King, Richard. “Arendt and America”, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
More than a Refuge
Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish political philosopher fled from the Nazis to New York in 1941, and during the next thirty years in America she wrote her best-known and most influential works. Her “The Origins of Totalitarianism” is the classic study and is till used today in academia. She also wrote “On Revolution” and “The Human Condition” among others while she lived here. What is interesting is that even though a large part of her writings were done here, her influence on America has not been evaluated until this book.
Historian Richard H. King states all of Arendt’s work was haunted by her experience of totalitarianism but she was only able to formulate the idea of a modern republic here in America. This modern republic was to stand in contrast to the totalitarian state and as an alternative to totalitarian rule.
While in America, Arendt was fascinated by the political thought of the founding father. Arendt had intellectual discussions with American friends and colleagues and by having a look at her correspondence, we see that David Riesman helped her understand modern American culture and society.
When Arendt wrote down her observations of the Eichmann trial, some turned away form her while others discredited her completely. We see in this book the context for her statements , especially her theory of the banality of evil and how she reached the assumptions she held.
There is no doubt that the woman was quite smart and that regardless of focus, her ideas were shaped by postwar American thought, culture, and politics, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.
She may have come here seeking refuge from the Nazis but she was stimulated to rethink the political, ethical, and historical traditions of human culture and to write those ideas down. This authoritative combination of intellectual history and biography of this book gives a special approach with which to think about the influence of America on Arendt’s ideas and also the effect of her ideas on American thought.
King looks at Arendt in an American context in which she is rarely considered and then combines his ideas with hers that shows us just how Arendt influenced the world and how America influenced her.
Arendt was uncompromising, always thinking and a very difficult person to deal with yet she was one of the great interpreters of modernity. She has been dead for forty years and her influence is still felt here.