Reconciliation and violence: Hannah Arendt on historical understanding
385 - 416
Modern Intellectual History
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This essay reconstructs Hannah Arendt's reading of Marx and Hegel in order to elucidate her critique of comprehensive philosophies of history. During the early 1950s Arendt endeavoured to develop a historical epistemology suitable to her then embryonic understanding of political action. Interpretations of her political thought either treat historical narrative as orthogonal to her central theoretical concerns, or focus on the role of storytelling in her writing. Both approaches underplay her serious consideration of the problem of historical understanding in the course of an engagement with European Marxism, French existentialism and French interpretations of Hegel. This essay begins with her writings on totalitarianism and her ambiguous relation with Marxism during the 1940s, and then examines her critique of French existentialism before finally turning to her Totalitarian Elements of Marxism project in the early 1950s. Reconstructing Arendt's treatment of philosophies of history helps elucidate the themes of violence and the relationship between means and ends in her political thought, and places a concept of history at the centre of her thought. © 2014 Cambridge University Press.
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