Thinking, Judgment, Writing, and Responsibility

Kathy1Tomorrow I will fly to South Carolina to deliver a book talk about writing Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Prof. Jennifer Disney, head of the Political Science Department and director of the Women’s Studies program at Winthrop University, invited me to give this presentation as part of the celebration of the inauguration of Jamie Comstock, the new President of Winthrop University. Since the themes President Comstock has chosen to highlight in her educational mission relate to the importance of global education and civic engagement, I will be connecting to these ideas in my presentation by exploring how Hannah Arendt’s writing encourages us all to think about the world we all share in common and act responsibly by caring for this world. Later in the week, I will direct a short writing workshop for students and anyone interested about writing and responsibility. Arendt was no stranger to controversy. When she judged harshly the failure of many to think and act when faced with the horrific events of the twentieth century, she garnered criticism from many quarters.  But, she argued, even under conditions of dictatorship we must still take personal responsibility seriously. One of the most controversial judgments she made was about the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which she published in a series of articles written as a “reporter at large” for The New Yorker, and later as the book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In it, she contended that it was not monsters, but “ordinary people,” neither stupid nor necessarily ideologically motivated, who committed the great atrocities of the Holocaust. Her phrase, “banality of evil,” has frequently been misunderstood. But it remains in wide circulation and quite relevant to contemporary events, as this recent article in The Hindu demonstrates.

I was invited to write a piece about Arendt for Humanities Magazine, the official publication of the National Endowment for Humanities. I chose to explore Arendt’s concepts of thinking and judgment in relation to the Eichmann controversy. You can read the essay here. The key issues she raised in her writing will be what I will take up in my Winthrop presentation.