“Arendt and America” by Richard H. King— Thirty Years in America

arendt and america

King, Richard H. “Arendt and America”, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Thirty Years in America

Amos Lassen

German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–75) came to New York in 1941 after fleeing Nazi Germany and during the next thirty years in America, she wrote her best-known and most influential works, such as “The Human Condition”, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, and “On Revolution”, to name just three. In this new book, author Richard H. King tells us that even though

a substantial portion of her work was written in America and not Europe, no one has directly considered the influence of America on her thought and that is what he does here. King argues that while all of Arendt’s work was haunted by her experience of totalitarianism, it was only in America, her adopted homeland that she was able to formulate the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule.

By placing Arendt within the context of U.S. intellectual, political, and social history, King shows how Arendt developed a fascination with the political thought of the Founding Fathers. King recreated her exchanges with friends and colleagues, including Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, and shows how her understanding of modern American culture and society comes from her correspondence with sociologist David Riesman.

In the last part of the book, author King looks at the context in which the Eichmann controversy took place and he looks at Arendt’s “banality of evil”. He validates his thesis that Arendt’s work, regardless of focus, was shaped by postwar American thought, culture, and politics, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. America was a stimulus to look once again at political, ethical, and historical traditions of human culture. The books combines intellectual history and biography to give us a unique approach for thinking about the influence of America on Arendt’s ideas and also the effect of her ideas on American thought.

Arendt was difficult and uncompromising, but she was also one of the great interpreters of “modernity in all its tragic complexity”. Now some forty years after her death, she continues to enlighten us about the human condition.

 

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