Hannah Arendt is perhaps most famous for her observation about "the banality of evil." This piece from Aeon explores Arendt's view that not only does hope exist alongside evil, hope is an obstacle to action because it blinds us to reality:
"Arendt was never given to hopeful thinking. ... Throughout much of her work, she argues that hope is a dangerous barrier to acting courageously in dark times. ... Arendt’s most devastating account of hope appears in her essay ‘The Destruction of Six Million’ (1964) published by Jewish World. Arendt was asked to answer two questions. The first was why the world remained silent as Hitler slaughtered the Jewish people, and whether or not Nazism had its roots in European humanism. The second was about the sources of helplessness among the Jewish people. To the first question, Arendt responded that ‘the world did not keep silent; but apart from not keeping silent, the world did nothing.’ People had the audacity to express feelings of horror, shock and indignation, while doing nothing. This was not a failure of European humanism, she argued, which was unprepared for the emergence of totalitarianism, but of European liberalism, socialism not excluded. Listening to Beethoven and translating German into classical Greek was not what caused the intelligentsia to go along with the Nazification of social, cultural, academic and political institutions. It was an ‘unwillingness to face realities’ and it was a desire ‘to escape into some fool’s paradise of firmly held ideological convictions when confronted with facts’. ... It was holding on to hope, Arendt argued, that rendered so many helpless. It was hope that destroyed humanity by turning people away from the world in front of them. It was hope that prevented people from acting courageously in dark times. ... Caught between fear and ‘feverish hope’, the inmates in the [Warsaw] ghetto were paralysed. ... Only when they gave up hope and let go of fear, Arendt argues, did they realise that ‘armed resistance was the only moral and political way out’."
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