Today is the birthday (1906) of Johanna “Hannah” Cohn Arendt, a German-born philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology have had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is counted among the most important political philosophers of the 20th century. Arendt was born in Hanover, but largely raised in Königsberg in a secular merchant Jewish culture to parents who were supporters of the Social Democrats. Her father died when she was 7, so she was raised by her mother and grandfather. After completing her secondary education, she studied at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a brief affair, but who had a lasting influence on her thinking. She obtained her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 at the University of Heidelberg with Karl Jaspers.
Arendt married Günther Stern in 1929, but soon began to encounter increasing antisemitism in 1930s Germany. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and while researching antisemitic propaganda for the Zionist Federation of Germany in Berlin that year, Arendt was denounced and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. On release, she fled Germany, living in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before settling in Paris. There she worked for Youth Aliyah, assisting young Jews to emigrate to Palestine. Divorcing Stern in 1937, she married Heinrich Blücher in 1940, but when Germany invaded France in 1940 she was detained by the French as an alien, despite having been stripped of her German citizenship in 1937. She escaped and made her way to the United States in 1941 via Portugal.
She settled in New York, which remained her principal residence for the rest of her life. She became a writer and editor and worked for the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, becoming an American citizen in 1950. With the appearance of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, her reputation as a thinker and writer was established and a series of seminal works followed. These included The Human Condition in 1958, and both Eichmann in Jerusalem and On Revolution in 1963. She taught at many American universities, while declining tenure-track appointments. She died suddenly from a heart attack in 1975, at the age of 69, leaving her last work, The Life of the Mind, unfinished.
Her works cover a broad range of topics, but she is best known for those dealing with the nature of power and evil, as well as politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. In the popular mind she is best remembered for the controversy surrounding the trial of Adolf Eichmann, her attempt to explain how ordinary people become active supporters of totalitarian systems, and for the phrase “the banality of evil”. She is commemorated by institutions and journals devoted to her thinking, the Hannah Arendt Prize for political thinking, and on stamps, street names and schools, amongst other things.
Here is a sampling of her writing, all of which is poignant and right on target:
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.
There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous.
Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.
The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.
The third world is not a reality, but an ideology.
No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.
I have given well-known Königsberg recipes before, including for Königsberger Klopse here — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/immanuel-kant/ Now I will switch gears and talk about Königsberg marzipan, a confection that was traditionally produced in the German city of Königsberg, but not now that it is the Russian city of Kaliningrad. Königsberg’s first marzipan production was established by the Pomatti brothers in 1809, who became confectioners of the Royal Prussian Court. They were joined by Sterkau, Petschliess, Liedtke, Siegel, Steiner, Gehlhaar, Plouda in Kneiphof, as well as Wald in Berlin and Schwermer in Bad Wörishofen. Königsberg marzipan is known for its flamed surface, which results in a golden-brown finish. It contains rose water and is often filled with jam. These characteristics distinguish it from the more common Lübeck Marzipan, which also frequently comes in more elaborate forms. First a video – apologies for the German, but it’s not hard to understand:
Now that you have the idea, you might want to try to replicate these dainties. They are not hard to make, just time consuming. Marzipan is not difficult to make from scratch, but I often buy it readymade.
500 gm marzipan
350 gm powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp kirsch
1 tbsp rosewater
2 tbsp water
maraschino cherries and candied lemon peel
Preheat the oven to 220°C/430°F.
In a bowl, knead the marzipan with 200 grams (approximately 1 cup) of the powdered sugar into a smooth dough.
On a baking board, roll the dough to 1 cm (approximately ¼ inch) thick. Cut out small shapes like hearts or circles. Cut narrow strips from the remaining dough.
Whisk the egg whites in a bowl. Whisk the egg yolk in a separate bowl. Brush the strips with the egg white and lay on the outsides of the shapes like a border. Use knitting needles or wooden skewers to indent notches into the border. Brush the edges with the egg yolk. Place the marzipan hearts and circles on a baking sheet and bake on the top shelf until starting to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
To decorate: in a bowl, stir the remaining powdered sugar with the kirsch, rosewater, and water until smooth. Brush into the centers of the hearts and circles. Cut the cherries and lemon peel into small pieces. Decorate the marzipan cakes with the cherries and lemon peel.