, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 591-595
Date: 12 Jan 2010

Peg Birmingham: Hannah Arendt and human rights: the predicament of common responsibility

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Much in the same way that Nietzsche’s sociohistorical context motivated his concern with articulating a life-affirming response to the problem of nihilism, so Hannah Arendt, writing in the wake of the destruction wrought by World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust, sought ways of making sense of and affirming life within a post-totalitarian world. Again, as is the case with Nietzsche following the death of God, Arendt’s task was complicated by the fact that, as she argues, unprecedented events had rendered modern political, legal, and moral concepts, categories, and principles not only useless but also potentially harmful. Prominent among such concepts is that of “the human” which, according to Arendt, presents a special case. Rather than destroying this concept from without, totalitarianism instead revealed and pushed to the breaking point its existing inherent contradictions. Arendt makes clear that rather than promoting the dignity of all persons, notions of a given humannes ...