The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College is the world's most expansive home for bold and risky humanities thinking about our political world inspired by the spirit of Hannah Arendt, the leading thinker of politics and active citizenship in the modern era.
About the Center
The Arendt Center cares for and makes available the Hannah Arendt Library, with nearly 5000 books from Hannah Arendt’s personal library, many with marginalia and notes. The Arendt Center oversees projects including The Courage to Be, Hate and the Human Condition, and The American Jewish Peace Archive. At Bard, the Arendt Center sponsors short courses on Hannah Arendt and the themes for our conferences and sponsors numerous lectures and events for students, faculty, and members. Above all, the Arendt Center promotes thinking that challenges common sense assumptions and gives depth to public understandings. The effort is to provide an intellectual space for thinking that can reframe the questions that form the center of our democracy.
The McCarthy House, located on Annandale Road toward the north end of campus, houses the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and the Human Rights Project. The house was occupied by novelist and critic Mary McCarthy when she taught English at Bard from 1946 to 1947, and when she returned, from 1986 to 1989. McCarthy and Hannah Arendt were good friends for many years, and McCarthy served as Arendt's literary executor from 1976 until her death in 1989. The conference room in the house features Arendt's desk from her last apartment in New York City.
More About Arendt: In her book Men in Dark Times, Arendt explains that darkness does not name the genocides, purges, and hunger that mark the tragedies of the twentieth century. Instead, darkness refers to the way these horrors appear in public discourse and yet remain hidden.
Concentration camps in the mid-twentieth century—and now environmental degradation, the emergence of a superfluous underclass, and dangerous economic irresponsibility—confront us daily. They are not shrouded in secrecy but are darkened by the "highly efficient talk and double-talk of nearly all official representatives, who, without interruption and in many ingenious variations, explained away unpleasant facts and justified concerns." Darkness, for Arendt, names the all-too-public invisibility of inconvenient facts.
In 2006, on the occasion of Arendt's 100th birthday, the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities convened its inaugural conference (now published as a book), "Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics." What, we asked of philosophers, businessmen, artists, and public intellectuals, can Hannah Arendt's insistence that the darkness of the public spotlight is not inevitable, that we "have the right to expect some illumination," teach us about engaged thinking and acting in our world? George Kateb, like many of our speakers, answered that thinking remains the core activity of Arendt's politics; it is thinking, he argued, that makes possible any resistance to political atrocities.
The political implications of thinking are brought front and center in Arendt's coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker. Arendt was struck by Eichmann, the fact that he appeared to her and many others to be “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” The evil of Eichmann's deeds was indisputable, and Arendt is fully convinced he should be hanged for his crimes.
Yet Eichmann struck Arendt as a clown rather than a monster, someone who defended his participation in horrifically evil crimes through a combination bureaucratic depersonalization and self-justifying ideological rationalizations. He was, she concluded, not stupid, but thoughtless, a joiner who found meaning and affirmation in movements to which he enthusiastically abdicated any independence and self-thinking. It was this “absence of thinking—which is so ordinary an experience in our everyday life, where we have hardly the time, let alone the inclination, to stop and think”—that Arendt came to see as one dangerous wellspring of evil in modern times. For a longer exploration of Arendt’s account of Adolf Eichmann, take a look at Arendt Center Director Roger Berkowitz’s essay, “Did Eichmann Think?”
Academic Director and Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human Rights at Bard College
Executive Director and Dean of Information Services and Director of Libraries at Bard College
Research Director and Associate Professor of German and Director of the German Studies Program
Associate Editor of the HA Journal