Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Arendt As Paradigm

I pointed my readers to the image of Kreisky's Kinder and here's something else.

Bernard Wasserstein, professor of modern European Jewish history at the University of Chicago, comments on Arendt in the Times Literary Supplement in October 2009 under the title “Blame the Victim: Hannah Arendt Among the Nazis.”...In summary, but not in any way an exaggeration, Wasserstein claims the following:

• The success of Arendt’s earlier work is owed more to the way it locked on to mid-twentieth-century Western guilt over imperialism and the continued strengthening of the Cold War than to The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt’s conception of the dynamics of historical change is little more than a confused mishmash of the structural, the social-psychological, and the conspiratorial.

• Her works display a deep ignorance of political economy, diplomacy, and military strategy. Furthermore, she had little grasp or even interest in the mechanics of the political process in the states about which she wrote.

• Rather than examine hard evidence, she deals in trifles and inflates them into richly colored balloons of generalization. At a time when superior historians were rejecting and becoming disenchanted by the idea of totalitarianism, her work in this area did not explain the generalization.

• Her comparisons of Nazism and communism were sporadic and uneven, and she hardly dealt with Italian fascism as predecessor of these test cases of totalitarianism. The concept was incorporated into the vernacular of the 1960s and 1970s only because it served the useful ideological purposes of the Cold Warriors at the time.

• The burden of her later work is blaming Jewish victims rather than anti-Semitic perpetrators. In her inversion of victims and victimizers, her bile knew no ethnic boundaries or rationalizations.

• There was always a special edge to her criticism of her own Jewish people. She swallowed sometimes in whole cloth the poisonous anti-Semitism hatched in the Weimar period, much of which was shrouded in the Nazi literature of the age.

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