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Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975)


German-American political theorist whose work deals with the nature of power, authority, and totalitarianism.
Hannah Arendt
What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
Arendt quotes
The chief reason warfare is still with us is neither a secret death-wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible instinct of aggression, nor, finally and more plausibly, the serious economic and social dangers inherent in disarmament, but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.
Arendt
Persecution of powerless or power-losing groups may not be a very pleasant spectacle, but it does not spring from human meanness alone. What makes men obey or tolerate real power and, on the other hand, hate people who have wealth without power, is the rational instinct that power has a certain function and is of some general use. Even exploitation and oppression still make society work and establish some kind of order. Only wealth without power or aloofness without a policy are felt to be parasitical, useless, revolting, because such conditions cut all the threads which tie men together. Wealth which does not exploit lacks even the relationship which exists between exploiter and exploited; aloofness without policy does not imply even the minimum concern of the oppressor for the oppressed.




Arendt Hannah quotes
It was mathematics, the non-empirical science par excellence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances.
Arendt Hannah
What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique ("a great task that occurs once in two thousand years"), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!
Hannah Arendt quotes
The cultural treasures of the past, believed to be dead, are being made to speak, in the course of which it turns out that they propose things altogether different than what had been thought.
Hannah Arendt
If...the ability to tell right from wrong should turn out to have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to "demand" its exercise from every sane person, no matter how erudite or ignorant, intelligent or stupid, he may happen to be. Kant—in this respect almost alone among the philosophers—was much bothered by the common opinion that philosophy is only for the few, precisely because of its moral implications.
Arendt Hannah quotes
Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.
Arendt
Man's urge for change and his need for stability have always balanced and checked each other, and our current vocabulary, which distinguishes between two factions, the progressives and the conservatives, indicates a state of affairs in which this balance has been thrown out of order. No civilization — the man-made artifact to house successive generations — would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other.
Arendt Hannah
Since it is always the same person whose mind thinks, wills, and judges, the autonomous nature of these activities has created great difficulties. Reason’s inability to move the will, plus the fact that thinking can only “understand” what is past what neither remove it nor “rejuvenate it” ... have led to the various doctrines asserting the mind’s impotence and the force of the irrational, in brief to Hume’s famous dictum that “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions,” that is, to a rather simple-minded reversal of the Platonic notion of reason’s uncontested rulership in the household of the soul. What is so remarkable in all these theories and doctrines is their implicit monism, the claim that behind the obvious multiplicity of the world’s appearances and, even more pertinently to our context, behind the obvious plurality of man’s faculties and abilities, there must exist a oneness—the old hen pan, “the all is one”—either a single source or a single ruler.
Hannah Arendt
If a given science accidentally reached its goal, this would by no means stop the workers in the field, who would be driven past their goal by the sheer momentum of the illusion of unlimited progress.




Hannah Arendt quotes
Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.
Hannah Arendt
Kant ... was also quite aware that "the urgent need" of reason is both different from and "more than mere quest and desire for knowledge." Hence, the distinguishing of the two faculties, reason and intellect, coincides with a distinction between two altogether different mental activities, thinking and knowing.
Arendt quotes
The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
Arendt Hannah
Metaphysical fallacies contain the only clues we have to what thinking means to those who engage in it.
Arendt Hannah quotes
The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.
Hannah Arendt
The defiance of established authority, religious and secular, social and political, as a world-wide phenomenon may well one day be accounted the outstanding event of the last decade.
Hannah Arendt quotes
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
Hannah Arendt
What will happen once the authentic mass man takes over, we do not know yet, although it may be a fair guess that he will have more in common with the meticulous, calculated correctness of Himmler than with the hysterical fanaticism of Hitler, will more resemble the stubborn dullness of Molotov than the sensual vindictive cruelty of Stalin.
Arendt Hannah
The case of the conscience of Eichmann, which is admittedly complicated but is by no means unique, is scarcely comparable to the case of the German generals, one of whom, when asked at Nuremberg, "How was it possible that all of you honorable generals could continue to serve a murderer with such unquestioning loyalty?," replied that it was "not the task of a soldier to act as judge over his supreme commander. Let history do that or God in Heaven."


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