‘We Refugees’: Hannah Arendt and the Perplexities of Human Rights

Lyndsey Stonebridge

in The Judicial Imagination

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780748642359
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652150 | DOI:
‘We Refugees’: Hannah Arendt and the Perplexities of Human Rights

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Hannah Arendt later adopted Arthur Koestler's uncompromising title in her description of Europe's refugee population in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In Origins, she developed one of the most subtle and complex critiques of how the twentieth century ruptured historical fantasies about the inalienable sanctity of rights to emerge out of the war. Arendt's irony in ‘We Refugees’ both gives vent to the rage of a ‘we’ torn brutally from its language, occupation and memory and, through a subtle ventriloquism, protests against attempts to normalise the position of the refugee. The problem of the refugee for political life, Arendt later argued in Origins, is that her very non-political existence illuminates ‘the dark background of mere givenness’: that is, a life before rights, a non-political existence – the ‘background formed by our unchangeable and unique nature’, which is governed not by law, but by difference.

Keywords: Hannah Arendt; Origins of Totalitarianism; We Refugees; human rights; Arthur Koestler; non-political existence

Chapter.  8047 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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