Vol. 6 | The Modern Challenge to Tradition | Editorial Introduction

Editors’ Afterword: Ins Endlose geraten

I. Eine Art Buch

In a letter to Kurt Blumenfeld, written on November 16, 1953, Hannah Arendt says that for her, to write a book means “mich freiwillig ins Gefängnis begeben.” She goes on to describe rather extensively what she is working on and what difficulties she has met along her way: “ich hatte vor, eine kleine Studie über Marx zu schreiben, aber, aber — Sobald man Marx anfaßt, merkt man, daß man gar nichts machen kann, ohne sich um die gesamte Tradition der politischen Philosophie zu kümmern. […] Augenblicklich bemühe ich mich immer noch, die Sache irgendwie abzukürzen, wenigstens im äußeren Sinn. Ich will unter gar keinen Umständen wieder ein dickes Buch schreiben. Es paßt mir einfach nicht.” (ABlf, 95-96) In the end the book turned out neither thick nor thin; in the end there was no book. At a certain point Arendt emerged from this “Gefängnis” and turned to other projects. After extraordinarily productive months and years:1 In her papers we find approximately 550 typed pages that belong in this context, among them finished essays, drafts of chapters, shorter and longer fragments — mostly undated and without a title — , as well as both brief notes and detailed texts for lectures. Arendt reworked five of the typescripts for publication in 1953 /54; all the rest remained unpublished.

Looking back from the present day at the archival remains from this period, it has not been an easy task to determine just which of Arendt’s papers belong to the project that Arendt defined in the Blumenfeld letter as an encounter with the “gesamte Tradition der politischen Philosophie.” The integrity of that project did not comprehend everything she wrote between fall 1952 and spring 1954; only those texts that exhibit close ties to this encounter with Marx and the tradition, this “Auffassung” that exposes the whole of Western political thought, belong to it. It was even more difficult to find an appropriate structure for all this work. The tripartite arrangement this edition adopts is an attempt to show the extent to which this theoretical complex changed during these years. Arendt was writing a book that did not remain constant, was working in a field of reflection that she would restructure time and again. In a first stage (ending in the summer of 1953) Arendt isolated questions that she debated with critics and contemporaries.2 In the second (through the end of 1953), she worked simultaneously on lectures and chapters for her book; sometimes she reworked a chapter for a lecture, sometimes a lecture for a chapter. These typescripts are therefore palimpsests preserving two quite distinct representational strategies. In a third phase (through fall 1954), she composed and polished extended essays that she did not, for some reason, publish.

The editorial goal was thus not to reconstruct an unfinished book from the incomplete components that have come down to us. Rather, the editors have tried to excavate the many pathways Arendt explored during this time as she reflected upon the shattered tradition of political philosophy in Europe. We cannot speak of a “development” through these pages. Even when certain tropes are abandoned, as for example when she stops speaking of a “great tradition” of European political philosophy, Arendt’s writing here is characterized by a perennial gesture of starting over.

The initial phase of Arendt’s work was oriented toward a planned a book on Totalitarian Elements in Marxism, a more detailed examination of Stalin’s Bolshevik totalitarianism along the lines of her historical appraisal of Hitler’s Nazism in her recently published Origins of Totalitarianism. She applied to the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for a grant to write this book, a grant she received in April 1952. At the time she was already in Europe, where she travelled for several months, visiting friends, delivering lectures, and researching in libraries. She composed “Ideologie und Terror,” and at the same time her doubts about the shape of her intended book seem to have grown.

By January 1953, when Arendt, back in New York, reapplied to the Guggenheim Foundation for an extension of the grant, her project had taken on a quite different character. It was no longer centered on Marxism as a political movement but rather on the question of Marx’s own situation in the history of Western political thinking: “The first chapters grew under my hand as my inquiry into the past deepened,” Arendt wrote to the Guggenheim committee. “They may seem to have taken me far afield; but I think that unless one realizes how much the modern world, after the political revolutions of the 18th and the industrial revolution of the 19th centuries, has changed the entire balance of human activities, one can hardly understand what happened with the rise of Marxism and why Marx’s teachings, nourished by the great tradition as it was, could nevertheless be used by totalitarianism. You will see from the chapters which I am submitting that I explain first the particular difficulties of understanding which the rise of the totalitarian systems has brought with it. From there, I go on to a preliminary examination of the Great Tradition in order to find the precise point on which it broke. I show this in a first analysis of Marx in the second chapter. In order to present concretely what actually distinguished the totalitarian forms of government from all others which we have known in history, I then go, in chapter 3 on Law and Power, to an examination of these two conceptual pillars of all traditional definitions of forms of government. This chapter ends with an analysis of Montesquieu, who provides me with the instruments of distinguishing totalitarianism from all — even the tyrannical — governments of the past.”3 In her exposé Arendt provides no title for the book, but suggests a general structure for the project. Submitted along with her reapplication letter are what she calls chapters: one, two, and four. Only the last with a title. The editors suppose that chapter one may well have been “On the Nature of Totalitarianism: An Essay in Understanding.” Chapter two — which did not survive intact — discussed the role Karl Marx played in “the great tradition” of political thinking.4 Chapter four was the essay “Ideologie und Terror” / “Ideology and Terror,” which would appear in print in three different versions in the months to come. Arendt names one more chapter, “Law and Power,” that she did not include with the application.5 The reapplication letter continues: “These opening chapters will eventually comprise 140 pages (or about 50 000 words). They will contain an examination of the most important political concepts of the past together with a confrontation of what happened to them within the totalitarian systems. (Law and power become ideology and terror, etc.) What I am submitting to you is a second, but not a final draft; it is not annotated though references are usually given.”

Arendt’s attempt to structure her book exposes a dilemma: In reapplying to the foundation that had already endorsed her original project she could not stray too far beyond the parameters of Totalitarian Elements of Marxism, even though the emphasis had shifted and this question no longer held center stage. At the same time, she had accepted an invitation from Princeton University to deliver a series of lectures for the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism in the fall of 1953, which she intended to use to formulate conclusively her new ideas.6 The description in her reapplication letter to the Guggenheim Foundation therefore combines both: aspects of the old project, slightly modified, as well as a draft of a new project that was moving in quite a different direction.

On April 20,1953, the Guggenheim Foundation rejected Arendt’s reapplication. In the months to follow, she worked out an essay titled “Understanding and Politics,” which derived from the “Guggenheim” chapter “On the Nature of Totalitarianism: An Essay in Understanding,” and shortly afterward wrote “Religion and Politics,” first as a lecture at the Harvard Summer School, then as a publication. That summer she did not travel to Europe, but worked on her book at home. She relocated to Palenville, a resort town in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City in July, where she composed at least three texts: “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought: The Broken Thread of Tradition,” a draft for the first Princeton lecture; “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought. The modern Challenge to Tradition,” a draft of a chapter; and one more chapter draft of which we do not have the beginning.7 In two letters, both written on August 16, 1953, Arendt gives her vastly expanded project a title: “Ich bin sehr in Arbeit, schreibe eine Art Buch, scheint mir, the modern challenge to tradition” (to Gershom Scholem in Jerusalem, AScho, 385).8 After her return to New York City in early September, Arendt reworked “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought. The modern Challenge to Tradition” and at the same time wrote at least one more chapter on which she intended to base her lectures to the Gauss Seminar. We suppose that this chapter — we are calling it the First New York Fragment — was more or less finished when the seminars started in October. Two pages of this chapter that Arendt used for the first lecture have survived among the lecture fragments, as well as other longer parts that she integrated into her presentations in the following meetings. In all likelihood Arendt did not use the last six pages of this section of the chapter for her lectures, which is why they have survived among the fragments. She may well have discarded those pages because after the third or forth meeting in Princeton she had decided to compose another chapter, one we are calling the Second New York Fragment, which then came to underlie the later sessions of her seminars. To summarize: Arendt never wrote the Gauss lectures as a continuous text, even though these presentations were for her — as the correspondences clearly show — of the greatest importance.

In the second half of 1953 Arendt wrote at least two hundred pages, but she distilled only one publication out of this flow of productivity: “Tradition and the Modern Age,” published by Partisan Review in January 1954. As the typescript demonstrates, she integrated only a very few pages of the Princeton texts into this essay, as well as one or two passages taken out of much older texts. But the rest of the essay is new.9 This was not the last time that Arendt would start all over again: “Philosophy and Politics,” a long essay on which she based her lectures at Notre Dame in March 1954, was also written “from scratch” and is not a montage of older work. The same holds true for “Concern with Politics,” a lecture for the yearly meeting of the American Political Science Association in September 1954. Arendt’s correspondence suggests that the Princeton lectures provided her with material for a further essay she attempted to publish between March and June / July 1954. “Philip Rahv was here and left me your manuscript,” Mary McCarthy writes to her on August 10, 1954, “which I’ve been reading and which I find not only very alive, like all your articles, but curiously pertinent to this topic that’s oppressing me” (AMcC, 19). Rahv was the publisher of Partisan Review, and in her answer to McCarthy on August 20, 1954, Arendt identifies the article as “the essay on History.” “All this are odds and ends and I publish them maybe for no good reason” (AMcC, 26). But no typescript of such a text has come down to us, though it may have been a preliminary version of “History and Immortality,” which appeared in that magazine three years later, in 1957.10 In the letter to McCarthy Arendt also reveals her attitude toward the larger book on which she had been working. “At the moment, translating the old book [i. e. OT] into German, I am unhappy and impatient to get back to what I really want to do — if I can do it” (AMcC, 26). Though she pursued her great project a while longer, these were the last texts that she produced in this context.

In April and May 1954 Arendt drafted two attempts to structure the book. One can be found in the Denktagebuch, the other in a letter to Martin Heidegger. As she had in the Guggenheim reapplication fifteen months earlier, Arendt still planned to divide the book into three large sections, but both of these drafts reflect how much her conceptions had altered after she had delivered the lecture series at Princeton and Notre Dame: “Buch: Eventuell drei Essays: Staatsformen — Vita activa — Philosophie und Politik. Im 1. Polis, römische Republik etc. inklusive Montesquieu und Ableitung des Herrschaftsbegriffs. Auch Ideologie und Terror. — 2. Arbeiten, Animal laborans, Herstellen, Homo faber, Handeln. Moderne Gesellschaft als Arbeits- (und nicht Produktions-)Gesellschaft. — 3. Philosophie und Politik. Inklusive ‘common sense’ (Hobbes) und Geschichte als ‘Ersatz’ der Polis.” (DT, 482-483) Like her earlier letters to Blumenfeld and Scholem, Arendt’s description envisions a “Buch,” not an academic monograph. She wants to combine “Essays,” a genre of experimental theoretical writing, into series of attempts or experiments, texts that do not present settled knowledge but are meant to open questions. As in the Second New York Fragment, she intends to begin with the history of forms of government that came to an end with the advent of totalitarianism. With “Philosophie und Politik” as the final chapter, she sketches this history from a different perspective: What is the site for reflecting on politics, and what are the historical experiences that such reflections can and must take up?

In her letter to Heidegger, Arendt expands on this structure: “Seit etwa drei Jahren versuche ich an drei Sachen heranzukommen, die vielfach miteinander verbunden sind. 1. Von Montesquieu ausgehend eine Analyse der Staatsformen mit der Absicht, dahinter zu kommen, wo der Begriff der Herrschaft in das Politische eingedrungen ist (‘in jedem Gemeinwesen gibt es Herrscher und Beherrschte’) und wie sich jeweils verschieden der politische Raum konstituiert. – 2. Vielleicht von Marx einerseits und Hobbes andererseits ausgehend, eine Analyse der grundverschiedenen Tätigkeiten, die von der vita contemplativa aus gesehen in den einen Topf der vita activa gewöhnlich geworfen wurden: also Arbeiten – Herstellen – Handeln, wobei Arbeiten und Handeln am Modell des Herstellens verstanden wurden: die Arbeit wurde ‘produktiv’ und das Handeln im Mittel-Zweck-Zusammenhang interpretiert. (Dies könnte ich nicht, wenn ich es kann, ohne das, was ich in der Jugend bei Dir gelernt habe.) – Und 3. vom Höhlengleichnis (und Deiner Interpretation) ausgehend eine Darstellung des traditionellen Verhältnisses von Philosophie und Politik, eigentlich die Stellung von Plato und Aristoteles zur Polis als die Grundlage aller politischen Theorie. (Entscheidend scheint mir, daß Plato das agathon [ἀγαθόν] zur höchsten Idee macht – und nicht das kalon [καλόν]; ich glaube aus ‘politischen’ Gründen.)” (AHei, 145-146)

In the summer of 1954, Arendt decided to include “Ideologie und Terror” in the German version of the book on totalitarianism, thereby ending this phase of work on her book on the Modern Challenge to Tradition. “Ideologie und Terror” is the only text that appears in all her attempts to structure that project. Her decision to use this essay to conclude Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft, therefore, signals that by the time Arendt was preparing that German text, she was searching for new ways of thinking that required different representational strategies. She still had plans to write a “Buch über politische Theorien,” titled in this phase, Amor Mundi.11 Yet nothing remains of this putative book. In April 1956, Arendt was invited to a lecture series at the University of Chicago,12 and these talks became the statement she would rework over the ensuing two years to create The Human Condition (1958). Though she conceded to Jaspers that she found the cost of this perspectival shift high: she “mußte das Verhältnis von Philosophie und Politik, das mir eigentlich noch mehr am Herzen liegt, [gründlich vergessen].”13 Looking back, we can say that Arendt’s thematic complex went through five very different stages: (1) Totalitarian Elements in Marxism, (2) a book on the “Great Tradition,” (3) The Modern Challenge to Tradition, (4) the book she outlined in her Denktagebuch and to Heidegger, and (5) Amor Mundi. This volume documents the middle three of these stages. The first stage still falls within the horizon of her books on totalitarianism, and the corresponding texts will be presented in that context. The last stage, Amor Mundi, while clearly documented in her correspondence, produced no more actual texts that could be classified as “politische Theorien,” or none that have survived.

II. The Arendt Papers

A casual note preserved in Arendt’s correspondence gives us an important insight into what the collection of typescripts, notes, galleys, etc. in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, contains. For it is at first glance astonishing that their author apparently carefully organized and sedulously saved her complete correspondence, but left her typescripts in a chaotic and fragmentary condition. Much there is missing. No drafts of The Human Condition or On Revolution; not much preliminary material from Between Past and Future or her later books survives. The casual note just mentioned accompanied a package that Alexander Morin, Hannah Arendt’s reader at the University of Chicago Press, sent on August 20, 1958, together with the typescript of The Human Condition. The note asks Arendt to confirm receipt of the typescript, which she does with the following handwritten remark: “But why? I threw it into the wastebasket.” Morin answered promptly: “Routine is routine is routine. But you are too modest; you have written a great book, and the ms is of great intellectual value. Better we should have kept it.”14 Arendt’s readers can only agree that this typescript would have been “of great intellectual value,” like all the others that probably ended in the wastebasket beside it. In archiving her work, as opposed to her letters, Hannah Arendt did not aim to preserve a record of her efforts. For the most part, once a project was completed, she discarded the typescripts and galleys. What she kept were working papers, formulations that might still prove useful in the future. This is why the texts gathered in this volume survived at all: the project for which they were composed was never completed.

We do not know how Arendt organized her working papers while they were still in her New York apartment. After her death, they were reorganized by others at least twice: The first time before they had left her apartment, where many, many sheets of paper were stamped with numbers and microfilmed; the second time, when her papers were removed to the LOC. The microfilms produced by the first reorganization, housed today in the University of Memphis’ library, proved no help in revealing Arendt’s original ordering.15 Fifteen of the original sixteen films survive, but even without the missing microfilm, we get a clear impression of the cataloging process. These films do not preserve Arendt’s archival system, whatever it might have been. Rather, they record the chaos that the filming itself produced. One of the reels, for example, starts with “Von Hegel zu Marx,” continues with stories and poems Arendt wrote as a teenager in Königsberg, and proceeds to “Philosophy and Politics,” with notes and excerpts. It is obvious that all the convolutes selected to be filmed — among them many correspondences — were hastily chosen. The disorder this first cataloging left behind was then restructured by the LOC according to their own archival rules. Arendt’s original ordering is thus irretrievably lost.

In the LOC archive, most of the texts we present are to be found under the heading: “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought,” subdivided there into a “first” and a “second draft.” As we show in our commentaries to the texts, this structure does not survive the philological investigation of these papers. The fragment “Law and Power,” for instance, which was filed with the “first draft,” is older than the other texts in this convolute; we assume that it was written much earlier, before the summer of 1953. To the texts of the “second draft” we added two that the LOC has filed with the “first draft”: “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought. A modern Challenge to Tradition” and “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought: The Broken Thread of Tradition.” Yet “Tradition and the Modern Age,” which has also been filed as part of the drafts of the Gauss seminars, is in fact an essay Arendt composed shortly after the Princeton event. We have therefore removed it from this context. Further fragments that belong to the thematic complex of this volume were found in the “Miscellany – Fragments” folder at the end of the “Speeches and Writings” category, as well as among the paralipomena to Between Past and Future. The editors were able to match these fragments to longer surviving texts. Of the many hundreds of pages Arendt wrote in these months between 1952 and mid-1954, the editors have chosen roughly 550 pages that appear closely associated with the Modern Challenge to Tradition project, which the Library of Congress archived either in the “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought” folders, or under the individual titles of the texts. To assist readers who may wish to locate the pages in the Library of Congress archive, the editors’ commentaries to the individual texts indicate where in that arrangement the typescripts have been filed.

III. The Library

It was an impressive “Bibliothek”16 that arrived in Hannah Arendt’s New York apartment in the spring of 1950. Nine boxes had survived the war in Paris, where they had been stored with Quaker humanitarians. Fellow French exile Anne Weil, a childhood friend from her Königsberg days, organized the return.17 A ship from the Cunard Line brought first editions and canonical versions of classic texts across the Atlantic: Plato and Aristotle in Immanuel Bekker’s editions from the first decades of the 19th century; Montesquieu’s De L’Esprit des lois in a five-volume edition from 1803, Kant in the imposing Akadamieausgabe, as well as in Bruno Cassirer’s edition, Hegel edited by Georg Lasson and Johannes Hoffmeister, Nietzsche in Kröner’s portable edition, and more. Arendt it seems had begun early in her student years to assemble philologically credible editions of these monumental works in their original languages. Now the shelves of her study in the new world held the carefully curated tradition of European philosophical and political thought. Unfortunately, the library has not survived intact; individual volumes of the larger editions are missing, as well as multi-volume editions from which she frequently cites. It is inconceivable that Arendt would not have had the first edition of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, yet all the current collection contains is a postwar edition on bad paper from 1949. Many of Jaspers’ publications from before 1933 are not there, either.18 Bard College, to whom Arendt bequeathed her books, received only part of the library.19 Having reacquired her books, Arendt set out to read them. But she read them differently from before. Countless underlinings, marginalia, and notes on the endpapers show how thoroughly she studied these texts. That these traces of her reading date from the 1950s is shown by her Denktagebuch: passages she quotes there have been underlined in the books; marginal notes are developed more fully in its pages. The reading notes make clear that the texts of the “great tradition” had mutated in their journey across the Atlantic. They offered no simple answers to the questions Arendt was now asking. She was compelled, as the Denktagebuch also reveals, to return to the beginnings of political theorizing in Greek antiquity: first Plato’s Politicos, then Nomoi. In May 1952 she read Politeia during her European travels, (which is why she did not use the gross octavo Bekker edition but a more portable single volume). In 1953 she continued her reading: in March returning to Nomoi, in May the Phaedo, in June the Gorgias, and in September, as she worked on her texts for the Gauss seminars, Theaitetos and Politeia. Plato stands at the start, but even this extended course of reading shows that Arendt by no means followed a chronological path from author to author. In the years that she worked through Plato’s writings, she pulled many another neighboring book from her shelves. In the early months it was Hegel’s Rechtsphilosophie as well as Nietzsche’s Wille zur Macht, (noting in her Denktagebuch which edition of this latter she worked with: “Kröner 1930” [DT, 107]). The position of philosophers toward politics, one of the guiding threads of her reading, brought her soon enough to Aristotle, first the Politics, then the Nicomachean Ethics. Her study brought together widely differing authors: Montesquieu’s De L’esprit des lois met up with Hegel’s lectures on the History of Philosophy. Kant’s “Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt aber nicht für die Praxis” — “Cassirer Ausgabe, vol. VI” (DT, 163) — was read together with “Zum ewigen Frieden”. Ref- erences to these two Kantian texts appear in many of the fragments of the Modern Challenge to Tradition. Arendt also noted which edition of Cicero she studied: “De re publica. Ed. Karl Büchner, 1952” (DT, 250), a gift from Karl Jaspers, as she noted on the flyleaf of the book itself.20 An author new to her library, then, and a text that Arendt had not read before. Since Arendt wrote mostly in English during the time she read these works, her remarks in the Greek and Latin classics are most frequently in English. Montesquieu, as well, she annotated in this language. Not so the German-language texts, however. Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche have marginal comments in German. Quite different her reading of the texts of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The library has no collected edition, though the possibility that such books might have disappeared cannot be ruled out. Marx first appears in the Denktagebuch with the reading of an essay Arendt does not cite in the Modern Challenge to Tradition: “Debatten über das Holzdiebstahlgesetz.” The citation is identified as “I, I, 266f” (DT, 57) — a reference that points to the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe. Six volumes of this edition had appeared by the time Arendt fled Germany, but her library has only volume V, the Deutsche Ideologie from 1932; a copy from a Parisian library, as a book stamp reveals.21 In all likelihood Arendt also owned the third volume, which contained the Ökonomisch-philosophischen Schriften aus dem Jahr 1844. The Denktagebuch has citations from “Gesamtausgabe I, 3” and “I, 3, 113” (DT, 268 and 274). Das Kapital in the Dietz edition from 1923 is cited by chapter and without page numbers.22 Editions condition readings. While many, many pages of the Denktagebuch testify to Arendt’s work with Plato and Aristotle, Montesquieu, Kant, and Hegel, only a few quotations from Marx and Engels are there, and no systematic readings.

IV. The Denktagebuch

Though she would continue to write in her “notebook,” (DT, 323) as she once called it, until 1973, the vast majority of entries date from the years in which she worked on the texts of this volume. Between 1950 and early 1954 she filled almost twenty of the surviving twenty-eight notebooks. Then one suddenly finds empty pages; the intervals between entries are longer, the entries themselves on the other hand shorter. The mode of work that the Denktagebuch reflects stands in the greatest proximity to her unfinished political theory project. None of her subsequent books has anything like as close a relationship with these notebooks.

“Was ist Politik?” (DT, 15) — the question titles one of the earliest entries; what follows are hundreds of pages of quotations and reflections. Often Arendt does not cite sentences or paragraphs but concepts and pregnant formulations that she distilled from her reading and immediately commented upon. Interpretations that cover several pages are interspersed with pointed remarks, aphorisms, poems or short essays that extend for a page or two. Optically these texts are distinctive, as well. Entries are frequently separated by two horizontal lines, and a new entry often starts on a new page even if the previous page had not been entirely filled. An archive of thoughts that arose in conversation with the canonical texts of political philosophy. In the early notebooks Arendt accompanies Greek, Latin, French, German and a few English quotations with almost exclusively German commentary. Though she was writing her book in English, her archive of thoughts unfolded in her native tongue.

At times the Denktagebuch served another function: it became a portable archive. Arendt wrote to Jaspers on January 25, 1952: “Ich freue mich so auf Basel. Und während ich mich freue (und Zeit zu Freude haben), lese ich Kant und Schelling.” (AJa 212) Earlier she had carefully studied Montesquieu’s De L’Esprit des lois. She needed these extensive excerpts because she planned to write during her journey. Books are heavy, so Arendt assembled a compendium of readings and brought notebook VII, in which these readings are recorded, along with her to Europe. During the journey Arendt wrote a first version of “Understanding and Politics” in which every quotation can be found in the Denktagebuch.

The entries in the Denktagebuch are dated. Yet caution was called for when using them to date the undated typescripts. Her notebooks contain no drafts of anything Arendt later published; rather they could be characterized as a private stage for her theoretical work, where her public performances could be prepared, but a stage that was simultaneously independent of them. Some thoughts from the Denktagebuch Arendt takes up years after she had originally noted them down. The many and various entries that accompany The Modern Challenge to Tradition cannot provide secure dating. The entries provide more of a terminus a quo for readings and thoughts than they do a terminus ad quem.

Only when Arendt’s library and her Denktagebuch are considered together does it become clear how certain theoretical condensations arose between them, formulations that Arendt in one case referred to as a “Diktum” (DT, 350), such as Kant’s “List der Natur,” Marx’s “Niemand ist frei, der Andere beherrscht,” or Nietzsche’s “Werte durch einen Willen gesetzt.” None of these authors actually used these turns of phrase. Arendt’s marginal notes on Kant’s essay “Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt aber nicht für die Praxis” reveal how such a dictum came to be. Beside a longer paragraph in which Kant explains “was die menschliche Natur in und mit uns tun wird, um uns in ein Gleis zu nötigen, in welches wir uns von selbst nicht leicht fügen würden,” Arendt has written the following remark: “Die menschl. Natur qua Natur bewirkt den Fortschritt der Menschheit im Ganzen, gleichsam hinter dem Rücken der Menschen, die immer nur partiell tätig sein können. Die List der Natur (wie die List der Vernunft bei Hegel).”23 In the Denktagebuch, Arendt provides the following commentary: “Die List der Natur, welche den Fortschritt der Menschheit im Ganzen hinter dem Rücken der Menschen, die ‘mit ihren Entwürfen nur von den Teilen ausgehen’, selbst ‘wider Willen’ bewirkt (395): So wird dem ‘Zweck der Menschheit im Ganzen’ … welche dem Zweck der Menschen abgesondert betrachtet, gerade entgegenwirken’, gedient (397).” (DT, 165) Again and again in the following years Arendt would make use of this formulation of a “List der Natur.” A similar tale can be told for other dicta. They arise in a space that the library and the Denktagebuch open together.

V. A Workshop of Thinking and Writing

With the books she had rescued from Europe and with her notebooks at her side Arendt composed and revised her highly complicated typescripts, some of which were written in one go, others reworked three, four, or even five times. Arendt’s “methods” were montage and interpolating passages. Shorter or longer passages, and at times entire pages from texts she had written earlier were joined together with sentences and paragraphs from work that argued from different starting points toward different conclusions. Within a typescript, pages or parts of pages were repositioned from later to earlier in the text, from the middle to the end or to the beginning. Again and again Arendt introduced expansions into her exposition: A first layer of composition might consist, let us say, of six or seven typed pages. Arendt would then add at one or more points longer passages, which she would initially renumber in a way that preserved the original pagination. Thus after a page three we might find a page 3a, 3b, 3c, etc. before the original page 4. In a further stage, she might have found it necessary to expand the beginning of the insertion, so that page 3a would now be followed by page 3aa, 3aaa, etc. Eventually, Arendt would renumber the resulting text continuously. In this way, the original six or seven pages could rapidly grow to twice or three times its original length, with some of the typescript pages exhibiting up to four or five different renumberings. Along with essays that were fashioned from the openings of longer texts whose continuations have not survived — an example is “Tradition and the Modern Age” — there are also cases in which the final pages of chapters have come down to us whose openings cannot be identified. So, for instance, the fragment “Law and Power” begins with a page 41, showing that it was part of a larger work. A further fragment could be identified as the end of a lost text written in Palenville in the summer of 1953, and a third as the close of our reconstructed First New York Fragment. More evidence that the gesture of starting over again characterizes these anni mirabiles.

In the diversity of surviving texts many different authorial approaches can be discerned. In addition to the four English and two German essays that appeared in print, three longer English-language essays have come down to us that she herself never published. Beside fully articulated lectures (“Ideologie und Terror”/“[proto-Ideology and Terror]”, “Von Hegel zu Marx”, “Religion and Politics,” “Authority”) are notes for lectures (at the New School; at New York University) that demonstrate that Arendt spoke extemporaneously when she lectured before general continuing education audiences. Other typescripts show the way Arendt combined her work on the chapters of her planned book with the lectures: In the margins we find abbreviating brackets and arrows charting a more rapid course through the argument, many of which were likely made shortly before their delivery. In some cases, handwritten addenda introduce an oral posture, while the underlying typed passages address a reader.

In presenting these complicated texts, the editors have tried to make Arendt’s work with the library volumes, the Denktagebuch, and the typescripts visible in order to illuminate her intimate workshop of thinking and writing. Our annotations thus do not merely give the quotations from the original sources, but attempt to reveal how Arendt read: the underlinings and her marginalia are reproduced. Many of the passages marked in her books were transcribed into the Denktagebuch, and we have indicated the corresponding page references. What comes to word is a multivalent working process that did not reach a conclusion.

VI. The Gauss Seminars

On April 29, 1952, Prof. E. B. O. Borgerhoff of Princeton University wrote to Hannah Arendt inviting her to participate in the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism. “The seminars normally consist of a series of six lectures, (one a week generally), of about one hour’s length followed each time by an hour’s discussion. Reading could be assigned ahead of time if this seemed sensible. The members of the Seminars comprise selected people from various departments of the Faculty, some graduate students and guests including usually a certain number from the Institute for Advanced Study. The average size of the group is, I should say, about 25.” Borgerhoff went on to specify that “the subject matter of your seminar would, of course, be of your own choice. Our only expectation would be that the series would develop a central theme having to do with some aspect of your work in progress. I should point out that the seminar would involve only your six lectures and your participation in the discussion, of course. In other words, there are no papers to correct; no examinations, etc. The fee for the series of six lectures is $ 1500.00.” The Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism, which have since evolved into prestigious and well-publicized events, were at this time a relatively new institution. As Borgerhoff informed Arendt, “although the seminars have been going on for three years, we have only recently been able to assure their continuance beyond this year by means of a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.”24 Organized out of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (Borgerhoff was a respected scholar of Classical French theater), attendance was in those years by invitation only, extended both inside and outside the Princeton community. We do not know whose idea it was to invite Arendt, but the exclusivity of the venue underscores the stature The Origins of Totalitarianism had already achieved for its author.

Borgerhoff’s invitation took some time to reach Arendt, who was travelling in Europe that spring. In a letter from May 10, 1952, Heinrich Blücher relayed the opportunity to his wife, and his excitement was palpable. “Dear Doktor Arendt,” his letter begins, “wie soll ich meinen berühmten Schnupper anders anreden, Liebste, nachdem Du nun von der Universität Princeton für sechs Vorlesungen 1500 Dollar bekommen wirst und so dennoch etwas von dem Rockefeller-Brocken haben sollst? Obgleich ich den Guggenheim wie dieses Angebot nur als spärliche Nachzahlungen für Deine am Buch geleistete Arbeit ansehe, bin ich fröhlich, daß Du weiter wirken kannst, und halte den Rahmen, der Dir hier geboten wird, für einen der besten hier im Land” (ABlü, 263).

Arendt responded gratefully, as well. “Princeton ist in der Tat überraschend, ehrenvoll und sogar ein Gewinn. Ich werde für Frühjahr 1953, ab Mitte April, wenn das möglich ist, akzeptieren. Dann habe ich reichlich Zeit, dies nämlich muß, wenn möglich, druckreif vorbereitet werden” (ABlü, 267-268). In the end, Arendt agreed to give the lectures a semester later, from October 8 to November 12, 1953, more than seventeen months after the invitation had first been extended. From the start, as her response to Blücher shows, she intended to use them to formulate the central parts of the book she was composing. In January 1953, writing to the Guggenheim Foundation in hopes of renewing her grant, she anticipates that her analysis of Marx “will be divided into 6 lectures and first delivered at Princeton University, under the auspices of the Christian Gauss Seminar of Criticism [sic], in fall 1953.”25 And a few weeks later, to Kurt Blumenfeld, she remarks: “Im Herbst muß ich 6 Vorträge in Princeton halten; die müssen genau eigentlich bereits in Buchform ausgearbeitet sein. Es ist nicht teaching, sondern eine der hier üblichen Lecture-series, für die man königlich bezahlt wird (scheint mir jedenfalls)” (ABlf, 82).

On May 13, 1953, on an earlier letter from Borgerhoff confirming the date of her presentations, Arendt had jotted down a title for her course: “KM and the tradition of political thought.”26 True to their philological affiliations, the Gauss Seminars at this time tended not to be overtly political in the narrow sense, but rather to address philosophical and above all literary-critical matters of concern. Indeed, not literature generally but the novel in particular was a favored topic.27 Though by no means inappropriate in this context, and indeed rather intriguing, “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought” was an unusual topic to address in the “Poetry Room” of the newly-built Firestone Library, where the seminars met.

As the correspondence with Borgerhoff and the staff at the university reveals, during the seminars, which took place over six Thursdays from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Arendt was not in residency at Princeton but commuted each week from Manhattan. She would spend Thursday night at the Nassau Inn after the discussion, and returned to her apartment on the Upper West Side of New York the next day.

In a letter to Kurt Blumenfeld just after she had finished the seminars, Arendt revealed both how seriously she took the engagement and how peculiar the environment had seemed to her. “Ich will ein bißchen erzählen,” she writes. “Vorige Woche habe ich meine Princeton Lectures fertig gemacht. Ich schrieb wohl davon, weil ich mich so maßloß geängstigt habe. Sinnlos und verrückt und, Gott sei Dank, mir dann nie anzumerken, aber doch abscheulich. Wenigstens haben sie viel Geld eingebracht, und auch sonst war es ganz lustig. Nur 25 Leute (mehr dürfen nicht hinein), nur Mitglieder der Fakultät (keineswegs alle!, im Gegenteil, die meisten werden noch nicht einmal benachrichtigt) und des Institutes for Advanced Studies. Unbeschreiblich snobbish und naiv in der Versnobtheit. Ferner: Frauen grundsätzlich nicht zugelassen. Sage und schreibe! Bei der Abschlußfeier und leicht beschwipst erkläre ich den dignified gentlemen, was ein Ausnahmejude ist, um ihnen klarzumachen, daß ich mich notwendigerweise als Ausnahmefrau gefühlt hätte. Die Diskussion war zum Teil auf einem guten Niveau, und die ganze Sache war, was man so einen Erfolg nennt. Ich glaube vor allem für das weibliche Geschlecht überhaupt. Jedenfalls erwägen sie, eine andere Frau für 1955 einzuladen und, Wunder über Wunder sind sogar bereit, mich und selbige unter den Zuhörern einer anderen Serie zu dulden. All dies geschrieben, um Dich zu erheitern” (ABlf, 94).

Of the 25 attendees who crowded the Poetry Room each evening, we cannot identify more than five or six. A note from Catharine Carver at Partisan Review, sent during the lecture series on 1 November, reveals that “both V. S. Pritchett and John Berryman have given me the most violently approving accounts of your Princeton seminars — I’m glad they’re going well.”28 From her 15 November letter to Jaspers after the series was completed, we know that Walter Kaufmann was in attendance, “der mich heftigst angriff — was sein gutes Recht ist” (AJa, 266). And to Heidegger, writing in early 1954, Arendt reports that “[Jacques] Maritain war auch da” (AHei, 146).29 It is also likely that William Ebenstein, a professor of political science at Princeton with whom Arendt was familiar,30 attended the seminars. And there is reason to believe that the English poet Alfred Alvarez, who was living in the United States at the time, may also have been there. In a review of The Human Condition written a few years later for The New Statesman, he begins with the following anecdote: “In 1953 Miss Hannah Arendt delivered the preliminary draft of The Human Condition to that burning fiery furnace of intellectual discussion, the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism at Princeton. At the end of her first lecture she was asked for a brief reading list. Instead of producing the expected handful of articles in learned journals, she replied ‘Plato, Aristotle and Marx. And of course, I’ll also be using Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith’.”31 This certainly sounds as if he had witnessed the remark.

Despite the fact that time has dissolved so many of their historical details, the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism remain an important milestone in Arendt’s thinking, as her retrospective acknowledgement in The Human Condition clearly indicates. “In the fall of 1953,” she writes there, looking back by that point five years, “the Christian Gauss Seminar in Criticism of Princeton University offered me the opportunity to present some of my ideas in a series of lectures under the title ‘Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought.’ I am still grateful for the patience and encouragement with which these first attempts were received and for the lively exchange of ideas with writers from here and abroad for which the Seminar, unique in this respect, provides a sounding board” (HC, 327).

In the immediate aftermath of the seminars, it was their preliminary character that Arendt emphasized. She described them to Jaspers as “was man so einen Erfolg nennt. Ich habe versucht darzustellen, was in der politischen Sphäre eigentlich alles vor sich geht, und inwiefern die traditionellen Begriffsbestimmungen, die ich am Modell der Definition der Staatsformen erläuterte, nicht ausreichen. Alles sehr vorläufig, aber ich bin doch ein bißchen vorangekommen” (AJa, 266). And in her letter to Heidegger in the spring, she stresses how important the lectures had been for her. “Während dieses Winters habe ich zum ersten Mal versucht, die Sachen experimentierend vorzulegen — in Vorlesungs-Serien in Princeton und Notre Dame und einigen Einzelvorträgen” (AHei, 146). The “Definition der Staatsformen” is a theme that appears again and again among the typographic remnants, but Arendt’s insistence that the talks were “sehr vorläufig” and “experimentierend” supports the hypothesis that despite her earlier intentions, Arendt was not able at this time to give her wide-ranging and profound reflections a form she was entirely pleased with.

VII. Arendt’s Languages

In the interwar period English was not yet a language commonly taught in the German Gymnasium. When Arendt fled Germany in 1933 she spoke French well; but only in Parisian exile would she learn the language in which her most important works were written. English emerged for her from desaster. In a letter to Gershom Scholem from 1941, Arendt recounted Walter Benjamin’s final months in France. In the spring of 1940, facing the fall of Paris, Benjamin, Arendt and Blücher had taken measures to escape the looming catastrophe. “Im Frühjahr 1940 traten wir alle schweren Herzens den Gang zum Amerikanischen Konsulat an, und obwohl uns dort einstimmig erklärt wurde, dass wir 2-10 Jahre warten müssten, bis unsere Quotennummern drankämen, nahmen wir zu dritt englische Stunden. Keiner von uns nahm die Sache sehr ernst, aber Benji hatte nur einen Wunsch, so viel zu lernen, um sagen zu können, dass er die Sprache absolut nicht möge” (AScho, 16). Arendt, obviously, came to feel differently about America and its language. Yet the context of political collapse and personal disaster that forced her into English remained permanently relevant to her relation to it. She was 33 years old when she began to learn the language in which most of her major works would be composed, and however comfortable she grew in it, her English retained a certain distance from her native German. The word is Arendt’s. “Ich habe immer bewußt abgelehnt, die Muttersprache zu verlieren,” she told Günter Gaus in 1964. “Ich schreibe Englisch, aber ich habe die Distanz nie verloren.”32 In one sense, that distance coincides with the difference between an idiolect acquired as an adult and the normative standards of proper expression. This is why Arendt always submitted her English texts to the stylistic judgment of native speakers before publishing them, and was happy to purge them of the infelicities to which her non-native syntax and lexicon had given rise.

But in another, deeper sense this distance between Arendt’s native thinking and the primary language in which she articulated and expressed it represents the very space that thinking continually attempts to illuminate. Just as the actual plurality of human experiences disappears into the abstraction of the human being, so the specific densities of those experiences dissolve into the abstraction of a generalized language. Not “language,” but English and German, Greek and Latin, are at issue in her thought. Arendt’s theoretical sensibility is indelibly inscribed in the particular languages within which she read, wrote, and reflected. In an interview at Princeton in 1960, Arendt clarified her relation to the languages of her work. “Ich brauche Ihnen nicht zu sagen, was die große Tradition der deutschen Philosophie ist,” she explained. “Sie hat natürlich zur Folge gehabt, dass es unvergleichlich leichter ist, einen philosophischen Tatbestand auf deutsch zu sagen und zu denken, als sicher auf englisch und wieder etwas weniger, auf französisch. Nun ist die Sache so. Die englische Sprache, und nicht ganz so die französische, eignen sich in der Tat unvergleichlich besser, politisch zu denken, weil ja die politische Tradition dieser Länder eine viel größere ist, und in Folge dessen auch die Tradition des politisch Gedachten.”33

It is thus not an idle boast but an essential characterization of her program of research when she reports in 1953 to the Guggenheim Committee that “I spent the first part of my fellowship year reading over again the great works of political thought, in their original tongues, beginning with Plato and Aristotle; then Cicero and St. Augustine; St. Thomas Aquinus; Machiavelli (in English); Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau; Kant and Hegel.”34 Original tongues — Greek and Latin, English, French, German — are integral to the political experiences to which these theoretical monuments testify so profoundly. Arendt’s concession that Machiavelli’s Italian remained out of reach merely underscores the specificity of the other idioms in her research. The specificity of these languages and the distances between them to which Arendt was so sensitive characterize her own writing. From a philological perspective, Arendt’s stylistic idiosyncrasies are simply positive characteristics of the documents she left behind. Unlike publications undertaken under Arendt’s authorial supervision, there can be no question of “rectifying” or “correcting” the English in which Arendt expresses herself in these pages. Such textual fidelity is implicit in the scientific nature of philology itself. But in preparing these literary remains for publication, with their preliminary, provisional character as drafts of a book that never came together with enough coherence to reach a copyeditor, philological scruple coincides with hermeneutic principle.

Arendt’s Denktagebuch reveals German’s centrality to her reflective processes, but also in its polyglot particularity her commitment to the original tongues in which her historical interlocutors expressed themselves. In contrast to the preparatory work preserved by the Denktagebuch, Arendt’s Modern Challenge to Tradition was conceived, elaborated, revised, and reworked exclusively in English, (and this despite the fact that the seminal text that initiated the project, “Ideologie und Terror,” had been formulated in her native German). This English, in spelling and vocabulary, is American, and as a medium for philosophizing, the distance it preserves for Arendt is initially its relative freedom from connotations35 as she reencounters the tradition of Western political thought. The peculiarities of expression that result, then, must not be too rapidly relegated to the status of “mistakes.” Arendt’s unique voice cannot be separated from the meaning that is ultimately at stake in her work.

The editors have striven to present these typescripts in a fashion as faithful to their original formulation as possible, even where this means preserving sentences that may disturb a first reading. For instance: “Truly human a life is only as long as it is ‘political’, that is neither subject to labor nor to the rules of violence,” Arendt writes in “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought,”36 and it is certainly the case that the sentence would render up its significance more smoothly if its first two words had been placed after its verb. A life is truly human only as long as it is political. Arendt’s version seems to be drawing on the greater flexibility of German’s inflected syntax, and the result, while odd to native ears, puts a distinct emphasis on the crucial notion of a genuine concept of the human, and shows directly where Arendt’s interest lay. Similar considerations arise for countless other apparent deviations from ordinary American usage. Yet beyond any particular justifications that may defend these moments, cumulatively Arendt’s linguistic idiosyncrasies register a recognizable and individual voice, the singularity of Arendt’s testimony among the shards of philosophical universality with which she works.

VIII. The Break in Tradition

Arendt’s book on totalitarianism starts from the question of totalitarianism’s development: how could such a thing have occurred? At the source of the texts collected in this volume lies a different question: “Wie kommt es, dass wir aus unserer Tradition nicht imstande waren, die uns von unserer Zeit gestellten politischen Fragen zu beantworten. Dies fuehrt zu einer weiteren Frage: Was ist Politik seit Plato? und sind die seit Plato gegebenen Antworten zureichend?”37 These questions lead Arendt to problematize intellectual postures oriented toward unity and closure that have characterized the Platonic order of thinking since the trial of Socrates. As an alternative to this order, Arendt attempts to develop an image of the tradition that is in no way homogenous but from the outset traversed by contradictory tendencies. Plato stands at the beginning of this tradition, Marx at its end. Yet in his allegory of the cave Plato himself has already carried out the first overturning (periagogē) of tradition, by insisting upon an unbridgeable opposition between political affairs and the philosopher’s striving for truth. With the founding of Rome and the Latin adoption of Greek philosophy, the cornerstone was laid for the recognition of the Greco-Roman tradition as determinate for the history of the west. The Catholic Church then confirmed this recognition when it based itself on the Roman model of authority. In contrast to this official version of the tradition, Arendt reconstructs alternative and hidden lines of tradition, recalling the political experiences of communities of action and political intelligence, as they were depicted in Homer’s poetry and Thucydides’ historical writings, and which find an echo in Aristotle’s notion of phronesis. Arendt goes on to take up individual philosophical thoughts, the results of her concentrated reading, to which she attributes an as yet unrecognized political significance. Nietzsche’s “animal who can make promises,” for example, from the Genealogie der Moral, whose “Großartigkeit” consists in the fact that “es im Material des Unberechenbaren … etwas Verlässliches aufstellt” (DT, 135). Or the “gegenseitige Verzeihen (das in der Politik Versöhnung heißt),” that “wie bei Jesus auf der Erkenntnis [beruht], dass wir nie genau wissen können, was wir tun” (DT, 338).

The notion of a break in tradition is a clearly determined topos in Arendt’s thinking. She elaborates it in the framework of an encounter with the history of western philosophical and political reflection. The conclusiveness of the break has been brought about by totalitarianism: “Totalitarian domination as an established fact […] has broken the continuity of occidental history. Since then, the break in our tradition has been an accomplished fact.”38 This does not mean, however, that the break in tradition is an exclusively totalitarian phenomenon. Since the tradition can no longer respond effectively to “die von unserer Zeit gestellten politischen Fragen,” a general insecurity has gripped the question whether or not the tradition can serve as a guide through our experiences. In January 1953 Arendt remarked that the consciousness of a break in tradition was particularly urgent after the First World War, “obwohl er noch nicht vollzogen war, insofern das Bewusstsein des Bruchs noch das Gedächtnis an die Tradition voraussetzte und den Bruch prinzipiell reparabel machte. Der Bruch erfolgte erst nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, als er als Bruch gar nicht mehr notiert wurde.” (DT, 300) This asynchrony between the consciousness of tradition and its real validity became clear to Arendt during her studies of occidental philosophical thought, while she had presupposed this rupture in The Origins of Totalitarianism and against this background had posed the question of how human beings could reach any sort of mutual understanding after this catastrophic event.

The asynchrony between reality and subjective self-conception characterizes the three great rebels of the 19th century, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, as well. All three understood their philosophy to be an absolute rupture with the tradition, and the language in which they staged their rebellions was consequently emphatic. Marx, who stands at the center of Arendt’s presentation, writes, for example: “Die Tradition aller toten Geschlechter lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Lebenden. Und wenn sie damit beschäftigt scheinen, sich und die Dinge umzuwälzen, noch nicht Dagewesenes zu schaffen, gerade in solchen Momenten revolutionärer Krise beschwören sie ängstlich die Geister der Vergangenheit zu ihrem Dienste heraus, entlehnen ihnen Namen, Schlachtparole, Kostüm, um in dieser altehrwürdigen Verkleidung und mit dieser erborgten Sprache die neue Weltgeschichtsszene aufzuführen.”39 Arendt demonstrates that the revolutionary language Marx introduces here remains, like Plato’s periagogē, a mere inversion in the framework of the tradition. The drama of the break in tradition, when it is primarily a subjective revolutionary gesture, leads to a misapprehension of reality. Marx’s demand that philosophy be realized is in Arendt’s view no new revolutionary perspective, rather a short-circuit that leaves the tradition essentially the same. For Marx, understanding and acting are one and the same process, as Arendt noted in a December 1952 entry in her Denktagebuch: “Wenn alles Sein in einen Werdens-Prozess aufgelöst ist und alles Denken nur der Prozess ist, in dem das Werden zum Bewusstsein kommt, so gibt es im Grunde kein Handeln mehr — weder als Denken noch als Tun. Diesen Schluss hat Marx aus Hegel gezogen. Die Sätze: Die Welt verändert sich, oder: Wir verändern die Welt, werden identisch. Es ist der Prozess des gesetzmässig Sich-Ändernden von der einen oder andern Seite betrachtet.” (DT, 288) The complexity of reality however requires respecting the autonomy of both sides, that the world changes and that we change the world. In the following formulation from the introduction to The Origins of Totalitarianism, the “and” marks both: separation and connection: “Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous, deducing the unprecedented from the precedents, or explaining phenomena by such analogies and generalities that the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt. It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us — neither denying its existence nor submitting meekly to its weight. Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resting of, reality — whatever it may be.” (OT1951, VIII) “Begreifen bedeutet freilich nicht, das Ungeheuerliche zu leugnen, das Beispiellose mit Beispielen zu vergleichen oder Erscheinungen mit Hilfe von Analogien und Verallgemeinerungen zu erklären, die das Erschütternde der Wirklichkeit und das Schockhafte der Erfahrung nicht mehr spüren lassen. Es bedeutet vielmehr, die Last, die uns durch die Ereignisse auferlegt wurde, zu untersuchen und bewusst zu tragen und dabei weder ihre Existenz zu leugnen, noch demütig sich ihrem Gewicht zu beugen, als habe alles, was einmal geschehen ist, nur so und nicht anders geschehen können. Kurz: Begreifen bedeutet, sich unvoreingenommen der Wirklichkeit, was immer sie ist und war, zu stellen und entgegenzustellen.” (EuU, 22) The critique of tradition is no longer concerned with rescuing the one metaphysical truth, but with a new balance between the imperishable and a “höchst gegenwärtigen Problematik.” Arendt’s answer to the break in tradition is a project that encourages a differentiated engagement with the tradition after totalitarianism, one without false apologetics or banal denunciations. When, after composing the texts gathered here, Arendt turned to the German version of the totalitarianism book, she came up with a phrase that deftly captured these efforts: “Denken ohne Geländer”: “Zwischen den platt gewordenen Regeln des gesunden Menschenverstandes, die keinem modernen Ereignis mehr adäquat sind, und der Verstiegenheit der Ideologien muß der Geschichtsschreiber seinen Weg zu finden versuchen, und das heißt, auf viele lieb gewordene Gewohnheiten und Methoden verzichten. Er muß lernen, gleichsam ohne Geländer zu denken.” (EuU1955, 13) It is this thinking without banisters that we see at work in these pages.

IX. Ins Endlose geraten

“Das klingt auf dem Papier anspruchvoller, als es gemeint ist,” Arendt concluded her account to Heidegger of the vast project in which she was en- gaged. “Um so mehr, da ich es nicht konkretisieren kann, ohne ins Endlose zu geraten” (AHei, 146). Marx’s writings and the abyss of totalitarian government, the ruptured tradition of western political thought, the antipathy of philosophy to active plurality, the problems Arendt explored and articulated in this period resisted by their very nature finite comprehension. Once she had lain the unfinished book aside, the concept of “tradition” would no longer offer itself as a plausible framework for her work. Tradition — a few old books in a private study, claiming to preserve the wisdom of the last two and a half thousand years of European experience. The very quaintness of this notion to our contemporary ears, our inability to conceive of an intellectual inheritance simultaneously true to the past and sufficient unto the day, testifies to the profundity of Arendt’s grasp of the challenge our modern historical situation poses to thinking and living together. The Modern Challenge to Tradition remains an archive of mobile fragments and in all probably could never have become a book of settled conclusions. Yet the integrity of Arendt’s example in confronting this modern disorientation and the suggestiveness of the insights she gleaned in exploring it continues to illuminate the situation that demolished her book.

Barbara Hahn, James McFarland, Ingeborg Nordmann

The bulk of the surviving texts were composed in 1953 and in the first months of the following year.


HA to the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, January 29, 1953. (CO, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.)


It is possible that Arendt integrated parts of this lost chapter into texts written in the course of 1953.


In the letter it reads: “The material consists of chapters 1, 2 and 4. I have omitted chapter 3 on Law and Power because I do not yet have a carbon copy of the manuscript. It consists in its present draft of 25 pages […] Chapter 4 on Ideology and Terror will be published shortly in the Review of Politics. I enclose also a different version (this is not simply a translation) which has been published in German in the Jaspers Festschrift. […] The last section of this on Solitude and Loneliness will be enlarged and both versions combined in order to be incorporated into the book.”


The title of the seminar likely changed more than once; in the end it was: “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought”.


To her cousin Niuta Ghosh whom Arendt planned to visit in India, she wrote: “I am now trying writing a book under the title: ‘The modern challenge to tradition’, and shall propose to extend this by including into my further studies one Asiatic country where one can see best the modern break of traditions.” (CG, Ghosh, Niouta)


Shorter passages taken out of the Princeton lectures were later integrated into The Human Condition.


See Partisan Review, 24 (1957), 11-35. On December 13, 1954 Rahv wrote – most likely about this rather mysterious text: “I’m sending you the partly retyped and revised manuscript of your article as well as all the pages of your old manuscript. Please go through the revised version as soon as you can and mail it back to me.” It must have been a relatively extensive manuscript, since Rahv makes comments on pages 27 and 29. Arendt responded by telephone, as a handwritten note on the letter shows: “By telephone 12 /18” — , which is why we do not know why the publication of the text either fell through or was so long delayed. (CP, Partisan Review)


HA to Karl Jaspers, August 6, 1955, AJa, 301. The DT shows one more outline of the project, written in April, 1955. See DT, 523.


In a letter to Jaspers, HA writes that she intends to write “die Kapitel über Arbeit in diesem Winter […], als eine Vortragsserie für die Chicagoer Universität, die mich für April eingeladen hat.” Ibid.


HA to Karl Jaspers, July 1, 1956, AJa, 326.


See: CP, University of Chicago Press.


We thank Professor Thomas Nenon, University of Memphis, for granting us access to these microfilms.


On May 29, 1939 Arendt wrote from Paris to Gershom Scholem in Jerusalem that “erstens meine Mutter, zweitens meine Möbel und drittens meine Bibliothek angekommen


In December 1945 Anne Weil first wrote about this matter (AFr, 80); it would take four years for the boxes to be shipped to the United States. “Ein Wort in Eile,” she writes in her letter of Februar 18, 1950, “die Kisten stehen gepackt beim Packer. Es sind 9. Sobald Du die Etiketts geschickt hast, gehe ich zu ihm und mache den Transport zur Cunard Line.” AFr, 116.


On November 2, 1931 Arendt thanked Jaspers for Die geistige Situation der Zeit, Berlin 1931, on January 26, 1932 for Philosophie, 3 Bde., Berlin 1932, and on January 1, 1933 for Max Weber. Deutsches Wesen im politischen Denken, im Forschen und Philosophieren, Oldenburg 1932; AJa, 49, 51 and 52. None of these volumes are in the library; the copy there of Die Geistige Situation der Zeit belonged to Martha Baerwald, Arendt’s mother.


Arendt’s library was bequeathed to Bard after her death; see: here.


“Von Jaspers – April 1952 in Basel”.


“BIBLION. Librairie Internationale”.


Underlining and annotations in this volume are by Heinrich Blücher.


Kant, Gemeinspruch (Bard), 395.


E. B. O. Borgerhoff to HA, April 29, 1952. (CU, Princeton University)


HA to Henry Allen Moe, January 29, 1953. (CG, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation)


E. B. O. Borgerhoff to HA, September 17, 1952. (see footnote 24)


Arendt’s correspondence with Princeton University preserves the programs of the prior and the subsequent seminars: The year before Arendt participated in them, Paul Tillich had offered seminars on “Love, Power, and Justice,” Edmund Wilson on “American Literature After the Civil War,” Leon Edel on “The Stream of Consciousness in the Novel,” and Irving Howe on “The Political Novel.” The participants that followed her in the next academic year were V. S. Pritchett on “Comedy in the English Novel of the Last 50 Years,” Sean O’Faolain on “Basic Assumptions of Modern English and Continental Literature,” and John Aldridge on “The Contemporary American Novel.” Ibid.


Catharine Carver to HA, November 1, 1953. (CP, Partisan Review)


>On October 5, just before the lecture series was to start, Arendt answered a query from Borgerhoff’s secretary by suggesting the following people be invited to attend the lectures: Prof. Henry B. Parkes, an American Historian at New York University; Prof. Helene Wieruszowski, who taught Medieval History at the City College of New York; Prof. Moses Hadas, a professor of classics at Columbia University; and Philip Rahv, the editor of Partisan Review. Miss Anne Fremantle, a British intellectual and Catholic convert whom Arendt likely knew through the magazine Commonweal, and who had at the time a Princeton address, was also on the list. We do not know whether any of these people in fact attended the seminars; Arendt’s remark that women were “grundsätzlich nicht zugelassen” and her ironic gratitude that she herself had been invited to attend a subsequent seminar suggest that Wieruszowski and Fremantle probably did not.


On October 5, 1953, Ebenstein wrote to HA: “I was very happy to see that you are going to come to Princeton soon for a series of lectures and I hope very much to have the pleasure of meeting you there.” (CP, Harcourt & Brace)


New Statesman, March 17, 1959, 336.


Hannah Arendt, televised discussion with Günter Gaus, reprinted in: Ich will verstehen: Selbstauskünfte zu Leben und Werk. ed. Ursula Ludz, Munich 1996, 60.


Interview in Princeton, 1960 (excerpted in: Jochen Kölsch, “Hannah Arendt – Denken und Leidenschaft,« Germany 2006, 66 minutes).


HA to Henry Allen Moe, January 29, 1953. (see footnote 3)


In her interview with Gaus, she characterizes her relation to German in the following terms: “Im Deutschen kenne ich einen ziemlich großen Teil deutscher Gedichte auswendig. Die bewegen sich da immer irgendwie im Hinterkopf – in the back of my mind – ; das ist natürlich nie wieder zu erreichen. Im Deutschen erlaube ich mir Dinge, die ich mir im Englischen nie erlauben würde.” Arendt, Fernsehgespräch (see footnote 32), 58.


See here.


Draft of a letter to Eric Voegelin, April 8, 1951. (CG Voegelin, Eric)


See Tradition and the Modern Age, here and here.


Karl Marx, Der 18. Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte, MEW 8, 115.