Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 349

Just how idiosyncratic Hannah Arendt was can be gleaned from a
brief glance at her intellectual career in this country. She first came to
prominence in 1951 with the publication of
The Origins of Totalitari–
by some accounts her masterpiece despite its rough handling by
more conventional historians in subsequent years. With hindsight, the
book now can be seen as more than merely an historical-philosophical
analysis of one of the key problems of our century; it was also a
monument of the Cold War because of its relentless equation of
Communism and Nazism as the two subtypes of the totalitarian genus.
Because of her insistence that Communism cou ld only follow out its
historical logic and grow increasingly oppressive and imperialist, the
book was eagerly received by defenders, conservative and liberal alike,
of the American democratic system. Her credentials as an upholder of
traditional American virtues were given additional support by her later
insistence in
On Revolution
that our version of that phenomenon was
superior to the French in a number of important respects, including its
relative indifference to social issues. Clearly, as Jonas would recall at
her funeral, her gratitude as an emigre experiencing American political
praClice first hand had "decisively shaped her political thinking," so
that the American Republic, at least in its ideal state, would always
hold a special place in her afffections. Not surprisingly, in the one
book-length study of her thought preceding her death, Margaret
Canovan concluded that she was best understood as a "Republican ...
in the old eighteenth-century sense of a partisan of public freedom."
But as readers of
On Revolution,
as well as her earlier theoretical
The Human Condition
Between Past and Future,
easily see, her vision of what constituted the ideal republic was deeply
at odds with current American practice. For Hannah Arendt, at least in
the majority of her writings, on ly direct and not representative democ–
racy was the institutional setting for the exercise of true freedom.
this emphasis on what became fashionable in the 1960s as "participa–
tory democracy" that more than anything else accounts for her dis–
covery by a new constituency in those years, the nascent New Left.
fact, at Berkeley, as political theorist Norman Jacobson remembers it,
the Free Speech Movement was deeply influenced by her work during
its formative period before the left reread its Marx. At approximately
the same time, her heterodox treatment of the Eichmann case and her
allegation of unwitting Jewish .complicity in the Holocaust cost her
much support in the more traditionally liberal American Jewish
community. On both Vietnam and Watergate, she took positions that
identified her more and more closely with the left, especiall y as her
most frequent forum was
The New York Review of Books.
And yet at
the same time she spoke out against the romanticization of the Third
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