Heidegger and Hannah Arendt

A movie review of Hannah Arendt, Hannah and Her Admirers which looks at the film’s errors with special emphasis on its philosophical discussions.

To state the obvious: in a film about ideas, about thinking, the quality of the thought—the truth or falsity of the ideas—has to be central. Von Trotta and Katz make as strong a case as can conceivably be made for these ideas, and if the thesis of Eichmann in Jerusalem seems right to you, it is likely that Hannah Arendt will sit well with you, too. Katz told an interviewer that ‘the intellectual goal of the movie for me was that people who perhaps didn’t have a philosophical background [could] read and understand what was meant by this oft-misused catch phrase “the banality of evil.”‘ But Katz has misconstrued the issue. The difficulty is not that Hannah Arendt CliffsNotes are in short supply, but that Arendt’s ideas in Eichmann, and the tone in which she chose to express them, are in fact extremely problematic. As the German historian Hans Mommsen, an admirer of Arendt’s, would put it, dryly but pointedly, in his preface to the German edition of Eichmann in Jerusalem: ‘The severity of her criticism and the unsparing way in which she argued seemed inappropriate given the deeply tragic nature of the subject with which she was dealing.’

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