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Hannah Arendt

(1906—1975) German-born American philosopher and political theorist

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German-born US political philosopher, well known for her work on the nature of totalitarianism, violence, revolution, and other features of modern political life.

Born in Hanover, she began as a pupil of Husserl and Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) at Heidelberg, obtaining her PhD in 1928, but with the rise of Hitler she moved to Paris (1933), where she worked for several years for Zionist organizations. In 1940 she once more fled the threat of Nazism and sought refuge in the USA, where she worked for various publishers while continuing also to help Jewish organizations. In 1963 Arendt accepted her first academic appointment at the University of Chicago; later she taught at Berkeley, Columbia, and Princeton.

Arendt established her reputation with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). It was one of the first works to argue that the totalitarian regimes of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia had common elements and roots. They were both, she declared, antisemitic, imperialistic, and nationalistic. A later work, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1961), with its emphasis on ‘the banality of evil’ and its suggestion that the Jews played some part in their own genocide, provoked considerable controversy and brought her work before a much wider public. She continued to explore the parameters of contemporary political life in two later works, On Revolution (1963) and On Violence (1970).

Up to her death Arendt was trying to develop a more systematic and theoretical position. Her work remained incomplete although part of it was published posthumously in The Life of the Mind (1978).

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