Hannah Arendt was born into a Judea-German family in 1906 and studied philosophy at the universities of Marburg, Freiburg and Heidelberg from 1924. She was a student of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and Karl Theodor Jaspers, each of whom played a prominent role in German existentialism and phenomenology. Hannah Arendt’s doctoral dissertation on philosophy was “The Concept of Love in the View of St. Augustine”, which was supervised by the German psychiatrist-philosopher Karl Jaspers.
Karl Jaspers was born in Germany in 1883 and graduated from the University of Heidelberg in 1908 with a degree in psychiatry. In 1913, Jaspers wrote The General Psychopathology, a phenomenological look at the experience of mental illness. Jaspers later became interested in philosophy. He first taught psychology at the Heidelberg School of Philosophy and left clinical work in 1921 to enter the field of philosophy.
In 1933, the Nazi came to power in Germany and began a policy of anti-Semitism. Hannah Arendt’s wife, Gunter Stern, fled to Paris that year, but Hannah Arendt decided to stay in Berlin to fight the Nazi. Her arrest by the Gestapo (Nazi political police) and her one-week interrogation led her to conclude that he could not continue to fight the Natzism inside Germany, so after his release from prison she went first to Prague, then to Geneva and finally He fled to Paris, where she continued his intellectual and social struggle against the Natzism in addition to his research activities. When Hitler’s Germany occupied France, Hannah Arendt fled to Lisbon and then to New York.
Martin Heidegger, who was once Hannah Arendt’s mentor and for some time had a romantic relationship with Arendt, took a different path. He joined the Natzism and became president of the University of Freiburg, enforcing the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic policies, including expelling his own professor, Edmund Husserl.
Karl Jaspers was not Jewish, but because he married Gertrude Meyer, a Jew, the Natzism recognized him as “Jewish” and expelled him from the university in 1937, banning the publication of his writings. Despite the threat of being sent to concentration camps, Jaspers remained in Germany until the end of the war and the fail of the Nazis, and after the war in 1948 he emigrated to Basel (Switzerland) and continued to teach philosophy.
Both Hannah Arendt and Carl Jaspers discussed the philosophical and psychological issues of Nazi atrocities after the war. They tried to answer the question of how people surrender to fascist and totalitarian regimes and allow them to commit organized crimes. Arendt wrote two essays: Organized guilt and Global Responsibility (1945) and Individual Responsibility in a Dictatorship (1964). Jaspers also wrote an article entitled “The question of German guilt” (1947).
Hannah Arendt found some common role models for Nazi criminals. One of them was the “cog-theory” model, the model of those who considered themselves just as the executive parts of an organization and obeyed the orders of superiors.
They believed that a job had been given to them and that they were doing their job, and if they did not do it, someone else would do it and there would be no difference! This was the pattern of Adolf Eichmann’s crimes, which I have already addressed in another note entitled “The Honourable Employee of the Slaughterhouse.” Another role model for Nazi criminals was the example of Heinrich Himmler, the commander of Asas (Hitler’s political-military corps), whom I have already introduced in The Eye of History. Himmler’s role model was a “family man”: “He allowed himself to be completely free from the responsibility of his actions.” Such a pattern is abundant in our society today: I am only responsible for my own family!
An alliance between technocrats who, under the guise of “obedient employees” and “fathers of the family”, managed the organization of crimes and “thugs who enjoyed crime and violence” led to the rise of Hitler’s mass murder machine and the burning of millions of lives. I have also written a short article about these thugs in the article “Jung and Fascism”.
In the meantime, some have quietly succumbed to “worse evil” in the face of Nazi atrocities and replaced “personal accountability” with “civil liability,” the same pattern of “we are neither top of onions nor bottom of onions!” Which is also very common in Iranian culture.
In his article, Karl Jaspers addressed the issue of “political guilt”: All members of society are responsible for the way society is governed, and whoever shrugs off this civil responsibility is a partner in the “political guilt” of government.
Hannah Arendt eventually dealt with those who refused to cooperate, surrender, and remain silent in the face of government crimes, even at the risk of death. Arendt emphasizes that these people were not necessarily educated or had philosophical insights:
“The precondition for this kind of judgment is not too much intelligence or complex analysis of themes and concepts, but merely the talent for open confrontation with oneself, that is, the tendency to engage in a silent conversation between me and myself, a conversation that has usually been since Socrates and Plato, We call it thinking. Those who are prone to think, are skeptical, are meticulous in matters, and make personal decisions, acting in such moral times.
If you are interested in reading more in this field, pages 33 to 53 of the book “Hannah Arendt – Written by David Watson – Translated by Fatemeh Valiani – Hermes Publications”
Dr. Mohammed Reza Sargolzaei – Psychiatric
Translated by: Negar Kolkar
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