The Arendt Wars Continue: Seyla Benhabib v. Richard Wolin


Corey Robin in Crooked Timber:

In the beginning, when the battle first broke out after the publication of Eichmann, the main issue of contention was Arendt’s treatment of the Jewish Councils. But now that most of that generation of survivors is gone, that issue has died down.

Now the main fault line of the battle is Arendt’s treatment of Eichmann’s anti-Semitism: whether she minimized it or not. And that issue, it seems to me, is very much tied up with the fate of Israel.

After all, if the claim could be made, however vulgarly (for this was not in fact Arendt’s point at all), that Ground Zero of modern anti-Semitism was not in fact anti-Semitic, what does that tell us about the presence and persistence of anti-Semitism in the contemporary world? Again, that was not in fact Arendt’s argument, but it’s been taken that way, and I can’t help but think that one of the reasons why the focus on Eichmann’s anti-Semitism plays the role now that it does (as opposed to when the book was originally published) has something to do with the legitimation crisis that Israel is currently undergoing.

But this is for a longer discussion at a later point, one that I plan to explore in more depth in a piece on the Arendt wars that I’ll be writing for a magazine.

Right now, I’m more interested in the battle between Seyla Benhabib and Richard Wolin that has broken out over the last few weeks in the pages of the New York Times and the Jewish Review of Books. Again, prompted by Stangneth’s book.

I’ve been hesitant to weigh into this battle on this blog for a few reasons. First, I personally know both Seyla and Richard, who’s a colleague of mine at the CUNY Graduate Center. Though I tend to side with Seyla on the question of Arendt, I have a great deal of respect for Richard and his work. I like both of them, and don’t like getting into the middle of it. Second, as I said, I’ll be writing more on the Arendt wars in the future, and want to give myself some time and space to think about what they mean before I weigh in in public. And last, I don’t know that I have the stomach for the inevitable round of Seinsplaining I anticipate on the comment thread of this blog. Talk about Arendt, everyone thinks Heidegger, and lo and behold we have one after another thousand-word comment from Learned Men about matters that have little to do with the original post.

But there are two smaller issues that have come up in the exchange between Wolin and Benhabib that I did want to explore, in part because they are so small.

More here.