Hannah Arendt (1906-75) bore witness to some of the darkest moments in the history of politics. Born a Jew in Germany, Arendt lived through–and reflected deeply on–two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism, and the detonation of the first atomic bomb. She narrowly escaped imprisonment by the Gestapo and internment in a refugee camp in Vichy France before fleeing to New York. Yet, in the face of these horrors, Arendt never lost her faith in political action as a way to express and renew what she called “love of the world.” She wrote luminously about the darkness that comes when terror extinguishes politics and the shining, almost miraculous events of freedom through which politics is sometimes renewed. In this tutorial, we will investigate what Arendt’s vision of politics stands to offer to those struggling to comprehend and transform the darkest aspects of the contemporary political world. Our time and Arendt’s are similarly darkened by the shadows of racism, xenophobia, inequality, terror, the mass displacement of refugees, and the mass dissemination of lies. It may be tempting to conclude from these similarities–as some recent commentators have–that we are witnessing the return of “totalitarianism” as Arendt understood it. She would be the first to refuse to use inherited concepts as if they were keys to unlock the present. Her words and her example should impel us to reject shortcuts to authentic understanding, the “unending activity by which…we come to terms with and reconcile ourselves to reality.” We will turn to Arendt as an interlocutor, not a guide, as we seek to reconcile ourselves to the contingency and specificity of past and present political realities. And we will search her works and our world for embers of hope that even seemingly inexorable political tragedies may yet be interrupted by assertions of freedom in political action.
Grading: no pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
five 5-page papers; five 2-page responses; a final revision of a prior paper; participation
a prior course in political theory, philosophy, or critical theory, or permission of the instructor
Political Theory concentrators, Political Science majors
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
You will receive feedback from me and your tutorial partner on your five papers (each 5 pages long and spaced evenly through the semester). This feedback will inform the revision you submit at the end of the semester of a paper of your choosing. Students will receive from the instructor timely comments on their writing skills, with suggestions for improvement.
JWST Elective Courses
PHIL Related Courses
PSCI Political Theory Courses