In its commitment to promoting research, teaching and intellectual exchange on the historical study of American thought, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History offers a book review section that identifies new and significant historical monographs in the field of U.S. intellectual history. Book reviews facilitate informed dialogue on the current state of the field and raise interest in the political, cultural and intellectual project of writing history. Historical scholarship is the foundation of our profession and teaching its heartbeat; book reviews introduce our diverse readership to the creative and original questions and methodologies of scholars dedicated to the dissemination of historical knowledge and understanding. Thus, book reviews play an integral part in the collective intellectual project that is the writing and teaching of U.S. intellectual history.
By Richard H. King
It is a rare privilege to get to respond directly to a cluster of reviews and to have them be so well-considered and interesting to engage with. Thanks to Mira Siegelberg, Neil Roberts, John Burt and Seyla Benhabib for taking the time to respond to my book and for making this happen. Lilian Calles Barger did the hard work of organizing this whole process and she deserves the credit for the fact that four reviews plus my response appeared together at all. Finally, thanks to S-USIH for creating such an interesting blog. RHK
By John Burt
Richard H. King’s Arendt in America is such a thorough, thoughtful, clear-sighted, and balanced treatment of Hannah Arendt’s thirty-four year engagement with American politics, culture, thought and society that it is hard to single out which of its strains of argument demand the most attention. King shows how, even as she shared many common European prejudices about the United States, Arendt nevertheless saw in America a tradition of practical republicanism of considerable power. Arendt learned from America, but she also taught America, and some of the things she taught America were aspects of American political culture that Americans of her own generation had not clearly understood.
By Mira Siegelberg
Richard King describes his masterful new book Arendt and America as an attempt to remedy the “lack of understanding of the impact of Arendt’s thought on American thought and culture and of the impact of the New World on her thought.” This is ultimately a too-modest assessment of the ambitions of the work since King’s unstated theme is historical judgment itself. Over the course of the study King demonstrates how comprehending Arendt’s efforts to think in time provides a critical perspective on Arendt’s thought at the same that it illuminates the broader relationship between historical interpretation and moral evaluation.
By Seyla Benhabib
In 1975, the year of her death, Hannah Arendt’s (b. 1906) last essay appeared in the New York Review of Books with the title, “Home to Roost.” Anticipating the American bicentennial, the essay is not joyous but rather full of “fear and trembling,” expressing severe doubts as to “whether our form of government would be able to withstand the onslaught of this century’s inimical forces and survive the year 2000.” The Watergate scandal which signaled the introduction of tactics of “petty criminality” into the business of government; the Vietnam debacle, which Arendt calls “an outright humiliating defeat;” the deceptions induced by public relations strategists of Madison Avenue to further dupe a public lulled by the seductions of consumerism; rising inflation, unemployment and growing crime in urban centers lead Arendt to issue what her friend, the philosopher Glenn Gray, calls a “Cassandra-like” warning (King, 296): “While we now slowly emerge from under the rubble of the events of the last few years,” she concludes, “let us not forget these years of aberration, lest we become wholly unworthy of the glorious beginnings of two hundred years ago.”
By Neil Roberts
This is the first review in the Roundtable series devoted to Richard King’s work Arendt and America. For the introduction, click here.
Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit…what, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American?
—W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Conservation of Races” (1897)
In the first place, we don’t like to be called “refugees.” We ourselves call each other “newcomers” or “immigrants.” Our newspapers are papers for “Americans of German language”; and, as far as I know, there is not and never was any club founded by Hitler-persecuted people whose name indicated that its members were refugees.”
—Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” (1943)
It was the experience of the Republic here which decisively shaped her political thinking, tempered as it was in the fires of European tyranny and catastrophe, and forever supported by her grounding in classical thought. America taught her a way beyond the hardened alternatives of left and right from which she had escaped; and the idea of the Republic, as the realistic chance for freedom, remained dear to her even in its darkening days.
—Hans Jonas eulogy at Arendt’s funeral, Riverside Memorial Chapel (1975)
Roundtable, Richard H. King, Arendt and America (Chicago University Press, 2015)
Introduction by Lilian Calles Barger
The plans for this roundtable on Arendt and America began with a podcast conversation with Richard H. King recorded at the Society’s 2015 conference in Washington DC. His long career includes teaching at Stillman College, the University of the District of Columbia, Vanderbilt and the University of Nottingham (UK). He has edited three books and is the author of The Party of Eros: Radical Social Thought and the Realm of Freedom (1972); A Southern Renaissance: The Cultural Awakening of the American South (1980); Civil Rights and the Idea of Freedom (1992), and Race, Culture and the Intellectuals, 1940-1970 (2004). Before my conversation with King, I knew something about Arendt having researched her critique on the political role of religion and I was aware of the voluminous amount of scholarship she had inspired. One of my first questions was what else was there to say about Arendt?