Hannah Arendt’s Inadvertent Warning about the Dangers of Parochial Intellectual Pretension

As a college student in the 1960s, Shalom Carmy first read Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, which had been recommended to him by his rabbinic mentor Aharon Lichtenstein. He found much in it to be admired. At the time, the controversies in intellectual Jewish circles over Arendt’s best-known—and deeply flawed—book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, meant little to him. Although Carmy never lost his appreciation for Arendt’s more sophisticated works, he describes how his attitude toward her changed:

I can put my finger on the moment when . . . I first reacted against Arendt’s attitudes about Judaism and Jews. During the Eichmann controversy, her mentor and friend, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, bucked her up by comparing her critics with the Jewish thinkers who rejected Spinoza’s philosophy. . . . If Jaspers could demonize Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig, the two leading German Jewish thinkers of the early 20th century, credentialed by the best German universities, merely because they objected to Spinoza’s pantheism and his rejection of his people, what about Jews who are not intellectual grandees?

Suddenly, Arendt’s snide disparagement of the Eichmann prosecutor Gideon Hausner as a “Galician Jew,” “one of those people who probably don’t know any language,” and her distaste for Oriental Jews who spoke Hebrew and looked like Arabs, became comprehensible to me. They manifested less a snobbish affectation than a pattern of thoughtlessness.

Hannah Arendt is said to have valued friendship enormously. When [her erstwhile friend, the scholar of Jewish mysticism] Gershom Scholem accused her of lacking love for the Jewish people, her response was that she felt love only for her friends. She was committed to helping her friends and fiercely loyal. It is sad, and it diminishes her, to know that her circle of human understanding was constricted by the conceit of cultural superiority and cleverness.

In this respect, Arendt illuminates a universal human condition. The enclosed fraternity of those who imagine themselves uniquely gifted is a perennial temptation for all of us, and particularly for intellectuals who attach exaggerated value to their parochial feelings of solidarity. Hannah Arendt may not have intended to offer this warning to philosophers of friendship, but we ignore it at our peril.

Read more at First Things

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, Hannah Arendt, Hermann Cohen, Particularism


What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security