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On Violence (Harvest Book) Paperback – March 11, 1970


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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Javanovich; 1 edition (March 11, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156695006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156695008
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) taught political science and philosophy at The New School for Social Research in New York and the University of Chicago. Widely acclaimed as a brilliant and original thinker, her works include Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Human Condition.


More About the Author

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) taught political science and philosophy at The New School for Social Research in New York and the University of Chicago. Widely acclaimed as a brilliant and original thinker, her works include Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Human Condition.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Adam Glesser on November 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Though this book does not have the same power over me as On Revolution had, On Violence is still a very well written, witty and insightful look at the power structures most prevalent in the early 1970's. Arendt makes the intelligent claim that those with power that are losing that power will hit a point where they only see violence as a means to maintain the current power distribution, but that violence will actually cause a loss of power. The book can be read in a day (and should), but this book needs to be read 3 or 4 times to catch all of the subtle points Arendt throws in unannounced. The main criticism I have of this book is its failure at points to demonstrate the relavence of her arguments, which I find she does incredibly well in her other books. Not a must buy, but if you have the option, take it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on October 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Arendt's book begins by commenting on the paradoxical nature of violence during the Cold War. She says, "The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict." She is, of course, referring to the advent of the atomic age. In an age, then, when the victory of one party of another means the virtual annihilation of both, what political and ideological redress does one have?

The first part of "On Violence" argues that the United States is no longer a country which can feel the sharp throes of political populism; she argues that individual action has been deadened by an institutionalized bureaucracy, aided by brain trusters in the illustrious think tanks whose hypotheses eventually turn into "facts," which in turn beget other "facts," and whose magical thinking has a way of hypnotizing us. The most common countervailing force to this phenomenon was the group of student protests in the 1960s whose use of violent resistance was often Marxian or Leninist in orientation. These were often set off in the name of "participatory democracy." Yet what makes this a bit of bittersweet irony is that neither Marx nor Lenin advocated any such like a participatory democracy. Especially in Leninism, the socialist utopia would have been run by a one-party, top-down system which would have rendered both political participation and democracy superfluous.

In the second part, Arendt adduces some very interesting, if semantically peculiar, distinctions that I would agree are fundamental to understanding the politics of the twentieth century.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on May 28, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Arendt has again turned the commonplace on its head with her wit and piercing logic, and has used her unfiltered and unadulterated thinking to milk additional meanings and understandings from the accepted conventional wisdom. Her clean thinking and careful analysis has become a force to be reckoned with, and as a result, has acquired a life of its own.

After reaching the end of this sharply focused essay, I discovered it is best read in reverse, beginning with section III and working backwards.

It is a tutorial on the origins, use and misuse of violence, and its associated concepts of power, strength, authority, and terror, and to a much lesser extent also, influence, control, obedience, and command.

It is section III that deals with the origins of violence in both human and animal. And as is true with the other sections, existing common sense and settled sociological theology are reopened and challenged. Both Konrad Lorentz and B.F. Skinner's theories, for instance are placed anew under the microscope, in light of human, rather than just anthropomorphized animal experience, with surprisingly new understandings emerging.

Section II deals with the definitional slipperiness of these concepts as they have been used and misused -- again with surprisingly new interpretations. And again, the standard understandings are reopened for further analysis and the old authorities are challenged to redefine their often ossified and misleading meanings and interpretations.

Section I begins with the existing experience at the time the book was first written (1957) and includes analyses of violence at both the international and the national level, but not at the interpersonal level.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Theodore J. Remington on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Arendt's long essay/short book "On Violence" notes that war has become unglamorous and ineffective as a political force, yet it remains because we have not found an adequate replacement for this. This is perhaps understood as a more politically-minded equivalent of William James's idea 60 years earlier that we need to find a "moral equivalent of war" that will harness the cooperation and personal altruism that war can elicit, but without the horrific consequences that far outweigh the benefits.

Among the many useful concepts in Arendt's book are the definitions of power, violence, strength, force, and authority as distinct entities, despite our tendency to conflate them, or use them as synonyms. Most important is the difference between power and violence, which Arendt suggests are often found together but are in fact opposite in many ways. Specifically, while violence can undo power, it cannot build it. Violence is not simply power expressed in its most brutish fashion.

Also important is the final third of the book, in which Arendt takes apart the notion that political violence is somehow "natural" or part of the human condition.

In the end, it is this idea that is at the center of the book: violence is routinely accepted as inevitable--as a given in human society. Arendt asks us to acknowledge the much more troubling truth: violence is conscious human action. It should not be natrualized or taken for granted or romanticized, but carefully examined.

The book is well-written, yet dense and often casually drops historical and philosophical references without much explanation for the uninitiated reader. Despite that, it is readable despite its often abstract nature. It doesn't leave you with a clear call to specific action, but by openly questioning longstanding myths about violence and its alleged utility in solving political problems, it does a great service.
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