What Do Hannah Arendt and Mel Brooks Have in Common?

by Corey Robin on February 27, 2015

Mel Brooks, interview with Mike Wallace:

How do you get even with Adolf Hitler? How do you get even with him? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule….If you can make people laugh at him, then you’re one up on him…One of my lifelong jobs has been to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler.

Hannah Arendt, interview with Joachim Fest:


In my opinion people shouldn’t adopt an emotional tone to talk about these things [the Eichmann trial], since that’s a way of playing them down….I also think you must be able to laugh, since that’s a form of sovereignty.



Dean C. Rowan 02.27.15 at 7:48 pm

I can’t source it, but this line has been cited countless times by anthologists and two-bit self-helpers, typically attributed to, uh, Bill Cosby: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, whatever your situation might be, you can survive it.”


Dean C. Rowan 02.27.15 at 7:57 pm

Okay, one more and I’ll shut up. Here’s de Long purveying Krugman: http://equitablegrowth.org/2015/02/27/morning-must-read-paul-krugman-closed-minds-problem/

His third option is perhaps of a kind with Arendt, Brooks, and, uh, Cosby.


Anon 02.27.15 at 9:12 pm

Yawn. Give it a rest.


Tom Slee 02.27.15 at 9:56 pm

I think maybe the “laughing at” thing can only be done at a suitable distance and maybe only for those who lost in the end.

Take Jimmy Savile, of whom The Guardian wrote yesterday oblivion is too good for him, after the latest horrible disclosure. Laughing at him wouldn’t help: it’s too close, he was a figure of fun (sort of) anyway, and — as the editorial says — he got away with it.


Charles R 02.28.15 at 12:45 am

Would linking to the Goodreads versions of texts be better or worse or about the same as linking to the Amazon site? Or even a Worldcat entry… I remember some folks were concerned about supporting Amazon with the clicking and the linking and the thing.

Still, there’s that review of The Last Interview by Peter Bradley where he quotes Arendt saying she’s not a philosopher. Does she go into this more in any of her correspondence that someone can link us to? He quotes her, saying

I am afraid I have to protest. I do not belong to the circle of philosophers. My profession, if one can even speak of it at all, is political theory. I neither feel like a philosopher, nor do I believe that I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers, as you so kindly suppose. But to speak of the other question that you raised in your opening remarks: you say that philosophy is generally thought to be a masculine occupation. It does not have to remain a masculine occupation! It is entirely possible that a woman will one day be a philosopher …

I very much appreciate any directions anyone sends me to go.


oldster 02.28.15 at 1:22 am

“It is entirely possible that a woman will one day be a philosopher …”

How sad that she should have gone to her grave not knowing how many women are philosophers, how many women have been philosophers.


Ronan(rf) 02.28.15 at 4:04 am

“To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment.. It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify the world with those zones in the well-off countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people’s pain, just as it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and massive injustice and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. The do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.”


Igor Belanov 02.28.15 at 3:52 pm

Half Man Half Biscuit were well ahead of time when it came to ‘laughing at’ Savile. Truly a man who was hiding in plain sight:

“Down at Stoke Mandeville I bumped into Mr IQ
I said “Hey albino, this is not 1972

Stub out your King Edward and get that small boy off
your knee
And melt down your rings and things and get yourself
off my TV”

Jim could you fix it for me
To come down and suck out your kidneys?
I’ve got this young brother, you see
Who wants to stay alive to watch Bilko”

(I Left My Heart in Papworth General)

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