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Hannah Arendt: To think in dark times

"A crisis becomes a disaster only when we respond to it with preconceived opinions," said Hannah Arendt. 9. February the documentary film about the philosopher is shown at the Artists' House.



"What confuses you is that my arguments and my approach are different from what you are used to; In other words, the problem is that I am independent. ”
- Hannah Arendt to Gershom Scholem, 24. July 1963

Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), a student under Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers and Bultmann, had to flee from Germany when the National Socialists came to power, escaped to Paris in 1933 and, together with her husband Heinrich Blücher, succeeded in reaching the east coast of the United States in May 1941. When she lived in New York in her forties, she wrote the book that made her famous in the United States: The Origin of Totalitarianism was released ten years after she immigrated, and the same year she received her US citizenship.

Throughout the fifties and into the sixties, Arendt became "a great favorite", not only in the United States but also in Germany. In 1958 became her book The Human Condition published. That same year, her friend and mentor Karl Jaspers received the German Booksellers Peace Prize, and it was Arendt who was asked to hold the Peace Prize. One year later, in 1959, she received the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg's Lessing Award. In the thank-you speech, she explicitly emphasized her "membership in the group of Jews expelled from Germany", linked her personal history to receiving public recognition and reflected on "Fortuna's smile". By the late fifties, Arendt had undoubtedly become a very prominent figure. – and she would become even more prominent after the publication of the book about Adolf Eichmann, after she covered the lawsuit against him in Jerusalem for The New Yorker.

In the summer of 1960, Adolf Eichmann had been kidnapped in Argentina and brought to Israel to stand trial. Hannah Arendt went to Israel as a court reporter for the above newspaper. She revised the plans for her teaching at Northwestern University, "changed the timing of a one-year scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation," and canceled a lecture at Vassar College. She wrote a letter about this to Vassar on January 2, 1961: "Being present during this trial I feel as a commitment I owe to my past." In 1963 her report was published as a book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. It created a polemic rebellion.

The concentration camps should not only annihilate people and degrade people, but also support the experiment of total dominance.

Whatever her mind engaged, things seemed different after she had thought through them. This applied to both ethical and political phenomena – for example, the term totalitarianism. Arendt contended that in and through totalitarianism, "human nature as such is at stake," that is, the specific human qualities of man, namely his individuality and spontaneity, are subject to total submission. The concentration camps should not only annihilate and degrade people, but also underpin the "experiment of total domination". The prisoners in the KZ camps had no price, because they could always be replaced with others. No one knew who they belonged to, because they were never seen. From a normal society's point of view, the prisoner is "absolutely redundant".

Arendt relates the totalitarian destruction of all human qualities to the experiences of modern masses. Modern masses experience "their superfluity on an overcrowded globe", they experience the world as "a place where meaninglessness is daily re-produced". Arendt links the experience of redundancy, of being torn up with the root, that is, "to have no place in the world, recognized and guaranteed by others," to the individual's experience of loneliness in society. Loneliness makes him or her a benevolent candidate to enter the "stream of historical necessity". She warns us against believing that these phenomena have come to an end with Nazism. They are still here, she fears, as a potential.

It is against this background that she develops her own understanding of politics: “Politics arises in what lies ahead between the people and appear as a relationship. ” As Arendt sees it, the fact that man exists in diversity is the reason why politics exists. Human diversity is the basic condition of speech and action. Man's diversity has a "two-sided character, namely equality and peculiarity," whereby peculiarity must not be confused with otherness. True, otherness is an important aspect of diversity, but only man can express his peculiarity and distinguish himself. What she attaches particular importance to is that “in man it is that otherness, which it shares with everything that exists, and peculiarity, which it shares with everything that lives, make it unique. And human plurality is a diversity with the paradoxical trait that each part is unique in its kind ”. Consequently, politics based on human plurality must "organize and regulate the intercourse between different and not equal individuals". Political equality is not the same as belonging to the same peculiarity. Rather, it is "necessarily a likeness of different who need to 'be made equal' in certain ways and for specific purposes". In other words, "Equality is not a characteristic of people as individual, natural beings, but a characteristic of belonging to a political community."

The events In the first part of the 20th century, people who lose their citizenship were thrown back to what was naturally given them, to their inequalities, simply. They were believed to be protected by human rights. But: "Human rights, which were supposed to be inalienable, became impossible to enforce when people were no longer citizens of some sovereign state. "

"There is only one right, the right to have rights."

Moreover, the loss of protection from a government means a fundamental injustice. People who are deprived of belonging to some organized society are deprived of something far more fundamental than freedom and justice, which are civil rights. First and foremost, they are deprived of "a place in the world that makes (their) opinions meaningful and (their) actions effective". Therefore, Arendt concluded that there is only one right, namely "the right to have rights (and that means living in a framework where one is judged on one's actions and opinions) and the right to belong to some kind of organized society".

Hannah Arendt not only thought in times of crisis, she also thought through the crises, and discovered that Europe's political and moral catastrophe in the 20th century had also weakened the concepts we usually use to explain events. We cannot expect to find a way out of this crisis either by returning to tradition and by not escaping into the utopia. Arendt used this insight as a motto at the beginning of his analysis of totalitarianism: “Neither the Vergangenen anheimfallen nor the Zukünftigen. It's coming up, very annoying to be » - "To fall into neither the past nor the future. It's about being present in the present. "

Today, a UNHCR report states that about 47 million people have been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution. Hannah Arendt believed that humans are capable of solving new problems and building a world that is humane for all. Principles guide individual and collective actions. According to Arendt, a new principle of political action would be necessary, a principle whose validity must encompass all of humanity. In 1957, Arendt remarked that "humanity (…) has become a rather urgent reality." Mankind's solidarity can be helpful today in deciding what needs to be done to prevent the current crisis from becoming a disaster. As Arendt so aptly put it: "A crisis becomes a disaster only when we respond to it with preconceived notions."

Welcome to the documentary "Vita Activa – Spirit of Hannah Arendt" and panel debate at the Artists' House on Thursday 9 February from 16: 15-20: 00.
The debate takes place after the film screening and is with the film director and several others.
Ny Tids editor Truls Lie is the chairman.

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