Hannah Arendt: a question of character

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2010 Number 71

Hannah Arendt: a question of character
Ned Curthoys pages -


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.

SORRY - you are not registered as being permitted online access to the full text of this article

You have the following options:

  1. If you are viewing this via an institution or academic library you can ask that your institution takes out a Subscription to this journal.
  2. If you already have a Personal Subscription please login below

    Forgotten your username / password? Click here to locate

  3. Purchase an annual Personal Subscription
    PRINT + DIGITAL personal subscription (£45 / year)
    DIGITAL personal subscription (£30 / year)
    A Personal Subscription provides immediate access not only to the single article you are seeking, but also to all past and future articles in this journal up to the expiry of your annual (calendar year) subscription.
  4. Purchase immediate access to this single article (UK£7.00) - Buy article Coming Soon

To cite this article
Ned Curthoys (2010) Hannah Arendt: a question of character, New Formations, 2010(71), -

Share this