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Hannah Arendt


When I am working, I am not interested in how my work might affect people. [And when I am finished] I am finished. What is important to me is to understand. For me, writing is a matter of seeking this understanding … certain things get formulated. […] What is important to me is the process of thought itself.

You ask about the effects of my work on others. If I may wax ironical, that is a masculine question. Men always want to be terribly influential, but I see that as somewhat external. Do I imagine myself being influential? No. I want to understand. And if others understand — in the same sense that I have understood — that gives me a sense of satisfaction, like feeling at home.

Collective Guilt And The Doctrine Of Race

(Emphasis mine.)

For many years now we have met Germans who declare that they are ashamed of being Germans. I have often felt tempted to answer that I am ashamed of being human. This elemental shame, which many people of the most various nationalities share with one another today […] has not yet found an adequate political expression. Our fathers’ enchantment with humanity was of a sort which not only light-mindedly ignored the national question; what is far worse, it did not even conceive of the terror of the idea of humanity and of the Judeo-Christian faith in the unitary origin of the human race. It was not very pleasant even when we had to bury our false illusions about “the noble savage,” having discovered that men were capable of being cannibals. Since then peoples have learned to know one another better and learned more and more about the evil potentialities in men. The result has been that they have recoiled more and more from the idea of humanity and become more susceptible to the doctrine of race, which denies the very possibility of a common humanity. They instinctively felt that the idea of humanity, whether it appears in a religious or humanistic form, implies the obligation of a general responsibility which they do not wish to assume. For the idea of humanity, when purged ofall sentimentality, has the very serious consequence that in one form or an­other men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men and that all nations share the onus of evil committed by all others. Shame at being a human being is the purely individual and still non-political expression of this insight.

Upon them and only upon them, who are filled with a genuine fear of the inescapable guilt of the human race, can there be any reliance when it comes to fighting fearlessly, uncompromisingly, everywhere against the incalculable evil that men are capable of bringing about.


I’m more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible today only on the fringes of society, where one then runs the risk of starving or being stoned to death. In these circumstances, a sense of humor is a great help.

The fundamental deprivation of human rights is manifested first and above all in the deprivation of a place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective.


If a human being loses political status. […] It seems that a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a fellow-man.

It is quite conceivable, and even within the realm of practical political possibilities, that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically – namely by majority decision – that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof.

[The Jews] always had to pay with political misery for social glory and with social insult for political success.

Exceptional Jews knew quite well that it was this very ambiguity – that they were Jews and yet presumably not like Jews – which opened the doors of society to them.

Conforming to a society which discriminated against “ordinary” Jews and in which, at the same time, it was generally easier for an educated Jew to be admitted to fashionable circles than for a non-Jew of similar condition, Jews had to differentiate themselves clearly from the “Jew in general”, and just as clearly to indicate that they were Jews; under no circumstances were they allowed simply to disappear among their neighbors.


It just doesn’t look good when a woman gives orders. She should try not to get herself into such situations if she wants to remain feminine. Whether I am right about this I do not know. I myself have lived in accordance to this more or less unconsciously — or let us rather say, more or less consciously. The problem itself played no role for me personally. To put it very simply, I have always done what I liked to do.

Often misquoted by critics. Whether Hannah lived in a society that deemed her worthy or capable of pursuing her interests was irrelevant. This society and its opinions were a thing that existed beyond the scope of her personal influence. She neither questioned her worthiness nor waited for permission. She simply acted. She asserted control of the only social agent over which she had control: herself.


The bourgeoisie […] up to then had been the first class in history to achieve economic pre-eminence without aspiring to political rule. […] Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against national limitation to its economic expansion. The bourgeoisie turned to politics out of economic necessity.

Totalitarian Destruction Of The Individual

Total domination, which strives to organize the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings as if all of humanity were just one individual, is possible only if each and every person can be reduced to a never-changing identity of reactions, so that each of these bundles of reactions can be exchanged at random for any other.

Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous.

The first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man.

Totalitarian Ideology

Once the claim [of ideologies] to total validity is taken literally they become the nuclei of logical systems in which, as in the systems of paranoiacs, everything follows comprehensibly and even compulsorily once the first premise is accepted. […] Common sense trained in utilitarian thinking is helpless against the ideological supersense, since totalitarian regimes establish a functioning world of no-sense.

[Totalitarianism] feverishly seeks to expand, […] neither for expansion’s sake nor for profit, but only for ideological reasons: to make the world consistent, to prove that its respective supersense has been right.

The Family Man As The Great Criminal Of The Century

We had been so accustomed to admire or gently ridicule the family man’s kind concern and earnest concentration on the welfare of his family, his solemn determination to make life easy for his wife and children, that we hardly noticed how the devoted paterfamilias, worried about nothing so much as his security, was transformed under the pressure of the chaotic economic conditions of our time into an involuntary adventurer, who for all his industry and care could never be certain what the next day would bring. […] It became clear that for the sake of his pension, his life insurance, the security of his wife and children, such a man was ready to sacrifice his beliefs, his honor, and his human dignity. It needed only the Satanic genius of Himmler to discover that after such degradation he was entirely prepared to do anything when the ante was raised and the bare existence of his family was threatened. The only condition he put was that he should be fully exempted from responsibility for his acts. Thus that very person, the average German, whom the Nazis notwithstanding years of the most furious propaganda could not induce to kill a Jew on his own account (not even when they made it quite clear that such a murder would go unpunished), now serves the machine of destruction without opposition.

The transformation of the family man from a responsible member of society, interested in all public affairs, to a bourgeois concerned only with his private existence and knowing no civic virtue, is an international modern phenomenon.

He has driven the dichotomy of private and public functions, of family and occupation, so far that he can no longer find in his own person any connection between the two. When his occupation forces him to murder people he does not regard himself as a murderer because he has not done it out of inclination but in his professional capacity. Out of sheer passion he would never do harm to a fly.

Tags: hannaharendt , social