Hana Arendt - biography
Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975) was an influential German Jewish political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact that "men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world". Arendt's work deals with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism.
Hannah Arendt was born into a family of secular German Jews in the city of Linden (now part of Hannover), and grew up in Königsberg (the birthplace of Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, in 1946 renamed as Kaliningrad and annexed to the Soviet Union), and Berlin.
At the University of Marburg, she studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger, with whom, as related by her only German Jewish classmate Hans Jonas, she embarked on a long, stormy and romantic relationship for which she was later criticized because of Heidegger's support for the Nazi party while he was rector of Freiburg University. In the wake of one of their breakups, Arendt moved to Heidelberg, where she wrote her dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine, under the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers, then married to a German Jewish woman. She married Günther Stern, later known as Günther Anders, in 1929 in Berlin (they divorced in 1937).
The dissertation was published the same year, but Arendt was prevented from habilitating, a prerequisite for teaching in German universities, because she was Jewish. She worked for some time researching anti-Semitism before being interrogated by the Gestapo, and thereupon fled Germany for Paris. There she met and befriended the literary critic and Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin, her first husband's cousin. While in France, Arendt worked to support and aid Jewish refugees. She was imprisoned in Camp Gurs but was able to escape after a couple of weeks.
However, with the German military occupation of northern France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps, even by the Vichy collaborator regime in the unoccupied south, Arendt was forced to flee France. In 1940, she married the German poet and Marxist philosopher Heinrich Blücher, by then a former Communist Party member.
In 1941, Arendt escaped with her husband and her mother to the United States with the assistance of the American diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, who (illegally) issued life-saving visas to her and around 2500 other Jewish refugees, and an American, Varian Fry, who paid for her travels and helped in securing these visas. Arendt then became active in the German-Jewish community in New York. From 1941 to 1945, she wrote a column for the German-language Jewish newspaper, Aufbau. From 1944, she directed research for the Commission of European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction and traveled frequently to Germany in this capacity.
After World War II she returned to Germany and worked for Youth Aliyah, an organization that had saved thousands of children from the Holocaust. She became a close friend of Karl Jaspers and his Jewish wife, developing a deep intellectual friendship with him and began corresponding with Mary McCarthy.
In 1950, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Arendt served as a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University and Northwestern University. She also served as a professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, as well as at The New School in New York City, and served as a fellow on the faculty at Yale University and Wesleyan University in the Center for Advanced Studies (1961–1962,1962–1963).
At Princeton, she became the first woman appointed to a full professorship, a decade prior to that university's first admission of female students (1969).
She died at age 69 in 1975, and was buried at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where her husband taught for many years.
Arendt was instrumental in the creation of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford University. She wrote a letter to the then president of Stanford University to convince the university to enact Mark Mancall's vision of a residentially-based humanities program.