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International Socialism, Winter 1962


David Cairns



From International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962, p.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Between Past and Future
Hannah Arendt
Faber. 25s.

This book is no less enigmatic than the other writings of Miss Arendt. It is stimulating, disturbing, in the best sense of the word, and yet leaves the reader in no way convinced by the author’s arguments. Although, to be fair, one should acknowledge Miss Arendt’s statement that the six essays she presents are exercises in how to think and are not intended to be prescriptions.

The six exercises are contributions to the discussion of the intellectual problems created by ‘the breakdown of tradition’ which came just after Marx, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. These men, says Miss Arendt, were the first who ‘dared to think without the guidance of any authority whatsoever.’ In this context she discusses tradition, history, authority, freedom, education and culture. The criticisms one would wish to make of each of these essays, particularly the one on authority, are too detailed to present in a short review.

Each suffers from two main deficiencies – an annoying selectness of material and a disdain for existing sociological contributions to the subjects discussed. Miss Arendt, as can be observed from her other writings also, is particularly critical of functionalist theory in sociology and, like many other critics of this method of analysis, makes herself look foolish in this respect.

It is usually said of Hannah Arendt that the bewildering nature of her work arises from her erudition. Whilst remaining very respectful of her intellectual capacity, I feel it is time that ‘erudition’ was replaced by ‘pedanticism’. Nevertheless her books and essays continue to be essential reading.

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