Wikiquote Hannah Arendt Jewish-American political theorist quotes

Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from

warmth, and their humanity, are well-known characteristics of all oppressed people. They grow out of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs.

Hatred and love belong together, and they are both destructive; you can afford them only in private and, as a people, only so long as you are not free.
Letter to James Baldwin (21 November 1962).

 Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
On Revolution (1963), ch. 2.

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
The New Yorker (12 September 1970).

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil,

The Life of the Mind (1978), “Thinking”

The cultural treasures of the past, believed to be dead, are being made to speak, in the course of which it turns out that they propose things altogether different than what had been thought.
“Martin Heidegger at Eighty,” in Heidegger and Modern Philosophy: Critical Essays (1978) by Michael Murray, p. 294.

 In its flight from death, the craving for permanence clings to the very things sure to be lost in death.

p. 17
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)Edit

…to turn our backs on the destructive forces of the century is of little avail.

The trouble is that our period has so strangely intertwined the good with the bad that without the imperialists’ “expansion for expansion’s sake,” the world might never have become one; without the bourgeoisie’s political device of “power for power’s sake,” the extent of human strength might never have been discovered; without the fictitious world of totalitarian movements, in which with unparalleled clarity the essential uncertainties of our time have been spelled out, we might have been driven to our doom without ever becoming aware of what has been happening.
And if it is true that in the final stages of totalitarianism an absolute evil appears (absolute because it can no longer be deduced from humanly comprehensible motives), it is also true that without it we might never have known the truly radical nature of Evil.
Preface to the first edition, written in the summer of 1950.

 What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one.

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. […]

Persecution of powerless or power-losing groups may not be a very pleasant spectacle, but it does not spring from human meanness alone. What makes men obey or tolerate real power and, on the other hand, hate people who have wealth without power, is the rational instinct that power has a certain function and is of some general use.

…exploitation and oppression still make society work and establish some kind of order. Only wealth without power or aloofness without a policy are felt to be parasitical, useless, revolting, because such conditions cut all the threads which tie men together.

Wealth which does not exploit lacks even the relationship which exists between exploiter and exploited; aloofness without policy does not imply even the minimum concern of the oppressor for the oppressed.
Part 1, Ch. 1, § 1.

A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses.

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible, world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything is possible and that nothing was true.

The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynism the vice of superior and refined minds.

Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the
most fantastic statements one day, and trust if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
Part 3, Ch. 2 The Totalitarian Movement, page 80

The Nazis were ‘convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction,’

experience has proven time and again that the propaganda value of evil deeds and general contempt for moral standards is independent of mere self-interest, supposedly the most powerful psychological factor in politics.
Part 3, Ch. 1 § 1.

 The totalitarian movements aim at and succeed in organizing masses—not classes,

The only man for whom Hitler had ‘unqualified respect’ was ‘Stalin the genius’

…Stalin trusted only one man and that was Hitler.
Part 3, Ch. 1 § 1.

 What will happen once the authentic mass man takes over, we do not know yet, although it may be a fair guess that he will have more in common with the meticulous, calculated correctness of Himmler than with the hysterical fanaticism of Hitler,

The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life.

The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life.
In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one.

His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.

Part 3, Ch. 12, § 3.

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.
Part 3, Ch. 13, § 3.

Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)Edit
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)

 [H]e was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché.[…]

 (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché)

The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely to think from the standpoint of somebody else.

 No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

Ch. III.

What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (“a great task that occurs once in two thousand years”),

The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler … consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!
Ch. VI.

 “How was it possible that all of you honorable generals could continue to serve a murderer with such unquestioning loyalty?,” replied that it was “not the task of a soldier to act as judge over his supreme commander. Let history do that or God in Heaven.”


 Eichmann, much less intelligent and without any education to speak of, at least dimly realized that it was not an order but a law which had turned them all into criminals.

 The distinction between an order and the Führer’s word was that the latter’s validity was not limited in time and space, which is the outstanding characteristic of the former. This is also the true reason why the Führer’s order for the Final Solution was followed by a huge shower of regulations and directives, all drafted by expert lawyers and legal advisors, not by mere administrators; this order, in contrast to ordinary orders, was treated as a law.

 …the resulting legal paraphernalia, far from being a mere symptom of German pedantry and thoroughness, served most effectively to give the whole business its outward appearance of legality.

…just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody, “Thou shalt not kill,” even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill,”

…although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation.

under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere.

Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.
Ch. XIV.

…the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

 From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.

No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been.
Crises of the Republic (1969)Edit

 The chief reason warfare is still with us is neither a secret death-wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible instinct of aggression, nor, finally and more plausibly, the serious economic and social dangers inherent in disarmament, but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.

“On Violence”.

The point, as Marx saw it, is that dreams never come true.
“On Violence”.

Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.
“On Violence”.

 The defiance of established authority, religious and secular, social and political, as a world-wide phenomenon may well one day be accounted the outstanding event of the last decade.

“Civil Disobedience”.

Man’s urge for change and his need for stability have always balanced and checked each other,

Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other.
“Civil Disobedience”.

Revolutionaries do not make revolutions! The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up.

 For the trouble with lying and decieving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide.

 truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.

“Lying in Politics”
The Life of the Mind (1971/1978)Edit
( Hannah ARENDT, 1978, The Life of the Mind, New York, Harcourt )

 Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.

p. 4.

Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing?
p. 5.

 Kant … discovered “the scandal of reason,” that is the fact that our mind is not capable of certain and verifiable knowledge regarding matters and questions that it nevertheless cannot help thinking about.

p. 14.

…reason and intellect, coincides with a distinction between two altogether different mental activities, thinking and knowing.
p. 14.

 Kant stated defensively that he had “found it necessary to deny knowledge. . . to make room for faith,” but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had not “denied knowledge” but separated knowledge from thinking.

p. 14.

 The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning.

 “inside we are all alike,” just as the science of physiology and medicine relies on the sameness of our inner organs. […]

 […]the simple-minded positivism that believes it has found a firm ground of certainty if it only excludes all mental phenomena from consideration and holds fast to observable facts.

p. 39.

…the paradoxical condition of a living being that, though itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it.

p. 45.

 …the only relevant question is whether the semblances are inauthentic or authentic ones, whether they are caused by dogmatic beliefs and arbitrary assumptions, mere mirages that disappear upon closer inspection, or whether they are inherent in

the paradoxical condition of a living being that, though itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it.
p. 45.

 To expect truth to come from thinking signifies that we mistake the need to think with the urge to know.

p. 61.

 Kant […] stated that he had “found it necessary to deny knowledge […] to make room for faith,” but all he had “denied” was knowledge of things that are unknowable, and he had not made room for faith but for thought.

p. 63.

 Since it is always the same person whose mind thinks, wills, and judges, the autonomous nature of these activities has created great difficulties.

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen.

What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed.

Source: Hannah Arendt: From an Interview. Comments made in 1974

 Totalitarianism begins in contempt for what you have.

  “Things must change — no matter how, Anything is better than what we have.” Totalitarian rulers organize this kind of mass sentiment, and by organizing it articulate it, and by articulating it make the people somehow love it.

They were told before, thou shalt not kill; and they didn’t kill. Now they are told, thou shalt kill; and although they think it’s very difficult to kill, they do it because it’s now part of the code of behavior.

 They learn whom to kill and how to kill and how to do it together. This is the much talked about Gleichschaltung — the coordination process.

Totalitarianism appeals to the very dangerous emotional needs of people who live in complete isolation and in fear of one another.

 If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.

lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history.

On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind.
It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

The main characteristic of any event is that it has not been foreseen.

We don’t know the future but everybody acts into the future.

 What actually happens is entirely contingent, and contingency is indeed one of the biggest factors in all history.

after the experience of Auschwitz it looks as though all of history—or at least history since the Middle Ages — had no other aim than Auschwitz…. This, is the real problem of every philosophy of history how is it possible that in retrospect it always looks as though it couldn’t have happened otherwise?


Author: charlesburchfield

I am an artist working primarily with collage.

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