Hannah Arendt’s Insights Echo Around a Troubled World on Anniversary

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The Arendt centennial is now being celebrated with conferences and lectures in locations ranging from Germany to South Korea, from Kosovo to Australia (information: hannaharendt.org/conferences/conferences.html), and one theme keeps recurring. When Arendt analyzed totalitarianism, introduced the idea of the “banality of evil,” emphasized distinctions between private and public life and tried to articulate a new philosophy that would reconsider the nature of thinking and judging after both had become scarce, she could just as well have been speaking to us of our time, addressing contemporary debates.

So it is no accident that in discussing Arendt’s importance more than 30 years after her death, Iraq and terrorism are often mentioned alongside her views of power and violence, statelessness and totalitarianism; her most solemn assessments of the traumatic past become warnings for the imminent future. That is part of the polemical point of a new book, “Why Arendt Matters” (Yale University Press), by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, the author of an Arendt biography; she will lecture on the subject Thursday at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.

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