Hannah Arendt: Radical Conservative, by Irving Louis Horowitz (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4128-4602-8) xii +100 pp. Hardcover, $29.95.
By the end of this year, Hannah Arendt will have been the subject of at least five books devoted entirely to her thought, including Steve Buckler’s Hannah Arendt and Political Theory, Marco Goldoni and Christopher McCorkindale’s Hannah Arendt and the Law, Valerie Hartouni’s Visualizing Atrocity: Arendt, Evil, and the Optics of Thoughtlessness, and Ronald Arnett’s Communication Ethics in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt’s Rhetoric of Warning and Hope. Arendt will have figured prominently as well in three other studies—Keith Breen’s Under Weber’s Shadow, which examines Arendt along with Jürgen Habermas and Alasdair MacIntyre; Lars Rensmann and Samir Gandesha’s Arendt and Adorno; and William Spanos’s Exiles in the City: Hannah Arendt and Edward W. Said in Counterpoint—and her ideas will have been cited passingly in several dozen other books (I speak here only of books published in English), from Andrea Karin Muehlebach’s The Moral Neoliberal to Bassam Tibi’s Islamism and Islam. Arendt’s work, in short, remains vital.
Irving Louis Horowitz’s Hannah Arendt: Radical Conservative is one of these new studies, although it is new only in the trivial sense of having just been published, the last of Horowitz’s books prepared by him before his death last March. Its eight chapters have all seen print before as articles or book reviews in sundry periodicals, the earliest as long ago as 1964 and the most recent in the current issue of Horowitz’s journal Culture and Civilization. They have been subjected here to “modest cosmetic surgery,” but no effort has been made to transform them into a sustained argument. “They may not add up to a full-bodied effort at critical analysis or intellectual biography,” Horowitz admits in the Acknowledgments, “but they provide a perspective on the work of Hannah Arendt from political science or, if preferred, a normative or philosophical standpoint.”
The sentence just quoted suggests a problem the general reader may confront: Horowitz often presumes an audience conversant with the language and concerns of sociology and/or the disciplines he names. (The reader desiring a brief, “normative” introduction to Arendt might start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Jewish Virtual Library, both accessible online.) To raise this complaint is not, of course, to imply that what Horowitz has to say is not worth reading, whether he is discussing Arendt’s connection to Martin Heidegger or exploring her ideas about totalitarianism, revolution, or open societies. Although not uncritical of Arendt’s work, Horowitz is motivated, he tells us, by a desire to defend Arendt from the “pygmies” (his word) who wish to cut her down to their size, from the “bitter and at times highly emotive response to Arendt’s leben even more than her werke by serious scholars” (I can almost see the quotation marks Horowitz almost placed around “serious”).
One may question Horowitz’s politics, disagree with his conclusions, or groan over the frequently infelicitous sentences and sometimes turgid development. One should, however, applaud Horowitz’s gallant motivation in this final effort compiled in the evening of his own leben.