Racism in the theory canon: Hannah Arendt and ‘the one great crime in which America was never involved'

Owens, Patricia (2017) Racism in the theory canon: Hannah Arendt and ‘the one great crime in which America was never involved'. Millennium, 45 (3). pp. 403-424. ISSN 0305-8298

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Hannah Arendt’s monumental study The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, is a founding text in postcolonial studies, locating the seeds of European fascism in the racism of imperial expansion. However, Arendt also harboured deep racial prejudices, especially when writing about people of African descent, which affected core themes in her political thought. The existing secondary literature has diagnosed but not adequately explained Arendt’s failures in this regard. This article shows that Arendt’s anti-black racism is rooted in her consistent refusal to analyse the colonial and imperial origins of racial conflict in the United States given the unique role of the American republic in her vision for a new post-totalitarian politics. In making this argument, the article also contributes to the vexed question of how international theorists should approach important ‘canonical’ thinkers whose writings have been exposed as racist, including methodological strategies for approaching such a body of work, and engages in a form of self-critique for marginalising this problem in earlier writing on Arendt.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Racism, Theory Canon, Hannah Arendt
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Advanced International Theory
Depositing User: Patricia Owens
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2017 10:32
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2021 17:32
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/66694

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