Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political

Princeton University Press
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Theodor Adorno once wrote an essay to "defend Bach against his devotees." In this book Dana Villa does the same for Hannah Arendt, whose sweeping reconceptualization of the nature and value of political action, he argues, has been covered over and domesticated by admirers (including critical theorists, communitarians, and participatory democrats) who had hoped to enlist her in their less radical philosophical or political projects. Against the prevailing "Aristotelian" interpretation of her work, Villa explores Arendt's modernity, and indeed her postmodernity, through the Heideggerian and Nietzschean theme of a break with tradition at the closure of metaphysics.

Villa's book, however, is much more than a mere correction of misinterpretations of a major thinker's work. Rather, he makes a persuasive case for Arendt as the postmodern or postmetaphysical political theorist, the first political theorist to think through the nature of political action after Nietzsche's exposition of the death of God (i.e., the collapse of objective correlates to our ideals, ends, and purposes). After giving an account of Arendt's theory of action and Heidegger's influence on it, Villa shows how Arendt did justice to the Heideggerian and Nietzschean criticism of the metaphysical tradition while avoiding the political conclusions they drew from their critiques. The result is a wide-ranging discussion not only of Arendt and Heidegger, but of Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Habermas, and the entire question of politics after metaphysics.

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About the author

Dana R. Villa is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Amherst College.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 16, 1995
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781400821846
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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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.

The classics make great graduation gifts. Nearly two thousand years after it was written, Meditations remains profoundly relevant for anyone seeking to lead a meaningful life.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’s insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style. For anyone who struggles to reconcile the demands of leadership with a concern for personal integrity and spiritual well-being, the Meditations remains as relevant now as it was two thousand years ago.

In Gregory Hays’s new translation—the first in thirty-five years—Marcus’s thoughts speak with a new immediacy. In fresh and unencumbered English, Hays vividly conveys the spareness and compression of the original Greek text. Never before have Marcus’s insights been so directly and powerfully presented.

With an Introduction that outlines Marcus’s life and career, the essentials of Stoic doctrine, the style and construction of the Meditations, and the work’s ongoing influence, this edition makes it possible to fully rediscover the thoughts of one of the most enlightened and intelligent leaders of any era.
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.

2016 witnessed an unprecedented shock to political elites in both Europe and America. Populism was on the march, fueled by a substantial ignorance of, or contempt for, the norms, practices, and institutions of liberal democracy. It is not surprising that observers on the left and right have called for renewed efforts at civic education. For liberal democracy to survive, they argue, a form of political education aimed at “the people” is clearly imperative.

In Teachers of the People, Dana Villa takes us back to the moment in history when “the people” first appeared on the stage of modern European politics. That moment—the era just before and after the French Revolution—led many major thinkers to celebrate the dawning of a new epoch. Yet these same thinkers also worried intensely about the people’s seemingly evident lack of political knowledge, experience, and judgment. Focusing on Rousseau, Hegel, Tocqueville, and Mill, Villa shows how reformist and progressive sentiments were often undercut by skepticism concerning the political capacity of ordinary people. They therefore felt that “the people” needed to be restrained, educated, and guided—by laws and institutions and a skilled political elite. The result, Villa argues, was less the taming of democracy’s wilder impulses than a pervasive paternalism culminating in new forms of the tutorial state.
Ironically, it is the reliance upon the distinction between “teachers” and “taught” in the work of these theorists which generates civic passivity and ignorance. And this, in turn, creates conditions favorable to the emergence of an undemocratic and illiberal populism.
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