Hannah Arendt: A Dangerous Mind

Spring 2024 | WNET’s American Masters

Hannah Arendt’s story, like so many, is the story of America, and the promise of American democracy. Forced to give up her successful academic career in Germany and flee Nazi Europe, Arendt made a home in New York City after emigrating through Ellis Island in the spring of 1941. She worked as a housekeeper, an editor, a columnist, and an adjunct professor, all while writing her first major work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, which was published in 1951. That same year she received American citizenship, and to mark the occasion as a new beginning, she legally changed her name from Johanna to Hannah. As a Jewish refugee, Arendt saw firsthand what happens when a nation-state collapses, when social order disintegrates, when “fake news” and lies dominate politics. In Nazi Europe, she experienced the horrors of prejudice, the melancholy of homelessness and the terror of isolation. But in the United States she found a country not defined by ethnonationalism or totalitarian power. She found the promise of democracy in action, the “freedom to be free,” and the spirit of American revolution. Through resilience, courage, hard work, and luck, Hannah Arendt became the most influential and provocative political thinker of the 20th century. A Dangerous Mind (working title), introduces this complex, controversial, flawed and irrefutably courageous woman and her work to a diverse and contemporary audience.

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