Hannah Arendt's rich and varied political thought is more influential today than ever before, due in part to the collapse of communism and the need for ideas that move beyond the old ideologies of the Cold War. As Dana Villa shows, however, Arendt's thought is often poorly understood, both because of its complexity and because her fame has made it easy for critics to write about what she is reputed to have said rather than what she actually wrote. Villa sets out to change that here, explaining clearly, carefully, and forcefully Arendt's major contributions to our understanding of politics, modernity, and the nature of political evil in our century.
Villa begins by focusing on some of the most controversial aspects of Arendt's political thought. He shows that Arendt's famous idea of the banality of evil--inspired by the trial of Adolf Eichmann--does not, as some have maintained, lessen the guilt of war criminals by suggesting that they are mere cogs in a bureaucratic machine. He examines what she meant when she wrote that terror was the essence of totalitarianism, explaining that she believed Nazi and Soviet terror served above all to reinforce the totalitarian idea that humans are expendable units, subordinate to the all-determining laws of Nature or History. Villa clarifies the personal and philosophical relationship between Arendt and Heidegger, showing how her work drew on his thought while providing a firm repudiation of Heidegger's political idiocy under the Nazis. Less controversially, but as importantly, Villa also engages with Arendt's ideas about the relationship between political thought and political action. He explores her views about the roles of theatricality, philosophical reflection, and public-spiritedness in political life. And he explores what relationship, if any, Arendt saw between totalitarianism and the "great tradition" of Western political thought. Throughout, Villa shows how Arendt's ideas illuminate contemporary debates about the nature of modernity and democracy and how they deepen our understanding of philosophers ranging from Socrates and Plato to Habermas and Leo Strauss.
Direct, lucid, and powerfully argued, this is a much-needed analysis of the central ideas of one of the most influential political theorists of the twentieth century.
"Villa explores the tensions between [Hannah] Arendt's disdain for those who fail to think and her distrust of the contemplative retreat from the world. . . . [A] lucid and illuminating book. . . ."--John Plotz, Lingua Franca
"In this splendid collection Villa focuses on Arendt's analysis of totalitarian evil and its relationship to the philosophical tradition."--Choice
"Dana Villa ... has received international recognition for his Arendt and Heidegger--the finest work in any language concerning the philosophical indebtedness of Arendt to Heidegger. The analyses in this current book are always informative, insightful, and thought-provoking. The writing is forceful and lucid. The book eminently succeeds in showing why Arendt is one of the outstanding political theorists of the twentieth century."--Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research
"In the time-honored tradition of political theorizing, Politics, Philosophy, Terror cuts through a tangle of current disputations in order to clarify and assess particular and pertinent aspects of Hannah Arendt's thinking. Villa's book is also fluidly, even elegantly, written."--Mary G. Dietz, University of Minnesota
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER ONE Terror and Radical Evil 11
CHAPTER Two Conscience, the Banality of Evil, and the Idea of a Representative Perpetrator 39
CHAPTER THREE The Anxiety of Influence: On Arendt's Relationship to Heidegger 61
CHAPTER FOUR Thinking and Judging 87
CHAPTER FIVE Democratizing the Agon: Nietzsche, Arendt, and the Agonistic Tendency in Recent Political Theory 107
CHAPTER SIX Theatricality and the Public Realm 128
CHAPTER SEVEN The Philosopher versus the Citizen: Arendt, Strauss, and Socrates 155
CHAPTER EIGHT Totalitarianism, Modernity, and the Tradition 180
CHAPTER NINE Arendt and Socrates 204
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Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Dana Villa: