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Hannah Arendt and Her Political Ideas

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Hannah Arendt is a unique philosophical intellect of the 20th centenary, and her believes still influences conversations in global politics today. She scripted a collection of books such as, ‘The origin of totalitarianism’ in 1966, ‘The human condition’ in 1958 and ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ in 1968a. Majority of her works became renown in 2006, a period embodied by governmental and moral calamities, uniform to that, she experienced in various stages of her life. Arendt’s work can be noted for its peculiarity, especially when it comes to political theories, humanities and social sciences. Given her broad academic tendencies, most international political theories, such as, post-colonialism, classical republicanism, post structuralism, critical theory, and feminism etc., turn to record some similarities with Arendt’s idea.

However, it should be noted that Arendt’s ideology does not fit into any school of thought extensively and that is the reason she matters most in today’s world.


Hannah was born on the 14th of October 1906. She grew up as a middle class civilian of a Jewish community. At 16, she studied Christian theology and classics, went forth to study phenomenology at the age of 18 and procured her doctoral at the University of Heidelberg in 1995. Her educational stream of works and thoughts were influenced by scholars such as Karl Jaspers her educator, Emmanuel Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger. In 1930 when Nazism began to take over Germany, Arendt allied Jewish politics to combat for crimes against the Jews. This enkindled her arrest and later escapes to Paris for shelter. However, this did not discourage her from continuing her Jewish political pursuits, as she could be seen saving Jewish youngsters and preparing them towards their relocation to Palestine. Following the occupation of France by the Germans after the 2ndWorld War, Arendt was arrested for the second time by the Germans claiming that she was an enemy. She later on ran to the U.S with her family where she spent her entire life. Still in the U.S, she continued to press for a Jewish militia, aimed at defeating Hitler’s forces, so as to free the Jews. Despite her zeal to free the Jews, she was not in support of the creation of an independent Jewish country by the Zionist, reasons being that, she saw it as not necessary in the future (20th century). Rather, Arendt advises that a dual state, made up of a Jewish-Arab local council in Palestine, would be the most preferable way out. This caused Arendt to loss ties with the Jewish community, especially those who stood for an organised Jewish nation. The bond became even more loosened in 1961when Arendt descried Adolf Eichmann’s actions against the Jews as banal and not radical as most Jews will see it.

Despite the struggles and critics she faced during her life time, Arendt still succeeded in establishing herself as a major ideologist in international politics, through some of her works such as; The Origin of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, On Revolution etc. She died in 1975 as a result of a heart attack, and was laid to rest in New York.

Totalitarianism, imperialism and the break with tradition

To Hannah, the 2nd world War and its devastative effects has left the western traditions and political thoughts of the west in a sham. She was greatly convinced that, Totalitarianism, imperialism and world Wars, has destroyed western traditions, especially that western tradition which had to do with, political philosophers trying to control politics and political actions by applying what they reason or thought was right. Arendt was of the opinion that, political actions or life cannot be controlled through the thoughts of philosophers. What they think is right would seem impossible once they start to apply them in the political system.

To Hannah totalitarianism is now the order of the day in the 20th century, a system which stern from 19th century’s historical processes such as, imperialism and anti- Semitism. She calls this new system of totalitarianism ‘a new and radical form of evil’, aimed at making humans unwanted. She suggests that, the wide liberal distinctions between war and peace on the one hand, and conflict in the European continent as opposed to conflict in their colonies in the other, cannot be attained.

Violence, power and new beginnings

In western traditions, politics was taken to mean the accumulation of power. That is, more power a state had, to posses territories, the more its ruler stands out as the dominant figure amongst his fellow rulers. Thus, violence was the only method the rulers could employ in other to gain power and dominate other rulers. So violence and power were concepts which move hand in hand during the time of the western traditions. To Hannah, she was not of the opinion that, violence and power are birds of the same feather. This can be seen in the way she defines power, violence, justification and legitimacy.

To Arendt, power is the capacity of a group of people to act together and achieve their common goal; meanwhile, violence is a means to achieve this goal. That is to say, violence is used to implement the strength of the group and ensure persons obey their orders. Hannah goes ahead in trying to distinguish between power and violence by using justification and legitimacy. She says, despite the fact that violence needs to be justified as legitimate in other to achieve a particular end through speeches to an audience, power does not need to be justified but simply needs to be legitimate and conform to the existing laws. To Arendt, the war (WW II) was necessary for a new political beginning.

She was against Fanon’s belief that, through violence, the colonised countries would see the social truth. She was of the opinion that violence brings about silence from the people and as such truth and new knowledge are not heard.

Politics, plurality and the public world

To Arendt, politics is not acting violently and struggling between leaders in other to achieve an end. To her, politics is the ability for a state to sit with a group of plural equals and debate so as to come out with something new which would be for the common good of the world at large.

When leaders come together to discuss issues which are common to them, a public world is being created. To Arendt, by doing this, leaders find out things about themselves which they would never had known in the absence of such debates and speeches. This is what makes Arendt similar to Habermas (a critical theorist), for he also insists on speeches in the public world. However, they register some divergence of opinion when it comes to Arendt stands on contestation and disagreement at the public world, for Habermas deliberative rationality and consensus building instead of disagreement should prevail in the public world.

Ardent insist on the fact that, Christian principles such as compassion, love and concern should not be taken into consideration when carrying out political actions. For if employed, will be a reason for the destruction of the public world. This ideology of Arendt was highly in contrast with that of realist-republicans such as Machiavelli who uphold the view that in politics Christian values should be used in carrying out political actions.

To Arendt, political actions can have a new beginning, but its end can never be predicted because the unexpected is always bound to happen. Since there is unpredictability of what might happen at the end, it is important for law and territorial boundaries to be put in place, for without this, the world would be in a sham.

She agreed that the events of the 20th century require that a new human dignity should be protected to a greater level. However, she was not of the opinion that the protection of human rights was a new guarantee for the protection of human dignity. To her, it simply adds to private life and makes them hostile to public affairs. To her, freedom and opinion here means politics in which rights would make sense. To her human right should be the right to live in a society where you are judged by your actions and opinions.

To her, political rights are the most important rights created by conventions and not those rights inherited by birth. To her, what can guarantee human dignity after the disaster of the 20th century is the creation of a democratic republican model of inter-linked institutions (inter-republic laws) within a country.


Hanna’s thinking was influenced by happenings and facts on ground, rather than historical ideas, since they fail to clarify politics. Being a political writer and imprisoned for her political activities and her struggle for liberation of the Jews, she has served as an influence to many writers such as Habermas. She was a founding member of post colonialism and saw that the conditions of politics needed to be readdressed and replaced by democratic politics.

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