Cultural and political analysis by a noted and often controversial writer.
By 1953, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) had been recognized as a powerful political theorist whose early writings—collected in Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954—focused largely on understanding and analyzing “a new form of government in the world: totalitarianism.” Although totalitarian dictatorships occupied her thoughts for the rest of her life, this second volume of some 40 essays, interviews, conference presentations, acceptance speeches, letters, and reviews, edited and introduced by Arendt scholar Kohn, reveals a wide focus, including the relationship of theory to practice, American elections, the Cold War, freedom, civic responsibility, and happiness. Arendt defined herself as a thinker, not an actor; at a 1972 conference on “The Work of Hannah Arendt,” she defended herself against objections to her stance: “I would like to know,” asked one participant, “not only what is justice in a world whose injustice we all abhor, but how can the political theorist make us become more committed and more effective in fighting for justice.” Arendt responded that she was committed to arousing thought but not “to indoctrinate.” Most important to her was inspiring intellectual awakening, taking away “banisters from people—their safe guiding lines” and compelling them to think for themselves. Likewise, she refused to align herself with any political position: “the left think I am conservative,” she said, “and the conservatives sometimes think I am left, or I am a maverick or God knows what.” Some essays, such as her reflections on the 1960 presidential election that pitted Kennedy against Nixon, seem unfortunately dated. But in other pieces she emerges as startlingly prescient: in an interview in 1973, for example, she emphasized that a free press is crucial in a democracy. “How can anyone have an opinion who is not informed?” she asked; “if everyone lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore.”
A challenging, densely argued, provocative collection.