Hannah Arendt: a question Of character

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Downloads (Pure)


This essay is about the ethical importance of ‘character’ or ‘personality’ in Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy. I argue that Arendt’s interest in the ‘valid personality which once acquired, never leaves a man’ (Men in Dark Times) is of axiomatic importance in her attempt, after the atrocities of the Second World War, to overturn the philosophical privileging of contemplation and eidetic intuition, and evoke thinking and judgment as quintessentially worldly human activities. By exploring what it means to have a principled character or morally significant personality capable of resisting totalitarianism, Arendt offers an ethical alternative to moralistic and parochial explanations of the Holocaust. On the one hand Arendt eschews the explanatory narrative, recently typified by the work of Zygmunt Bauman, which blames the Holocaust on the instrumental, taxonomic rationality of post-Enlightenment modernity. On the other hand Arendt does not locate the origins of the Holocaust in a Sonderweg thesis which points to the exceptional, anti-modern course of German nationalism and in the pervasive anti-Semitism, romantic nationalism, and authoritarian tendencies of the German people themselves. Instead Arendt’s interest in the ‘representative significance’ of personality, and the disastrous ethical consequences of not having one, reflects her post-war commitment to thinking history and politics from the cosmopolitan standpoint of a ‘citizen of the world’. Arendt refrains from facile, self-exculpatory rationalisations of the causes and significance of the Holocaust, instead submitting that capitulation to fascism is a constant possibility for the great majority of us who do not have a distinctive character which animates and unifies our comportment toward the world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-78
JournalNew Formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics
Publication statusPublished - 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Hannah Arendt: a question Of character'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this