Political Science Hannah Arendt
Steven Maloney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0090


Hannah Arendt (b. 1906–d. 1975) was a singular political theorist and a voracious reader. Arendt’s works show traces of influence from a diverse cross-section of political writers. Her works are noted for their similarities to the civic republic tradition, existential philosophy, critical theory, and pragmatism, to name a few. Despite these influences, her work is difficult to pigeonhole into any single category. Her academic voice and theoretical positions also changed over time. Indeed, her work can be compared to that of a painter who composes sketches and studies to work out the contours of form and method before creating a major work. Arendt’s diverse “sketches and studies,” as well as the breadth of her references and influences, have resulted in divergent interpretations of her work from academics and readers alike.

General Overviews

The breadth of Hannah Arendt’s writings makes crafting a general overview a challenging task. Canovan 1994, Benhabib 2003, and Pitkin 1998 are the three most influential interpretations of Arendt’s work. Hill 1979 is frequently cited as the most important collection of essays on Arendt, but the book is hard to find in print. Villa 2002 offers a strong contemporary collection of essays that detail Arendt’s work. Kateb 1984 offers a portrait of Arendt that details her unique characteristics in light of the time and place in which she lived. McGowan 1998 is useful for readers who favor concise explanations of theory. Villa 1999 provides a valuable rebuttal to modern criticisms of Arendt.

  • Benhabib, Seyla. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

    Benhabib argues that the human condition is not the central text of Hannah Arendt’s political thought. Further, she argues that Arendt’s work can be primarily understood as a form of “phenomenological essentialism” that derives from Heidegger, Husserl, and Jaspers’s influence.

  • Canovan, Margaret. Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    Probably the most well-known overview of Hannah Arendt’s political thought. Canovan interprets Arendt’s major writings chapter by chapter, aiming for a clear explanation of her text over scholarly critique.

  • Hill, Melvyn A., ed. The Recovery of the Public World. New York: St. Martin’s, 1979.

    One of the most-cited collections of essays on Hannah Arendt. Also included at the end of the book is the transcript of a panel discussion with Arendt herself, featuring C. B. Macpherson, Mary McCarthy, Richard Bernstein, and Hans Morgenthau.

  • Kateb, George. Hannah Arendt: Politics, Conscience, Evil. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1984

    Kateb explores what he calls “disquieting” topics in Arendt’s work including her disdain for self-interest and her apparent rejection of choosing the lesser of two evils as morally acceptable political behavior.

  • McGowan, John. Hannah Arendt: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

    A good introduction to Arendt and her work, as the book is short and focused. McGowan introduces Arendt in a way that does not invite the vertigo that often accompanies attempts to present a broad picture of her thought.

  • Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. The Attack of the Blob. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    Pitkin’s “blob hypothesis” reads Hannah Arendt’s description of “the social” as a shapeless form that invades new areas of the modern world and grows as it feeds. Pitkin argues Arendt’s view of society as “the blob” is a theoretical mistake.

  • Villa, Dana R. Politics, Philosophy, Terror. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

    Takes on a variety of topics, with each chapter detailing a self-contained argument. Chapter 2’s commentary on Eichmann in Jerusalem and chapter 3’s defense of Arendt’s critical distance from Martin Heidegger offer a strong defense of Arendt’s theories in the face of relevant criticisms.

  • Villa, Dana R., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    A collection of essays that provides an overview of Hannah Arendt’s political thought. The contributor list is peopled with Arendt scholarship’s top names, and the authors span multiple academic disciplines.

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