Why Arendt Matters

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Upon publication of her “field manual,” The Origins of Totalitarianism, in 1951, Hannah Arendt immediately gained recognition as a major political analyst. Over the next twenty-five years, she wrote ten more books and developed a set of ideas that profoundly influenced the way America and Europe addressed the central questions and dilemmas of World War II. In this concise book, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl introduces her mentor’s work to twenty-first-century readers. Arendt’s ideas, as much today as in her own lifetime, illuminate those issues that perplex us, such as totalitarianism, terrorism, globalization, war, and “radical evil.”

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who was Arendt’s doctoral student in the early 1970s and who wrote the definitive biography of her mentor in 1982, now revisits Arendt’s major works and seminal ideas. Young-Bruehl considers what Arendt’s analysis of the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union can teach us about our own times, and how her revolutionary understanding of political action is connected to forgiveness and making promises for the future. The author also discusses The Life of the Mind, Arendt’s unfinished meditation on how to think about thinking. Placed in the context of today’s political landscape, Arendt’s ideas take on a new immediacy and importance. They require our attention, Young-Bruehl shows, and continue to bring fresh truths to light.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Studying the two regimes that troubled her the most Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union Arendt argued that totalitarianism results when a government prohibits politics or debate about key issues in public spaces. Like Arendt's important work regarding evil in the absence of thought, or "the banality of evil," the word "totalitarianism" has become "a clich , for many who use it," Young-Bruehl points out. But in this useful overview of Arendt's life, major ideas and works, Young-Bruehl brings Arendt's concepts back into focus, by synthesizing them and applying them to recent and current events, such as the war on terrorism and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Young-Bruehl (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World) succeeds best when illustrating the application of Arendt's work and undermines her mission when she assumes Arendt's pen: "Arendt, had she been alive in 2001, would have gone straight to her writing table to protest that the World Trade Center was not Pearl Harbor and that `war on terror' was a meaningless phrase." Still, Young-Bruehl is more responsible with Arendt's work than others have been, and makes it clear by the end that Arendt should matter. Published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Arendt's birth, the book is the first in a new series of books from Yale on people and ideas. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hannah Arendt remains a primary source for our understanding totalitarianism, helping to clarify Karl Jaspers's thesis that the old totalitarianisms are being replaced by something more difficult to grasp. Arendt once Martin Heidegger's mistress and then Jaspers's favorite pupil matured in Germany and then fled to the United States. She puzzled about how highly educated Germans in a society deferential to intellectuals turned to totalitarianism while Americans, much less fond of intellectuals, managed to maintain their democracy. Young-Bruehl notes that the "velvet revolutions" that defeated communism with a mixture of French and American traditions were of a type unknown to Arendt. But here, too, Jaspers's fears of a new kind of totalitarianism are genuine, and Arendt's analyses are relevant. Young-Bruehl makes the most of Arendt's work, and the book derives its strength from her close relationship with Arendt, the insights she gained while writing her biography (For Love of the World), and her wide grasp of political theory. She does not, however, tell us much about Arendt's metaphysical views and lifelong interest in Augustine and the concept of love. The book's main weakness is its failure to explore in depth the social and economic consequences of Arendt's theses. This book ought to interest many readers but likely will land mostly in academic libraries. Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Lawrence Weschler
"What would she be thinking, what would she be saying, right now, about all this? Thus do many of us, long bereft, find ourselves repeatedly pondering regarding the late, incomparably lucid and passionate Hannah Arendt. How unexpectedly lucky for us therefore becomes this book, this gift from Ms. Arendt's passionately lucid biographer: a text, both clear and urgent, that comes astonishingly close to providing an answer. Grounding her analysis in a vividly concise summation of the entire arc of her subject's life-thought, it's almost as if Young-Bruehl were channeling Arendt, right now, today, when we really need her."—Lawrence Weschler, Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU and author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300136197
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 7/14/2009
  • Series: Why X Matters Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl is a faculty member at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and a practicing psychoanalyst. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy under Hannah Arendt’s supervision at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. She lives in New York City.

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