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Hannah Arendt was a leading political thinker of the twentieth century. While her contributions to academic life focused mainly on politics, her works delved deeply into the public domain. Arendt, whose life occurred during the height of the Nazis' reign in Europe, also explored the nature of freedom, the sanctity of personal values, and the limits of intellectual and moral judgment. Here, we'll consider three of Arendt's most famous works:
Arendt, born in 1906, lived in the city of Konigsberg, the former capital of East Prussia. Later given to the Soviet Union, it was renamed Kaliningrad after M.I. Kalinin, and became an unrecognizable ruin under totalitarian regimes. Arendt later married Heinrich Blucher, a French political exile who had a similar political and philosophical background. However, Arendt did not marry Blucher until 1941.
In her early sixties, Arendt participated in the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was an ordinary man who acted beyond the law. The trial forced Arendt to confront the question of judgment. She argued that "the banality of evil" embodies the reality of evil. Arendt's writings, while based on articles Arendt wrote for the New Yorker, go far beyond the usual journalistic accounts of World War II.
Arendt rejects the philosophical attempts to find a single, universal standard of knowledge or cognition. Such an approach is detrimental to the human condition, as it removes the plurality, essential relativity, and the need to gain others' consent to a specific proposal. In other words, Arendt's views on the nature of judgment, and the role of aesthetic judgment in society, cannot be separated. Ultimately, Arendt's work is an important work of philosophical philosophy and should be read as such.
The Arendt Papers are a collection of notes, manuscripts, and other documents from Arendt's teaching and research. The papers reveal that Arendt's quest for understanding of totalitarianism was ongoing well past the 1950s. In her later works, such as The Human Condition and On Revolution, Arendt continued her search for understanding. It's no wonder she became an American citizen in 1951. So, what do these two works have in common?
In The Human Condition, Arendt describes the importance of the public realm, and how its value can benefit society. Rather than considering these two realms separately, Arendt posits a synthesis of the political and social realms. This synthesis, based on Heidegger's philosophy, also aims to bring back the public realm of human action. If we fail to recognize this vital link, Arendt's work will be lost.
Hannah Arendt's political writing deals most frequently with the nature of political existence and its meaning. Her political philosophy is phenomenological in character, owing to her strong influences from Jaspers and Heidegger. Arendt emphasizes the experiential nature of human life and rejects traditional political philosophy's conceptual schema. Instead, Arendt aims to construct the qualities and structures of political being-in-the-world.
Arendt also emphasizes the importance of political agency in democratic societies. Her book The Human Condition deals extensively with politics. She argues that the political realm must share power. Political representation, she argues, is a substitute for direct citizen involvement and serves to reassert the distinction between rulers and ruled. Instead, she advocates a federated system of local councils to govern society. It's a fascinating read.
Her controversial reflections on the trial of Adolf Eichmann were published in 1963. She then lived in New York, where she helped Jewish refugee organizations. In the late 1930s, she separated from her first husband and married Heinrich Blucher. Then, she wrote several important essays on the subject, including Between Past and Future and Men in Dark Times. Despite her acclaimed work, Arendt never received a tenure-track appointment in a major university.
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