The Jewish Judgement of Hannah Arendt
Keywords:universalism, particularism, Hannah Arendt, genocide, legal system, trauma
In June 2017, The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute (VWI) organised a joint workshop in Vienna with the International Research Centre for Cultural Sciences (IFK) on Hannah Arendt. This workshop aimed to look more closely at Arendt’s understanding of judgement and the constant tension in her thought between universalism and particularism. This also serves as the point of departure for this essay. I would like to start with a couple of questions which were not only of interest for Hannah Arendt but for all scholars dealing with issues of genocide and mass death and how to judge it: Are Nazi murderers just a bunch of criminals? Can a legal system be the appropriate tool or its courts the venue for dealing with the traumas of past atrocities, the legacy of the Holocaust, or the unprecedented suffering of millions of victims? What does that do to our faculty of judgement which, of course, is not only the formal decision given by a court of law, but also our capacity to give an informed opinion and our capacity to cross the bridge from the particular to the universal and back?
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