Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics

Synopsis

Hannah Arendt is one of the most important political theorists of the twentieth century. In her works, she grappled with the dark events of that century, probing the nature of power, authority, and evil, and seeking to confront totalitarian horrors on their own terms. This book focuses on how, against the professionalized discourses of theory, Arendt insists on the greater political importance of the ordinary activity of thinking. Indeed, she argues that the activity of thinking is the only reliable protection against the horrors that buffeted the last century. Its essays explore and enact that activity, which Arendt calls the habit of erecting obstacles to oversimplifications, compromises, and conventions. Most of the essays were written for a conference at Bard College celebrating the 100th anniversary of Arendt's birth. Arendt left her personal library and literary effects to Bard, and she is buried in the Bard College cemetery. Material from the Bard archive such as a postcard to Arendt from Walter Benjamin or her annotation in her copy of Machiavelli's The Prince and images from her life are interspersed with the essays in this volume. The volume will offer provocations and insights to Arendt scholars, students discovering Arendt's work, and general readers attracted to Arendt's vision of the importance of thinking in our own dark times.

Excerpt

This book originates in an unusual conference that was held at Bard College to celebrate Hannah Arendt's one-hundredth birthday. For the conference, “Thinking in Dark Times: the Legacy of Hannah Arendt,” we invited a wide range of public intellectuals, artists, journalists, and academics from across the disciplines to address the relevance of Arendt's thinking. the speakers were given particular questions to respond to, questions such as, “Is totalitarianism a present danger?” “What is the activity of democratic citizenship?” “What does it mean to think about politics?” in addition, we asked the participants to limit their remarks to ten minutes. the effort was to encourage talks that avoid the regalia of disciplinary posturing and specialized jargons and move straight to the provocative questions at the very heart of Arendt's project.

Looking over the transcripts after the conference, we quickly recognized that the talks not only spoke in a provocative and incisive way, but they also revealed the passionate and engaged embrace of political and ethical thinking that is too frequently lost among the layers of interpretation and scholarship that deadens much writing about Arendt. We therefore asked the participants to expand and polish their essays for publication. At the same time, we asked that they make an effort to preserve the style and form of the original oral presentations. the essays that follow are the result. They are as a whole shorter than typical academic essays, and they have fewer footnotes and scholarly trappings. Instead, they present efforts to think with and, at times, against Arendt in her call for thinking.

The book, like the conference that inspired it, is very much rooted in Bard College. Bard has a long and meaningful association with Hannah Arendt. Her husband, Heinrich Blücher, taught at Bard for seventeen years and was instrumental in designing Bard's common-course core curriculum. Arendt herself was a professor and friend of Bard's current president, Leon Botstein. Blücher and Arendt both are buried on the Bard campus, a short walk from Arendt's personal library, which is currently housed at Bard's Stevenson Library. in addition, Bard hosts the Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking. To give a feel for Arendt's intellectual life and to offer to others a glimpse into world of her personal library, we include in this volume a . . .

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