprehensive study of the Nazi and Stalinist regimes The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, and her opus The Human Condition in 1958. In 1961 Arendt covered the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker, the installments of which became the 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusulem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The same year brought the publication of On Revolution, followed by the essay anthologies, Men in Dark Times and Crisis of the Republic. Arendt died of heart failure in 1975 after completing the first two volumes of her trilogy The Life of the Mind, on Thinking and Willing, and beginning work on the final volume Judging.
An activist and thinker whose work resists simple categorization, the stunning lucidity of Arendt’s writing resonates with both scholars and the reading public. Her writing continues to delight and to inspire, even as she asks us to confront the most haunting questions of our time.