Love and <i>Bildung</i> for Hannah Arendt

Gabriel Motzkin

in Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780520220560
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520923669 | DOI:
Love and Bildung for Hannah Arendt

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There is a story that has been told about German–Jewish culture, which is that German Jews were uniquely interested in Bildung. They adopted the ideal of self-cultivation, of being educated people, as a symbol of the status which they had achieved. According to this story, they used Bildung to compensate for the lack of social definition, for their being what Hannah Arendt so trenchantly called pariahs. Bildung gave them an entrée into a universal social class, one not defined by birth. Yet this universal class was not defined by achievement, for the way Bildung was to be acquired is qualitative, and not quantitative. Bildung was supposed to reflect one's inner worth. This story became popular in post-World War II German–Jewish historiography. Its narrative was perhaps inevitably tinged with an ambivalent nostalgia, a retrospective yearning for a finer past that was constrained by an awareness of that past's tragic culmination. Not all German–Jewish intellectuals of the postwar era shared this nostalgia. Many postwar intellectual trajectories can be evaluated in terms of a deep skepticism toward the ideal of Bildung, a skepticism that also permeated Hannah Arendt's prewar portrayal of Rahel Varnhagen's emotional biography.

Keywords: Bildung; German–Jewish culture; intellectuals; Rahel Varnhagen

Chapter.  4967 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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