|Hannah Arendt: Rethinking the Political
Hannah Arendt is perhaps the most enigmatic of the major political theorists of the twentieth century. She was a German Jew, a student (…friend and lover) of Martin Heidegger (famous as one of the most influential post-Nietzschean 20th century philosophers and infamous for his Nazism), a devout student of Greek and Roman philosophy and an engaged critic of Hegel and Marx, a reporter and Zionist and scholar and public intellectual.
The range of Arendt’s life, thought and influences make it extraordinarily difficult to categorize her work, and she is claimed by classical republicans, human rights and international law scholars, critical theorists and post-modern deconstructionists.
To begin to take the measure of her thought in this course, we will spend the first few weeks surveying The Human Condition, the work that perhaps best supports these multiple readings, a testament at once to its philosophical richness, the multiple sources on which it draws, and its refusal to adhere to the categories and traditions that characterize modern philosophy as such. Arendt subjects almost the entire history of modern philosophy to a critical reassessment here, concluding that this tradition lacks the power to “think what we are doing” and so contributes to our “thoughtlessness—the heedless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty.”
Having surveyed Arendt’s first and most systematic effort to craft a new conceptual framework for thinking politics, we will look at several of its applications in the second half of the course: to understanding the potential of modern revolutions to revitalize politics, along with their frequent perversion; to the problem of evil in a society of organizations, as exemplified by but not limited to Adolf Eichmann, one of the main administrators of Hitler’s ‘final solution’; and to the problem of origins of political judgment and common sense.
Weekly Topics (and suggested readings)
Please note: suggested readings are mentioned only for the sake of reference and for anyone who is interested in going into greater depth on any of these topics. No prior familiarity with any of these works is assumed in any of these lectures.
Week 1: Arendt’s Ontology (Arendt, The Human Condition, Prologue, Parts I-II)
Week 2: Labor and Work (Arendt, The Human Condition, Prologue, Parts III-IV)
Week 3: Arendt’s Political Theory (Arendt, The Human Condition, Parts V-VI)
Week 4: Arendt on Revolution (Arendt, On Revolution)
Week 5: Arendt on Eichmann and Evil (Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil)
David Peritz has a DPhil in Politics from Oxford University, where his studies were supported by a Marshall Scholarship. He is Co-Chair of the Politics Department at Sarah Lawrence College, and a regular visiting faculty member in the Master of Arts of Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth. He has also taught at UC Berkeley, Harvard, Cornell and Deep Springs, and was a visiting scholar at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and the London School of Economics. His research specialization is modern and contemporary political philosophy, especially contemporary theories of democracy and justice and their relations to issues of diversity and inequality
This class is 2.5 hours per week for 5 weeks.
Disclaimer: There is no make up week for this class.