Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Hannah Arendt

German-born U.S. Political Scientist, Philosopher

"The universal demand for happiness and the widespread unhappiness in our society (and there are but two sides of the same coin) are among the most persuasive signs that we have begun to live in a labor society which lacks enough laboring to keep it contented. For only the animal labors, and neither the craftsman nor the man of action, has ever demanded to be "happy" or thought that mortal man could be happy."

"Deification of accidents serves of course as rationalization for every people that is not master of its own destiny."

"Equality is the result of human organization. We are not born equal."

"Poets are the only people to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience, which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one."

"It is far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than to think."

"Human life, because it is marked by a beginning and an end, becomes whole, an entirety in itself that can be subjected to judgment only when it has ended in death. Death not merely ends life, it also bestows upon it a silent completeness, snatched from hazardous flux to which all things human are subject."

"The loss of certainty of truth has ended in a new, entirely unprecedented zeal for truthfulness - as though man could afford to be a liar only so long as he was certain of the unchallengable existence of truth and objective reality, which surely would survive and defeat all his lies."

"Action has no end. The process of a single deed can quite literally endure throughout time."

"Compassion...abolishes the distance, the in between which always exists in human inter course; and if virtue will always be ready to assert that it is better to suffer wrong than do wrong, compassion will transcend this by stating in complete and even naïve sincerity that it is easier to suffer than to see others suffer."

"Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom."

"Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but anti-political, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces."

"Man's chief moral deficiency appears to be not his indiscretions. but his reticence."

"Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity"

"The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil."

"There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous."

"To think and to be fully alive are the same."

"Death not merely ends life, it also bestows upon it a silent completeness, snatched from the hazardous flux to which all things human are subject."

"Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof for its existence. "

"Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival. "

"Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance. "

"No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny. "

"Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. "

"Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. "

"The hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself."

"The will to power . . . far from being a characteristic of the strong, is, like envy and greed, among the vices of the weak, and possibly their most dangerous one. Power corrupts indeed when the weak band together in order to ruin the strong, but not before. "

"The ultimate end of human acts is eudaimonia, happiness in the sense of living well, which all men desire; all acts are but different means chosen to arrive at it."

"Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think."

"Action alone is the exclusive prerogative of man; neither a beast nor a god is capable of it, and only action is entirely dependent upon the constant presence of others."

"Action and speech go on between men, as they are directed toward them, and they retain their agent-revealing capacity even if their content is exclusively ?objective,? concerned with the matters of the world of things in which men move, which physically lies between them and out of which arise their specific, objective worldly interests."

"Action without a name, a "who" attached to it, is meaningless."

"Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the Protestant minister the Reverend William Hull who offered to read the Bible with him: he had only two more hours to live and therefore no time to waste. He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. I don?t need that he said when the black hood was offered him. He was in complete command of himself nay he was more: he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgl„ubiger to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. He then proceeded: After a short while gentlemen we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany long live Argentina long live Austria. I shall not forget them. In the face of death he had found the clich‚ used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows his memory played him the last trick he was elated and he forgot that this was his own funeral. It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us-the lesson of the fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality of evil. ? Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"

"Action, as distinguished from fabrication, is never possible in isolation; to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act."

"And if, fortunately, his best turns out not to be good enough, the reason is that the trial is presided over by someone who serves Justice as faithfully as Mr. Hausner serves the State of Israel. Justice demands that the accused be prosecuted, defended and judged, and that all the other questions of seemingly greater import - of ?How could it happen?,? of ?Why the Jews?? and ?Why the Germans?,? of ?What was the role of other nations?? and ?What was the extent of co-responsibilities on the side of the allies?,? of ?How could the Jews of their own leaders cooperate in their own destruction?? and ?Why did they go to their death like lambs to the slaughter?? - be left in abeyance."

"As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake."

"Augustine? diagnoses the ultimate unifying will that eventually decides a man?s conduct as Love. Love is the ?weight of the soul,? its law of gravitation, that which brings the soul?s movement to its rest."

"But for all its intangibility, this in-between is no less real than the world of things we visibly have in common. We call this reality the ?web? of human relationships, indicating by the metaphor its somewhat intangible quality. To be sure, this web is no less bound to the objective world of things than speech is to the existence of a living body, but the relationship is not like that of a facade or, in Marxian terminology, of an essentially superfluous superstructure affixed to the useful structure of building itself."

"Bureaucracy is the rule of nobody."

"And the distinction between violent and non-violent action is that the former is exclusively bent upon the destruction of the old, and the latter is chiefly concerned with the establishment of something new."

"And what else is, finally, this ideal of modern society, if not the old dream of the poor and of the indigent, which can have a charm as long as it remains a dream, but it becomes a fool's paradise as soon as it is made?"

"Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility."

"Clich‚s, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality."

"Conceptual metaphorical speech is indeed adequate to the activity of thinking, the operations of our mind, but the life of the soul in its very intensity is much more adequately expressed in a glance, a sound, a gesture, than in speech."

"By its very nature the beautiful is isolated from everything else. From beauty no road leads to reality."

"Courage is indispensable because in politics not life but the world is at stake."

"Culture relates to objects and is a phenomenon of the world; entertainment relates to people and is a phenomenon of life."

"Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity he among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing?"

"Dear matter, natural and artificial, changing and unchanging, depends in its being, that is, in its appearingness, on the presence of living creatures. Nothing and nobody exists in a world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator."

"Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight."

"Eichmann, much less intelligent and without any education to speak of, at least dimly realized that it was not an order but a law which had turned them all into criminals. The distinction between an order and the Fhrer's word was that the latter's validity was not limited in time and space, which is the outstanding characteristic of the former. This is also the true reason why the Fhrer's order for the Final Solution was followed by a huge shower of regulations and directives, all drafted by expert lawyers and legal advisors, not by mere administrators; this order, in contrast to ordinary orders, was treated as a law. Needless to add, the resulting legal paraphernalia, far from being a mere symptom of German pedantry and thoroughness, served most effectively to give the whole business its outward appearance of legality. And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody, "Thou shalt not kill," even though man's natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler's land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: "Thou shalt kill," although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it ? the quality of temptation."

"Education is the point at which we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, not to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new?but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world."