‘The right to free association, and therefore to discrimination, has greater validity than the principle of equality,” wrote Hannah Arendt in 1957, in support of segregation in the US South.
On a recent list of the top 144 “Jewish heroes” published by Israel’s Beit Hatfutsot, Arendt was listed as one of 10 heroic “thinkers,” alongside Albert Einstein and Martin Buber. The German-born Arendt has always loomed large in Jewish circles. She is often portrayed as the consummate Jewish intellectual and is almost always heralded and lauded in liberal and progressive Jewish circles. But it is time to tell the truth about Arendt. She was no hero. She was a white supremacist, an intellectual of the early 20th century European variety who combined noxious notions of white European superiority with a toxic view of the world. She derided vast continents as being full of “savages.” It’s time to close the book on Arendt: she was a product of a brutal and racist 20th century, not a Jewish hero, but a villain.
She is a representation of all that went wrong when Jews in Europe embraced European concepts of racial supremacy in an attempt to ape European nationalism.
Arendt was born in Linden, Germany in 1906. In the 1920s she studied at the University of Freiburg and began an affair with the philosopher Martin Heidegger. She completed her dissertation in 1929 at Heidelberg and fled Germany in 1933 with the rise of Nazism. She eventually made her way to New York in 1941. In the postwar period she briefly managed Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc, an organization that helped collect abandoned Jewish cultural assets in post-war Germany. Soon afterwards she published The Origins of Totalitarianism, one of many publications that cemented her as a thinker.
Since then she has joined a pantheon of Jewish thinkers that one is supposed to “know” and respect. The adoration Arendt is given seems to be based on received wisdom.
People think she is important, so she is important.
Few people seem to have read what she actually wrote.
Arendt was a German nationalist up until the point she was forced to flee Germany due to anti-Semitism.
Her favorite mentor, and lover, was Heidegger. In 1933 Heidegger gave a speech as rector of his university about the “historical mission of the German people” and the “resoluteness of the German student body to be equal to the German fate.” He praised the “banishing” of academic freedom and spoke glowingly of the bond of the university to the armed services. Unfortunately Arendt remained in contact with the Nazi academic and testified on his behalf at a denazification hearing in 1950.
She contributed to his rehabilitation and he was teaching again in 1951, even though during the Nazi period he had collaborated as an academic in suppressing Jews at university.
Arendt’s racialized view of the world dovetailed with the fascist views prevalent in Europe when she fled to the US. In Origins she described “Race” as a political principle.
“Race was the [South African] Boers’ answer to the overwhelming monstrosity of Africa – a whole continent populated and overpopulated by savages.”
She writes of the “dark continent,” a “world of native savages was a perfect setting for men who had escaped the reality of civilization...human beings who, living without the future of a purpose and the past of an accomplishment, were as incomprehensible as the inmates of a madhouse.”
Arendt praised colonialism, calling it a “form of achievement” carried out in “exotic countries.” Exterminating native peoples was fine because it was “quite in keeping with the traditions of these tribes themselves. Extermination of hostile tribes had been the rule in all African native wars.”
This is the writing of the “great scholar” and “Jewish hero” that so many people wax poetic about. What’s surprising is not that some intellectuals wrote this way in 1951, but that so many students are subjected to this rubbish in 2016 by uncritical academic sycophants of Arendt.
In 1957, having graduated from flirtations with the Nazi philosophers in 1930 to support for colonialism in 1951, she defended segregation in 1957 in her essay “Reflections on Little Rock.” She claimed to be writing as an outsider on the American “prejudice” of segregation.
“As most people of European origin,” she claimed not to understand America’s oddities, but “as a Jew” she said, she had “sympathy” for the “cause of the Negroes.” However the essay itself suggests the opposite.
She speaks of the “unsolved problems connected with Negroes living in our midst.” What “problem”? Isn’t the problem the white racism, rather than black people? She urged “caution” in government intervention to enforce de-segregation and pointed out that a poll in Virginia showed 92 percent opposed school integration.
92% of whites? She compared enforcing de-segregation to forcing mixed marriages. She supported segregation based on the logic that “vacation resorts in this country are frequently ‘restricted’ according to ethnic origin.”
Instead of objecting to white-only resorts, she supported them.
SCHOLARS WHO like Arendt don’t like this essay, and a 2007 event at Princeton even asked if scholars should “disregard” it in presentations of Arendt’s political thinking. Not all scholars seek to ignore it, though; Kathryn Gines wrote a book on Arendt’s “Negro question” in 2014.
Soon after her pro-segregation screed, Arendt was in Jerusalem covering the Adolf Eichmann trial. In 1961 she wrote to her former adviser, Karl Jaspers, another German academic, who had stayed in Germany during the war and with whom Arendt enjoyed close relations.
Describing Israel, Arendt noted that the country had at its top German judges of whom she approved as the “best of German Jewry.” Below them were prosecuting attorneys, one of whom, a Galician Jew, was “still European,” she noted. “Everything is organized by the Israeli police force which gives me the creeps. It speaks only Hebrew and looks Arabic. Some downright brutes among them. They obey any order. Outside the courthouse doors the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.”
People who looked Arab were seen as disgusting by Arendt. “Orientals” were part of a “mob,” similar to the “savages” she had described in her previous writing.
It’s time to admit that through Arendt’s writing runs a thread of European white supremacy. She was very much a product of the 1920s. It was by accident that she was Jewish, and not German, because she was closest intellectually to the Nazi academics who she associated with.
How did a woman with such racist views, such a hateful disdain for “dark continents,” “savages,” “scum” and “orientals” come to be seen as “progressive”? Mostly because of the careful work of other racist false progressives to keep her in the pantheon and to deceive Jews with liberal inclinations. Just as Karl Marx and many other writers are not subjected to proper critique for their racist views, so Arendt gets a free pass. It’s time to close the book on Arendt. She’s no hero. She’s a villain and represents a tragic point in European Jewish history where some Jews embraced white supremacy in order to fit in to the European context. They should have embraced the “orientals,” she derided.