Hannah Arendt

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Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.

Hannah Arendt (14 October 19064 December 1975) was a German-American political theorist whose work deals with the nature of power, authority, and totalitarianism.

Quotes[edit]

General sources[edit]

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
  • Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.
  • It is, in fact, far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than it is to think.
    • The Human Condition (1958)
  • In politics, love is a stranger, and when it intrudes upon it nothing is being achieved except hypocrisy. All the characteristics you stress in the Negro people: their beauty, their capacity for joy, their warmth, and their humanity, are well-known characteristics of all oppressed people. They grow out of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs. Unfortunately, they have never survived the hour of liberation by even five minutes. Hatred and love belong together, and they are both destructive; you can afford them only in private and, as a people, only so long as you are not free.
  • 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.
    • On Revolution (1963), ch. 2
  • Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.
    • Men in Dark Times (1968)
  • The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
    • The New Yorker (12 September 1970)
  • The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
    • The Life of the Mind (1978), "Thinking"
  • I've begun so late, really only in recent years, to truly love the world... Out of gratitude, I want to call my book on political theories Amor Mundi.
    • Speaking of her book The Human Condition, as quoted in Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (2004) by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, p. xxiv
  • 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.
    • "Martin Heidegger at Eighty," in Heidegger and Modern Philosophy: Critical Essays (1978) by Michael Murray, p. 294

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)[edit]

  • The totalitarian attempt at global conquest and total domination has been the destructive way out of all impasses. Its victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity; wherever it has ruled, it has begun to destroy the essence of man. Yet to turn our backs on the destructive forces of the century is of little avail.
    The trouble is that our period has so strangely intertwined the good with the bad that without the imperialists' "expansion for expansion's sake," the world might never have become one; without the bourgeoisie's political device of "power for power's sake," the extent of human strength might never have been discovered; without the fictitious world of totalitarian movements, in which with unparalleled clarity the essential uncertainties of our time have been spelled out, we might have been driven to our doom without ever becoming aware of what has been happening.
    And if it is true that in the final stages of totalitarianism an absolute evil appears (absolute because it can no longer be deduced from humanly comprehensible motives), it is also true that without it we might never have known the truly radical nature of Evil.
    • Preface to the first edition, written in the summer of 1950
  • 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.
    • Part 1, Ch. 1, § 1
  • 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.
    • Part 3, Ch. 10, § 2
  • 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.
    • Part 3, Ch. 12, § 3

Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)[edit]

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)
  • [H]e was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché.[…] Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him.[…] The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.
    • Ch. III
  • 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!
    • Ch. VI
  • 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."
    • Ch. VIII
  • Eichmann, much less intelligent and without any education to speak of, at least dimly realized that it was not an order but a law which had turned them all into criminals. The distinction between an order and the Führer's word was that the latter's validity was not limited in time and space, which is the outstanding characteristic of the former. This is also the true reason why the Führer's order for the Final Solution was followed by a huge shower of regulations and directives, all drafted by expert lawyers and legal advisors, not by mere administrators; this order, in contrast to ordinary orders, was treated as a law. Needless to add, the resulting legal paraphernalia, far from being a mere symptom of German pedantry and thoroughness, served most effectively to give the whole business its outward appearance of legality.

    And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody, "Thou shalt not kill," even though man's natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler's land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: "Thou shalt kill," although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation.

    • Ch. VIII
  • For the lesson of such stories [of resistance to Nazi atrocities] is simple and within everybody's grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that "it could happen" in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.
    • Ch. XIV
  • The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.
    • Epilogue
  • No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been.
    • Epilogue

Crises of the Republic (1969)[edit]

  • 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.
    • "On Violence"
  • The point, as Marx saw it, is that dreams never come true.
    • "On Violence"
  • Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance.
    • "On Violence"
  • 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.
    • "Civil Disobedience"
  • 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.
    • "Civil Disobedience"
  • Revolutionaries do not make revolutions! The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up. Armed uprising by itself has never yet led to revolution.
  • For the trouble with lying and decieving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.
    • "Lying in Politics"

The Life of the Mind (1971/1978)[edit]

  • Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.
    • p. 4
  • Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing?
    • p. 5
  • 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.
    • p. 7
  • Metaphysical fallacies contain the only clues we have to what thinking means to those who engage in it.
    • p. 12
  • 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.
    • p. 13
  • Kant ... discovered “the scandal of reason,” that is the fact that our mind is not capable of certain and verifiable knowledge regarding matters and questions that it nevertheless cannot help thinking about.
    • p. 14
  • 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.
    • p. 14
  • Kant ... stated defensively that he had "found it necessary to deny knowledge. . . to make room for faith," but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had not "denied knowledge" but separated knowledge from thinking.
    • p. 14
  • The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth.
    • p. 15
  • The emotions I feel are no more meant to be shown in their unadulterated state than the inner organs by which we live.
    • pp. 31-32
  • If the inner psychic ground of our individual appearance were not always the same, there could be no science of psychology, which qua science relies on a psychic “inside we are all alike,” just as the science of physiology and medicine relies on the sameness of our inner organs. ... The monstrous sameness and pervasive ugliness so highly characteristic of the findings of modern psychology, and contrasting so obviously with the enormous variety and richness of overt human conduct, witness to the radical difference between the inside and the outside of the human body.
    • pp. 34-35
  • ... the simple-minded positivism that believes it has found a firm ground of certainty if it only excludes all mental phenomena from consideration and holds fast to observable facts.
    • p. 39
  • It is characteristic of the Oxford school of criticism to understand these [metaphysical] fallacies as logical non sequiturs—as though philosophers throughout the centuries had been, for reasons unknown, just a bit too stupid to discover the elementary flaws in their arguments. The truth of the matter is that elementary logical mistakes are quite rare in the history of philosophy; what appear to be errors in logic to minds disencumbered of questions that have been uncritically dismissed as “meaningless” are usually caused by semblances, unavoidable for beings whose whole existence is determined by appearance. Hence, In our context the only relevant question is whether the semblances are inauthentic or authentic ones, whether they are caused by dogmatic beliefs and arbitrary assumptions, mere mirages that disappear upon closer inspection, or whether they are inherent in the paradoxical condition of a living being that, though itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it.
    • p. 45
  • 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.
    • p. 55
  • Thinking withdraws radically and for its own sake from this world and its evidential nature, whereas science profits from a possible withdrawal for the sake of specific results.
    • p. 56
  • To expect truth to come from thinking signifies that we mistake the need to think with the urge to know.
    • p. 61
  • Kant ... stated that he had “found it necessary to deny knowledge ... to make room for faith,” but all he had “denied” was knowledge of things that are unknowable, and he had not made room for faith but for thought.
    • p. 63
  • 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.
    • p. 70

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