Amor Mundi: September 11th, 2016

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.

Victims of Conscience

Vincent van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum. On the Threshold of Eternity.Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, published the following open letter to students.

“This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.”

We should not be distracted by jargon and vitriol in the dog fights and exaggerations around questions of “trigger-warnings” and “safe spaces.” The real issue is that just as conscience demands discomfort, democracy demands talking with, hearing, and understanding those with whom we deeply and even desperately disagree. After coming to understand someone whose politics or opinions we find wrong, we may still believe them to be mistaken. But in the process of hearing and talking we will have begun to create the threads of commonality that comprise our shared commitment to democracy and public life. Democracy is not about bringing everyone to agree on political questions ranging from abortion to police reform. But it is about respecting our fellow citizens enough to hear them and confirm our fellowship as citizens.

No doubt democracy is hard. The fracturing of the political and media worlds through the internet has made it easier to avoid opposing and uncomfortable opinions. But if colleges and universities stand for something, it should be as ivory towers where we are safe to be deeply uncomfortable and confront those ideas and people most challenging to who we are. —RB

The exploration of the meaning of discomfort is the theme of the Arendt Center’s upcoming conference “Real Talk: Difficult Questions About Race, Sex, and Religion.” You can register and learn more here.

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By Sage Ross - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


By Hans Teerds

“Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness. Through them, men distinguish themselves instead of being merely distinct; these are the modes in which human beings appear to each other, not indeed as physical objects, but qua men.”

–Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Within architectural theory, the debate on public space has been highly affected through an ideal beyond these spaces: the ideal of encounters between strangers and the exchange of ideas, convictions, and beliefs. This ideal is linked to an ideal Western Democracy: the ideal of citizens discussing together things that matter, exchanging positions and through that developing a public opinion and ideally also making decisions. This of course is the ideal of the Agora in the Greek and Roman Polis, the Townhall meetings as were familiar to the American citizens.

Within architectural theory this idealized encounter of citizens finds its theoretical underpinnings in Jürgen Habermas 1962 book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. The translation of this book in English in 1989 actually provoked the debate around public spaces amongst architects and architectural theorists, specifically through a pessimistic reading of the rise of gated communities, shopping malls, and theme parks. These new typologies in the urban landscape were understood as the concrete outcomes of the opposite movement in society: the urge to exclude strangers from the immediate domestic and leisurely environments.

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school children profile

Education Without Authority?

You can also find this piece at our new Medium publication feed.

By Jennie Han

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.”

— Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education”

Education carries a heavy burden for Arendt. As in politics, we declare our love for the world, both or own and the world of future generations. To say that education is in crisis, then, is for Arendt not to lament the fact that “Johnny can’t read.” It is to acknowledge a generalized dissatisfaction with and alienation from the world that has us say to our children, “[i]n this world even we are not very securely at home….You must try to make out as best you can; in any case you are not entitled to call us to account. We are innocent, we wash our hands of you.” So alienated, one might still be qualified to teach if one has knowledge of subjects, but one has no authority to do so. For without assuming the responsibility for the world that is necessary to say to the child, “This is our world,” there can be no relationship of teaching and learning between the adult who is to introduce the child to the world and the child who is developing into adulthood to accept this responsibility in turn.

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niccolo macchiavelli statue at uffizi

Thinking What We Are Doing in the Condition of Plurality

You can also find this piece at our new Medium channel.

By Aaron Cotkin

“Action would be an unnecessary luxury, a capricious interference with general laws of behavior, if men were endlessly reproducible repetitions of the same model, whose nature or essence was the same for all and as predictable as the nature or essence of any other thing. Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.”

— Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Central to Arendt’s call for us to “think what we are doing” is for us to think about politics as occurring under the condition of plurality. But we often lack a language appropriate to think in these terms. It may be appropriate for those who study the realm of the social (economics, culture, or society writ large) to speak of human behavior, of the nature of Man, as predictable because individual people, navigating the realm of necessity may seem like repetitions of each other. But Arendt believes that applying such logic to the study of politics, to study politics as characterized by behavior rather than by action, is inappropriate.

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omnipotent human

The Delusion of the Omnipotence

**This post was originally published on June 3, 2013**

“There is a difference between a man who sets out to murder his old aunt and people who without considering the economic usefulness of their actions at all (…) build factories to produce corpses. (…) Perhaps what is behind it all is only that individual human beings did not kill other individual human beings for human reasons, but that an organized attempt was made to eradicate the concept of the human being…. And all this … arises from – or, better, goes along with – the delusion of the omnipotence (not simply with the lust for power) of an individual man. If an individual man qua man were omnipotent, then there is in fact no reason why men in the plural should exist at all – just as in monotheism it is only God’s omnipotence that made him ONE.”

— Hannah Arendt / Karl Jaspers: Correspondence 1926-1969

Arendt distinguishes two historical boundaries that separated pre-modernity from modernity and liberalism from total domination. In her books The Human Condition and Between Past and Future, Arendt discusses the profound changes that modernity brought about through technological progress and world alienation, by withdrawal from the common world into self-reflection, by division of the world into subjectivity and objectivity, by substitution of philosophy and politics with an instrumental understanding of theory and praxis, and by the loss of the interwoven phenomena of authority, tradition, and religion as guarantees for the stability of political communities. Continue reading


Hannah Arendt and the Links of a Thinker

Christo Datso, an HAC member and regular participant in our virtual reading group, recently shared this image with us of his personal Arendt library:

Hannah Arendt and the Links of a Thinker

Here is what Christo had to say about his image:

“I’ve organized my Arendt library into two parts. On the upper shelf, you’ll find secondary literature on Arendt sorted into sections that are arranged in chronological order. (Each section is separated from the other by a bookmark.) I realized after having sorted all studies I’ve collected so far on Arendt, both in English and French, that during the ’80’s and ’90’s, the number of books written on Arendt was still modest, but then from the 2000’s and especially since 2010 (the two later sections), the number of books has expanded considerably, which is material evidence of the rising interest in Arendt’s thinking since the turn of the 21st century.

On the intermediate shelf, and on the first section of the third shelf, I’ve put Arendt’s books starting with her correspondence and then followed by sections centered around her key works, including Jewish Writings, Origins, The Human Condition, On Revolution, Life of the Mind, and others. In the remaining part of the third shelf, you can find authors having some affinity with Arendt, many of them being as she was herself “children of Heidegger” (Jonas, Marcuse, Anders) or thinkers with whom she shared interests (Raymond Aron, for instance).

It is no surprise that a library reflects the idiosyncrasies of its owner, so this partial view on my 20th century philosophy library might give you some indirect evidence of my interests in Arendt, her work, and who was influential to her and her writing. (Not shown in the picture are the works of Heidegger, Husserl, Jaspers, and Bultmann, as well as others like Leo Strauss.) Every thinker comes into connection with others; my library tries to reflect the way I understand those links, or as Arendt may have said, to capture something of the plurality of the philosophers in action.”

Want to share pictures of your own Arendt library?

Please send them to David Bisson, our Media Coordinator, at, and we will feature them on our blog!

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democracy velvet revolution argentina

Norbert Lechner and the Uses of Arendt in Argentina

By Anabella Di Pego

“Terminologically speaking, the effort to recapture the lost spirit of revolution must, to a certain extent, consist in the attempt at thinking together and combining meaningfully what our present vocabulary presents to us in terms of opposition and contradiction. […] The political spirit of modernity was born when men were no longer satisfied that empires would rise and fall in sempiternal change; it is as though men wished to establish a world which could be trusted to last forever, precisely because they knew how novel everything was that their age attempted to do”.

— Hannah Arendt, On Revolution

The applications of Arendt’s writings in Argentina, now diverse since the fall of the Berlin Wall, date back to the years of democratic transition in the 1980s. It is no coincidence that Arendt’s reading in our region is associated originally with the transition rooted in “revolution” to the political vision of “democracy,” as evident in the thinking of political scientist Norbert Lechner (1939-2004). Though he began living in Chile in the early 1970s, Lechner was born in Germany, and he maintained a continuous critical dialogue with classical German thought (from Kant to Marx) as well as with contemporary German thought (Luxemburg, Lukács, Bloch, Adorno, Arendt, Luhmann, and Habermas among others). Continue reading


Even in Solitude There Are Always Two

**This post was originally published on November 19, 2012**

By Louise Brinkerhoff

“In solitude a dialogue always arises, because even in solitude there are always two.”

— Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch

In the back of a volume of letters sent between Louise von Salome and Rainer Maria Rilke, Hannah Arendt wrote in pencil: “253, 256, Einsamkeit.” On the corresponding pages, she marked out two passages from a letter from Rilke to Salome from January 10th, 1912. The first:

Can I, despite everything, move on through all this? If people happen to be present they offer me the relief of being able to be more or less the person they take me for, without being too particular about my actual existence. How often do I step out of my room as, so to speak, some chaos, and outside, perceived by someone else’s mind, assume a composure that is actually his and in the next moment, to my astonishment, find myself expressing well-formed things, while just before everything in my entire consciousness was utterly amorphous.

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ivory tower

Dismantling the Ivory Tower of Thinking

(Featured Image Source: tsonline on DeviantArt)

By Anabella Di Pego

“Thought, finally–which we, following the pre-modern as well as the modern tradition, omitted from our reconsideration of the vita activa–is still possible, and no doubt actual, wherever men live under the conditions of political freedom. Unfortunately, and contrary to what is currently assumed about the proverbial ivory-tower independence of thinkers, 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. As a living experience, thought has always been assumed, perhaps wrongly, to be known only to the few. It may not be presumptuous to believe that these few have not become fewer in our time. This may be irrelevant, or of restricted relevance, for the future of the world; it is not irrelevant for the future of man.”

— Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

The closing paragraph of The Human Condition refers to the act of thinking, an idea which is crossed by a paradox. Thought “is still possible, and no doubt actual,” but at the same time it is always conceived as a living experience of a few. The problematic question is not if these few have or “have not become fewer in our time.” It is whether the conditions that make thought possible have eroded despite the fact that our chances to cope with certain hazards in the 20th century reside precisely with this faculty. “The future of man” is threatened by the uncertain future of thought, so this activity is shown in all its political implications. The decline of thinking could lead to the extinction of human life as we have specifically understood it until today. Therefore, Arendt’s book, which is dedicated to the vita activa, culminates with a call to thought–urgent but completely different from a call to arms—whose message is fundamental to the future of our common world. However, this return to thought in Arendt’s approach comes with a warning and a radical critique of the way in which thinking has been understood by the philosophical tradition. Continue reading

critical thinking

Critical Thinking, Judgment, and Empathy

By Jennie Han

**This article was originally published on April 1, 2013.**

“Critical thinking is possible only where the standpoints of all others are open to inspection. Hence, critical thinking, while still a solitary business, does not cut itself off from ‘all others.’ To be sure, it still goes on in isolation, but by the force of imagination it makes the others present and thus moves in a space that is potentially public, open to all sides; in other words, it adopts the position of Kant’s world citizen. To think with an enlarged mentality means that one trains one’s imagination to go visiting.”

— Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy

Arendt’s appeal to the “enlargement of the mind” of Kantian judgment is well known and is often discussed in relation to Eichmann’s failure to think and recognize the world’s plurality. To the extent that we find lessons in these discussions, a prominent one is that we might all be vulnerable to such failures of judgment. Continue reading


Arendt and Transformation

By Thomas Wild

“Let us assume I had an extraordinarily good memory, I would never have written anything down.”

– Hannah Arendt, 1964

“Let us assume I had an extraordinarily good memory, I would never have written anything down,” Hannah Arendt once said in an interview. We are lucky that Arendt actually did not have that kind of memory. Had she never written anything down, all her thoughts, in the moment she died, would have vanished from the world as though they had never existed. Continue reading


Hannah Arendt and the Political Dangers of Emotion

By Johannes Lang

“Whatever the passions and the emotions may be, and whatever their true connection with thought and reason, they certainly are located in the human heart. And not only is the human heart a place of darkness which, with certainty, no human eye can penetrate; the qualities of the heart need darkness and protection against the light of the public to grow and to remain what they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for public display.”

–Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963)

Since September 11, 2001, historians and social scientists have rediscovered the political relevance of emotion. In the current climate of war and terror, public discussion is suffused with references to fear, hatred, and patriotism. But what are the moral and political consequences when such passions enter the public sphere? One of the most famous political thinkers of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt, worried about the entry of emotion into politics. She scolded the French revolutionaries for having been carried away by their compassion for the poor and praised the American Founding Fathers for their aloof commitment to universal ideals and for their detached attitude to the suffering masses. Emotions may be important as subjective motives for individual action, Arendt granted, but they should neither be aired in public nor be made the basis for collective action. Emotions disfigure politics; political movements should be based on rational argument, not passion. Yet, as Volker Heins has pointed out, there was one thing Arendt feared more than the intrusion of emotions into politics: a politics completely devoid of emotion. The “ice-cold reasoning” and bureaucratic rationality she discerned behind the Holocaust was infinitely more terrifying than any other political pathology known to man. Arendt’s deep ambivalence toward emotions confronts us with a fundamental question: What is the proper place of emotion in politics? Continue reading

charlie hebdo

Manifesting in the Wake of Charlie Hebdo

By Etienne Tassin

“To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power.”

— Hannah Arendt, “On Violence,” in Crises of the Republic

Hannah Arendt warns us against two confusions that have the potential to ruin our understanding of politics: the confusion of power and violence, and the confusion of (political) success and (military / armed) victory.

During the weekend of January 10-11, 2015, millions of people gathered in France and across the entire world to demonstrate their rejection of terrorist violence. In their rallies, they were responding to the assassination of cartoonists and journalists of a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, an iconoclastic weekly that had published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. These demonstrators were also responding to the assassination of the hostages taken in a kosher grocery store by another terrorist claiming his affiliation with militant Islamic jihad. Firmly opposed to the use of armed violence by terrorists, the people of the world united together in silent and nonviolent reflection. On one side, Kalashnikovs; on the other, pencils, paper, and the supportive responses of cartoonists from around the world. On one side, corpses; on the other, a swirling mass united by their rejection of violence. Continue reading

Tower of Babel

Arendt’s Plurality of Languages

** This article was originally published on our blog on Monday, August 13, 2012. **

Plurality of languages: […] It is crucial 1. that there are many languages and that they differ not only in vocabulary, but also in grammar, and so in mode of thought and 2. that all languages are learnable.”

— Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, i.e. Thinking Diary, p. 42f

Hannah Arendt learned English quickly. In the year after her arrival to the USA in 1941, her work was already being printed by American magazines and publishers. In November 1950, as she wrote the above sentences on the “plurality of languages,” she refined her groundbreaking book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and readied it for publication. Contemporaneously with the publication of her first book in English and shortly before her “naturalization” as an American citizen, Arendt began her Denktagebuch. The book—a diary of reflections, of sorts—was written in several languages and often, like the entry above, in German. Continue reading