Monday, March 31, 2008

LECTURE: Hannah Arendt: The Life of a Jewish Immigrant in America

Monday, April 7 at 4:30 PM


Hannah Arendt: The Life of a Jewish Immigrant in America

by David Pickus (Honors College at Arizona State University)

Hannah Arendt (1906-75) was one of the most important and original philosophers in modern American history. She deeply influenced the way we think about politics, freedom and the idea of totalitarianism. But how did she become who she was? This lecture explores hr life and career. It places special emphasis on hr experience as German-Jew and how this affected her perception of America. It also covers hr understanding of the Holocaust and her efforts to educate the American public about its meaning. We will conclude with a discussion of Arendt's relevance for today's world, not only in the US, but also here in Serbia.

Everyone is welcome.

David Pickus, a guest professor at the Philosophical Faculty, is spending the year in Belgrade on a Fulbright fellowship. He is faculty chair of the Honors College at Arizona State University (USA), where he teaches courses in history and the humanities. Pickus received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago with a specialty in German and Jewish history. He is currently researching the topic of friendship between Serbs and Jews. He also has a special interest in encouraging educational travel and academic exchange.

1 comment:

American Corner Belgrade said...

Here is David's handout from this lecture:

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975

David Pickus, April 2008

The United States has always interacted with many other countries, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. One of the most fruitful and influential examples of this interaction can be found in the case of “intellectual refugees.” These are academics, artists and scholars who were driven out of their homelands, but were able to continue their work in the USA.

This lecture will examine the life and works of one of the most important of these intellectual refugees. Her name is Hannah Arendt. She was born in Germany, educated there, but was unable to make a career there. Rather, because she was Jewish and opposed to the Nazis she fled for her life to the United States in 1940. In the US, she adopted a new language and worked very hard to make a new career for herself.

In doing so, she began to write about a topic that is very important for the modern world, in the US, Serbia and everywhere, namely, the misuse of power. As she wrote:

No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny.

This presentation will describe her life and career and give us a chance to discuss the relevance of her ideas for the world of today.

Some key issues to understand:

• Arendt was born to a middle class Jewish family in Germany. Jews were given many opportunities to make valuable contributions to German culture. However, they were never fully accepted. After World War I their position became much worse and they became a primary scapegoat for all of Germany’s many problems.
• Arendt saw two things in the 1920’s and 30’s that influenced her profoundly. She saw that most German professors liked fascism and that the political parties opposing fascism were disorganized and did not know what they wanted.
• From 1933-40, she was a refugee in France. She even had to escape from a prison camp once the Germans invaded. She was only able to escape to the US because a friendly US agent “pulled strings” and arranged for a visa.
• In the US she saw that people were friendly to foreigners and opposed to fascism. However, they were also quite naive about conditions in the outside world. Therefore, she wrote a book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) to explain to the public what went wrong.

What did she say?

First, the problem with totalitarianism is not that the state has bad laws, but that it has no laws. In her words: totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.

Second, that the people who serve totalitarian governments are, as people, neither good nr bad. Instead, they are banal. As she wrote: The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.

Finally, the solution to the misuse our power in our time is for us to be more “political.” However, she did not “politics” to mean that people must chose sides. Instead, she used it to mean that people must publicly discuss key problems and try to persuade each other of the rightness of their own opinion. As she wrote: for speech is what makes man a political being.