Arendt’s Judgment

Arendt’s Judgment

Responsibility and Judgment by Hannah Arendt and Letters 1925-1975: Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, edited by Ursula Ludz

Responsibility and Judgment
by Hannah Arendt, edited and with an introduction by Jerome Kohn
Schocken, 2003, 336 pp., $25.00Letters 1925-1975: Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger
edited by Ursula Ludz, translated by Andrew Shields
Harcourt, 2004, 360 pp., $28.00

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Dissent played a part in the controversy over Eichmann in Jerusalem. In 1963, when Hannah Arendt’s articles for the New Yorker on Adolf Eichmann’s trial in an Israeli court provoked consternation in intellectual journals and condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League, Irving Howe decided to hold a public forum, under the auspices of the magazine, to invite the principals to debate. Arendt declined. Daniel Bell and Raul Hilberg took Arendt’s side, with Howe moderating, and met a violent clamor of opposition.

History remembers the forum for its breakdown of civility among the New York Intellectuals. The immediate recriminations centered on whether Alfred Kazin had been shouted down. “[A]t no point-I repeat: at no point-was anyone, not Bell or Hilberg or Kazin, ‘shouted down,'” Howe wrote. “[N]obody seemed to listen to what Alfred Kazin, who spoke up for Hannah, was saying,” William Phillips offered: “In fact, as I remember, he was booed.” The last word on the forum currently belongs to Ted Solotaroff, who just last year, in Alfred Kazin’s America, published his recollection of what happened:

[T]he rhetoric became more inflamed as each speaker tried to outdo the others in telling outrage. Finally, Howe introduced a survivor of the Holocaust and was happily translating for the audience his Yiddish testimony against Arendt when Kazin stood up, walked to the podium, and said, “That’s enough, Irving. This disgraceful piling on has to stop.”

The disgraceful piling on hasn’t really stopped for forty years. Even today Hannah Arendt is misremembered as a betrayer of her fellow Jews. It’s true that much of the sound and fury around Eichmann came from provoking habits of Arendt’s own. She never defined “the banality of evil,” the notorious phrase from her subtitle. Only a minority of commentators who have used the phrase since then understood what she meant. Arendt’s style was ironic and cutting. It was as if she had reversed the famous esoteric doctrine of her contemporary, Leo Strauss, and demanded persecution from those who should have been her allies by creating a surface full of provocations, and leaving between the lines the high...