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

Oct. 18 2019

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


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy