The Origins of Totalitarianism
Arendt's first major book was titled The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which traced the roots of Stalinism and Nazism in both anti-Semitism and imperialism. The book was opposed by the Left on the grounds that it presented the two movements as equally tyrannical. She further contends that Jewry was not the operative factor in the Holocaust, but merely a convenient proxy. Totalitarianism in Germany was, in the end, about terror and consistency, not eradicating Jews only.
The Human Condition
In what is arguably her most influential work, The Human Condition (1958), Arendt distinguishes between the concepts "political" and "social", and "labor" and "work", and between various forms of action, and then explores the implications of those distinctions. Her theory of political action, corresponding to the existence of a public realm, is extensively developed in this work. Arendt argues that, while human life always evolves within societies, the social-being part of human nature, political life, has been intentionally constructed by only a few of these societies as a space for individuals to achieve freedom through the construction of a common world. These conceptual categories, which attempt to bridge the gap between ontological and sociological structures, are sharply delineated. While Arendt relegates labor and work to the realm of the "social", she favors the human condition of action as the "political" that is both existential and aesthetic.
Men in Dark Times
Her collection of essays, Men in Dark Times, presents intellectual biographies of some creative and moral figures of the twentieth century, such as Walter Benjamin, Karl Jaspers, Rosa Luxemburg, Hermann Broch, Pope John XXIII, and Isak Dinesen.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
In her reporting of the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the phenomenon of Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction. She was sharply critical of the way the trial was conducted in Israel. She also was critical of the way that some Jewish leaders, notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust. This caused a considerable controversy and even animosity toward Arendt in the Jewish community. Her friend Gershom Scholem, a major scholar of Jewish mysticism, broke off relations with her. Arendt was criticized by many Jewish public figures, who charged her with coldness and lack of sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. Because of this lingering criticism, neither this book nor any of her other works were translated into Hebrew until 1999.
Arendt ended the book by writing:
Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.
Arendt presents a comparison of two of the main revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. She goes against a common view of both Marxist and leftist views when she argues that France, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success. The turning point in the French Revolution occurred when the leaders rejected their goals of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In America, the Founding Fathers never betray the goal of Constitutio Libertatis. However, Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men had been lost, and advocates a “council system” as an appropriate institution to regain that spirit.
Arendt's essay On Violence distinguishes between violence and power. She maintains that, although theorists of both the Left and Right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Power comes from the collective will and does not need violence to achieve any of its goals, since voluntary compliance takes its place. As governments start losing their legitimacy, violence becomes an artificial means toward the same end and is, therefore, found only in the absence of power. Bureaucracies then become the ideal birthplaces of violence since they are defined as the "rule by no one" against whom to argue and, therefore, recreate the missing links with the people they rule over.
The Life of the Mind
Her posthumous book, The Life of the Mind (1978, edited by Mary McCarthy), remained incomplete. During Arendt's tenure at the New School in 1974, she presented a graduate level Political Philosophy class entitled, "Philosophy of the Mind." It was during these class lectures, that Arendt crystalized her concepts. The class was based on her working draft of "Philosophy of the Mind," which was later edited to "Life of the Mind." Arendt's working draft of Philosophy of the Mind was distributed to graduate students at the New School during her visiting professorship in 1974. Her work was the culmination of a lifelong concentration on a theory of Dialectic Materialism, whose proponents came to be known as The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Such famous social and political scientists as Jurgen Habermas and Herbert Marcuse were also members of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Also, stemming from her Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, her last writing focused on the mental faculties of thinking and willing. In a sense Life of the Mind went beyond her previous work concerning the vita activa. In her discussion of thinking, she focuses mainly on Socrates and his notion of thinking as a solitary dialogue between Me and Myself. This appropriation of Socrates leads her to introduce novel concepts of conscience (which gives no positive prescriptions, but instead, tells me what I cannot do if I would remain friends with myself when I re-enter the two-in-one of thought where I must render an account of my actions to myself) and morality (an entirely negative enterprise concerned with non-participation in certain actions for the sake of remaining friends with one's self).