Shortly after the German reunification and the formation of the Free State of Saxony, the Saxon parliament decided to establish the Institute, which began its work in 1993.
The name was chosen in honour of the German-American philosopher and political scientist Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), whose work vividly showed that dictatorships with totalitarian
tendencies destroy the very essence of polity. The Hannah Arendt Institute devotes itself to the systematic research of Communism and National Socialism, which, as ideological dictatorships,
decidedly shaped the 20th century, and whose consequences burden the present and the future. Comparative perspectives of other fascist and state socialist systems add to the research on the
dictatorships in Germany, and this Dresden research institute is also concerned with critical analysis of past and present political extremism.
In addition to the interdisciplinary - oriented analysis of the political and social structures of both German dictatorships and their effects on the German reunification, the charter also requests the research into the opposition against tyranny, with a particular consideration of totalitarian tendencies and currents.
The National Socialist and Communist regimes cannot be adequately understood if the ideologies and movements preceding the establishment of those regimes are ignored. As Jacob Talmon’s research shows, the historical roots of these ideas date back to at least the eighteenth century. The Hannah Arendt Institute deals with this topic, among others, in projects about the history of ideas of "political extremes," "totalitarian thinking," and "the dictatorship of the proletariat." However, the "criticism on totalitarianism from the left" is not ignored, as shown by the series published by Mike Schmeitzner, which focuses on the German discourses of the 20th century.
The research interests of the Institute are not limited to 1989. If so, one would exclude the inheritance and effects of the dictatorships from consideration. However, the challenges and endangerments of democracy posed by autocratic, extremist, and fundamentalist tendencies require attention.
Research on totalitarianism and dictatorships, starting with the German dictatorships, should be able to prove through its questions, analysis and methods its "connectivity" to research of the transition and consolidation. The project on the Consolidation of Democracy in Central Eastern Europe serves this purpose and is supported within the European Union’s Sixth Framework Programme. Furthermore, a new multivolume work, Wege der Totalitarismusforschung ( Paths of Research on Totalitarianism ), has been launched. Its purpose is to publish fundamental and historical works of research that focus on totalitarianism and that have been out of print, forgotten or unnoticed. These texts may also include obscure essays, posthumously published writings, and works not yet translated into German. A first volume, consisting of the Berlin political scientist Richard Löwenthal’s writings on his theory of totalitarianism, will be published in 2009.
While researching the dictatorships of the inter - war period and regime transformation, the Central and Eastern European states receive great attention. Beneficial organisational conditions have been created through the further development of contacts to research institutes in Central and Eastern Europe and through a programme funded by the European Union that promotes successful transfer of knowledge in the field of transitology. The Hannah Arendt Institute contributes to the structuring of European research landscape, according to the European Commission’s recommendations, through the intensification of research efforts in Central and Eastern Europe. Although research regarding Hannah Arendt and her works does not fall under the Institute’s charter, the results of a conference commemorating her 100th birthday will be published in 2008 in proceedings entitled Hannah Arendt weitergedacht.
In January 2008 the Scientific Committee along with external experts, presented a statutory evaluation of the institute. The panel of experts concluded that the institute is "on the right path" and recommended a "further narrowing and rationalisation" of the research profile.
Dresden, Münchner Platz
Tillichbau der TU
Dresden, Sitz des HAIT