Sol Stern on Arendt the Apostate by Political Cynic

Is this essay Sol Stern seeks the root of the current revival of ‘antisemitism’ to it’s origin: the great Jewish thinker and Heidegger apologist Hannah Arendt. Here we have the latest installment of the current war on the policies and practices of the Zionist state’s critics, in the guise of an intellectual history of a prominent ‘self-hating Jew’ (a term that has lost it appeal because it no longer retains its ability to shock and confound) published by The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Here is an informative paragraph that appears early in the essay,I quote it in full:

Since the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, serious scholars have debunked the most inflammatory of Arendt’s charges. Nevertheless, for today’s defamers of Israel, Arendt is a patron saint, a courageous Jewish intellectual who saw Israel’s moral catastrophe coming. These leftist intellectuals don’t merely believe, as Arendt did, that she was the victim of “excommunication” for the sin of criticizing Israel. Their homage to Arendt runs deeper. In fact, their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel and exile it from the family of nations—another kind of excommunication, if you will—derives several of its themes from Arendt’s writings on Zionism and the Holocaust. Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies.”

Mr. Stern has mapped the territory of his polemic, so the rest is simply elaboration on his chosen theme. What we do know from Young-Bruehl’s biography of Arendt is that she had an agreement with her professors, that she would leave her classes if the antisemitic remarks by her fellow students became too much. So her consciousness of her Jewishness was a phenomenon that probably came earlier that Mr. Stern indicates in his essay. Although that piece of key evidence might just subvert the political intention of his piece, even if it’s impact be minimal to his argument. That Arendt and many young intellectuals including, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, Herbert Marcus were spellbound by the lectures of Heidegger, he taught a generation of German students. Consult :The Young Heidegger,Rumor of the Hidden King by John van Buren and Heidegger’s Children by Richard Wolin.

In this long essay Mr. Stern merely sketches the political missteps, bad faith and political naivete of Arendt on the Zionist question that serves his narrative thrust, that she was an apostate to the followers of the evolving party line of mainstream Zionism: she was radically independent, she went her own way, a dissenter. That is the problem with Arendt, she thought independently and expressed herself forcefully;her intellectual heirs share her problem. The party line is not served by dissenters, by apostates. (Let me conjecture here that Arendt was in all likelihood one of the few women involved in any capacity with the formation of the state of Israel, at least in its intellectual dimension: she was a lone female voice in a field dominated by men habituated to their patriarchal privilege.) That is the central argument is this piece of backhanded propaganda, masquerading as intellectual history,updated to serve the needs of present day apologists for the self-destructive nihilism of Israeli politics.

But let me quote the prescient Arendt on the future of Israel, that seems to elude Mr. Stern’s intellectual and argumentative grasp.

degenerate into one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply informed us since the days of Sparta. Their relations with world Jewry would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large numbers of Jews lived. Palestine Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people. Thus it becomes plain that at this moment and under present circumstances a Jewish state can only be erected at the price of the Jewish homeland.”

This could be a description of the fortress state of contemporary Israel, although Mr. Stern misses it’s currency. Another quote from near the end of this seemingly interminable indictment:

Making the charges all the more outrageous is that we now know that she herself, at the time of the trial, was voluntarily engaged in a collaboration of sorts with Heidegger, who never repented for his Nazi allegiance. According to the historian Richard Wolin, Arendt served “as Heidegger’s de facto American literary agent, diligently overseeing contracts and translations of his books.”

Arendt always spoke to the fact that her work owed its genesis to the philosophical project of Heidegger, and that she maintained a deep intellectual connection and affection for him. Was he worth her loyalty and affection? Perhaps we should ask the same question of Marcuse, Jaspers, Gadamer, Löwith, and a host of his other students. I have chosen to comment on certain sections of Mr. Stern’s long polemic against Arendt, as apostate, but let me quote from the end of most telling paragraph:

Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies.”


Israel has the best equipped and trained military out side of the USA, that is America’s 147 billion dollars military investment, our unmanageable protectorate. It has between 100 and 400 atomic weapons and the capability and the means to deliver them. Israel is neither beleaguered nor threatened, except in the collective mind of certain political factions, whose reason to be is to stir up war fever against Iran: the only ‘Middle East Democracy’ flourishes on an unending flow of American dollars.

Political Cynic


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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