Before and After “Eichmann in Jerusalem”: Hannah Arendt and the Human Condition

By Kathleen B. JonesDecember 8, 2015

Before and After “Eichmann in Jerusalem”: Hannah Arendt and the Human Condition

HANNAH ARENDT HAS RETURNED to the center of public controversy 50 years after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem. Two years ago, Margarethe von Trotta’s widely viewed film, Hannah Arendt, reintroduced the controversial thinker to the general public. How had a film about a German-Jewish intellectual become “the most talked-about art-house movie of this past summer, and one of the most improbable independent-film successes in recent memory?” the critic David Rieff asked in the December 9, 2013, pages of The Nation. The explanation lay not only in von Trotta’s filmic techniques, but also in her choice to focus the storyline on Arendt’s reporting on the 1961 Eichmann trial and the storm of criticism following her five-part series on it in The New Yorker, released shortly after as the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (based on those essays, only slightly modified). 

Besides von Trotta’s film, several newer books, notably Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer and Kathryn T. Gines’s Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question, renewed both scholarly and public debate about the nature of judgment, including Arendt’s. Anne C. Heller’s Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times, her just-released short biography, offers an explanation of Arendt’s motivation to think and to judge. 

Stangneth’s book made a notable splash in Germany when it was first published in 2011, largely due to her finger-pointing at German officials. She argued that they ignored important clues about Eichmann’s whereabouts in Argentina, which might have led to his capture in 1952 long before the Israelis grabbed him in 1960. Even Rafael Eitan, the leader of the Mossad kidnap team, admitted the Israelis had failed to act on a tip about Eichmann’s location two years before they succeeded in capturing him. “It is about time,” Stangneth wrote, “the heads of the German authorities summoned up the courage to be this candid about the failures of their long-dead predecessors and opened their archives to the public.” However, as Tom Teicholz noted in his April 2015 review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the controversy Stangneth’s research created “has not been about Eichmann but rather about Arendt, and whether [her book] ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ was ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’”

The much-lauded fall 2014 release of the English translation of Stangneth’s meticulously researched tome compelled Richard Wolin, among others, to condemn Arendt’s interpretation of Eichmann as “erroneous and misguided” — a dangerous, self-deluding denial of the monstrosity of a mass murderer. Deborah Lipstadt, author of The Eichmann Trial, a book also aimed at subverting Arendt’s interpretation, joined Wolin’s assessment that Stangneth had “shattered” Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis. Against both these views, Seyla Benhabib rose to Arendt’s defense. In an opinion piece published in The New York Times, Benhabib explained what Arendt had meant when she argued that Eichmann was unreflective or “thoughtless”:

Arendt […] conclude[d] that Eichmann could not “think” — not because he was incapable of rational intelligence but because he could not think for himself beyond clichés. He was banal precisely because he was a fanatical anti-Semite, not despite it. 

That same fall, the first three of the Schwarze Hefte, or so-called Black Notebooks, of Martin Heidegger were released, causing a sensation because of their anti-Semitic passages and tone. Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger as her former teacher and lover added guilt by association to the fire of criticism swirling around her.

As this often heated debate spills into the news and social media, Arendt’s name continues to gain currency. Yet, while snippets from her writing and sensational tales about her life circulate in popular publications, they advance no better understanding of the complexities of either the woman or her work. Instead, Hannah Arendt continues to be put on trial with one publication — Eichmann in Jerusalem — and one event — her love affair with Martin Heidegger — as the main evidence used to indict and judge her. Hannah Arendt and Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger: sutured together in the popular imagination, these pairs of names shadow Arendt’s life and legacy. Bettina Stangneth wrote in the introduction to her assiduously researched book about former SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann,

We have a multitude of irreconcilable images of Eichmann, made even more so by the controversy around Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem […] The public view, however, largely remains an empty shell […] The only one of Eichmann’s roles to have become really well known is the one he performed in Jerusalem.

The same could be said about Hannah Arendt.

As for her personal life, insofar as it is known outside the academy, von Trotta’s cinematic images of a sharp-tongued, chain-smoking woman married to a philandering second husband and engaging in girlish gossip with Mary McCarthy have now framed the public imagination of the private life of the intellectual celebrity behind the phrase “the banality of evil.” This caricature offers only a limited perspective into either the life or thinking of the woman Anne C. Heller described as someone who led a “lifetime of conscious rebellion.”

Before and after Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt played many other roles. A brilliant political theorist who refused to call herself a philosopher; a woman who never considered her sex an obstacle in her life; a Jew who was (and still is) called anti-Semitic for her controversial portrait of Eichmann; a rigorous thinker and teacher who wrote and taught passionately about hatred and love. Hannah Arendt tackled some of the thorniest moral and political questions of modern times. Her controversial, seemingly contradictory positions on violence, politics, race and racism, and moral judgment made her as well-known in literary and political circles as she was among academicians for her philosophical arguments.


Although readers of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s award-winning biography Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World have known dimensions of this woman’s life and work, the 1995 publication of Elżbieta Ettinger’s small monograph Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger narrowed the view again. What Heller’s small book provides is an engaging narrative through-line. Heller tells a sympathetic, though not uncritical, mostly accurate story about the life events, habits of mind, and prejudices and prides that shaped Arendt as a woman and a thinker who “remained something of a stranger, willing to examine the world from the point of view of an outsider.” More than in Young-Bruehl’s biography, it is Hannah Arendt, the person, who comes to life, warts (with some exceptions) and all.

Unsurprisingly, Heller begins with the Eichmann controversy. Interweaving insights from Arendt’s published writing and personal correspondence with allusions to recent scholarship, including Stangneth’s, Heller takes us into the Jerusalem courtroom with Arendt “fifty-four years old that spring, a short, chain-smoking intellectual celebrity with an […] enormous capacity for work,” and with more than a modicum of “confidence in her ability to identify moral principles in the midst of outrage.” A cool-headed Arendt remained undeterred from pursuing a “strikingly new and profoundly jarring” insight into Eichmann, despite “reasons for the almost hysterical interest in the Eichmann trial,” including the “hundreds of fugitive Nazis officers […] rumored to be hiding in towns and cities around the world”; the failure of the Nuremberg and successor trials to handle or even recognize adequately the true scope of “the destruction of as many as six million Jewish men, women, and children — murder on a scale previously unknown in history”; and the dramatic Israeli secret service kidnapping of Eichmann. That insight, or “theory,” as Heller calls it, became distilled into the phrase the “banality of evil.” Whether or not she came to “rue the phrase,” as Heller contends, Arendt defended the thinking behind it for the rest of her life, including in her posthumously published last work, The Life of the Mind.

Though still frequently misunderstood, Heller correctly notes that the term “banality” was meant not to describe the horrific acts that Eichmann committed but the “thoughtless” mindset behind them: “thoughtless” in the sense of being “unable to imagine events from anyone else’s point of view,” or to question assumptions or think outside the framework of the reigning ideology. In Arendt’s portrayal, Eichmann became neither a monster nor a mere “cog in the machine,” as he preferred to represent himself, but an ordinary “terrible and terrifyingly normal” person capable of committing evil without deep conviction or regret. 

This image of Eichmann shocked her readers. But, as Heller reports, more brutally insulting was Arendt’s caustic indictment of the Jewish leaders of Europe for cooperating with the Nazis in the creation of deportation lists — “the darkest chapter in the whole dark story.” Perhaps more than anything, her very public judgment of these leaders sent Arendt tumbling from being “celebrated as a brilliant, original, and deeply humanistic political thinker” to being “attacked as arrogant, ill-informed, heartless, a dupe of Eichmann, an enemy of Israel, and a ‘self-hating Jewess.’” The scandal the book created helps explain why it was not until 2000 that Eichmann in Jerusalem was translated into Hebrew. (One major error in Heller’s book is to confuse Arendt’s 1966 letter to Karl Jaspers, expressing satisfaction that the “Hebrew edition of Eichmann is finally coming out in Israel,” with evidence that it was actually published then; in fact, that original publication plan was cancelled, some said because of Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s insistence.)


In an aside, Heller notes that although Arendt “was wrong in her particular example [of Eichmann as an example of the banality of evil, this] did not make her idea wrong, but that’s another story.” The “wrongness” of Arendt’s portrayal of Eichmann is the key point Stangneth wants to make and, unlike Heller, to extend to Arendt’s “theory” itself. In place of Arendt’s image of Eichmann as a “terrible and terrifyingly normal” cliché-spouting, careerist buffoon, Stangneth gives us a canny, talented chameleon: a lying, consistently ideological warrior for National Socialism who remained an unrepentant radical anti-Semite, as adept at defending Nazi principles and practices before his Jerusalem trial as he was at confusing observers with his cleverly bumbling performance at the trial, including Hannah Arendt. “What Arendt did correctly observe,” Stangneth writes,

was that Eichmann was deliberately posturing as a student of philosophy. She just drew the wrong conclusion, imagining that the main reason for this pose was foppish vanity and a lack of rhetorical skill and philosophical knowledge […] But Eichmann, as the records from Israel reveal, was capable of powerful arguments […] [E]verything he said in Israel was an attempt to disguise his own systematic thinking.

As early as 1937, Stangneth contends, Eichmann came to symbolize the Reich’s anti-Jewish policy, the result of his own “role-playing and image-making.” By 1941, as the significance of Department IV B 4, which Eichmann headed, increased with the expansion of the deportation process and proceeded toward the Final Solution, Eichmann’s own significance had grown, thanks to his ability to link himself with a greater number of plans and meetings, and aided by the inflation of his role in the press. “Even when he was neither the initiator nor the driving force of a project, he still [had] managed to convince others he had originated it,” Stangneth notes.

“Eichmann” became […] the name the Jewish community representatives knew, and people trusted them. So the name walked abroad among the Nazis’ victims, though the man himself was nowhere to be seen and was not immediately responsible for their suffering.

After the war ended, invoking the name Eichmann became the default defense posture at the Nuremberg trials; his was the name associated with the murder of six million Jews as the “crucial witness when it came to victim numbers,” Stangneth notes.

Reporting on this number, in an aside, Stangneth divides these deaths into four million in the camps and two million killed by Einsatzkommandos. Yet, as Richard J. Evans noted in a review of recent research on the camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann, among others,

the majority of the Jewish victims of Nazi mass murder were not killed in the camps; they were shot, starved to death, or left to die of diseases that could easily have been prevented or treated but were not […] Of some 2.3 million men, women, and children who were put into Nazi concentration camps between 1933 and 1945, more than 1.7 million lost their lives, almost a million of them Jews killed in Auschwitz. 

(This accounting differs from Yad Vashem’s, which puts the number of Jewish deaths in the camps at approximately 2.8 million.) “The concentration camp was in no way synonymous with the Holocaust,” Evans contends.

Evans’s broadening the view of the Nazi extermination project is significant. That project included “a far wider program of mass murder” that was articulated, in part, in the “official ‘General Plan for the East,’” which “envisaged the deliberate killing of up to 45 million ‘Slavs’ in Eastern Europe, to clear the way for German settlement.” This view represents a point of departure from Stangneth’s project, which is to associate Eichmann and his actions, firmly and finally, with radical anti-Semitism and the extermination of the Jews, and to explain Nazi racial theories and projects exclusively in terms of anti-Semitism. On both these counts, Stangneth’s understanding of Nazi totalitarianism differs from Arendt’s. For Arendt, Nazi racism and its mass murder and extermination program was initiated by, but ultimately extended beyond, the “Jewish Question.” And for this argument, too, Arendt has been criticized.

Stangneth cites considerable evidence from the Argentina Papers to support her contention that Eichmann, already in exile, continued to revel in his reputation as the Czar of the Jews. While he saw himself this way and bragged about it during the war, the perception would come back to bite him. In Jerusalem he needed to convince others of the exact opposite. More than anything, according to Stangneth, Eichmann wanted to cover up the extent of his influence in the Nazi regime and to downplay his responsibility for the extermination of the Jews. “Only in Israel in 1960 would it dawn on Eichmann: being thought of as a man in the shadows could have its advantages.” 

To Stangneth, the assembled evidence reveals Eichmann’s prodigious “talent for self-dramatization”; dissembling enabled him to throw a veil over his real character and motivations. Because he could enact a “new role for every stage of his life, for each new audience and every new aim” so successfully, knowledge was lost of who Eichmann really was, and who he continued to be, “until he was sitting in an Israeli prison cell,” pretending to be the “Cautious Bureaucrat.” Who was he, really? Unequivocally, Stangneth argues, the Argentina Papers prove him to have been a remorseless radical anti-Semite, a committed, fanatical National Socialist, fooling even someone as “highly intelligent” as Hannah Arendt into thinking he was more a clown than a monster. Although she acknowledges Arendt’s “courage to form a clear judgment,” she faults her for falling into Eichmann’s trap: “Eichmann-in-Jerusalem was little more than a mask. [Arendt] didn’t recognize it […] [She] defeat[ed] herself with her own weapon: her desire to see her expectations fulfilled.”

But what of Stangneth’s expectations? In her own words, Eichmann Before Jerusalem is Stangneth’s “dialogue with Hannah Arendt,” who “has served to distract us from the matter at hand.” That matter is “to discover more about the man himself than a thinker in 1961 could possibly have known.” That matter is also to return anti-Semitism to center stage in discussions of the Holocaust and, by implication, to repudiate Arendt’s own assessment that anti-Semitism alone could not explain the nature of the crimes against humanity which Nazism perpetrated — first on the body of the Jewish people, with plans to extend extermination to more and more peoples well beyond the scope of Eichmann’s purview.


Arendt, in Stangneth’s discussion, emerges as a thinker who gets blocked at certain borders she seemed to find it difficult to cross. It is this same pathology that interests Kathryn T. Gines in Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question, a rigorous treatment of Arendt’s views on the black experience in the United States. Although recognizing “Arendt’s keen philosophical and political insights,” Gines exposes the limits of her categorical distinctions between private and public, and between political and social for understanding the history and dynamics of anti-black racism. She writes: “[I]n spite of her insight and influence, Arendt’s writings about anti-Black racial oppression (or the Negro question) in particular often reflect poor judgment and profound misunderstandings.” 

Gines’s well-documented case against Arendt rests on a close reading of several of Arendt’s texts — notably, “Reflections on Little Rock,” On Violence, On Revolution, and sections of The Origins of Totalitarianism, combined with her analysis of Arendt’s distinctions among the categories of the political, the social, and the private as articulated in The Human Condition. In these texts, Gines finds evidence for her indictment of Arendt’s “failure to understand that what she judges to be a Negro problem is actually a white problem,” concluding that Arendt shares “in many ways […] the common prejudices of (white) Americans toward Blacks.” Gines’s book explores not only Arendt’s reading of various civil rights struggles in the United States, including the Black Power movement of the 1960s, but also Arendt’s distinction between race-thinking and racism, and traces of Eurocentrism in her analysis of imperialism in The Origins of Totalitarianism, including in her critique of Fanon, and the use of violence to end colonialism in On Violence

Arendt’s “Little Rock” essay takes a controversial stand opposed to the forced integration of schools, while, at the same time, contending that “to abolish [the legal enforcement of segregation] is of great and obvious importance.” Her objection to forced integration of schools amounted to a concern that choosing schools as the arena within which to “start desegregation […] shifted the burden of responsibility from the shoulders of adults to those of children” and took attention from “the real issue,” which she saw as “equality before the law,” which principle was “violated […] by laws enforcing segregation, not by social custom and the manners of educating children.” At the same time, Arendt contended “the Civil Rights bill did not go far enough, for it left untouched the most outrageous law of Southern states — the law which makes mixed marriage a criminal offense.” For different reasons, Gines argues that Arendt was wrong for failing to understand the role of state-enforced segregated education in sustaining a racist system of inequality and in giving greater priority to ending anti-miscegenation laws than to securing equal educational opportunities.

Gines locates the root of Arendt’s problematic opposition to enforced desegregation of schools in the somewhat ambiguous distinctions Arendt makes among the categories of the public, the private, and the social, which limit her ability to “understand the ways in which access to a quality public education (and higher education) impact other areas that she sees as properly political.” Because Arendt defends the right to discriminate in the social realm, Gines argues, she “prioritizes whites’ right to discriminate over Blacks’ right to equal educational opportunities.” But what Arendt means by “discrimination” is not the same as the negative connotation attached to that word in contemporary usage. Rather, Arendt connects social discrimination with freedom of association, which enables the development of an “innumerable variety of [society’s] groups and associations” and, for her, acts as a bulwark against the homogenization of “mass society,” which “levels group distinctions.” For Arendt, freedom of association extends not only to the dominant group, but also to all groups. The question becomes not how to choose between one group’s right to association and another’s right to equal opportunity, but how to decide which means can best secure equal opportunity without sacrificing freedom of association. The challenge facing Arendt is how to confine discrimination in the social sphere and its leakage onto the political or social sphere; it is a challenge Arendt has a difficult time meeting.

Arendt asks: can there be better means to provide access to quality education other than forced integration? Surprisingly, as Gines recognizes, Arendt’s answers — to “fight for an improvement of schools for Negro children and for the immediate establishment of special classes for those children whose scholastic record now makes them acceptable to white schools” or to “organize a new school for white and colored children and to run it like a pilot project, as a means to persuade other white parents to change their attitudes” — are not unlike those proffered by some black intellectuals at the time, who were opposed to forced integration for many of the same reasons as Arendt. The difference is, Gines argues, black opponents were at least aware that the motivation behind integration efforts was an educational one. Arendt, by contrast, “look[s] at racial integration in public schools through the lens of Jewish assimilation” and misinterprets black efforts after integration as a desire for upward social mobility. But it’s not Arendt’s lack of support for equal educational opportunity that leads her to worry about “social climbing;” it’s her fear that the means chosen to achieve equality of rights will backfire, exacerbating existing racial conflict.

Arendt stands opposed to putting the burden for changing values on the schools while the rest of “society” and the private sphere of the home remain as prejudiced as before. Yet, if, in Arendt’s view, parents’ rights “to bring up their children as they see fit […] are legally restricted by compulsory education and nothing else,” it remains difficult to see what institutions can be called upon to unravel existing prejudices and racist attitudes from the social fabric. In fact, Arendt’s own argument that “social standards are not legal standards and if legislature follows social prejudice, society has become tyrannical,” creating circumstances where “government […] has […] the duty to make sure these practices are not legally enforced,” should have led her to recognize the interplay between the social and the legal in the case of segregated schools, a point Gines could have emphasized more.

Arendt extends the right to freedom of association to parents’ right to choose with whom their children should socialize during their educational experience, while at the same time she recognizes the role schools play in introducing the child to the child’s “first […] contact with the public world that surrounds [the child] and [the child’s] family.” Arendt is quick to point out that “this public world is not political but social.” Yet, if the values of the public world schools introduce the child to remain racist, it is hard to see how she can ignore the political effects of the transmission of such social values on the development of the citizenry served by such institutions. As Gines notes, the line Arendt draws “between the public, the private, and the social […] distorts her perceptions and inhibits her understanding of anti-Black racism in the United States.”

Faulting Arendt’s “offensive and paternalistic tone” as well as her not seeing “how intimately interconnected the marriage issue is to racial discrimination in education, housing, employment, and places of amusement,” Gines contends Arendt “aligns herself with southern white racist segregationists.” Her indictment is based on a kind of guilt-by-association logic: because Arendt identified miscegenation as “the most outrageous law of the Southern states,” her priorities aligned with what Gunnar Myrdal, whom Gines quotes at length, identified as the “white man’s rank order of discrimination.”

The main difference between Arendt and white segregationists is that she endorses interracial marriage as a fundamental human right while they reject it. Aside from this admittedly significant point of disagreement, Arendt, like many white racists, defends racial discrimination as a social custom and rejects the legal enforcement of desegregation.

It’s unfortunate that Gines inaccurately elides Arendt’s argument against forced desegregation of the schools with a rejection of legal enforcement of desegregation per se. More troubling is Gines’s unwillingness to consider the consistency of Arendt’s opposition to miscegenation with her critique not only of Israel’s early laws prohibiting intermarriage but also her arguments in Origins about the evolution of race-thinking into racism. For Arendt, ideological racism uses race not only as a marker of group differences among a common humanity, but also to indicate the inherited, biologically rooted hierarchical system of superiority/inferiority that converts “peoples” into “races,” and to justify a racialized political system based on strict prohibition of interracial sexual relations and marriage as essential to the maintenance of racial purity. Although in the Little Rock essay, as Gines notes, Arendt does not offer an explicit “analysis that rejected the marriage laws as an attempt to protect white purity and white supremacy,” linking her opposition to these laws instead to a right to privacy, her discussion of racism in her other works provides a fuller explanation for Arendt’s prioritization. Whether it justifies this prioritization, or excuses Arendt’s patronizing tone, is another matter.


The question of Arendt’s tone and prejudices emerges further in Gines’s analysis of Arendt’s writing on imperialism and racism, as well as her essays addressing the question of violence. Arendt’s Eurocentrism is on display, Gines contends, especially in her characterization of Africans “as savages, backward, and lacking in history and culture.” Considerable debate has already taken place on the meaning of those passages in which Arendt characterizes the Boers’ encounter with African tribes. Gines’s position is clearly on the side of those who fault Arendt for failing to criticize the Boers’ murderous acts, rather than simply trying to explain what motivated them:

Arendt excuses Europeans’ use of violent racism against Africans […] plays down the heinous nature of these violent massacres of Africans by Europeans […] [and] suggests that such violent forms of racism (genocidal massacres) are acceptable instruments to use against Africans, but not against Asians and other groups, particularly Jews.

Although stopping short of “dismiss[ing] Arendt’s thought altogether and label[ing] her as a racist,” as some others have done, Gines nonetheless concludes that Arendt displays an “inability to distance herself from a very racist (even essentialist) characterization of African people,” which weakens her overall critique of racism. Arendt’s language in Origins can be read to create the impression that she shares the Boers’ representation of Africans. Yet the tenor of her critique of racism and imperialism does not support Gines’s claim that Arendt excuses the massacres of Africans, or considers these techniques of domination acceptable under any circumstance. And this takes us back to the question of judgment and the dynamics of thinking Arendt called “thinking with an enlarged mentality.”

In the unfinished sections about judgment in The Life of the Mind, Arendt characterizes this kind of thinking as deeply connected to powers of imagination. “To think with the enlarged mentality […] means you train your imagination to go visiting.” Selbstdenken, or thinking for oneself, Arendt continues, means

liberation from prejudice. To accept what goes on in the minds of those whose “standpoint” (actually, the place where they stand, the conditions they are subject to, always different from one individual to the next, one class or group as compared to another) is not my own would mean no more than to accept passively their thought, that is, to exchange their prejudices for the prejudices proper to my own station.

Enlarged thought disregards self-interest; it aims toward impartiality. Because Arendt understands representational thinking as neither empathy — trying to be or feel like somebody else — nor “blindly adopting the actual views of those who stand somewhere else,” Gines takes this to mean that “representational thinking amounts to validating one’s own conclusions and opinions by imagining oneself in the place of others but without ever adopting their viewpoint, seeing things from their perspective, or empathizing with them.” Arendt’s exercise in representational thinking fails, Gines concludes, because she remains partial, better able to imagine things from the point of view of the dominant than of the oppressed. Yet, in the Little Rock essay, as well as in Origins, Arendt’s judgments stand against the maintenance of racist, state-supported segregation, and against genocide in any form. Although it is true that her characterization of segregated schools as a “social” problem interferes with her ability to understand the relationship between segregation in this arena and the wider system of anti-black racism, and her effort to “explain” the logic behind the Boers’ justification of violence can be misread as a rationalization, Arendt no more excuses their actions than she exonerates Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust.

What then are we to make of Gines’s conclusion that Arendt’s “representational thinking” fails? The evidence Gines has amassed against Arendt amounts to the claim that she “does not adequately imagine nor represent the standpoint of African Americans or Africans.” As Gines clearly establishes, although Arendt set out in the Little Rock essay to imagine from multiple perspectives what she would do in the face of segregation, Arendt fails to fully imagine the situated position of black Americans, a failure she at least partially admitted in her later correspondence with Ralph Ellison (“I now see that I simply didn’t understand the complexities of the situation”). Yet, Gines’s extension of her critique to the practice of representational thinking per se is unwarranted. Refusing simply to substitute “outsider” points of view for dominant ones, or arguing that judgment entails more than a matter of empathy for those who have been excluded, does not automatically lead, as Gines contends, to a simple validation of one’s own conclusions and opinions. Rather, enlarged thinking assumes that neither adopting the perspective of the dominant nor that of the oppressed alone is adequate to judge a situation without prejudice; it privileges neither insider nor outsider.

What this kind of thinking entails — the taking up of multiple points of view in an effort to understand a complex situation from many perspectives — may be difficult to achieve in practice, but seems now more urgently needed than ever. To take only one example, as debates about “safe spaces” and investigations of if and how college campus policies and practices, cultures, and norms contribute to the persistence of institutionalized racism, sexism, and other forms of systematic exclusion continue to proliferate, the need to develop and engage an “enlarged mentality” remains a desideratum. Arendt may have failed in her own attempt, but the practice of representative thinking itself should not be discarded.


Kathleen B. Jones is the author of several books, including Compassionate Authority and Living Between Danger and Love, and most recently, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt.

LARB Contributor

Born and educated in New York, Kathleen B. Jones taught Women’s Studies for 24 years at San Diego State University. In addition to numerous academic works, she has published two memoirs: Living Between Danger and Love (Rutgers University Press, 2000) and the award-winning Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Fiction International, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and The Briar Cliff Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Among her numerous awards, she is a recipient of multiple grants from the National Endowment of the Humanities, writers’ grants to the Vermont Studio Center, and an honorary doctorate from Örebro University, Sweden. She recently completed an MFA in fiction and lives in Stonington, Connecticut.


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