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BARD COLLEGE TO GATHER LEADING PHILOSOPHERS, POLITICAL THEORISTS, INTELLECTUALS, AND JOURNALISTS TO HONOR THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF HANNAH ARENDT’S BIRTH Christopher Hitchens and Mark Danner to Deliver Addresses at Three-Day Conference, “Thinking in Dark Times: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt,” October 27–29

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Hannah Arendt, perhaps the most influential political thinker of the 20th century, would have celebrated her 100th birthday on October 14, 2006. Arendt, who died in 1975, wrote and lectured extensively on totalitarianism, politics, citizenship, nationalism, and revolution. An exile from Nazi Germany, she argued that thoughtlessness presents the greatest threat to freedom. The habit of not thinking—Arendt contended in her account of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem—is the origin of evil in the modern world. To mark her centenary, Bard College will host an international conference, “Thinking in Dark Times: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt,” Friday–Sunday, October 27–29. The conference will bring together an extraordinary and diverse group of distinguished scholars and political theorists, including keynote speakers Christopher Hitchens and Mark Danner, two of the country’s leading intellectuals and journalists. All lectures, panels, and tours are free and open to the public and take place, unless otherwise noted, in Olin Hall on Friday and in the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Center on Saturday. Of the many conferences commemorating Arendt’s centenary this year, the conference at Bard promises to be unique, given Arendt’s longstanding personal relationship to the College. Her husband, the philosopher Heinrich Blücher, taught at Bard for 17 years, Arendt often lectured at the College, and both are buried in the Bard Cemetery. Furthermore, a large portion of Arendt’s personal library is housed in the Hannah Arendt Collection at the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library. Bard’s celebration of Arendt’s centennial includes the launch of an online exhibition of the works (an estimated 4,000 volumes) that she left to the College. Bard College President Leon Botstein, who studied with Arendt at the University of Chicago, contends that recent history—whether one looks to Darfur and Rwanda, the Balkans, the war in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina, the Iranian government, or the Russia of Vladimir Putin—forces us to reconsider the questions Arendt raised on political, social, and moral issues. Botstein recalled an acceptance speech Arendt gave in 1959, entitled “On Humanity in Dark Times.” “Her question was, how might we prevent the idea of humanity from being reduced to an empty phrase or a phantom? That question, still unanswered, remains the central question of our time,” Botstein says. The conference at Bard looks to celebrate not only Arendt’s scholarly work, but also her impact as a celebrated intellectual. Her writing reached far beyond the walls of the academy. She was a correspondent for the New Yorker and wrote widely in Jewish and popular journals. To honor her unique combination of scholarship and relevance, participants at the Bard conference will discuss specific questions that Arendt’s work raises for our time. The roundtable panels will shun the formal presentations of academic papers. Speakers have been asked to respond to specific questions, including: “Is evil banal?”; “Is totalitarianism a present danger?”; “What is the activity of democratic citizenship?”; and “What does it mean to think about politics?” These questions go to the root of Arendt’s thinking about the nature, possibility, and activity of freedom, which, for Arendt, was not an abstract philosophical concept. Rather, freedom demands political action in public, and politics, in turn, demands freedom. Arendt believed that the potential for evil in modern society arises precisely when citizens cease to think, and thus abdicate their responsibility for self-creation. After more than two centuries of social science research indicating that individuals are determined by their environment, Arendt reminds us that we retain some measure of freedom. Even as we are rooted in our world, she insists that we are free to resist the rationalized injustices of bureaucratic institutions. To do so, however, requires that we think. Thinking, the activity of freedom, is the quintessential political action. It is also, Arendt suggested, increasingly rare. The conference is sponsored by the Human Rights Project and the Jewish Studies and Political Studies Programs at Bard College, with support from Wendy and Alex ’71 Bazelow, Burton Construction Corp., the Fund for Constitutional Government, Richard Gilder, and the Wasserman-Streit Y’DIYAH Memorial Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. For more information about the conference, contact Roger Berkowitz at 845-758-7413 or, or visit Program: Thinking in Dark Times: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt Bard College Friday, October 27 2:00 p.m. TOUR: The Hannah Arendt Collection at Bard College’s Stevenson Library, led by Jeff Katz, dean of information services and director of Bard College libraries, Bard College 3:30 p.m. WELCOMING REMARKS: Michèle D. Dominy, vice president and dean of Bard College, and conference organizers, Roger Berkowitz, visiting assistant professor of political studies and human rights, Bard College; Thomas Keenan, director, Human Rights Project, Bard College; and Jeff Katz, Bard College 4:00 p.m. PANEL ONE: “What Does It Mean to Think about Politics?” Chair: Florian Becker, assistant professor of German, Bard College Mark Antaki, faculty of law, McGill University Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Yale University Jennifer Culbert, professor of political science, Johns Hopkins University George Kateb, professor emeritus, political science, Princeton University Commentator: Karen Sullivan, associate professor of literature, Bard College 6:00 p.m. KEYNOTE ADDRESS: “Reflections on Anti-Semitism,” Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other publications Saturday, October 28 9:30 a.m. PANEL TWO: “What Is the Importance of Arendt’s Jewish Identity?” Chair: Benjamin Stevens, assistant professor of classics, Bard College Leon Botstein, president, Bard College Ron Feldman, adjunct professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco Jerome Kohn, director, Hannah Arendt Center, The New School Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, Columbia University Commentator: Suzanne Vromen, professor emeritus of sociology, Bard College 11:15 a.m. PANEL THREE: “Is Evil Banal? Is Totalitarianism a Current Threat?” Chair: Thomas Keenan, Bard College Peter Baehr, professor and head, Department of Politics and Sociology, Lingnan University in Hong Kong Richard Bernstein, Vera List Professor of Philosophy, The New School Peg Birmingham, associate professor and chair, Department of Philosophy, DePaul University Commentator: Nancy Leonard, professor of English, Bard College 1:00 p.m. Lunch (available for purchase) 1:30 p.m. KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Mark Danner, James Clarke Chace Professor and Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism, Bard College; professor of journalism, University of California, Berkeley 3:00 p.m. PANEL FOUR: “What Is the Activity of Democratic Citizenship?” Chair: Elaine Thomas, assistant professor of political studies, Bard College Jay Bernstein, University Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, The New School Jeffrey Isaac, Rudy Professor of Political Science, University of Indiana Patchen Markell, professor of political science, University of Chicago Verity Smith, Department of Social Studies, Harvard University Commentator: Ann Lauterbach, David and Ruth Schwab Professor of Languages and Literature, Bard College 4:45 p.m. PANEL FIVE: “How Does One Think in Dark Times?” Chair: Pierre Ostiguy, assistant professor of political studies and Latin American and Iberian studies, Bard College Cathy Caruth, Winship Distinguished Research Professor of Comparative Literature and English, Emory University Drucilla Cornell, professor of political science, women’s studies, and comparative literature, Rutgers University Yaron Ezrahi, Gersten Family Professor of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Uday Mehta, Clarence Francis Professor in the Social Sciences, Amherst College Commentator: Roger Berkowitz, Bard College 8:00 p.m. CONCERT: Bard Music Festival: “The New German School and Musical Narrative” The American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein Music by Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, and Hector Berlioz Sosnoff Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts Sunday, Oct. 29 10:00 a.m. Visit to gravesites of Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blücher, led by Jack Blum ’62, of counsel, Rosner, Moscow & Napierala, LLP 11:00 a.m. Opportunity to use Bard College’s Arendt Collection # # # (9.26.06)


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This event was last updated on 10-30-2006