Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was one of the most original and interesting political thinkers of the twentieth century. In this new interpretation of her career, philosopher Richard Bernstein situates Arendt historically as an engaged Jewish intellectual and explores the range of her thinking from the perspective of her continuing confrontation with "the Jewish question."
Bernstein argues that many themes that emerged in the course of Arendt's attempts to understand specifically Jewish issues shaped her thinking about politics in general and the life of the mind. By exploring pivotal events of her life story her arrest and subsequent emigration from Germany in 1933, her precarious existence in Paris as a stateless Jew working for Zionist organizations, her internment at Gurs and her subsequent escape, and finally her flight from Europe in 1941 he shows how personal experiences and her responses to them oriented her thinking.
Arendt's analysis of the Jews' lack of preparation for the vicious political antiSemitism that arose in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Bernstein argues, led her on a quest for the ultimate meaning of politics and political responsibility. Moreover, he points out that Arendt's deepest insights about politics emerged from her reflections on statelessness and totalitarian domination. Bernstein also examines Arendt's attraction to and break with Zionism, and the reasons for her critical stance toward a Jewish sovereign state. He then turns to the issue that, in Arendt's opinion, needed most to be confronted in the aftermath of World War II: the fundamental nature of evil. He traces the nuances of her thinking from "radical evil" to "the banality of evil" and, finally, reexamines Eichmann in Jerusalem, her meditation on evil that caused a storm of protest and led some to question her loyalty to the Jewish people.
During the last two decades Richard Bernstein has established a worldwide reputation as one of the few philosophers able to bridge different traditions of thought and to clarify, through sympathetic criticism, the key intellectual issues of our time. In these 10 essays he explores the ethical and political dimensions of the modernity/postmodernity debates.
Bernstein argues that modernity/postmodernity should be understood as a pervasive mood—what Heidegger calls a Stimmung—one that is amorphous, shifting, and protean but that nevertheless exerts a powerful influence on our current ways of thinking and acting. Focusing on such thinkers as Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Rorty, and Habermas, Bernstein seeks to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of their work and to highlight the ways in which they have contributed to the formation of a new and distinctive constellation of ideas and themes.
Richard J. Bernstein is Vera List Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research.
The Essays: Philosophy, History, and Critique. The Rage Against Reason. Incommensurability and Otherness Revisited. Heidegger's Silence? Ethos and Technology. Foucault: Critique as a Philosophic Ethos. Serious Play: The Ethical-Political Horizon of Derrida. An Allegory of Modernity/Postmodernity: Habermas and Derrida. One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward: Rorty on Liberal Democracy. Rorty's Liberal Utopia, Reconciliation/Rupture.