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Hannah Arendt

  • ... entirely new concepts are very rare in politics ...

  • Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against national limits to its economic expansion.

  • The only grandeur of imperialism lies in the nation's losing battle against it.

  • ... power can be thought of as the never-ending, self-feeding motor of all political action that corresponds to the legendary unending accumulation of money that begets money.

  • The concept of unlimited expansion that alone can fulfill the hope for unlimited accumulation of capital, and brings about the aimless accumulation of power, makes the foundation of new political bodies — which up to the era of imperialism always had been the upshot of conquest — well-nigh impossible.

  • ... every political structure, new or old, left to itself develops stabilizing forces which stand in the way of constant transformation and expansion. Therefore all political bodies appear to be temporary obstacles when they are seen as part of an eternal stream of growing power.

  • ... in the era of imperialism, businessmen became politicians and were acclaimed as statesmen, while statesmen were taken seriously only if they talked the language of succcessful businessmen ...

  • According to bourgeois standards, those who are completely unlucky and unsuccessful are automatically barred from competition, which is the life of society. Good fortune is identified with honor, and bad luck with shame.

  • By assigning his political rights to the state the individual also delegates his social responsibilities to it: he asks the state to relieve him of the burden of caring for the poor precisely as he asks for protection against criminals. The difference between pauper and criminal disappears — both stand outside society.

  • Legends have always played a powerful role in the making of history. ... Without ever relating facts reliably, yet always expressing their true significance, they offered a truth beyond realities, a remembrance beyond memories.

  • For no matter what learned scientists may say, race is, politically speaking, not the beginning of humanity but its end, not the origin of peoples but their decay, not the natural birth of man but his unnatural death.

  • Slavery's crime against humanity did not begin when one people defeated and enslaved its enemies (though of course this was bad enough), but when slavery became an institution in which some men were 'born' free and others slave, when it was forgotten that it was man who had deprived his fellow-men of freedom, and when the sanction for the crime was attributed to nature.

  • ... the public sphere is as consistently based on the law of equality as the private sphere is based on the law of universal difference and differentiation. Equality, in contrast to all that is involved in mere existence, is not given us, but is the result of human organization insofar as it is guided by the principle of justice. We are not born equal; we become equal as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutually equal rights.

  • Ideologies — isms which to the satisfaction of their adherents can explain everything and every occurence by deducing it from a single premise — are a very recent phenomenon ... Not before Hitler and Stalin were the great political potentialities of the ideologies discovered.

  • A theology which is not based on revelation as a given reality but treats God as an idea would be as mad as a zoology which is no longer sure of the physical, tangible existence of animals.

  • ... every end in history necessarily contains a new beginning ...

  • The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.

  • The conviction that everything that happens on earth must be comprehensible to man can lead to interpreting history by commonplaces.

  • The individual who has been liberated by reason is always running head-on into a world, a society, whose past in the shape of 'prejudices' has a great deal of power; he is forced to learn that past reality is also a reality.

  • For the possibilities of being different from what one is are infinite. Once one has negated oneself, however, there are no longer any particular choices.

  • In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfection.

  • Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.

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

  • Every activity performed in public can attain an excellence never matched in privacy; for excellence, by definition, the presence of others is always required.

  • 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.

  • Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it.

  • Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being.

  • ... bureaucracy, the rule of nobody ...

  • ... while violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it.

  • Thought ... is still possible, and no doubt actual, wherever men live under the conditions of political freedom. Unfortunately ... no other human capacity is so vulnerable, and it is in fact far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than it is to think.

  • [About Eichmann:] 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.

  • No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been.

  • ... where all, or almost all, are guilty, nobody is.

  • ... the rule of Nobody ... is what the political form known as bureaucracy truly is.

  • ... when an old truth ceases to be applicable, it does not become any truer by being stood on its head.

  • ... the insight that peace is the end of war, and that therefore a war is the preparation for peace, is at least as old as Aristotle, and the pretense that the aim of an armament race is to guard the peace is even older, namely as old as the discovery of propaganda lies.

  • His [Marx's] most explosive and indeed most original contribution to the cause of revolution was that he interpreted the compelling needs of mass poverty in political terms as an uprising, not for the sake of bread or wealth, but for the sake of freedom as well.

  • ... the fateful equating of power with violence, of the political with government, and of government with a necessary evil has begun.

  • It is in the very nature of a beginning to carry with itself a measure of complete arbitrariness. Not only is it not bound into a reliable chain of cause and effect, a chain in which each effect immediately turns into the cause for future developments, the beginning has, as it were, nothing whatever to hold on to; it is as though it came out of nowhere in either time or space.

  • The hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.

  • Psychologically speaking, one may say that the hypocrite is too ambitious; not only does he want to appear virtuous before others, he wants to convince himself.

  • 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.

  • It is in the nature of all party systems that the authentically political talents can assert themselves only in rare cases, and it is even rarer that the specifically political qualifications survive the petty maneuvers of party politics with its demands for plain salesmanship.

  • ... the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth, and truth be defamed as lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world — and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end — is being destroyed.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Truth and Politics," in Peter Laslett and W.G. Runciman, eds., Philosophy, Politics and Society ()
  • ... storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it ...

  • ... even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and ... such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time-span that was given them on earth ...

  • The way God has been thought of for thousands of years is no longer convincing; if anything is dead, it can only be the traditional thought of God.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • in The New Yorker ()
  • To speak of the impotence of power is no longer a witty paradox.

  • It is in the nature of a group and its power to turn against independence, the property of individual strength.

  • The climax of terror is reached when the police state begins to devour its own children, when yesterday's executioner becomes today's victim.

  • Today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of ... dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody. (If, in accord with traditional political thought, we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current worldwide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control and to run amuck.

  • The extreme form of power is All against One, the extreme form of violence is One against All.

  • 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. When we say of somebody that he is 'in power' we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name. The moment the group, from which the power originated to begin with ... disappears, 'his power' also vanishes.

  • To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter.

  • Legitimacy, when challenged, bases itself on an appeal to the past, while justification relates to an end that lies in the future. Violence can be justifiable, but it never will be legitimate.

  • Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power.

  • Rage is by no means an automatic reaction to misery and suffering as such; no one reacts with rage to an incurable disease or to an earthquake or, for that matter, to social conditions that seem to be unchangeable. Only where there is reason to suspect that conditions could be changed and are not does rage arise.

  • ... the greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can represent grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.

  • There always comes a point beyond which lying becomes counterproductive. This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Lying in Politics," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Lying in Politics," Crises of the Republic ()
  • The defiance of established authority, religious and secular, social and political, as a world-wide phenomenon may well one day be accounted the outstanding event of the last decade.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Civil Disobedience," Crises of the Republic ()
  • What I cannot live with may not bother another man's conscience. The result is that conscience will stand against conscience.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Civil Disobedience," Crises of the Republic ()
  • It is well known that the most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Civil Disobedience," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Every organization of men, be it social or political, ultimately relies on man's capacity for making promises and keeping them.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Civil Disobedience," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future ...

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Civil Disobedience," Crises of the Republic ()
  • All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "On Violence," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "On Violence," Crises of the Republic ()
  • The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "On Violence," Crises of the Republic ()
  • The Third World is not a reality but an ideology.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "On Violence," Crises of the Republic ()
  • The good things in history are usually of very short duration, but afterward have a decisive influence on what happens over long periods of time.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Thoughts on Politics and Revolution," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Revolutionaries do not make revolutions! The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Thoughts on Politics and Revolution," Crises of the Republic ()
  • Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • in The New Yorker ()
  • Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expresssion and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.

  • Absence of thought is indeed a powerful factor in human affairs, statistically speaking the most powerful, not just in the conduct of the many but in the conduct of all.

  • ... every thought is strictly speaking an after-thought.

  • It interrupts any doing, any ordinary activities, no matter what they happen to be. All thinking demands a stop-and-think.

  • ... thinking beings have an urge to speak, speaking beings have an urge to think.

  • Philosophy is called upon to compensate for the frustrations of politics and, more generally, of life itself.

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

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

  • The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.

  • As citizens, we must prevent wrong-doing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong-sufferer, and spectator, is at stake; the City has been wronged.

  • ... solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about when I am alone without being able to split up into the two-in-one, without being able to keep myself company ...

  • It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong, because you can remain the friend of the sufferer; who would want to be the friend of and have to live together with a murderer? Not even another murderer.

  • Conscience is the anticipation of the fellow who awaits you if and when you come home.

  • ... the touchstone of a free act — from the decision to get out of bed in the morning or take a walk in the afternoon to the highest resolutions by which we bind ourselves for the future — is always that we know that we could also have left undone what we actually did.

  • ... where everybody is guilty, nobody is.

  • No argument can persuade me to like oysters if I do not like them. In other words, the disturbing thing about matters of taste is that they are not communicable.

  • 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.

  • Generally speaking, violence always arises out of impotence. It is the hope of those who have no power ...

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • 1967 in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt ()
  • ... if we do not know our own history, we are doomed to live it as though it were our private fate.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • in Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life ()
  • The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which 'the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one's skin color or race' are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Reflections on Little Rock," in Dissent ()
  • Ideas, as distinguished from events, are never unprecedented.

    • Hannah Arendt
  • Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover.

  • Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.

    • Hannah Arendt
  • The danger of mass education is precisely that it may become very entertaining indeed; there are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.

    • Hannah Arendt
  • Of all things of thought, poetry is the closest to thought, and a poem is less a thing than any other work of art.

Hannah Arendt, German-born U.S. sociologist, political philosopher, historian

(1906 - 1975)

Full name: Johanna “Hannah” Arendt