Hannah Arendt Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: One of the most challenging political philosophers of the twentieth century, Arendt adopted an Aristotelian approach to explore the origins of totalitarianism, the structure of human consciousness, and the nature of violence and evil.

Early Life

Hannah Arendt was the only child of Paul and Martha (Cohn) Arendt, a German-Jewish couple who lived in Hanover. Arendt’s father was an engineer and the family moved to the town of Königsberg, the former capital of East Prussia, where the young Hannah grew up. She attended the University of Königsberg shortly after World War I, receiving a bachelor’s degree from that institution in 1924. Later that same year, she began postgraduate study with the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger at the University of Marburg. Arendt met Hans Jonas (her future colleague at the New School for Social Research) when she and Jonas were the only two Jewish students to enroll in a New Testament seminar offered at Marburg by the biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann.

Arendt’s education continued at the University of Heidelberg where she studied philosophy under Karl Jaspers. During her years at Heidelberg, Arendt began to be influenced by Jasper’s Christian existential philosophy and his view that each individual is ultimately responsible for his or her own actions. In 1928, when Arendt was only twenty-two years old, the University of Heidelberg granted Arendt a doctorate. In the following year, her dissertation was published as Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin (1929; The Idea of Love in St. Augustine). In September of 1929, Arendt married the young Jewish philosopher Günther Stern, whom she had met in 1925 during her postgraduate training in Marburg.

As the National Socialist movement (the Nazis) began to gain power in Germany, Arendt felt that her Jewish heritage was placing her in increasing danger. She fled to Paris in 1933, and began to work for Youth Aliyah, a relief organization that attempted to find homes in Palestine for Jewish orphans. Her relationship with Stern began to deteriorate during the 1930’s, and the couple obtained a divorce in France in 1937. Arendt’s activity in relief work continued, however, until 1940, when she married Heinrich Blücher, a professor of philosophy. Blücher was to remain one of Arendt’s most important mentors during the course of their thirty-year marriage.

In 1941, France was invaded by the Nazis, forcing Arendt and Blücher to move to the United States. From 1944 until 1946, Arendt performed humanitarian work for the Conference on Jewish Relations in New York City. At the same time, she worked to preserve the writings of several Jewish authors, many of whose works had been suppressed by the Nazis during World War II. In 1946, Arendt assumed the position of chief editor for Schocken Books, remaining at that post until 1948. She applied for American citizenship in 1950, and was granted full citizenship during the following year.

Life’s Work

Hannah Arendt began to draw the attention of international scholars in 1951 with the publication of her first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In this work, Arendt suggested that the roots of both communism and National Socialism could be traced not only to the imperialism of the nineteenth century but also to the anti- Semitism rampant throughout Europe at that time. Arendt’s thesis initially met with mixed reviews. Many scholars praised the extensive research that was reflected in The Origins of Totalitarianism and concurred with its view that the rise of modern dictatorships resulted from the collapse of the nation-state. Nevertheless, many critics also rejected Arendt’s view that anti-Semitism had been a decisive factor in shaping all forms of totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Arendt was criticized for taking too personal a view of modern history and for failing to be objective in her interpretation of events. Since the original publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism, however, Arendt’s central thesis has gained considerable academic support.

In 1958, Arendt’s Walgreen lectures delivered at the University of Chicago were published as The Human Condition. With its groundbreaking distinction between work, labor, and activity, and its optimistic view that political activity can enhance civilization, this book improved Arendt’s reputation as a scholar. One of Arendt’s most influential works, The Human Condition uses an Aristotelian approach to address issues of concern in modern society. Nevertheless, several critics found the book’s prose style to be extremely dense, even awkward. Arendt’s literary style continued to be criticized following the publication of several of her later works.

Arendt became the first woman to hold the rank of full professor at Princeton University when she...

(The entire section is 2023 words.)

Hannah Arendt Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111206232-Arendt.jpgHannah Arendt Published by Salem Press, Inc.

After Hannah Arendt (uh-REHNT) became a refugee from Adolf Hitler and Nazism, she devoted her scholarly efforts to the philosophical analysis of the events and conditions that had led to the rise of totalitarianism and to the pervasive sense of personal, social, and political alienation in the second half of the twentieth century. She was the only child of Paul Arendt, an engineer, and Martha Cohn Arendt. The family moved to Königsberg when she was young, and she subsequently studied at the local university and at the University of Heidelberg, where in 1928 she received a doctorate for her dissertation on the concept of love in Saint Augustine’s writing. The three scholars who most strongly influenced her were Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, and Martin Heidegger.

As a result of the official anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime, Arendt was forced to emigrate to Paris in 1933. There she studied, wrote, and worked with the Youth Aliyah, a relief organization that found homes in Palestine for Jewish orphans. The National Socialist threat to France prompted Arendt’s emigration in 1940 to the United States, where she lived until her death, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1950. From 1944 to 1946 Arendt was research director for the Conference of Jewish Relations. She served as chief editor of Schocken Books from 1946 to 1948, and in 1952 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to devote more time to research and writing. Despite her excellent training and credentials, she was unable to secure permanent academic appointments until 1963, when she was appointed to the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. In 1967 she joined the graduate faculty of the New School for Social Research....

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Hannah Arendt Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Arendt, Hannah and Mary McCarthy. Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, 1949-1975. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Benhabib, Seyla. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1996. Drawing on Arendt’s cultural background, life experiences, and philosophical influences, Benhabib has provided a critical account of Arendt’s thought.

Bernstein, Richard J. Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996. Bernstein argues how certain events in Arendt’s life and how she responded to these events directed her thinking and greatly influenced her body of work.

Bradshaw, Leah. Acting and Thinking: The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. Deals with the problem of evil and Hannah Arendt’s major texts on totalitarianism, revolution, democracy, the life of the mind, and political responsibility. Contains notes, bibliography, and index.

Carnovan, Margaret. Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought. London: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Contains chapters on The Origins of Totalitarianism, on The Human Condition, and on Arendt’s view of morality and politics, philosophy and politics, and republicanism. Carnovan believes that Arendt is “widely misunderstood” because her views are original and disturbingly unorthodox.

Courtine-Denamy, Sylvie. Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Or “Amor Fati, Amor Mundi.” Translated by G. M. Goshgarian. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. A study of these three Jewish women philosophers against the background of wartime Europe.

Figal, Günter. For a Philosophy of Freedom and Strife: Politics, Aesthetics, Metaphysics. Translated by Wayne Klein. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. This book consists of essays ranging in subject matter from aesthetics to political philosophy. Contains studies on Hannah Arendt and others.

Isaac, Jeffrey C. Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Covers totalitarianism, power, humanism, rebellion, and democratic politics. Isaac argues that Albert Camus and Arendt were distinctive in arguing for a common human condition that makes a politics of human rights imperative.

Kristeva, Julia. Hannah Arendt: Life Is a Narrative. Translated by Frank Collins. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2001. The published lectures of one German woman philosopher on another.

Pierpont, Claudia Roth. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.

Hannah Arendt Biography (Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: One of the most challenging political philosophers of the twentieth century, Arendt adopted an Aristotelian approach to explore the origins of totalitarianism, the structure of human consciousness, and the nature of violence and evil.

Early Life

Hannah Arendt was the only child of Paul Arendt and Martha (Cohn) Arendt, a German-Jewish couple who lived in Hannover. Arendt’s father was an engineer, and the family moved to the town of Königsberg, the former capital of East Prussia, where the young Hannah grew up. She attended the University of Königsberg shortly after World War I, receiving a bachelor’s degree from that institution in 1924. Later that same year,...

(The entire section is 2075 words.)

Hannah Arendt Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

A student of philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger, Arendt, a German Jew, fled Europe for the United States in 1941. She taught at the New School for Social Research in New York City and at the University of Chicago. Arendt claimed that, beginning with Plato, the Western tradition has tended to denigrate human action by misconstruing it as production—that is, as something fabricated by a craftsman—and by valorizing the solitary life of contemplation rather than the plural realm of interaction. As a result, the political realm of human interaction is not given intrinsic value and is misconstrued as the mere execution of rules dictated by a “master,” as in the workshop of the...

(The entire section is 579 words.)