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Hannah Arendt

The Relevance of Arendt`s Accounts of Evil and Refugeehood Today

Arendt asks what it meant to exist as a refugee in Europe 80 years ago; and she seeks to understand why it was possible that refugeehood became an evil. In her talk Caroline Stampone will discuss why Arendt’s characterization of refugeehood is still relevant today.

Bilde av Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt
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Fred Stein/Corbis

Today there are approximately 70.8 million of forcibly displaced persons in the world. Most of the times when we discuss philosophically or politically how to deal with such reality we tend to focus on the perspective of states and ask questions like ‘what do capable states owe to refugees as a matter of justice?’. Arendt’s account of refugeehood is not concerned with this question. She asks what it meant to exist as a refugee in Europe 80 years ago; and she seeks to understand why it was possible that refugeehood became an evil. According to her, evil is a synonym of “making human beings as human beings superfluous”. In this paper I discuss why Arendt’s characterization of refugeehood is still relevant today. I argue that Arendt’s take on refugeehood is a powerful reminder that theory and policies on the refugee problem must seriously consider the perspective of refugees themselves. Moreover, her link  between the creation of superfluous persons and the organization of the world in states that have an almost absolute right to exclude is an invitation to rethink the traditional philosophical justification of why we should care about refugeehood. In more practical terms, Arendt’s insistence on the banality of evil invites individuals to think about their own actions in front of the phenomenon of large scale refugeehood.