Monday, September 26, 2016

Hannah Arendt, on Intellectuals:

(On October 28, 1964, a conversation took place between Hannah 
Arendt and Gunter Gaus. Here is the relevant excerpt. 
Note the passages I highlighted):

Gaus: You mean that the shock in 1933 came from the fact that 
events went from the generally political to the personal? 
Arendt: Not even that. Or, that too. First of all, the generally 
political became a personal fate when one emigrated. Second . . . friends 
"co-ordinated" or got in line. The problem, the personal problem, was 
not what our enemies did but what our friends did. In the wave of 
Gleichschakung (co-ordination),* which was relatively voluntary — in any 
case, not yet under the pressure of terror — it was as if an empty space 
formed around one. I lived in an intellectual milieu, but I also knew 
other people. And among intellectuals Gleichschaltung was the rule, so 
to speak. But not among the others. And I never forgot that. I left 
Germany dominated by the idea — of course somewhat exaggerated: 
Never again! I shall never again get involved in any kind of intellectual 
business. I want nothing to do with that lot. Also I didn't believe then 
that Jews and German Jewish intellectuals would have acted any dif
ferently had their own circumstances been different. That was not my 
opinion. I thought that it had to do with this profession, with being an 
intellectual. I am speaking in the past tense. Today I know more about 
it. . . . 
Gaus: I was just about to ask you if you still believe that. 
Arendt: No longer to the same degree. But I still think that it 
belongs to the essence of being an intellectual that one fabricates ideas 
about everything. No one ever blamed someone if he "co-ordinated" 
because he had to take care of his wife or child. The worst thing was 
that some people really believed in Nazism! For a short time, many for 
a very short time. But that means that they made up ideas about Hitler, 
in part terrifically interesting things! Completely fantastic and interesting 
and complicated things! Things far above the ordinary level lf I found 
that grotesque. Today I would say that they were trapped by their own 
ideas. That is what happened. But then, at that time, I didn't see it so 
Gaus: And that was the reason that it was particularly important 
for you to get out of intellectual circles and start to do work of a practical 
Arendt: Yes. The positive side is the following. I realized what  
I then expressed time and again in the sentence: If one is attacked as a 
Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world- 
citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man, or whatever. But: 
What can I specifically do as a Jew?"


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