“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” ― Hannah Arendt
“No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.” ― Hannah Arendt
“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” ― Hannah Arendt
“The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty; the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle.” ― Hannah Arendt ________________________________________________________ “The point, as Marx saw it, is that dreams never come true. ” ― Hannah Arendt ________________________________________________________ “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time” ― Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess ________________________________________________________
“Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.” Hannah Arendt
What stuck in the minds of these men who
had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something
historic, grandiose, unique ("a great task that occurs once in two
thousand years"), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important,
because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a
systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure
from what they did. The troops of theEinsatzgruppenhad been drafted from the Armed S.S.,
a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of
the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S.
élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much
their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the
presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was
rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very
simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts
around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of
saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to
say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how
heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!
For the trouble with lying and decieving
is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that
the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not
prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.
Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to
conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially
recognized function of protecting us against reality.
Could the activity of thinking as such,
the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract
attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity he
among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing?
It was mathematics, the non-empirical
science par excellence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that
turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of
nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances.
Kant ... discovered “the scandal of
reason,” that is the fact that our mind is not capable of certain and
verifiable knowledge regarding matters and questions that it nevertheless
cannot help thinking about.
Kant ... stated defensively that he had
"found it necessary to deny knowledge. . . to make room for faith,"
but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had
not "denied knowledge" but separated knowledge from thinking.
The need of reason is not inspired by
the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not
the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical
fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth.
The emotions I feel are no more meant to
be shown in their unadulterated state than the inner organs by which we live.
... the simple-minded positivism that
believes it has found a firm ground of certainty if it only excludes all mental
phenomena from consideration and holds fast to observable facts.
If a given science accidentally reached
its goal, this would by no means stop the workers in the field, who would be
driven past their goal by the sheer momentum of the illusion of unlimited
To expect truth to come from thinking
signifies that we mistake the need to think with the urge to know. (Alan:
Arendt’s doctoral thesis was about St. Augustine who said, “We know to the
extent that we love.”)
Man cannot befreeif he does not know that he is subject
tonecessity, because his freedom
is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from
It is, in fact, far easier to act under
conditions of tyranny than it is to think.
Inpolitics,loveis a stranger, and when it intrudes
upon it nothing is being achieved except hypocrisy.All the characteristics you stress in
the Negro people: their beauty, their capacity for joy, their warmth, and their
humanity, are well-known characteristics of all oppressed people. They grow out
of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs.
Unfortunately, they have never survived the hour of liberation by even five
minutes. Hatred and love belong together, and they are both destructive; you
can afford them only in private and, as a people, only so long as you are not
free. (Letter toJames Baldwin, 21 November 1962)
What makes it so plausible to assume
that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under
the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it
is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the
hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
Political questions are far too serious
to be left to the politicians.
The most radical revolutionary will
become a conservative the day after the revolution.
The sad truth is that most evil is done
by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
I've begun so late, really only in
recent years, to truly love the world... Out of gratitude, I want to call my
book on political theoriesAmor
Mundi. (Speaking of her bookThe Human Condition, as quoted inHannah Arendt: For Love of the
World(2004) by Elisabeth
The cultural treasures of the past,
believed to be dead, are being made to speak, in the course of which it turns
out that they propose things altogether different than what had been thought.("Martin Heideggerat Eighty," inHeidegger and Modern Philosophy:
Critical Essays(1978) by
The totalitarian attempt at global
conquest and total domination has been the destructive way out of all impasses.
Its victory may coincide with the destruction ofhumanity; wherever it has
ruled, it has begun to destroy the essence of man.
The trouble is that our period has so
strangely intertwined the good with the bad that without the imperialists'
"expansion for expansion's sake," the world might never have become
one; without the bourgeoisie's political device of "power for power's
sake," the extent of human strength might never have been discovered;
without the fictitious world of totalitarian movements, in which with
unparalleled clarity the essential uncertainties of our time have been spelled
out, we might have been driven to our doom without ever becoming aware of what
has been happening. And if it is true that in the final stages of
totalitarianism an absolute evil appears (absolute because it can no longer be deduced
from humanly comprehensible motives),it
is also true that without it we might never have known the truly radical nature
What will happen once the authentic mass
man takes over, we do not know yet, although it may be a fair guess that he
will have more in common with the meticulous, calculated correctness ofHimmlerthan with the hysterical fanaticism ofHitler,
will more resemble the stubborn dullness ofMolotovthan
the sensual vindictive cruelty ofStalin.
The concentration camps, by makingdeathitself anonymous (making it impossible
to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning
as the end of a fulfilled life.In
a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth
nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal
on the fact that he had never existed.
The case of the conscience ofEichmann,
which is admittedly complicated but is by no means unique, is scarcely
comparable to the case of the German generals, one of whom, when asked at
Nuremberg, "How was it possible that all of you honorable generals could
continue to serve a murderer with such unquestioning loyalty?," replied
that it was "not the task of a soldier to act as judge over his supreme
commander. Let history do that or God in Heaven."
Eichmann, much less intelligent and
without any education to speak of, at least dimly realized that it was not an
order but a law which had turned them all into criminals. The distinction
between an order and the Führer's word was that the latter's validity was not
limited in time and space, which is the outstanding characteristic of the
former. This is also the true reason why the Führer's order for the Final
Solution was followed by a huge shower of regulations and directives, all
drafted by expert lawyers and legal advisors, not by mere administrators; this
order, in contrast to ordinary orders, was treated as a law. Needless to add,
the resulting legal paraphernalia, far from being a mere symptom of German
pedantry and thoroughness, served most effectively to give the whole business
its outward appearance of legality.
No punishment has ever possessed enough
power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary,
whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time,
its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been.
The chief reason warfare is still with
us is neither a secret death-wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible
instinct of aggression, nor, finally and more plausibly, the serious economic
and social dangers inherent in disarmament, but the simple fact that no
substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on
the political scene.