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On Violence (Harvest Book) by [Arendt, Hannah]
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On Violence (Harvest Book) Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Length: 122 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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The Wall Street Journal
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was an influential German political theorist and philosopher whose works include The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Product Details

  • File Size: 412 KB
  • Print Length: 122 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (March 11, 1970)
  • Publication Date: March 11, 1970
  • Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004M5HKK2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,869 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Arendt's work on violence is a wonderful contribution to the philosophical consideration of the issue. The distinction she draws between violence, power, authority, and force is by far the most valuable part of the essay, allowing for the proper political and linguistic application of these concepts.

However, her interpretations of Sartre and Fanon range from plausible to completely absurd. I often found myself scrambling through "The Wretched of the Earth" (following Arendt's citations) in a attempt to elaborate on her incomplete quotations and scathing conclusions, only to be left asking myself how she possibly could read the thinkers in such a manner.

Sadly, her essay is also riddled with anti-Black racism, as many scholars have noted (See Kathryn Gines "Arendt and the Negro Question" for a full treatment of this theme in her work). She consistently reduces Black student radicalism to the desire of eliminating academic standards of admission and introducing "ridiculous reforms" into academia; I suppose police brutality, deplorable economic prospects, and continued discrimination were all off her radar. At times her bigotry is so extreme that it dives into conspiracy theory. She entertains the idea that Black Power movement seeks to create a world "in which the Negro would constitute an overwhelming majority of the world's population" (footnote 38)

This is a wonderful essay and I recommend it to anyone interested in the connection between philosophy and violence, but Arendt's elusive political commitment often shows itself as a confused normative position; you're never quite sure where her moral compass is pointing, which is obviously problematic when the issues of race, violence, and politics are the discussion at hand.
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