The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (Modernity and Political Thought)

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9780742521513: The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (Modernity and Political Thought)

Interpreting the work of one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt rereads Arendt's political philosophy in light of newly gained insights into the historico-cultural background of her work. Arguing against the standard interpretation of Hannah Arendt as an anti-modernist lover of the Greek polis, author Seyla Benhabib contends that Arendt's thought emerges out of a double legacy: German Existenz philosophy, particularly the thought of Martin Heidegger, and her experiences as a German-Jewess in the age of totalitarianism. This important volume reconsiders Arendt's theory of modernity, her concept of the public sphere, her distinction between the social and the political, her theory of totalitarianism, and her critique of the modern nation state, including her life long involvement with Jewish and Israeli politics.

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About the Author:

Seyla Benhabib is Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University, and director of the Program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.


It is difficult to do justice to the rich texture of Benhabib's argument and interpretation, which is a magisterial dialectic between modernity and existentialism, reformism and utopianism, and fundamentalism and perspectivalism. Benhabib's book remains one of the most stimulating of the recent spate of books on Arendt. (Women's Philosophy Review)

Benhabib's discussions. . . reflect a meticulous scholarship and a deep sensitivity to the texts which is a pleasure to read. (Political Studies Review)

On the now quite long shelf of Hannah Arendt studies, only a few matter. This is one. (Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Haverford College; author of Anna Freud: A Biography)

A brillant, historically sensitive and deeply sympathetic but not at all uncritical account of the entire range of Arendt's thought. It weaves its way through Arendt's personal experiences, philosophical influences, and cultural contexts with remarkable subtlety and ease. Few books on Arendt offer a more vivid and reliable account of the unity of her life and thought. (Bhikhu Parekh, University of Westminster)

Seyla Benhabib's remarkable and nuanced book is the first to give Hannah Arendt's ambivalent relationship to modernity the complex and critical assessment it deserves. Written with force and clarity, this study is indispensable for any serious encounter with Arendt's thought. (Anson Rabinbach, Princeton University)

A strikingly original interpretation of Hannah Arendt that brings into the foreground the significance of Arendt's biography of Rahel Varnhagen, Arendt's concern with Jewish politics, and her attempt to understand the emergence of totalitarianism. This provides the context for a fresh reading of The Human Condition and The Life of the Mind, as well as the complex relation between Arendt and Heidegger. Anyone interested in the recent resurgence of international interest in Arendt and her relevance for contemporary political thought will find Seyla Benhabib's comprehensive and judicious analysis invaluable. (Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research)

Benhabib is an excellent guide to the uninitiated, offering context, central themes, and concise yet sophisticated philosophical analysis in accessible prose. (Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy)

Benhabib's great homage, which makes us familiar with Arendt's thought, has a paradoxical effect: one learns to appreciate the distance which is expressed in this sovereign interpretation. One will not be able to come closer to the philosophical hedgerose, Hannah Arendt (Die Zeit)

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