Commentary Magazine


Arendt & Her Defenders

To the Editor:

What is one to make of Sol Stern’s diatribe about Hannah Arendt, which is cloaked as a review of the new Margarethe von Trotta film about Arendt [“The Lies of Hannah Arendt,” September]? One would think that all the issues related to Eichmann in Jerusalem and Arendt herself should have been dealt with in the 38 years since she passed away. Apparently, this is not the case.

Speaking as one who neither participated in nor viewed from the sidelines the original debate about Arendt’s book, the passions she still arouses continue to amaze me. Sol Stern is outraged because the film does not, in his view, adequately slam Arendt for her positions. He uses the movie “review” as a platform for resurrecting old battles, old enemies, and old memories. Most of the protagonists are long gone—Arendt herself died 38 years ago—but to read Stern’s tirade, you would think we were all back in 1963 when Eichmann in Jerusalem was first published. Can there still be unsettled scores?

From my viewpoint, there is something unseemly in attacking someone who is no longer here to defend herself. True, there have been numerous books and articles attacking Arendt since the original round of debates, most notably in the last decade. These attacks have had their critics, among them Irving Louis Horowitz. When the last round of assaults was under way, Horowitz reviewed the relevant books, wrote articles, and tried to bring some perspective to the subject. His last book was Hannah Arendt: Radical Conservative, published in March 2012, which provides a balanced assessment of the issues and is probably the best antidote to Stern’s dyspepsia.

Horowitz reminds us of Arendt’s strong opposition to anti-Semitism and genocide. He suggests that Arendt’s elusiveness—she is not easily characterized as liberal or conservative—may have been a factor in the hostility she generated then, and which persists to this day. Those who go to the source and read Arendt’s own work will find a straight legal narrative, one that largely shares the perspective of the Israeli judicial system toward Eichmann.

Mary E. Curtis
President, Transaction Publishers
Piscataway, New Jersey

To the Editor:

I find Sol Stern’s article on Hannah Arendt very odd. One would think it would identify details in the movie that were historically inaccurate. Instead, the author seems to think that the film’s subject should not have been Arendt’s article for the New Yorker on the Eichmann trial, but rather the life and character of Arendt herself. Maybe this would make a good movie, but it is not the one the director chose to make. These “lies” by omission seem so far from the subject of the film that the review here appears to use the film solely as a device to attack Arendt. Why not just ignore the film entirely?

Terry Vance
Westport, Connecticut

Sol Stern writes:

Mary E. Curtis’s main complaint about my article seems to be that I do not share the more positive views on Arendt of her old colleague, the late Irving Louis Horowitz and, moreover, that I do not respect the fact that, according to her, “all of the issues related to Eichmann in Jerusalem and Arendt herself should have been dealt with in the 38 years since she passed away.” I plead guilty on both counts.

Though Horowitz was an admirable scholar on many issues, he was mostly wrong on Arendt. Like many other pro-Arendt intellectuals, he was blind to Arendt’s embarrassing and hateful writings on the Jews and Zionism in the 1940s and 1950s—including her published articles claiming that the Stalin constitution had provided a just solution for the Jews of the Soviet Union and her attacks on David Ben-Gurion for the sin of declaring a Jewish state in 1948. Instead of engaging any of these fact-based criticisms I made of Arendt’s writings, Curtis accuses me of “dyspepsia,” of writing a “diatribe.” Most comically, she claims there “is something unseemly in attacking someone who is no longer here to defend herself.” This is a rather bizarre standard of criticism for a publisher of scholarly books.

Terry Vance apparently did not read my review carefully. Contrary to his claim that my review “did not identify details in the movie that were historically inaccurate,”  I wrote about all of the movie’s deliberate inaccuracies (actually lies)—from the creation of the fictitious character Professor Thomas Miller in order to slander Arendt’s serious critics to the film’s claim that the New School tried to purge her for writing the Eichmann book.




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