HANNAH ARENDT’S PARADOX
Hannah Arendt's Quotation
The inclusion of a citation by Hannah Arendt, immediately in front of the bas-relief, aims to highlight the reflection made by parts of civil society on the frieze in question. In the three official languages of the province (German, Italian & Ladin) it reads: No one has the right to obey. The intervention seeks to historically contextualise Piffrader's work. It superimposes new elements, capable of counterbalancing the overwhelmingly ideological content. This ideology is most clearly evident in the image of Mussolini on horseback, and the Fascist motto Believe, Obey, Fight.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was one of the most important intellectual figures of the twentieth century. Philosopher, historian and political scientist, she was also German with a Jewish background. With the advent of Nazism, Arendt was compelled to emigrate to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1951. In the same year, she published the book ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ in New York. This became a classic in the research of the genesis of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. In it, she brings into the open the racist, genocidal, anti-Semitic, imperialist, liberticidal, propagandist and, ultimately, inhumane nature and methods of such regimes.
The quotation in question comes from a radio interview Arendt gave to Joachim C. Fest, 9th November 1964. During the conversation, she stated: "Kein Mensch hat bei Kant das Recht zu gehorchen" (according to Kant no man has the right to obey). In doing so, Arendt wanted to contest the “banality of evil”, personified in the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, on whose trial in Jerusalem she had published a famous essay with that title. Many Nazis argued that they had only obeyed orders. Eichmann, in particular, attempted to refer back to Kant's categorical imperative to justify his actions, distorting completely the meaning. Arendt responded to this by insisting on the ethical duty of the individual to resist the totalitarian temptation, to refuse unjust orders and to be aware of the significance of their actions.
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