Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 364

the onl y suitable res ponse is a kind of heroism: "The h ero's gesture has
not accidentall y become
pose of philosophy since Nietzsch e; it
requires h eroism to live in the world as Kant left it. " La ter in tha t
piece, she endorsed Jaspers's call for an "unconditioned deed tha t
invokes transcendence" as the way to assert man 's freedom in "extreme
situa tions ." All tha t was missing was her subsequent insistence that the
onl y arena in which such " unconditi oned deeds" can be performed is
the political, and tha t was not far behind when she argu ed:
This "deed" arising out of extreme situations appears in the world
through communication with others, who as my fellows and
through the appeal
our common reason guaranteed the universal;
through activity it carries out the freedom of Man in the world and
becomes thereby "a seed, though peri shing, of the creation of a
world. "
T o a political existentialist, glory and heroism may seem self–
evident values indistingui sha ble from the political life itself, but others
who have entered the public realm for less self-centered and melodra–
matic reason s may well demur. Although one mi ght accept the no tion
of the banality of evil , to ass ume that banality is itself evil is ano ther
ma tter. Indeed, one might wonder if Hannah Arendt had not adopted
some of the Pruss ian values a Berlin Jew strugglin g with her own
identity might a bsorb through a kind of " identifi ca tion with the
aggressor," just as Rahel Varnhagen surrounded herself with a salo n o f
powerful and worldl y gentil es a century before.
Such an
ad hom inem
specul a tion , however, is no t even necessary
to undercut her argument, for thi s can be done from some of her own
insights in other contexts. Thus, as she stressed in
Th e Origins of
T otalitarian ism,
one of the mos t sinister cha racteristi cs of totalitari an
sys tems, bes t shown in the Nazi a ttitude towards the Jews, is their
indifference to utilitarian considera ti ons. A po liti cs tha t is obli vious to
the means-ends continuum and the consequences of its action s risks
descending into the realm of fantasy in whi ch the inexorable logic o f
an ideology can justify even self-destructive behavior. The "express ive"
moment o f po litics ne<ed not be seen as the absolute nega tion of the
Simila rl y, Hannah Arendt 's insistence tha t rationalism and the
.search for truth have no place in the public realm left her, as it did the
politica l existenti alists of the 1920s, with no defense against an
untruthful , self-deceptive politics, whose con sequences she recogni zed
in her essay on the Pentagon Papers. Having earlier concluded that
"our ability to li e-but not necessaril y our ability to tell the truth-
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