Horowitz, Irving Louis. Hannah Arendt: Radical Conservative.
The book consists of three parts. Chapters one and two address some of the more personal criticisms that have been leveled against Arendt: that, in writing of the Holocaust, she "blames the victim" rather than the Nazis (chapter one), and that she is simply a "child of Heidegger," a mistress and acolyte, rather than a thinker in her own right (chapter two). Chapters three through seven offer discussions of particular works, interlaced with examinations of what kind of thinker Arendt was: chapter three explains and defends The Origins of Totalitarianism as well as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (for which choice of subtitle Arendt has been excoriated); chapter four examines On Revolution, and chapter six discusses The Life of the Mind; chapters five and seven present arguments for why Arendt is properly understood as a political philosopher. Chapter eight offers a synopsis and conclusion to the volume as a whole, placing Arendt in context for the past, present, and future.
Throughout the book, Horowitz returns repeatedly to Arendt's signal achievement: her understanding of totalitarianism. "Arendt's theoretical construct of totalitarianism united party structure and government, and the brutality of modern dictatorship." What Arendt saw, and articulated, was that "totalitarianism concerns an illicit fusion of power and personality." While many have pointed to the differences between Nazism and Communism, Arendt understood that beneath the differences lay a very real similarity. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, argues Horowitz, Arendt saw the "differences between National-Socialism and Communism as of lesser significance than the organizational and cultural linkages that such systems have with each other." These linkages include "single-party politics based on mass mobilization" and "a nearly insatiable desire to expand from nation to empire."
Because Arendt examined Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as "a philosopher of political systems" rather than as sociologist or historian, she understood genocide not "as a special property of Germans or Austrians (or any other people)" but rather as going hand in hand with totalitarianism. "The single-most important element in The Origins of Totalitarianism as it pertains to genocide is the idea that the prospects for mass murder ... are embodied in the structure of totalitarianism as a system rather than the special national characteristics of any particular people" claims Horowitz. "She saw and understood in her heart and soul the unified nature of political evil as wrapped in the word totalitarianism." It was because of this understanding that Arendt argued that "the physical extermination of the Jewish people was a crime against humanity, perpetrated upon the body of the Jewish people, one instance of many "in the long history of human savagery," rather than a unique event.
For students of political philosophy, as well as for those who are mildly familiar with Arendt's work and have wondered if they should study her further, Horowitz's book offers a compelling apologia and overview of Arendt's key works and thought, an argument for why she should continue to be read and studied. The one jarring element for this reader was the surprisingly large number of typographic errors.--Evanthia Speliotis, Bellarmine University.
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2013|
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