Even beyond political theory, Hannah Arendt's analysis of the minority and refugee problem in the European interwar period has found broad appeal. Authors such as Michael Marrus, Claudena Skran, Gérard Noiriel, and Aristide Zolberg all refer to Arendt's work in their studies on minorities and refugees. Zolberg, for instance, states that Arendt's analysis of the interwar period “provides the principal key for understanding how refugees come about.” He concludes that in her work Arendt links the refugee and minority problems directly to the spread of the idea of the nation-state to eastern and southeastern states. In agreement with Arendt, Claudena Skran maintains that from the perspective of the new national governments, the minorities posed a problem “because they do not fit within the normal parameters of a world of nation-states.” The massive streams of refugees, Skran continues, were “by-products of efforts to achieve ethnically pure nation-states and ideologically homogeneous political systems.” As Michael Marrus points out, for authors dealing with refugee and minority issues, the main reason for referring to Arendt's studies is that Arendt was one of the first to highlight “the singular predicament of refugees” and to describe “how they were reduced to a lonely, savage existence, hounded from place to place by national governments that alone accorded to people elementary rights.”
Although Zolberg, Skran, and Marrus emphasize an important argument within Arendt's considerations, I argue that the narrative they base their arguments upon is problematic. With respect to their object of inquiry, all three speak of the nation-state as a sovereign actor that pursues its interests independently and that thus bears responsibility for the precarious humanitarian situation of the refugees. Yet, if one considers Arendt's analysis from the perspective of political theory, that narrative of the nation-state as a sovereign actor is misleading. The refugee and minority problem, I argue, discloses the “internal disintegration” of an order of nation-states and the impracticality of its concepts in a globalized world. For Arendt, the minority problem does not show the sovereignty of the nation-state but its inappropriateness as a form of government and the concurrent fall of a Europe composed of nation-states. Against the background of the interwar period, the question of the reliability, stability, and durability of a political order represented by the nation-state becomes the linchpin of her analysis.