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Was Arendt’s pessimism about modern liberal society justified?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The starting point of her reasoning.
  3. Ardent and totalitarianism.
    1. Her claim that totalitarianism lacked rationality.
    2. Universal pessimism about life.
    3. Totalitarian terror.
  4. Her attempt to free herself from all precedents.
  5. Her failure to take into account the answer that may lie within the histories of Germany and Russia.
  6. Conclusion.

Hannah Arendt was born in 1906 in Germany, being the only child of middle-class Jewish parents of Russian descent. As a university student, she was one of the most brilliant and studied with the finest scholars of the time. Arendt in 1933 left Germany for France, and was even interned there for a while before she managed to leave for the U.S. in 1941. There, she began to wonder about and write The Origins of Totalitarianism (thereafter referred to as OT) firstly published in 1951. She worked for Jewish organisations, and even took part ? as a journalist for The New Yorker ? to the infamous Eichmann trial in Israel. Her series of article published in the foresaid journal can be found in: Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil (thereafter Eichmann's Report). She became an eminent political post-modernist philosopher, intrinsically linked to the historical events of the 20th century, both for being a human and a German Jew.

[...] She therefore makes this extraordinary distrustful statement in OT that: more highly developed a civilization, the more accomplished the world it has produced, the more at home men feel within the human artifice Equality [ ] is the result of human organization [and] our political life rests on the assumption that we can produce equality through organization, [But] the fact of difference as such, of individuality as such, indicates those realms in which man cannot change and cannot act and in which, therefore, he has a distinct tendency to destroy No doubt, wherever public life and its law of equality are completely victorious, wherever the civilization succeeds in eliminating or reducing to a minimum the dark background of difference, it will end in complete petrifaction and be punished, so to speak, for having forgotten that man is only the master, not the creator of the world.?[32] Now that we considered Arendt's pessimism about modern liberal society in all its grandeur, and why she came to think so, I propose to seek whether it is justified or not. [...]


[...] Also, we will see why this analysis led her to such pessimism about human nature, not only modern liberal societies, hence criticising the idea of inalienable Human Rights, and reassessing the role of thinker's vis-à-vis Totalitarianism. But perhaps, those social theory tools she so radically rejected are not useless and may help us to understand Totalitarianism? Conceivably, she might have used some of them unconsciously. It will appear somewhat false to hold such regimes as being ?beyond human understanding?[6]. Perhaps also, she missed certain points she herself drew. [...]


[...] Anti- Semitism was first of all an appeasing expiation, which first worked through propaganda, before becoming a national matter (through the 1930 elections), and an international one. Jews permitted to transcend the society, in defining them as the Other, and unifying the ?true Germans'. What happened afterwards is frenetic bureaucracy, and as Fine rightly indicates, ?there is in Weber's theory of bureaucracy no mechanism capable of excluding the possibility of Nazi excesses?[37]. Will it be either based on the rationality of ends (Zweckrationalität) or the rationality of values (Wertrationalität), the Holocaust is understandable: ?Totalitarianism became this century's curse only because it so terrifyingly took care of its problems?[38]. [...]

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