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Hannah Arendt

An Introduction

1998
Author:

John McGowan

Hannah Arendt

An informative and lively book about one of the foremost political thinkers of our time.

Firmly locating Arendt’s ideas in the context of our times, John McGowan here offers a clear, concise overview of Arendt’s work and its continuing importance. Explaining the theoretical and philosophical convictions that stood behind Arendt’s various-and often controversial-interventions in contemporary affairs, McGowan explores the new ways of thinking that Arendt’s work opens up regarding current issues such as human rights, identity politics, and participatory democracy. A concluding chapter connects Arendt’s thought to contemporary social theory and today’s political debates.

“Lively and engagingly written. This is a welcome addition to the growth industry known as Arendt studies.” First Things

Hannah Arendt was one of this century’s leading political theorists and most controversial public intellectuals. Her work challenges received opinions about politics and cherished conceptions of modernity. Firmly locating Arendt’s ideas in the context of our times, John McGowan here offers a clear, concise overview of Arendt’s work and its continuing importance.

The book is organized around three central Arendtian themes: the unfolding of identity through political action, the modern assault on a richly pluralistic world, and the effort to comprehend evil. Arendt was both a commentator on the events of her time (from totalitarianism and the Holocaust to the Vietnam War) and a sophisticated political theorist. McGowan lucidly explains the theoretical and philosophical convictions that stood behind her various-and often controversial-interventions in contemporary affairs. He explores the new ways of thinking that Arendt’s work opens up regarding current issues such as human rights, identity politics, and participatory democracy. A concluding chapter connects Arendt’s thought to contemporary social theory and today’s political debates.

Briskly written, McGowan’s book serves Arendt’s complex thought well while also rendering it accessible, demonstrating the unity of Arendt’s career and the continuing relevance of her concerns. Readers new to Arendt as well as those intimately familiar with her work will be intrigued and enlightened by this comprehensive and authoritative introduction.

Hannah Arendt

John McGowan is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also coeditor, with Craig Calhoun, of Hannah Arendt and the Meaning of Politics (Minnesota, 1997).

Hannah Arendt

“Lively and engagingly written. This is a welcome addition to the growth industry known as Arendt studies.” First Things

“John McGowan's Hannah Arendt: An Introduction is a superb book, covering the capacious and sometimes difficult thought of Hannah Arendt in the form of a general introduction for scholarly audiences.” Anthony J. Cascardi, University of California, Berkeley

Hannah Arendt

Contents

Acknowledgments
A Note on Usage and References

1. Origins: Arendt's Life and Coming to Terms with Totalitarianism 1 Biography 1
Arendt on Totalitarianism
2. Politics as Identity-Disclosing Action 34
The Political and the Public 3 8
Labor and Work 42
Behavior and the Social 45
Explaining the Rise of the Social 52
Action, Freedom, and Identity in the Space of
Appearances 60
A Pickup Basketball Game 70
Participatory Democracy 81
Conclusion: Recovering Citizenship 94
3. Understanding and Judging the Reality of Evil 96
The Reality of Evil 100
Thinking 108
Judging 120
Storytelling 137
Conclusion: Are We Being Political Yet? 147
4.Arendt Now 150
The Meaning of Democracy 154
A Democratic Ethos 166

Notes
References
For Further Reading
Index