Hannah Arendt


German-born U.S. Political Scientist, Philosopher

Author Quotes

The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.

In isolation, man remains in contact with the world as the human artifice; only when the most elementary form of human creativity, which is the capacity to add something of one?s own to the common world, is destroyed, isolation becomes altogether unbearable? Isolation then becomes loneliness.

Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men* as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other? Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together? isolated men are powerless by definition.

While isolation concerns only the political realm of life, loneliness concerns human life as a whole. Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating men, their political capacities. But totalitarian domination as a form of government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.

In other words, the time continuum, everlasting change, is broken up into the tenses past, present, future, whereby past and future are antagonistic to each other as the no-longer and the not-yet only because of the presence of man, who himself has an ?origin,? his birth, and an end, his death, and therefore stands at any given moment between them; this in-between is called the present. It is the insertion of man with his limited life span that transforms the continuously flowing stream of sheer change ? which we can conceive of cyclically as well as in the form of rectilinear motion without ever being able to conceive of an absolute beginning or an absolute end ? into time as we know it.

Looked at from the perspective of the everyday world of appearances, the everywhere of the thinking ego-summoning into its presence whatever it pleases from any distance in time or space, which thought traverses with a velocity greater than light?s ? is anowhere. And since this nowhere is by no means identical with the twofold nowhere from which we suddenly appear at birth and into which almost as suddenly we disappear in death, it might be conceived only as the Void. And the absolute void can be a limiting boundary concept; though not inconceivable, it is unthinkable. Obviously, if there is absolutely nothing, there can be nothing to think about. That we are in possession of these limiting boundary concepts enclosing our thought within (insurmountable) walls ? and the notion of an absolute beginning or an absolute end is among them ? does not tell us more than that we are indeed finite beings.

Man?s finitude, irrevocably given by virtue of his own short time span set in an infinity of time stretching into both past and future, constitutes the infrastructure, as it were, of all mental activities: it manifests itself as the only reality of which thinking qua thinking is aware, when the thinking ego has withdrawn from the world of appearances and lost the sense of realness inherent in the sensus communis by which we orient ourselves in this world? The everywhere of thought is indeed a region of nowhere.

Seen from the viewpoint of a continuously flowing everlasting stream, the insertion of man, fighting in both directions, produces a rupture which, by being defended in both directions, is extended to a gap, the present seen as the fighter?s battleground? Seen from the viewpoint of man, at each single moment inserted and caught in the middle between his past and his future, both aimed at the one who is creating his present, the battleground is an in-between, an extended Now on which he spends his life. The present, in ordinary life the most futile and slippery of the tenses ? when I say ?now? and point to it, it is already gone ? is no more than the clash of a past, which is no more, with a future, which is approaching and not yet there. Man lives in this in-between, and what he calls the present is a life-long fight against the dead weight of the past, driving him forward with hope, and the fear of a future (whose only certainty is death), driving him backward toward ?the quiet of the past? with nostalgia for and remembrance of the only reality he can be sure of.

The inner time sensation arises when we are not entirely absorbed by the absent non-visibles we are thinking about but begin to direct our attention onto the activity itself. In this situation past and future are equally present precisely because they are equally absent from our sense; thus the no-longer of the past is transformed by virtue of the spatial metaphor into something lying behind us and the not-yet of the future into something that approaches us from ahead.

To be alive means to live in a world that preceded one?s own arrival and will survive one?s own departure. On this level of sheer being alive, appearance and disappearance, as they follow upon each other, are the primordial events, which as such mark out time, the time span between birth and death. The finite life span allotted to each living creature determines not merely its life expectancy but also its time experience; it provides the secret prototype for all time measurements no matter how far these then may transcend the allotted life span into past and future. Thus, the lived experience of the length of a year changes radically throughout our life. A year that to a five-year-old constitutes a full fifth of his existence must seem much longer than when it will constitute a mere twentieth or thirtieth of his time on earth. We all know how the years revolve quicker and quicker as we get older, until, with the approach of old age, they slow down again because we begin to measure them against the psychologically and somatically anticipated date of our departure.

We, too, are appearances by virtue of arriving and departing, of appearing and disappearing; and while we come from a nowhere, we arrive well equipped to deal with whatever appears to us and to take part in the play of the world.

Nothing could appear, the word ?appearance? would make no sense, if recipients of appearances did not exist ? living creatures able to acknowledge, recognize, and react to ? in flight or desire, approval or disapproval, blame or praise ? what is not merely there but appears to them and is meant for their perception. In this world which we enter, appearing from a nowhere, and from which we disappear into a nowhere, Being and Appearing coincide... Nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator. In other words, nothing that is, insofar as it appears, exists in the singular; everything that is is meant to be perceived by somebody... Plurality is the law of the earth.

Since sentient beings ? [humans] and animals, to whom things appear and who as recipients guarantee their reality ? are themselves also appearances, meant and able both to see and be seen, hear and be heard, touch and be touched, they are never mere subjects and can never be understood as such; they are no less ?objective? than stone and bridge. The worldliness of living things means that there is no subject that is not also an object and appears as such to somebody else, who guarantees its ?objective? reality. What we usually call ?consciousness,? the fact that I am aware of myself and therefore in a sense can appear to myself, would never suffice to guarantee reality... Seen from the perspective of the world, every creature born into it arrives well equipped to deal with a world in which Being and Appearing coincide; they are fit for worldly existence.

The urge toward self-display ? to respond by showing to the overwhelming effect of being shown ? seems to be common to [humans] and animals. And just as the actor depends upon stage, fellow-actors, and spectators, to make his entrance, every living thing depends upon a world that solidly appears as the location for its own appearance, on fellow-creatures to play with, and on spectators to acknowledge and recognize its existence. Seen from the viewpoint of the spectators to whom it appears and from whose view it finally disappears, each individual life, its growth and decline, is a developmental process in which an entity unfolds itself in an upward movement until all its properties are fully exposed; this phase is followed by a period of standstill ? its bloom or epiphany, as it were ? which in turn is succeeded by the downward movement of disintegration that is terminated by complete disappearance. There are many perspectives in which this process can be seen, examined, and understood, but our criterion for what a living thing essentially is remains the same: in everyday life as well as in scientific study, it is determined by the relatively short time span of its full appearance, its epiphany.

To appear always means to seem to others, and this seeming varies according to the standpoint and the perspective of the spectators. In other words, every appearing thing acquires, by virtue of its appearingness, a kind of disguise that may indeed ? but does not have to ? hide or disfigure it. Seeming corresponds to the fact that every appearance, its identity notwithstanding, is perceived by a plurality of spectators.

The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons

The space left to freedom is very small... ends are inherent in human nature and the same for all.

This shows to what extent violence and its arbitrariness were taken for granted and therefore neglected; no one questions or examines what is obvious to all.

What really distinguishes this generation in all countries from earlier generations... is its determination to act, its joy in action, the assurance of being able to change things by one's own efforts.

The hard work and the effort, to get the goods necessary for life, and the pleasure of incorporate are so closely tied together in the biological cycle that the perfect elimination of pain and stress of the job not only would strip the biological life of its natural pleasures, but would deprive the specifically human life of its own vibrancy and vitality. The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms, which can be removed without changing life itself, are rather ways in which life , along with the need which is tied, it makes sense. For mortals, the easy life of the gods would be a life without vitality.

The specific revelatory quality of action and speech, the implicit manifestation of the agent and speaker, is so indissolubly tied to the living flux of acting and speaking that it can be represented and ?reified? only through a kind of repetition, the imitation or mimesis, which according to Aristotle prevails in all arts but is actually appropriate only to the drama, whose very name indicates that play acting actually is an imitation of acting.

To be free in an age like ours, one must be in a position of authority. That in itself would be enough to make me ambitious.

What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique ("a great task that occurs once in two thousand years"), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppenhad been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. ‚lite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler ? who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself ? was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt. For mortals, the "easy life of the gods" would be a lifeless life.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

German-born U.S. Political Scientist, Philosopher