Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

King, Richard H. Arendt in America

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

King, Richard H. Arendt in America

Article excerpt

KING, Richard H. Arendt in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. vii + 411 pp. Cloth, $35.00--In Arendt and America, Richard H. King presents an expansively informative political examination of how immigrating to America affected the thinking of German political philosopher Hannah Arendt. His book is part analysis of the writings Arendt did while living in America, part biographical background of what gave birth to those ideas, and part discussion of how other American thinkers responded. One example King offers is Arendt's concept the "right to have rights," introduced in Origins of Totalitarianism. It gained notice by her American contemporaries, like Chief Justice Warren and Martin Luther King Jr., of whom the latter alluded to a similar concept with his "right to protest for right."

King examines how Arendt used her past life in Europe as a bridge to gain an understanding of her new home country. Throughout the book, he compares Tocqueville with Arendt as two Europeans assessing American democracy. Both shared a driving goal to explain America and its politics to a European audience. As a new citizen, Arendt was interested in conveying to European intellectuals the exceptional nature of the American Constitution.

Another continuing theme of King's book is that Arendt's experiences in America shaped her political thinking, and she in turn significantly contributed to the political discourse. He identifies Arendt's greatest contribution to American political thought as "an American version of republicanism," and her effort to ensure it thrives in the face of the continual threat of consumerism. Arendt saw that the ancient Greek notion of political action for every citizen may find contemporary expression in America through council systems and their decentralized form of government.

King's book is most fascinating when he discusses the work Arendt did on civil rights issues from the 1950s through the 1970s. King attempts to disentangle Arendt's sometimes contradictory responses on issues involving race. Addressing a private correspondence with her husband, Heinrich Blucher, about black students at Berkeley in the 1950s, King considers how a woman best known for promoting plurality as the mark of humankind on earth might also be tone deaf about racially insensitive comments. He relates Arendt's (seemingly misplaced) criticism of the integration of the schools in Little Rock back to her theoretical distinct ion among the social, the public, and the private. King also links it to Arendt's own experiences with anti-Semitism in school as a child; her mother directed Arendt to never accept it and to insist her dignity be upheld. This may have informed Arendt's consideration of what she argued was putting children on the battle lines of ending racial segregation through school integration. …

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