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5.0 out of 5 stars Lights in Dark Times, 28 April 2011
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Men in Dark Times (Paperback)
With a comment on G. E. Lessing as an introduction, H. Arendt presents in this volume some outstanding personalities who shed a bright light in the dark times of the first half of the 20th century `with its political catastrophes, its moral disasters and its astonishing development of arts and science.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Lessing's primary concern was freedom of thought, of movement and of action. For him, not in the equality of J.J. Rousseau, but in friendship can true humanity prove itself. His intention was always to stimulate others to independent thought.

Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg's sense of justice and freedom was offended by the world she lived in. For her, not only individual, but also public freedom was an absolute necessity.
The major difference between her and the Bolsheviks was her fear for a `deformed' revolution, creating a bureaucracy of apparatchiks.
She, also, heavily criticized Lenin, who had clearly understood, that the Russian Revolution was the consequence of the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war. For Rosa Luxemburg, wars were the most terrible disasters.

Karl Jaspers
For Karl Jaspers, the philosopher resembles the statesman. Both are to be held responsible for their opinions.
For him, a world government with centralized power over the whole globe, holding the monopoly of all means of violence unchecked and uncontrolled by other sovereign powers, is not only a nightmare of tyranny, but also the end of all political life.

Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin's attitude was one of radical criticism.
He tried a half-hearted Zionism and then a half-hearted Communism. The positive aspects of either ideology didn't much interest him. What mattered was the negative factor of criticism of existing conditions, a way out of bourgeois illusions and untruthfulness.

Bertholt Brecht
The main theme in his plays is the inner conflict of those who, compelled by a passion to change the world, cannot afford to be good. The revolutionist must learn how `not to be good' in order to change the bad world.

Hermann Broch
Hermann Broch's ethics are basically Christian. For him, death and perishability are rooted in the world, but immortality and eternity are anchored in the ego. Life which seems to us mortal is in fact immortal, while the world which seems to us eternal is in fact the prey of death.
H. Broch also imposed an impossible task on literature (art): it should possess the same compelling validity as science. Science (knowledge) reveals the totality of the world; art recreates constantly the world. Art impregnated by knowledge should include all practical everyday activities of man. A fata morgana.

Important quotes
Brecht about G. Lukács: `he is an enemy of production, because it is unreliable and unpredictable. He acts as an apparatchik in order to have control over others. Each of his criticisms contains a threat.' (W. Benjamin: Gespräche mit Bertolt Brecht).
Pope John XXIII about Pope Pius XII: `when asked what to do about Hochhuth's `The Deputy', he allegedly replied: Do against it? What can you do against the truth?'

Hannah Arendt's in depth and totally independent analyses of crucial aspects of the works of important philosophers, politicians, playwrights or novelists, show in a sublime way her superb free mind. Her work should be an example for all political, social and economical commentators.
Not to be missed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great bits, disappointing bits, but still an important book., 27 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Men in Dark Times (Paperback)
What a title!

However, considering this is a famous book by the greatest thinker/writer of the last hundred years, it is a bit disappointing: mostly, it's a hodge-podge of book-reviews and reminiscences concerning people who no longer seem as significant as they did fifty years ago.

There are exceptions. There is a long essay on Rosa Luxemburg, fascinating both for who she was and what she wrote. An errant Marxist, she looked at reality rather than theory and came up with grand insights where Marx's predictions were manifestly wrong. Capitalism is a system of expropriation, wrote Luxemburg in 'The Accumulation of Capital', which will not fall into terminal crisis until it has conquered and devoured the whole world. What more accurate description of where we are fast approaching? Those who are 'rediscovering' the great ventriloquist - i.e. Marx - whose dummies murdered millions, would do everyone a favour if instead they turned to Rosa Luxemburg, for whom war and murder were equally horrid.

Then there is Arendt's long essay on Brecht: compulsory reading for anyone intrigued by the deeply-compromised moral status of so many twentieth-century artists and writers. His combination of ruthlessness and ambition, with a conscience that would not stay quiet, was eventually, Arendt argues, the death of Brecht as a poetic creator.

A better book by Arendt, I would say, is 'On Revolution'. It is profound: for me, there was a revelation on every page. Buy the hardback On Revolution; the Penguin version, wierdly, has many typos, some of which turn the original meaning upside down.
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