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Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) was a German-born and educated, American philosopher of political theory, modernity, history. Action without a name, a who attached to it, is meaningless.

Hannah Arendt German/American philosopher

Hannah Arendt, philosopher

 

Quotations from Hannah Arendt

Action without a name, a who attached to it, is meaningless.

It is the function…of all action…to interrupt what otherwise would have proceeded automatically and therefore predictably.

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.

Love and hatred grow out of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs. Unfortunately, they have never survived the hour of liberation by even five minutes.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

The simple fact [is] that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs [war] has yet appeared on the political scene.

Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.

Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.

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.

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!

Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.

Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.

Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being.

Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.

The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning.

Truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth.

Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.

To expect truth to come from thinking signifies that we mistake the need to think with the urge to know.

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 order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

Revolutionaries do not make revolutions. The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and then they can pick it up.

Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.

This is the precept by which I have lived: Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes.

Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.


Sources for Hannah Arendt quotes; WikiQuote, Hannah Arendt CenterBrainyQuotes,


COMMENTS on Hannah Arendt

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! This statement struck me as how the Nazis were able to perpetrate their crimes with so much complicity of their bureaucrats and their public. It was Hitler himself who created the idea of the Thousand Year Reich and the terrible onus of crimes that were necessary to create this new and glorious world-class humanity, and it was a burden that must be borne on the shoulders of the German individuals who performed them. He was able to convince those people with his passionate speeches that they were inherently superior and therefore had the right to rule over all others, and legitimately commit the necessary acts. The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. Hannah Arendt, being an officially inferior person because of her Jewish ancestry, was therefore imprisoned, made intellectually aware of the process, and later exposed it in her writings. Luckily she was able to get fake passport papers, escape the Nazis and come to America.

Action without a name, a who attached to it, is meaningless. Didn’t mean much to me on first reading, but when considering history and various events it does appear that great events happen when a great but undefined need is felt by many people, and when a leader steps forward and defines that need, and gives it a clear name, action can become focused and previously unanticipated results can become possible. I would rephrase it as, “A needed action needs an identity, a name, and a person to promote it or it will remain an undefined and an unsatisfied longing.” Without these ideas being brought forcefully to the fore, society will proceed as its inertia directs and will take its plodding course, and the undefined actions will go as unacknowledged minor things and the great unexposed need will fade away into an unreported nothingness.

Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it. This statement is the opposite side of the creative process. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy. It is a shutting down of options, whereas thinking is opening up of new options, and because it sees new options and figures out what needs to be done to bring power into existence in the minds of a group, that power comes into existence.

These ideas were explored earlier by Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), who wrote,  The great end of life is not knowledge but action.

 

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