Volume 1, 2017
Hannah Arendt, 1945–1950
A “European” Public Intellectual?
In this paper I ask how Arendt, a relatively obscure Zionist activist, became a public intellectual in postwar US and Europe. I argue that Arendt’s idealization of Europe—that is her presentation of a federal Europe as the political and cultural ideal for other peoples to imitate—accounts for her postwar success in both Euro-American and German and Jewish-American public spheres. An analysis of Arendt’s writings during the period shows that she idealized Europe despite also condemning European fascism, imperialism, and totalitarianism (to which she considered Jews to have contributed). I also show that Arendt’s idealization of Europe determined her self-presentation. While much has been made of Arendt’s insistence on identifying as a Jew, in fact in the postwar period she identified alternatively, as a Jewish, European, and non-national public intellectual. She held these varying identifications precisely because her idealized view of Europe led her to conflate Jewish and European identities despite also considering these to be separate.