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Hannah Arendt – Summary

The first woman who teaches political philosophy, she is at a rather particular historical moment because around the 1920s we begin to talk about the question of totalitarianisms, in the first part of the 1900s the three main totalitarianisms are: Nazism, Fascism and Communism. These totalitarianisms left a lot of room for discussion, (totalitarianism = centralized power in the hands of the dictator or the state).

The totalitarian state tends to limit individual freedom, it is a state in which homologation is the fundamental element.
The most important work she writes is the origins of totalitarianism in 1951, in this work she analyzes the different forms of totalitarianism, underlines the fact that at the beginning of all these totalitarianisms there is always a mass society, therefore it is the mass ideology that allows totalitarianism to take hold.
The work is divided into 3 parts:

  1. anti-Semitism: you consider anti-Semitism a premise of totalitarianism, and you start from the historical analysis of the society of that moment, starting from the Dreyfus case,
  2. imperialism: it reaches up to the 19th century when it is the bourgeoisie that wants to impose its dominion over the others.
  3. the characteristics of totalitarian society in mass societies: This totalitarianism establishes two fundamental elements: ideology and terrorism. The goal that totalitarianism sets itself is to destroy the ideologies that underlie men. Totalitarianism attacks when there is no ideology, when the individual is alone and does not have a basic idea that can counteract the idea that comes to him from outside. Or if there is an ideology, terror intervenes, that is, the police intervenes, creating a state of terror where people are forced to adhere to totatlitarism.

Another work that she writes is the banality of evil of 1963, it is a rather criticized work, Hannah is a survivor of the leagher. This work is linked to the question of totalitarianisms, it represents a sort of journalistic story that you make of an event that takes place in those years. You tell of the trial that is celebrated in Israel of Eichmann, a German lieutenant-colonel who was sentenced because he was one of the perpetrators of the killings of the Jews. This process is the first and only one taking place in Israel. This journalistic story begins in 1961 and will end in 1962 because after a series of sessions Eichmann is sentenced to death. Eichmann is kidnapped overnight in Argentina (because he has no extradition). Evil becomes trivial because I do not take into consideration the consequences that my reckless actions produce; it means that anyone can do evil and that we are all potential killers. The banality lies not in belittling the event that happened but in not considering the consequences of the actions. Eichmann is a victim of this banality because in the first place he had no ideology and simply followed orders, says Arendt that he was ordered to shoot Jews and would have done so even if it were his father and mother. because for him being a Nazi soldier represented a higher social status than he was a part of being a Merchedes mechanic. He becomes banal because he does not have an ideology.

In 1958 he wrote la vita acrtiva, the human condition in this work puts the Greek Polis at the center of his reflection and tells us that in the Greek Polis the main element on which everything was wandering was the question of action, common action. among men and all this was based on the discourse, for which all men were above all active in the construction of this society and therefore the discourse took precedence over doing, the man instead over time had lost this ability to do politics because this it had been replaced by practical activity, for which man over time had lost the contemplative capacity. This vita activa, this doing, had supplanted reflection, man was no longer a man who reflected but he was too practical a man. In this work he tells us that acrive life is divided into three ways:

  1. work activity: he defines man as a man who works (animal laborans). The work activity was that which especially in Greece was characterized by the ability of men to work to follow the biological growth, brings together all those people who worked without this work producing anything important. In ancient Greece this type of work was attributed to slaves.
  2. Working: it is what makes man faber coincide, that is, he who produces something that remains, linked to the science that had led man to make discoveries that remain over time.
  3. Action: it coincides with the zoon politikon which is action without any mediation and which produces the fact that men must take back that initial position of direct relationship with them and nature and is the fundamental condition for men to rediscover the aspect of politics. Man must take back the contemplative life to the disadvantage of a life which is only practical activity, which has made him an employee. Livelihood work is fine but it doesn’t have to be the only aspect of his life.


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