Continental Philosophy

Critical Theorists

What was Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy?

Overall, Arendt was a strong critic of totalitarianism and an advocate of individual freedom, offering distinctive insights. She believed that both fascism and communism arose under illusions of inevitability based on the lack of real political community in modern life. She did not consider herself an existentialist because she thought “we are” is a more important starting point for philosophy than “I am.” Her positive model of society was active citizen participation in ways that leave social and private interests out of civic identities.

Arendt’s analysis of the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in which she introduced the concept of the “banality of evil,” was very controversial for her criticism of how Eichmann’s trial was conducted in Israel, and how Jewish leaders had behaved under German dictator Adolf Hitler. Arendt’s last work was an examination of practical judgment in political contexts in which she used the figure of Socrates (460–399 B.C.E.) to posit inner dialogues. Conscience, she said, had the role of supporting friendship with one’s self.


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