The Three Escapes of Han­nah Arendt: A Tyran­ny of Truth

By – March 29, 2018

While polit­i­cal the­o­rists and philoso­phers have strug­gled to explain the men­tal degra­da­tions that led to the fas­cist gov­ern­ments and despots of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, none have come as close, at least in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, as the icon­o­clas­tic and end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing Han­nah Arendt. In her view, it was the accep­tance of quo­tid­i­an evil by a mid­dling pop­u­lace that led to the era­sure of dignity.

For all her bril­liance, Arendt’s epis­te­mol­o­gy is messy and some­times self-con­tra­dic­to­ry; she was a com­pli­cat­ed per­son — a com­pli­cat­ed Jew — in life and thought. Ken Krim­stein, with The Three Escapes of Han­nah Arendt,does noth­ing to dis­pel the dis­ar­ray that is Arendt’s pur­suit of ulti­mate truth. Indeed, the book is awash in detail rang­ing from descrip­tions of Arendt’s ret­inue of con­tem­po­raries, to Yid­dish proverbs and digres­sions about Pla­to. Told from the per­spec­tive of Arendt her­self, the book is a deep rumi­na­tion into the many dimen­sions of fideli­ty to truth that she sought to uncov­er in humanity.

Krimstein’s aes­thet­ic is chop­py and quick; his draw­ings place more empha­sis on the mind than on the eye. There is a planned uneven­ness here, as if the place­ment of pan­els and dia­logue bal­loons aren’t as impor­tant as what is con­tained with­in them. There is an inti­ma­cy in this process — a direct link from Arendt’s expe­ri­ence, through Krim­stein, and into the reader’s ner­vous sys­tem. It can be over­whelm­ing and, truth­ful­ly, frus­trat­ing. If any­thing, Krim­stein is over­ly didac­tic. On the oth­er hand, the author’s admi­ra­tion for Arendt in all her imper­fec­tions and glo­ries is appar­ent from the first page.

The Three Escapes of Han­nah Arendt leaves the read­er with insight into the Arendt­ian per­spec­tive as well as a sense of its rel­e­vance to the con­tem­po­rary moment. Ulti­mate­ly, its take­away is that we must be cog­nizant to not let dem­a­gogues and oppor­tunists co-opt the demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues that are essen­tial to main­tain­ing civ­il liberties.

Discussion Questions

Few Amer­i­can philoso­phers, or polit­i­cal philoso­phers, of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry are known to be as con­tro­ver­sial as Han­nah Arendt. Known to be,” because those not quite famil­iar with her work, includ­ing her sem­i­nal and most con­tro­ver­sial, Eich — mann in Jerusalem, have still heard some­thing of it and know at least one big thing about it: It was con­tro­ver­sial. And it was — as was the most endur­ing phrase to be asso­ci­at­ed with it, the banal­i­ty of evil.”

So, who was Han­nah Arendt? It’s worth know­ing; and she’s worth study­ing again, espe­cial­ly giv­en her major oth­er works on the ori­gins of rev­o­lu­tion and total­i­tar­i­an­ism that inspired and guid­ed so much thought in the lat­ter half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry through­out Amer­i­can academia.

Pro­fes­sor Krim­stein gives us a vast­ly dif­fer­ent way to study her — from her own voice in the form of what looks like a long com­ic book. But do not be fooled or dis­suad­ed. But there is noth­ing triv­ial about this book. In fact, it is a deep explo­ration of Han­nah Arendt’s own ori­gins,” heav­i­ly sourced and foot­not­ed with seri­ous points about seri­ous ideas and peo­ple. Indeed, we have nev­er seen a book quite like this — as unique­ly writ­ten, one might say, as the com­plex sub­ject it takes on. Jew­ish thought and cul­ture infused Arendt’s com­plex life as well as her com­plex body of work, as did oth­er influ­ences and peo­ple you will read about here. A unique book about a unique thinker whom, agree or dis­agree with her on any num­ber of issues, is well worth bring­ing into twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry thought and debate