Quotations by Arendt, Hannah


Nothing we use or hear or touch can be expressed in words that equal what is given by the senses.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Civil Disobedience,” New Yorker (12 Sep 1970)
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For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Crises of the Republic, “Lying in Politics” (1969)
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The chief reason warfare is still with us is neither a secret death-wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible instinct of aggression, nor, finally and more plausibly, the serious economic and social dangers inherent in disarmament, but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Crises of the Republic, “On Violence” (1969)
Added on 25-Mar-11 | Last updated 25-Mar-11
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There is all the difference in the world between the criminal’s avoiding the public eye and the civil disobedient’s taking the law into his own hands in open defiance.  This distinction between an open violation of the law, performed in public, and a clandestine one is so glaringly obvious that it can be neglected only by prejudice or ill will.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Crises of the Republic, ch. 2 “Civil Disobedience” (1969)

Full text.
Added on 22-Apr-10 | Last updated 22-Apr-10
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What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (“a great task that occurs once in two thousand years”), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ch. 6 (1963)
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The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Epilog (1963)
Added on 25-Feb-11 | Last updated 25-Feb-11
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… the strange interdependence between thoughtlessness and evil ….

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Postscript (1964)
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The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
New Yorker (12 Sep. 1970)
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The hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
On Revolution, 2.5 (1963)
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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.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
On Revolution, ch. 2 (1963)
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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.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
On Violence, ch. 2 (1970)
Added on 30-Jul-12 | Last updated 30-Jul-12
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The climax of terror is reached when the police state begins to devour its own children, when yesterday’s executioner becomes today’s victim.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
On Violence, ch. 3 (1970)
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The price of absolute freedom from necessity is, in a sense, life itself, or rather the substitution of vicarious life for real life. … The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt. For mortals, the “easy life of the gods” would be a lifeless life.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Human Condition, ch. 16 “Labor” (1958)
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Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each man’s lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities — a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfills, can dispel.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Human Condition, ch. 33 (1958)
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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; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacks the magic formula to break the spell.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Human Condition, ch. 33 (1958)
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The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Life of the Mind, “Thinking” (1978)
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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.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Life of the Mind, 2.2.7 (1971)

Full text.

Added on 25-Mar-10 | Last updated 25-Mar-10
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One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
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Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, ch. 10, sec. 1 (1951)
Added on 18-Mar-10 | Last updated 18-Mar-10
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