On February 18, 1953, Hannah Arendt received an invitation from Alan Campbell, the Assistant Director of the Harvard University Summer School, asking if she would care to participate in their upcoming public conference entitled “Is the Struggle between the Free World and Communism Basically Religious?”, scheduled to take place July 20-22 of that year. “It is my belief that, as a result of knowing your reputation and having read your book ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’,” Campbell wrote, “you will have a worthwhile contribution to make to a conference of this sort.” Campbell went on to describe the Summer School program, stressing its interdisciplinary character: “The purpose of these conferences is to bring together a group of experts in a number of fields and have them direct their attention to a problem which the various fields have in common.” The two-day event offered two evening lectures open to the public, as well as two afternoon sessions of a more restricted nature, “in order to allow the experts and a few qualified guests an opportunity to exchange ideas on an informal basis.” The public lectures were to showcase two half-hour long talks, and be followed by a commentator’s remarks relating the two presentations. While the organization of the conference had not yet been finalized, Campbell anticipated “that the first evening will be devoted to the question, ‘Is communism bent on destroying all religious values and must it destroy the values of Christianity in order to exist’? The second evening will be devoted more to the ‘power’ elements in the equation as opposed to the clash of ‘myths’.” 2
In addition, Campbell stressed the visibility of the Summer School conference. “As you probably know,” he wrote, “the Harvard conferences excite a good deal of general interest.” Major press venues report on them, the public lectures are usually broadcast on educational radio, and an eventual book publication was possible. In light of the print-ready text Arendt in fact submitted to the conference organizers even before any contact with the journal Confluence had been made, this prospect of a book publication seems to have impressed her. Campbell concluded the letter by remarking that, despite the conference’s “very tight budget,” the Summer School could offer “a modest honorarium of $ 150, plus traveling expenses and expenses while you are here.”3
Along with the invitation, Campbell included the following abstract of the conference theme:
Is the Struggle between the Free World and Communism Basically Religious?
The seriousness and intensity of the international crisis condition every aspect of life in our time. The basis of the struggle, however, is interpreted in different ways. The purpose of this conference is to analyze the proposition that the struggle between communism and the free world is at its foundation a religious one. There are, of course, two ways of interpreting the religious basis of the conflict. One very usual view is that the struggle is between two opposing ‘religious’ systems; or it may be argued that the free world rests its basic values and faith on a transcendent religious view of man’s moral destiny, while communism has an alleged ‘blueprint’ for the salvation of mankind in terms of scientific materialism entirely within the world. Both these possibilities will be discussed, as well as the other possibility that the struggle in no way concerns religion, but is a pure ‘power’ struggle.4
A week later, Arendt accepted the invitation, and provided a brief summary of her own perspective on the question the Harvard Summer School had posed:
My own position in this question is roughly the following: the struggle between the Free World and Communism is basically not religious because Communism is not a religion, not even in the sense of an immanentist “heretical” creed. Communism liquidates religious institutions together with a great many other spiritual or other organizations; it persecutes religious thought as it persecutes all other free human activities. Communists think and act in terms of an ideology, and ideologies are quite different from religions. The Free World, on the other side, is basically secular; transcendent religious creeds exist within it, but have no longer binding authority for all. From this, I do not conclude that the struggle is a pure “power” struggle. Much more is at stake than political power. The struggle is between freedom and the dual compulsion of terror and ideology. Ideological thinking in which the adherents of totalitarian movements are trained is as great a threat to freedom as the external terror by which totalitarian governments dominate their subjects.5
The invitation was opportune, for Arendt had recently been led to think through the political status of religion and the religious status of politics in her correspondence with Eric Voegelin in 1951, and more recently while reading her friend Waldemar Gurian’s book on Bolshevism: An Introduction to Soviet Communism. The inscribed copy in her library at Bard College documents Arendt’s skeptical engagement with Gurian’s extensive characterization of “Bolshevism as Social and Political Religion.” On the endpaper, Arendt noted, “The paradox inverted: after Marx had called rel. an ‘ideology’, the relig. people agree to call an ideology a ‘religion’.” The Harvard Summer School prompt offered her the opportunity to expand on this idea in detail.
In his letter acknowledging Arendt’s acceptance of the invitation, Campbell wrote, perhaps optimistically, “I should also appreciate receiving a copy of your talk several weeks in advance of the conference so that it may be passed on to the commentator and, in addition, used for publicity purposeses.”6 On June 8, he tactfully reminded her of the approaching deadline. “I would also appreciate receiving from you, at your convenience, a more complete idea of what you plan to say in your talk.”7 Arendt thanked him for the reminder on June 16 and assured him that “I shall be able to send you a copy of my paper during the first week of July, perhaps even earlier, and trust that you will not need a summary in addition.”8 In the event, Arendt sent Campbell her paper on July 8 in a professionally prepared format, with an accompanying note: “I also enclose my paper which, of course, I cannot read in full but shall either summarize or cut down to size.”9
On Monday, July 13, a week before the conference was to begin, Campbell provided Arendt with a detailed reaction to the essay she had submitted. “I have just spent a very pleasant and profitable Sunday afternoon and evening reading your paper for the Communism-Free World conference,” Campbell wrote. “From it I have gained insights into the nature of Communism and, in addition, feel that I understand much better the nature of the Free World and the challenge which it faces.” Nonetheless, he had concerns:
As you mentioned in your last note, it will be necessary for you to reduce considerably the length of this paper when you present it if it is to be fitted into the prescribed thirty minutes. I am personally distressed by this necessity since the paper as a whole constitutes a unity which is unfortunate to have to break. The argument is woven together with a nicety and completeness which, I am sure, will make it difficult to eliminate any sections without doing grave damage to the whole. On the other hand, the argument is so compact and tightly-knit that to summarize may cause many listeners to lose the thread of the argument. In fact, I am somewhat concerned about the difficulty of the paper for the average listener. I say this without, I hope, associating myself with those who claim the average intellectual age of the American people is twelve, but even assuming an average college audience I am afraid that much of what you have written will be over their heads unless it is simplified for public presentation. It is necessary to follow your argument carefully if one is to get the full import of what you are saying, and I fear that on a hot summer evening many will miss a point and then be unable to regain the main line of your thesis.10
The typescript (B) to which Campbell is responding has survived in the Harvard University Archives. This appears to be professionally typed, with a text according almost exactly11 with the longest typescript of “Religion and Politics” surviving in HA’s archive, the carbon copy (A). Arendt clearly kept both the original and the copy of this typescript, using the carbon copy to mark her initial cuts when abbreviating the essay for delivery, before rewriting it as typescript (C), and after she’d delivered the lecture, reworking the original typescript with cuts and additions for submission to Confluence, to produce the typescript (D). The additions to that typescript were produced on Arendt’s travelling typewriter, which she would have been using in Palenville that summer. 12
Given the text Arendt submitted, a reader can sympathize with Campbell’s initial discomfort. Despite the fact that he had reminded her at least three times that the talk should be no longer than 30 minutes, the text is clearly not a lecture but an essay prepared for print, as Arendt’s note acknowledged. Not only is its scale at 24 typewritten pages entirely out of proportion to a half-hour talk, it is subdivided into four sections and, unlike almost any other of Arendt’s typescripts that have come down to us from this time, has elaborated endnotes and detailed references, keyed to superscripted numbers in the text. What Campbell’s letter is trying politely to convey, then, is that the text Arendt had provided was both intrinsically fascinating but generically inappropriate for the venue in which it would be presented.
Arendt responded promptly on July 16. “I thank you very much for your very kind and understanding letter of July 13 whose suggestions are most helpful,” she wrote.
I hope you will raise your objections during the discussion. I agree with them partly especially with the one concerning authority.13 My objection, no real objection, is only that religion has sanctioned many manifestly non-religious attitudes and that its failure to do so even today is not primarily a “religious” failure but coincides with the failure of all public institutions, of which the churches are only a part. The protection of freedom through religion or the churches was, I am afraid, never very reliable.14
While Campbell used his letter to express his agreements and disagreements with Arendt’s claims, the most specific revision he suggested concerned the conclusion of the paper. “I do hope that in your concluding paragraphs you will draw the strands of your argument together again in order to demonstrate your basic position stated at the beginning that the struggle between the Free World and Communism is basically an ideological one and, therefore, neither a religious nor a power struggle.” The abbreviated typescript (C) finishes with just such a summation. “Permit me, in conclusion,” Arendt writes there, “to summarize my argument.” She then goes on to restate her central theses. This, as well as the broad correspondences between the shorter version (C) and the elisions indicated in typescript (A), and a general simplification of her exposition, eliminating a number of references (to Feuerbach, to Kant, to Eric Voegelin), and mitigating any foreign languages, whether by removing Pascal’s French or translating Descartes’s Latin, supports the editors’ contention that typescript (C), and not the revisions in typescript A, represents the text that Arendt delivered on July 21. The revisions marked in (A) are likely Arendt’s initial attempt to shorten her essay and bring it into line with the conference’s expectations, but are not the final results of her eventual rewriting.
That rewriting took place in Palenville, to conclude from typescript (C), which, unlike the original typescript, has clearly been produced on the portable typewriter Arendt used there. This is confirmed by Arendt’s correspondence with Jaspers, to whom she reports that she had moved to the resort town immediately upon submitting the original typescript to the conference organizers.15
The 1952-53 Annual Report of the President of Harvard University preserves a description of the event:
In analyzing the question “Is the Struggle between the Free World and Communism Basically Religious?” this conference produced fundamentally different interpretations of present world tension. The two speakers on the first evening of the conference, Dr. Hannah Arendt, philosopher and author of Origins of Totalitarianism, and the Reverend Gustave Weigel, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Woodstock Seminary, presented conflicting analyses of the religious nature of the struggle. Dr. Arendt argued that communism is not a religion and that there is little likelihood religion could help us fight communism, while Professor Weigel argued that the struggle is intensely religious, a fact which the communists recognize but the free nations continue to ignore. In commenting on their talks, Professor William Y. Elliott of Harvard University agreed with Dr. Arendt that communism is an ideology, but insisted with Father Weigel that Western values rest primarily on religious concepts, thereby making the struggle in part at least religious. The remaining sessions of the conference produced elaborations of these positions, with Pierre Emmanuel, French poet and critic, and Professor Denis W. Brogan of Cambridge University stressing the concrete problems and causes of communism in Europe. Other speakers at the conference were Dr. Frederick May Eliot, President of the American Unitarian Association; Professor Sigmund Neumann of Wesleyan University; Professor James Burnham of New York University; and the Reverend Robert C. Hartnett, S. J., editor of America. Professor Merle Fainsod of Harvard was chairman of the conference.16
In further support of the hypothesis that (C) represents Arendt’s eventual lecture, the archive preserves together with this text a typewritten page of seven numbered notes “Ad Father Weigel’s paper,” Arendt’s own reactions to the lecture by Gustave Weigel that Campbell had at last been able to send her on July 15, but which she does not seem to have kept.17
While participating at the conference in July, Arendt resided at the Dana-Palmer House on Quincy Street near Harvard Square in Cambridge, and on her first day there she received a respectful inquiry from an ambitious 30-year-old German-born graduate student and editor of the journal Confluence. “Mr. Campbell has showed your speech for this Conference to me,” Henry A. Kissinger wrote, “and it fits so precisely into a symposium which we are conducting on ‘The Diffusion of Ideologies’ that I would very much like to discuss the possibility of our using it.”18 In the September 1953 issue of the journal, a 22-page version of “Religion and Politics” appeared above Arendt’s byline.
Arendt’s archive contains a substantially reworked 23-page typescript (D) of the essay “Religion and Politics” that is derived from the original of which the longer (A) is a carbon copy. This typescript has a different (shortened) opening page that eliminates any direct reference to the Summer School conference prompt, as well as rewritten fifth and sixth pages that compress Arendt’s discussion of the relation of communism to atheism at the end of section I and remove from the start of section II an explicit criticism of Eric Voegelin’s characterization of communism as the modern incarnation of an ancient heretical chiliasm. This compression shortens the original discussion by a page, so that from seven on, the pagination of each page of the revised essay has been reduced by one.
The major revisions that Arendt appended to pages 9, 16, and 23 cluster around the subsequent section breaks in the essay, as well as providing a different conclusion. Other addenda on pages 7 and 13 contribute short clarifications of Arendt’s observations on ancient Christianity’s indifference to political freedom in the light of its soteriological concerns, and the tendency of martial environments to promote ideological reductions of thinking.
On pages 10 and 21 Arendt has covered over passages in the original essay with typewritten alternatives. Page 10 recasts her discussion of Marx’s characterization of religions as ideologies, removing any reference to “functions,” (perhaps because this concept is at the heart of her critique of modern social science more generally), and introducing a critical reference to Karl Mannheim’s Ideologie und Utopie. The passage on page 21 concerns the political relevance of early Catholic doctrines of postmortem punishment, and eliminates the reference to the early Church doctrine of Jesus’ harrowing of Hell.
Like the abbreviated version (C), (but unlike the underlying typescript), these added and altered passages have all been typed on Arendt’s portable machine in Palenville. In addition to these typed revisions, several further alterations in the typescript, ranging from emended words and amended phrases to stricken sentences, have been made by hand in ink. Some of these changes (such as the “what” inserted in page 8, line 30) are in both (A) and (D), and are obviously in Arendt’s hand. Others (such as the more consequential amendment of “Communism” to “Totalitarianism” sixteen lines above) are only in (D) but can be confidently attributed to Arendt as well.
More challenging are the handwritten editorial changes in Kissinger’s hand. 19 These include differences of formulation that were not consistently adopted in the published version. Thus early in the third section, where the typescript says of Marx: “He was the first to look methodically and not only with the natural awareness that speech can conceal truth as it can reveal it …” Kissinger has suggested replacing “methodically and not only with the natural awareness” by “systematically at the phenomenon.” In the Confluence publication, the sentence comes to read: “He was the first to look systematically — and not only with the natural awareness that speech can conceal truth as well as reveal it …” adopting one part of the suggestion and rejecting another.
Not all the handwritten adjustments can be so confidently attributed. Particularly the shorter elisions were likely made by Kissinger but might nonetheless be from Arendt. And the example above highlights a further philological difficulty. Arendt’s clause ends with the slightly awkward “conceal truth as it can reveal it.” Though nothing in the typescript indicates a change, the published version has been smoothed into “conceal truth as well as reveal it.” The example itself is arguably trivial, but a careful comparison of typescript (D) with the Confluence publication, while confirming that they are far closer to one another than either of the other versions are to this published version, also reveals considerable differences between the texts. Many of these are small stylistic adjustments, but others are more substantive. The discussion in section I of the contrast between atheism and communism in terms of deism has been entirely rephrased, the opening of section III exhibits many variations, a new section-break (IV) has been introduced before Arendt’s reflection on the relation of natural to social science in page 13 of the typescript, so that the published version has five and not four sections, and an entire passage from page 21 on the ecclesiastical history of the doctrine of Hell has been stricken from the published text.
There were, Arendt’s correspondence with Kissinger confirms, galleys of the essay involved in the editing process, and no doubt many of the changes that were not indicated in typescript (D) were introduced in these galleys. But that same correspondence reveals that the published version cannot simply be taken to have Arendt’s ultimate approval. The revision of the essay was contentious, and in consequence the attribution of the emendations and amendments reflected in the published version not entirely clear.
“Dear Miss Arendt,” Kissinger wrote to her in Palenville on August 10, 1953,
I am sending you today the galleys of your article. I hope you will not feel that I have done violence to any of your intentions in some of my editorial changes. Your article is one of the most substantial ones we have printed since we have started CONFLUENCE and I have worked on it with the greatest sympathy spending a whole weekend going over it several times. I did make a few cuts not because it was too long but because it seemed to me to ramble. I am convinced that the essence of a good article is also to keep some proportion between what one must say to support one’s argument and what might be excellent in itself but what detracts from the main force of the argument. I did not call you to discuss these cuts with you as I promised because they are scattered all over your paper and usually are confined to parenthetical remarks you make — that is, remarks you had originally put in parentheses yourself. The only place where I cut more than one sentence at a time was in your discussion of the relation between deism and atheism which, though excellent in itself, introduced so many peripheral issues that the central argument was lost and towards the end I have cut the paragraph discussing the Gorgias which I did not feel was necessary to your central argument. I have shown your article to a number of people around here, all of whom agree that the few changes have added tremendously to its force. In a few other cases, I have chopped up sentences into smaller ones and in one case, I have changed the position of one of your sentences within a paragraph. May I therefore ask you to do this? Do read the galleys over with as much sympathy as possible. Should you feel that I have done violence to your argument or have eliminated some essential part, simply put it back. But I do hope you will agree with what I have done because I have worked on it very concentratedly and seriously and with much sympathy.20
Typescript (D) exhibits many, but not all, of the changes Kissinger here enumerates. At the bottom of Kissinger’s letter, a postscript confirms that both typescript and galley were involved in the editing. “P. S. I have talked to you since dictating the above. I am enclosing the galleys and your original except for your footnotes which I need for checking here.” The fact that typescript (D) does not have endnotes, though it contains the reference numbers for them, confirms that this is one of the documents to which Kissinger was referring.
Whatever transpired in the telephone conversation that Kissinger references, it does not seem to have placated Arendt. Her response to his alterations of her text was dismissive. “Dear Mr. Kissinger,” she responded on August 14,
I fear you will be disappointed to see from the galleys all sentences which you wrote were eliminated and quite a few of my own sentences re-instated. I now regret very much that we did not spend a little more time together in Cambridge. I realize that your editorial methods — re-writing to the point of writing your own sentences — are quite current; I should have remembered them, but in fact I personally have not been confronted with them for such a long time, that I forgot. I happen to object to them on personal grounds and as a matter of principle. If we had given this matter a little more thought, you might have decided not to want this, or any of my manuscripts, which I would have regretted. But it certainly would have saved us both some time and trouble. As it is, I must even put the additional burden on you to watch that this article is published in its present form, and to insert a few references which I clearly marked in the galleys and which I could not insert because I did not have the original of the notes.21
Though Arendt insists that “all sentences which [Kissinger] wrote were eliminated,” at least one of his contributions seems to have made it into the published text. In the right margin of page 13 of the typescript one can read the sentence, in Kissinger’s hand: “This seems to me the basis for ignoring what the protagonists in the struggle are saying about themselves.” The corresponding turn of the Confluence version runs: “This seems to me the basis for ignoring what the free world and Communism are saying about themselves.”
The contention around the revisions of “Religion and Politics” creates considerable ambiguity when attempting to secure a text with the philological authority “letzter Hand.” Arendt seems to disagree with the bulk of Kissinger’s changes, and yet the Confluence publication largely follows them, reformulating the discussion of deism and replacing the late consideration of the Gorgias with a footnote. The parenthetical tendency of Arendt’s mind, reflected in her fondness for literal parentheses, is much less marked in the published version, which contains far fewer parentheses than the essay Arendt originally wrote. But at whose instigation it is difficult to say. In many cases, “Religion and Politics” as it appears in Confluence must be taken to have the last word; yet in certain respects the typescripts preserve versions that were not merely superseded but were circumstantially altered by venue and foreign editing, and may therefore contain more of the original force of Arendt’s discussion of these crucial matters.
On December 3, 1953, Kissinger reported to Arendt on reactions to her essay in the recently released issue. “Dear Miss Arendt,” he wrote.
We have received some very nice comments about your article, and some not so nice, including a fairly lengthy letter by Jules Monnerot. It had occurred to me that you might wish to reply to him and I am therefore sending you page proofs of his letter which you may answer using the same length as he did. I would require your reply by about January 1st .22
The French sociologist Jules Monnerot’s intellectual career had started among the surrealists together with George Bataille, with whom he had founded the Collège de Sociologie and the secret society Acéphale. But by 1953, four years after publishing his Sociologie du communisme, with its notorious claim that communism was “l’Islam du XXe siècle,” his political sympathies had moved far from their original left-wing orientation. Monnerot’s letter was not the first encounter between the two writers. Seven months earlier, while she was just starting work on “Religion and Politics,” Arendt had found herself in an awkward position with respect to a review of Sociologie du communisme she had agreed to undertake for Commonweal. “I am terribly embarassed [sic] but I fear I must ask you to release me from my promise to review Monnerot’s book on Communism,” she had written in mid-May, 1953, to William Clancy, the magazine’s editor.
When I accepted I relied upon the very high reputation this book has achieved in France. Unfortunately, after having spent many hours with it, I must confess that this reputation is entirely unwarranted. And I do not want to write an entirely negative criticism. The book consists of a collection of bad journalistic articles which [sic] nothing to hold it together — it literally wanders from one association of its author to the next — but the notion that this is a kind of modern “Islam”. What he thinks the Islam is he never tells, except in one short paragraph, whose correctness I doubt. From there on, this description is assumed as having been proved, and Communism is treated as a religion chiefly because the author thinks that a religion reveals itself in its adherents by incapacity to listen to another man’s arguments. In other instances, it is identified with an “idéé fixe” and the author then is completely satisfied with this explanation. Of course, this does not prevent him from finding some other on the next page. Perhaps you can find somebody else who can do more justice to this book. I shall be glad to return it to you whenever you wish it back. As I said, I hardly ever review anything which I do not somehow like; but in this case, an averse criticism coming from me would not do any good anyhow, because people will say that I happen to have another theory. That is only natural.23
This thorough rejection lay behind Arendt’s footnote in section four of the Confluence essay identifying Monnerot’s recently translated book as “a good example of this thoroughly confusing method,” and her wry charge of “blasphemy” leveled at his approval of the possibility of “eliminat[ing] God from religion.” Monnerot’s impassioned self-defense insists on the relevance of a “profane,” sociological perspective on the religious dimensions of collective reality. In her reply, Arendt took the opportunity to formulate in a direct and lively way some of the methodological implications of her “other theory,” situating her own thinking in an existential and not a functional relation to the “historical reality in general” that conditions it. Monnerot’s letter and Arendt’s reply are reproduced below:
Dear Mr. Kissinger:
I am sending you a few brief and very hurried remarks
which occurred to me on reading the article, “Religion and Politics” by Mrs. Hannah
Arendt in the September 1953 issue of Confluence.
Mrs. Arendt (p. 110) attacks those who, like me, use
the term “secular religion” in speaking of communism, and accuses us of confusing ideology with religion. There is only one
way to prove this accusation, and that is to define ideology and religion, and to show
that they are mutually exclusive: that communism must be one or the other, that if it
is not this, it must necessarily be that. Unfortunately, Mrs. Arendt gives neither
ideology nor religion a definition which remains consistent throughout her article.
The two concepts being undefined, nothing prevents her from subtracting from religion
or adding to ideology whatever she chooses. This haphazard procedure is characteristic
of the essay as a literary genre where ideas become like a currency with no fixed
rate: anyone can give it whatever value, or successive values, he wishes. This
currency is, of course, inconvertible, as objects and facts are not expressed by such
In conformance with certain unvarying rules of this
genre, Mrs. Arendt quotes Kierkegaard, Pascal, Dostoevski and several modern authors.
The hidden message, however, is not without its obligations to Marx — in particular
this floating, and too convenient concept of ideology. Marx’s own views on this matter
are somewhat undefined and fluctuating: his concepts of superstructure and ideology are occasionally
interchangeable. Sometimes, “ideology” is one of the superstructures; the others being
law, the arts, and religion. Sometimes, “ideology” and “superstructure” are
synonymous, and art and law are “ideological phenomena.” In Marx’s definition of
religion, it would seem that religion was a certain ideology with special
characteristics. Nowhere in Marx is there an absolute contradiction between ideology
and religion. It is Mrs. Arendt who has decreed this contradiction, but without
In regard to a sentence quoted from my book, The Sociology of Communism (“God is not only a new arrival in
religion; it is not indispensable that he should come”), Mrs. Arendt speaks of
“blasphemy.” But blasphemy is a sacrilege in words. It is only in regard to a sacred
name, to a Revelation, to a Church and all that remains within that invisible and
sacred enclosure that a proposition can be considered blasphemous. But we are reduced
to conjecture regarding the sacred belief in the name of which Mrs. Arendt thunders
retribution. Furthermore, we wonder if this is not a mere verbal extravagance, in
conformance with the prevailing style of the literary essay. One cannot resent a
condemnation of which no one 1 knows to whom or what it is addressed. Mrs. Arendt
feels that in my book The Sociology of Communism, I committed
blasphemy. I know perfectly well that the communists resented the blasphemy contained
in this book, in the name of the particular concept of the sacred that I attacked. But
I am not so sure in the name of what Mrs. Arendt resented it.
In studying the “psychology” or the “sociology” of a
“sect” or “movement” one adopts a sociological point of view which is at once profane
and profaning. This pollution through history, psychology, and if possible, by
statistics had been applied in the nineteenth century to the great universal religions
including the greatest of all. For my part, profaning the profaners, I have applied
this method to communism to which it applies much better and more effectively because
we are their contemporaries. For the “Lives of Jesus” of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries failed in their attempts to profane through history and psychology, they
failed to undo the work of nineteen centuries; by reducing and minimizing the causes,
they only succeeded in demonstrating the immensity of the effects. But historical
truth, applied at the moment of the conception of the myth (in the biological sense),
can help to destroy it. Afterwards it is too late. Such is the significance of my
writings on communism, and not of mine alone. We can act upon history by writing only
to the extent that we are not hurried, and that we do not seek personal profit from
our work. This is the exact opposite of what we might wish but truths are never well
received. This is disappointing, but it is true.
Comparative sociology scandalizes the believer in a
religion by revelation. For such a believer, the word “religion” has no plural: there
are men and peoples who know God, and other who do not. It is scandalous, and
completely inadmissible that Baal and the True God could, from some points of view,
resemble each other in certain formal characteristics. The phrase to which Mrs. Arendt
objects is a sort of axiom which has served as a starting point for the founders of
the “religious sociology of primitive peoples”; they could not have started without
it. These founders have observed among primitive peoples more or less coherent groups
of symbols and practices which, as far as one knows, fulfill the same functions within
the society they help to characterize, as the religious systems within historical
societies. It is well known that not all of these societies permit a personal deity.
Adopting more or less consciously an evolutionist line of reasoning, theoreticians
have called them elementary, inferior, or rudimentary forms of religions, or of
religious life. This axiom, common to the founders of the sociology of primitive
societies, does not apply directly to our society. When Mrs. Arendt writes (p. 119) “…
we no longer live merely in a secular world which has banished religion from its
public affairs, but in a world that has even eliminated God from religion — something
which Marx and Engels still believed to be impossible,” she undertakes a completely
false interpretation. In the Buddhism of the Small Vehicle, and already in the
Brahmanism of the Upanished, thought becomes an active agent, knowledge transforms the
knower and there is the march toward the “living deliverance.” There
is no God, but there are monasteries and pilgrims. This movement rises and
falls, it is born, matures, and fades; and it subsists. Historians, regardless of
their religious beliefs or disbeliefs, generally refer to it as a religion.
Even if one disregards the evolutionist scheme which
the founders of primitive sociology had in mind, the idea of linking all human species
within one field of study, or introducing a sort of continuity between things that are
very high, and things that are very humble, has helped to stimulate the thought and
invention of western man. It is in such a perspective that “higher religion,” the
universal religion, which surpasses, by definition, the limits of a race or any
“determined society,” is the most complex, the most refined, the most advanced, and
the highest form. A glance at the past will teach us that such complex forms arise
fairly late, that they presuppose a series of preceeding trials and errors, which are
neither calculations on paper nor experiments conducted in a laboratory, but dramas
enacted on the scenes of history. When a world has achieved such a complex and refined
form, history shows us that it remains exposed to regressions and resurgences, to the
aggressive return of inferior forms. It is in such a
perspective that the expression “secular religion” — the adjective secular defining
the sense of the substantive religion — can be used in relation to communism, as well
as to Hitlerism. This is theologically but not sociologically absurd.
The typical and militant communist carrying on his
activity among the middle classes of Europe or America always implicitly refers to a
collective and irrational center of attraction. He steals energy from his social
milieu, distorts it, and uses it against this same milieu. The communist is an agent
of the self-destruction of the real in the name of the unreal. His beliefs in the
function of the Red Army or the M. V. D., are not of a very realistic type. Whatever
objections are made against these institutions are dispelled by the famous argument of
the Ruse of Reason. Thus everything wicked is inverted to
become good. What such marxists put above man, they do not call God (They name it as
little as possible, for it is not too healthy to talk of such matters). If one were to
analyze their thought, however, it would turn out to be the Human Species, but a Human
Species raised to an alienating and mystifying abstraction (as the marxists would say
if they were to apply their own criticism to themselves). This Human Species plays the
functional role of a sort of divinity: it is History, Hegel’s own particular
contribution, a sort of debaptized but still recognizable Providence. The
Russo-communist system, or if one prefers, the Russo-Sino-communist system is a
“machine to bring about history.” Man suffers from a separation from himself. The
historic movement will cure him, but only insofar as he is a member of the Species.
The singular man in the system, the individual who is this or that, you or me, is, as
I have written, “the refuse of history.” Every believer must nourish with his own
substance — and certainly with ours — this mythical future. Both communists and
non-communists know that in ordinary life, proof, evidence, and even perception have
lost much of their intrinsic value. The communists have an answer to everything. This
is characteristic of all orthodoxies: a system of ideas which rejects what is alien to
it but assimilates the rest, rendering it completely unrecognizable in the process. By
calling itself scientific, such a totalitarian system usurps the prestige which
science has in the eyes of the masses.
The word “ideology” is inadequate to define correctly
such a reality. Ideology is only a part of communism which one can isolate
analytically. According to marxist thought, ideology is only the justification of a
certain behavior, a manner of thinking created by action in order to assure its
efficiency. Within communism there exists without any further doubt an attempt to ease the tension between feeling and action by taming and curbing the
If communism had nothing in common with a religion, it
would not constitute a problem, neither could it bring about war or peace. The Russian
government could count on no allies in other countries except those it has been able
to buy for cash.
Dear Mr. Kissinger:
Crucial in M. Monnerot’s argument is that he overlooks
the difference between Marx’s statement that religions are ideologies and his own
theory that ideologies are religions. To Marx, religion, among many other matters, lay
in the realm of ideological superstructures, not all things in this realm were the
same; a religious ideology was not the same as a nonreligious one. The distinction in
content between religion and nonreligion was preserved. M. Monnerot and the other
defenders of “secular religions” say that no matter what the content of an ideology,
all ideologies are religions. In this theory, but not in the doctrine of Marx,
religion and ideology have become identical.
The reason given for this identification is that
ideologies play the same role as religions. With the same justice, one could identify
ideology with science, which M. Monnerot almost does when he states that the communist
ideology “usurps the prestige which science has in the eyes of the masses.” It would,
of course, be an error to identify science with the communist ideology for this
reason, but this error, in fact, would contain more truth than the logically similar
identification with religion insofar as communism pretends to be “scientific,” but not
to be “religious,” and argues in scientific style; in other words, it answers
scientific much rather than religious questions. As far as M. Monnerot’s argument is
concerned, only the respect he has for science (as distinguished from religion) could
prevent his seeing that according to his argument there is no reason why he should not
identify the communist ideology with science rather than with religion. The underlying
confusion is simple and appears very neatly in M. Monnerot’s statement that “the
communists have an answer to everything. This is characteristic of all orthodoxies,”
implying that therefore communism is orthodoxy. The fallacy in this reasoning has been
familiar ever since the Greeks amused themselves with paralogisms and following a
similar logical process arrived to their delight at the definition of man as a plucked
chicken. At present, unfortunately, this kind of thing is not just funny. M. Monnerot
complains that I do not follow the current equation methods and do not “define”
religion and ideology. (The question of what an ideology is can only be answered
historically, since ideologies appeared for the first time in the beginning of the
nineteenth century. I tried to give such an answer, though not a definition, in an
article “Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government” in The
Review of Politics, July 1953.) I cannot go into the question here of what a
definition is and to what an extent we may, by inquiring into the nature of things,
arrive at definitions. One thing is obvious: I can define only what is distinct and
arrive at definitions, if at all, only through making distinctions. To say ideologies
are religions does not define either of them, but, on the contrary, destroys even that
amount of vaguely felt distinctness which is inherent in our everyday language and
which scientific inquiries are supposed to sharpen and enlighten.
Yet, while it may be possible to define such a
relatively recent phenomenon as an ideology, how arrogant would I have been if I had
dared to define religion! Not because so many scholars have tried and failed before me
but because the wealth and treasure of historical material must properly overawe
everybody who still has any respect for sources, history, and the thought of the past.
Suppose I defined religion and some great religious thinker — not of course the
worshiper of the kangaroo, whom I could easily take into account — had escaped my
notice! In historical inquiries, it is not important to arrive at ready-made
definitions, but constantly to make distinctions, and these distinctions must follow
the language we speak and the subject matter we deal with. Otherwise, we shall soon
land in a state of affairs where everybody speaks his own language and proudly
announces before he starts: I mean by … whatever helps me and
strikes my fancy at the moment.
The confusion arises partly from the particular
viewpoint of sociologists who — methodically ignoring chronological order, location of
facts, impact and uniqueness of events, substantial content of sources and historical
reality in general — concentrate on “functional roles” in and by themselves, thereby
making society the Absolute to which everything is related. Their underlying
assumption can be summed up in one sentence: Every matter has a function and its
essence is the same as the functional role it happens to play.
Today in some circles this assumption has achieved the
doubtful dignity of a commonplace and some sociologists, like M. Monnerot, simply
cannot trust their eyes or ears if they meet someone who does not share it. I, of
course, do not think that every matter has a function, nor that function and essence
are the same, nor that two altogether different things — as for instance the belief in
a Law of History and the belief in God — fulfill the same function. And even if under
certain queer circumstances, it should occur that two different things play the same
“functional role,” I would no more think them identical than I would think the heel of
my shoe is a hammer when I use it to drive a nail into the wall.
New York, New York
In the upper corners of several pages in (C) are numerals, in Arendt’s hand, which seem to give (if we show tolerance for the errors of a hasty count) the number of lines on each page of the typescript.
Campbell initially envisioned Arendt speaking on the second evening, but in his letter from June 8, 1953, he wrote that “in order to get the conference off to a good start,” he hoped she would speak on the first evening. Arendt thus gave her talk on July 21, 1953. Alan K. Campbell to HA, June 8, 1953. (CU, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.)
Alan K. Campbell to HA, February 18, 1953. (ibid.) The budget must not have been tight as all that, since such an honorarium would amount to more than $ 1,300 in 2017 dollars.
This is thus the source Arendt is quoting in the first sentence of the earliest version of the essay: “The question whether the present struggle between the Free World and Communism is ‘at its foundation a religious one’ or a ‘pure power struggle’ carefully avoids a third alternative: whether it is basically an ideological one.”
HA to Alan K. Campbell, February 25, 1953. (ibid.)
Alan K. Campbell to HA, March 2, 1953. (ibid.)
Alan K. Campbell to HA, June 8, 1953. (ibid.)
HA to Alan K. Campbell, June 16, 1953. (ibid.)
HA to Alan K. Campbell, July 8, 1953. (ibid.)
Alan K. Campbell to HA, July 13, 1953. (ibid.)
An example of the minute differences: A sentence that is in parentheses in Typescript (B) has no parentheses in Typescript (A). This particular sentence is retained in Typescript (C), though an editor has suggested dividing it into two shorter sentences, and in Typescript (D) it has been struck from the typescript explicitly, either by Arendt or Henry Kissinger. The sentence, beginning “There is, however, one condition to this pliability of historical material…” does not appear in the Confluence publication, or any subsequent publication of Arendt’s essay until now.
On the particular characteristics of this typewriter, see here.
Campbell had asked: “You do admit that this abandonment [scil. of transcendence as the source of all values] ‘brings up the grave question of the source of authority of our traditional values,’ but argue that historically authority is not of a religious origin and, therefore, the present crisis produced by the breakdown of all authority is not necessarily religious. If I have followed this logic correctly, I have no argument with it but do ask: Is it not true that totalitarian systems have resulted from this breakdown in traditional values which were once protected by religious systems? I grant you that this does not make the crisis religious but does it not support the argument that it is the failure of religion which has produced, in part, totalitarianism since no other ‘authority’, which admits freedom, has arisen to play the role which religion played?”
HA to Alan K. Campbell, July 16, 1953. (see footnote 2)
“Nun aber schreibe ich erst einmal in Begeisterung über Ihren Bultmann-Aufsatz, der merkwürdigerweise gerade ankam, als ich ein paper für Harvard über Religion und Politik fertiggestellt und fortgesandt hatte. Ich verlese es auf einer Konferenz nächste Woche.” AJa, 257.
Harvard University. Report of the President of Harvard College and reports of departments. 1952-1953. Summer School of Arts and Sciences and of Education, p. 675-676.
Alan K. Campbell to HA, July 15, 1953. (see footnote 2) A transcript of Weigel’s talk “Is the Struggle Between the Free World and Communism Basically Religious?” is archived at Harvard University, (Call number UAV 813.15, Box 7, “Free World-Communism Conference 1953, Speeches”).
Henry Kissinger to HA, July 20, 1953. (CP, Confluence)
The editors would like to thank Dr. Thomas Schwartz of Vanderbilt University for his assistance in identifying this handwriting.
Henry Kissinger to HA, August 10, 1953. (ibid.)
HA to Henry Kissinger, August 14, 1953. (ibid.)
Henry Kissinger to HA, December 3, 1953. (ibid.)
HA to William P. Clancy, May 18, 1953 (CP, Commonweal)