Monday, November 2, 2009

Rosenbaum & Wasserstein attack Arendt via Walter Frank

The above article was written by Ron Rosenbaum for Slate. It is entitled,The Evil of Banality, Troubling new revelations about Arendt and Heidegger.

Rosenbaums chief source is an article by Bernard Wasserstein from the Times Literary Supplement, which is not available on line something Rosenbaum notes. While I dont have access to that article, I do have Arendts The Origin of Totalitarianism so it is possible for me to check some of the things Rosenbaum says Wasserstein says:

And then "in a new preface [to The Origins of Totalitarianism] written in 1967, Arendt commends the work of the leading Nazi historian Walter Frank … whose 'contributions,' " Wasserstein quotes Arendt, " 'can still be consulted with profit.' "

Wasserstein wonders about her motives here [Rosenbaum writes]: Was she bending over backwards not to be totally dismissive of ideological opponents who despised her on categorical (i.e. racial) grounds? he asks.

"But there must have been more to it than that, he answers, because modern Jewish history was the only subject where she repeatedly relied on Nazi historians as external authorities, that is, other than as evidence of what the Nazis themselves thought or did. Moreover she internalized much of what the Nazi historians had to say about Jews, from the 'parasitism' of Jewish high finance to the 'internationalism' of [Walther] Rathenau [the Weimar German minister assassinated by anti-Semites.]

“’Of course, there have always been Jewish critiques of Jews. But Arendt's aversion clearly ran much deeper than has been supposed, Wasserstein asserts. He concludes his piece by wondering, Why?

Lets read what Arendt actually wrote. In her preface on page xiv she does indeed say what Wasserstein says she says, but he takes her out of context and implies something she never meant. Here is the context:

In her preface she wrote, Even the dubious products of Jewish apologetics, which never convinced anybody but the convinced, were towering examples of erudition and scholarship compared with what the enemies of the Jews had to offer in matters of historical research. She footnotes this sentence and in the footnote writes, the only exception is the anti-Semitic historian Walter Frank, the head of the Nazi Reichsinstitut fur Geschichte des Neuen Deutschlands and the editor of nine volumes of Forschungen zur Judenfrage, 1937-1944. Especially Franks own contributions can still be consulted with profit.

Why can the contributions of thisanti-Semitic historian beconsulted with profit? In the first of four references, Arendt writes (on page 21) Frank, in spite of his official position under the Nazis, remained somewhat careful about his sources and methods. In this article he quotes from the obituaries on Rathenau in the Israelitisches Familienblatt (Hambug, July 6, 1922), Die Zeit, (June, 1922) and Berliner Tageblatt (May 31, 1922).

Does this sound as though Arendt has allowed herself to be corrupted by Nazi ideology? Not to me.

The next reference to Walter Frank is on page 100. In her text she writes Contemporary journalists and later historians have made valiant efforts to explain the conflict between military and civil powers during the Dreyfus Affair in terms of an antagonism between businessmen and soldiers. Then in a footnote to this passage she writes., It is under this caption that Maximilian Harden (a German Jew) described the Dreyfus case in Die Zukunft (1898). Walter Frank, the anti-Semitic historian, employs the same slogan in the heading of his chapter on Dreyfus while Bernanos (op. Cit., p. 413) remarks in the same vein that rightly or wrongly, democracy sees in the military its most dangerous rival.

On page 339, Arendt writes Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty. Then in a footnote she discusses several examples. This is the part of her footnote pertaining to Walter Frank: The last to fall into disgrace was the historian Walter Frank, who had been a convinced anti-Semite and a member of the Nazi party before it came to power, and who, in 1933 . . . In the Early forties, Frank had to cede his position and influence to the notorious Alfred Rosenberg, whose Der Mythos des 20, Jahrhunderts certainly shows no aspiration whatsoever to scholarship. Frank clearly was mistrusted for no other reason than that he was not a charlatan.

Thus far Arendt has indicated confidence in Frank for his accurate quotations and references. Too bad Rosenbaum and Wasserstein didnt share Franks talent.

In the last of the Frank references in Arendts book, on page 402, we read, A classical instance of this planned shapelessness occurred in the organization of scientific anti-Semitism. In 1933, an institute for study of the Jewish question . . . was founded in Munich which, since the Jewish question presumably had determined the whole of German history, quickly enlarged into a research institute for modern German history. Headed by the well-known historian Walter Frank, it transformed the traditional universities into seats of ostensible learning or facades.

This last reference is a mere statement of fact about Franks career. Frank was appointed to a certain post, and from the previous reference we learned that his Nazi superiors sometime later decided he wasnt the right man for the job and replaced him Rosenberg.

My conclusion from what I read is that Rosenbaum and Wasserstein slandered Arendt in the way they describe Arendt as commending thework of the leading Nazi historian Walter Frank.


Bob said...

Thank you for the seemingly simple disassembling of the latest assault to discredit Arendt for not being jewish enough. Is theirs an example of banal or radical animus?

Lawrence Helm said...


See comment at


Anonymous said...

The slanders about Arendt's alleged "antisemitism" are never-ending. The acid bath of actually checking the citations, though, tends to eviscerate the charges. Nice work, but the Arendt-haters don't bother to read her work responsibly anyway (by the way, it's fascinating how the most unreliable and mendacious of Arendt's critics claim that all her defenders are part of some "cult," when they're the ones who can't read the evidence responsibly and can't get their footnotes right).

Lawrence Helm said...


Seem my response at


Anonymous said...