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On Violence

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  2,814 ratings  ·  212 reviews
An analysis of the nature, causes, and significance of violence in the second half of the twentieth century. Arendt also reexamines the relationship between war, politics, violence, and power.

“Incisive, deeply probing, written with clarity and grace, it provides an ideal framework for understanding the turbulence of our times.”
The Nation
Paperback, 106 pages
Published March 11th 1970 by Harvest Books
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Gill
Apr 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book makes clear that Arendt is amazingly well read... Though, given 50 years, I am always amazed at how much more we are supposed to read (and often how much less we do) as modern academics and students rather than academics in the 1950s and 60s.

While I can see the relevance of Arendt's writing on this subject in reference to the time the book was published and in response to authors like Sorel and Fannon, unlike many of the other reviewers I am not a fan of this book. Her, at times polem
...more
Sidharth Vardhan

"Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power."

Arendt refuses to define power as mere ability to do violence as some of the old authors she quotes has defined it to be. The book is written in times of cold war and during fears of mutually assured destruction. Arendt refuses to see violence as something that goes along with political power. She seems t
...more
Ana
I can feel myself slowly falling in love with Arendt. I already respected her, having been in the process of reading her "Origins" book for some time now. But in these shorter works of hers, you can really see her reasoning power and witness how perfectly balanced her turns of phrase are. What I most like about "On Violence" is that I can detect the research that has gone into writing this small essay. Her sentences are very compact, so in the end even a few of them can relay a lot of informatio ...more
Lindsey
May 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a really great work of political theory by Arendt. It explores violence, mostly through the lens of the 1960s when she was writing this book. It looks at the student rebellions across the world, in both democracies and communist countries. The coincidence of the uprisings is interesting, and she posits that they are both protesting for the same reason, albeit in different manifestations. Students around the world were looking for freedom. The students in communist countries were looking ...more
Justin Evans
Nov 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays, philosophy
Had this been written by Joan Bloggs, it would be out of print and almost certainly ignored. But it was written by Hannah Arendt, so it's in print. And given the lack of books on violence, that's probably a good thing. Unfortunately I suspect that it can easily be misread. The historical context here is everything: Arendt isn't writing about violence, she's writing about violence at the end of the 'sixties and start of the 'seventies, when for a brief moment fairly large numbers of people though ...more
Sleepless Dreamer
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wanted to read something for Holocaust Memorial Day and well, Hannah Arendt is pretty much the first philosopher that crosses my mind when I think about the Holocaust, even if this book isn't about the Holocaust so really, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life.

On Violence is a short book (or more like essay) about, you guessed it, violence. My biggest conclusion is that Hannah Arendt is incredibly well read and that I am not. She bases herself on so many writers and I found it a little h
...more
Iman
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Now, this was disappointing!
Part I is clearly dated, I was ,nevertheless, surprised from Arendt's trivialization of black student movement, and generally from here "lumping" of the Neo-Leftists student movements across both sides of the Atlantic.
Part II, Arendt introduces here definition of Power, Strength, Force, Authority and Violence. Her definition of Power seemed simplistic to me (Where's Gramsci in all of this I kept asking). In this part she introduces the basic premise of the book and t
...more
Robert Wechsler
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Although structured as a three-part essay, this is essentially two intertwined essays in one. Each is interesting in a different way. The ideas of one, focused on the engagé moment, come out of the student revolutions in Europe and the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, black power). This essay takes the reader back (if old enough) to an interesting moment that turned out not to have had a great effect, politically, on the future (its greatest effect, especially in the U.S., has been the reaction to ...more
Martin
Apr 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
A fantastic treatise on the nature and function of violence, particularly in the modern period. However, the focus is overwhelmingly from the political dimension. Divided into three parts, parts 2 and 3 are essential reading. Part 1 oftentimes comes off as dated in its examples and outlook. But it is Part 2 that makes the entire book. In it, Arendt carefully delineates and differentiates definitions for "Power", "Strength", "Force", "Authority", and "Violence". All of which are useful if not nec ...more
Rock Lamanna
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
While examining why the student movements of the '60s reached a boiling point, something I didn't expect when I first opened the cover, Arendt disentangles Mao Zedong's axiom that power grows from the barrel of a gun. By clearly and concisely distinguishing terms like power, violence, and authority, words we tend to use synonymously in political discourse, the true source of power is revealed--political action conducted in concert with others--which she then extends to explain the collective fee ...more
Benoit Lelièvre
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
In order to appreciate this book, you have to understand Hannah Arendt here is thinking of violence in political terms: war, uprising, rebellion, etc. That said, some of her points are applicable on the complete spectrum of human violence. The fact that it is a mean and not an end for example. That is served as a theater for the cause it is serving and that is what makes it terrifying when properly used. Arendt also wisely draws a line between purposeful violence and emotional violence, which he ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Hannah Arendt does an excellent job of tracing the thread of violence through the quilt of violent acts.
Bjorn
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germany, usa
50 years old, and simultaneously frighteningly up-to-date and hopelessly dated. Arendt picks up issues and dynamics that are still (and maybe always were) relevant in her attempt to define violence and power as not two sides of a coin but antitheses; power can employ violence, but violence destroys the base for power, which based on the situation in the late 60s - Vietnam, student revolts, Prague - asks questions of "Where do we go from here?" that largely remain unanswered, even though several ...more
Adnan
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a book on political theory, and philosophical reflection, that I deeply enjoyed. It looks back on history and contemplates it, and reopens some important cases that study the nature of power and violence.

On Violence is fragmented into three main chapters. The first chapter offers a brief review of the idea of violence over the years, and what political theoreticians have said about it. The second chapter focuses on the distinction between power, authority, and violence, and does a compar
...more
John David
Oct 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Arendt’s book begins by commenting on the paradoxical nature of violence during the Cold War. She says, “The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict.” She is, of course, referring to the advent of the atomic age. In an age, then, when the victory of one party of another means the virtual annihilation of both, what political and id ...more
Jessica
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: John . Bova
[Violence] phenomenologically… is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength until, in the last stage of their development, they can substitute for it.

pt 3 kinda fucked on race.

pg. 81
The crucial feature in the student rebellions around the world is that they are directed everywhere against the ruling bureaucracy. This explains what at first glance seems so disturbing – that the rebellions in the
...more
Ted
Mar 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academia
Arendt's long essay/short book "On Violence" notes that war has become unglamorous and ineffective as a political force, yet it remains because we have not found an adequate replacement for this. This is perhaps understood as a more politically-minded equivalent of William James's idea 60 years earlier that we need to find a "moral equivalent of war" that will harness the cooperation and personal altruism that war can elicit, but without the horrific consequences that far outweigh the benefits.

A
...more
Jonathan Norton
Oct 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Written in 1969, this is Arendt's brief appraisal of the 1968 student upheavals, and the civil disorder occurring across American cities at the same time. Some of it repeats ideas from "On Revolution" a decade earlier, but there is new commentary from her engagement (mostly sceptical) with the student literature. She didn't think much of Fanon, though acknowledged that he wasn't deeply studied by his self-declared disciples. Black Power movements also get a harsh assessment, though she recognise ...more
Stephen Ullman
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A rebuttal of Mao's famous statement that "Power grows from the barrel of a gun." Arendt distinguishes between power and violence and in social and political terms places them as isolated presences. Where there is power there is no violence, where violence occurs, it is a sign of weakness. This book is only getting more relevant.
Thomas
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy-books
Hannah Arendt's short book of political philosophy, On Violence, is a simple, fulfilling and digestible text that poses interesting questions for understanding politics, history, revolution and the State. While her writing is less than perfect - she often wrote in a rush and then had her books 'englishified' - her exposition and discussion of political concepts is both insightful and challenging. This book is certainly worth reading, and in all likelihood will not occupy more than an afternoon; ...more
Joseph Devine
Mar 06, 2019 rated it liked it
While Hannah Arnedt may indeed have some great analysis and theorising about the relationship of power and violence in this book (mostly in chapter 2), which is definitely worth reading, it is just a huge shame that the book is so deeply marred by her dismissive and tone-deaf treatment of race, specifically the issue of black americans, to the extent one wishes she hadn't mentioned it at all. It is best - or rather worst - exemplified in her astonishingly pedantic quibbling over Frantz Fanon's s ...more
Wei Chang
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is necessary to mention here that Hannah Arendt is not a philosopher but a political scientist. It is important because we have to notice that she was talking about violence in a political perspective, which, is rather about the conducting of violence by the state apparatus. To be more specific, she was focusing very much on the mass conflicts between the state and the political activists in the western world, mainly the US and Europe, and thus her conclusion may not be applied to other incid ...more
Hung
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although On Violence is Hannah Arendt’s most well-known analysis of violence in the “century of wars and revolutions”, the theme of violence can be encountered throughout her other political writings, such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Conditions and On Revolution. Arendt’s reflections on violence emerge out of her experience of some of the most traumatic chapters of the twentieth century, including the rise of totalitarianism in the West, the persecution of the Jews and Nazism’s ...more
Matty-Swytla
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I find Arendt's analysis on the use of violence for political aims to be a rather refreshing one. The three interconnected essays nicely lay down an analysis of the events taking place in 1968, which do have some similarities with today's protesters on campuses in the world. It's only ironic that people haven't learned anything and get reduced to violent screeching and window-smashing again and again. That's not how one gets people to listen; taking out your frustration on the police or public p ...more
Shrimp
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hannah Arendt can be described as an agnostic in the religious war of the left versus the right. This war raged on after the second world war, and across the globe through student movements when she wrote this essay. It was in the middle of what she herself describes as the "apocalyptic chess game”, the cold war. In this essay, she attacks Marxist philosophers that egged on the students in the late '60s towards violence. She points out how these intellectuals shifted their beliefs from peaceful ...more
Micah
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the second Arendt book I've read, the first being Eichmann in Jerusalem. Both of them are top-notch. This is an incredibly even-handed treatment of the subject of violence. Arendt essentially dispels the left's worst ideological excesses when it comes to violence–both those who are against it no matter the context and those, like Mao, who wrote that "power grows out of the barrel of a gun." It's particularly impressive that she wrote these two essays in the middle of the massive upheaval ...more
Will Staton
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
More of a treatise than a book, it still took me over two weeks to make it through 90 pages. This is a good thing b/c Arendt is brilliant, but I had to reread pages, paragraphs, and sometimes even sentences multiple times to fully comprehend them. Every time I read something by Arendt, I feel as though I learn something new, and that I'm being pushed in my thinking. "On Violence" is no different, although it is a bit more disjointed and less comprehensive than some of her other work.

Most compel
...more
Rachel
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
While there are a number of key insights to be had in this slim, late work and her formulation of the inverse relationship between power and violence is fascinating, it's all bogged down in cringe-inducing racism -- for instance, her assertion that black student activists who were unqualified to attend university supposedly misused their power to demand courses in "nonexistent subjects" such as African literature, or her assertion that yes, of course reverse racism is a real thing and that black ...more
UChicagoLaw
I am re-reading Hannah Arendt’s On Violence, in light of the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. Arendt’s concern was the 1960s when many on the left celebrated violence as a means to bring about a new order. She thought this was totally misguided, and develops an interesting framework for thinking about violence, authority, and power. Violence, she writes, "can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it." I hope she is right. —Tom Ginsburg ...more
Nicholas Gunter
Fascinating political philosophy examining the differences between power and violence. She claims power and violence are antithetical. Violence comes in the absence of power.

Also, there is a movie coming out about Hannah Arendt! Very excited to see the portrayal of Arendt's philosophy, coming out of World War II, on the big screen!
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Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) was one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and lived in Paris for the next eight years, working for a number of Jewish refugee organisations. In 1941 she immigrated to the United States and soon became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York. She held ...more

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“These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest.” 16 likes
“In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless, we have a tyranny without a tyrant.” 8 likes
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