We are witness here and around the world to a worldwide rebellion against liberal and representative democracy. In Hungary, Russia, Turkey, France, Austria, and across Europe, right and left wing parties flirt with authoritarian rule. In the United States, President-elect Donald Trump explicitly channels the populist voice of the self-described disenfranchised. Democratic governments everywhere are revealed – as never before – as corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic. The great political achievement of the modern era – stable representative and liberal democracies – is everywhere under attack.
Hannah Arendt rooted the crisis in democracy in the dissipation of public power. Most liberal-minded people today are fearful of public power. We say power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but the insufficiency of this formula is lately all too apparent. We are scared of the power that emerges when people act together against the experts. And we prefer a government of experts, not least because it frees us to spend our time on private pursuits like consumption and family. The disempowerment of the people in representative democracy embraces our bourgeois preference to be freed to pursue our individual interests, to be relieved of the duty of politics and public virtue. Much easier to leave governing to the experts.
I suspect you may agree with me that the power and authority of experts is waning. The rise of networks with access to infinite information means that the authority of any one source is diminished. The expertise of the press is challenged. The authority of government is undermined. And the hypothetical claim of science to truth is diminished by the infinite multiplication of information. In all realms, power has shifted from the shepherds to the sheep. And the sheep organize themselves in energetic and coherent communities based on eccentric beliefs impervious to wider standards of communal truth. What is potentially lost is a common liberal pluralist community, a meaningful unity amongst are real differences.
More than ever our world needs Hannah Arendt’s fearless and bold inquiry into the political and ethical results of cynicism. Arendt understood how cynicism invalidates truth and fans the creation of conspiracies and coherent fantasies. She saw how cynicism turns us away from the common public world and leads to narcissistic preoccupation with our internal feelings and our personal beliefs. She knew that at the root of the twin dangers of totalitarianism and authoritarianism lie the despair, hopelessness, and homelessness that is too frequently the result of globalized, cosmopolitan society.
In times of cynicism we need to join together and affirm common values. The Hannah Arendt Center offers public online reading groups, public conferences, a weekly newsletter, and public programs on “Moral and Political Courage,” “Free Speech, “and “Hate and the Human Condition” all designed to call into existence a public world of thinking. I ask that you join us.
A large part of our annual budget, including our annual conference, is supported by the contributions by members like yourself. Your support is needed and deeply appreciated. We cannot do it without you! Please support the Center by renewing your membership, or consider making a year-end contribution with us today.
We wish you a very thoughtful and joyful holiday season and hope to see you at Arendt Center events in 2017!
In a world on fire, we reflect on the hopeful moments and insight we witnessed this year.
OUR TEAM GROWS!
Our dedicated team at the center continues to grow. We welcomed an incredible group of fellows: Senior Fellow: Wyatt Mason; The National Endowment for the Humanities/Hannah Arendt Center Distinguished Fellow: William Deresiewicz; Research Director: Thomas Wild; Klemens von Klemperer Post Doctoral Fellow: Samantha Hill; Post Doctoral Fellow: Stephen Haswell Todd; and Visiting Scholars: Agustina Varela Manograsso, Dana Mills, Joy Harris, and Davide Brugnaro.
We are also pleased with the continued increase in student engagement. This year, we added a team of nine student fellows to our center: Ana Bauer, Shila Bayor, Oskar Dye-Furstenberg, Gemma Godfrey, Claire Harvey, Annah Heckman, Keegan Holden, Loreli Mojica, and Stefan Stojanov.
They will assist with the Courage To Be program and we are thrilled to have such a talented group of students on board this year. We also welcome five returning student interns: Morgan Evans, Marketing Intern, Ann Burnett, Photography Intern, Clara Gallagher, Media Intern, Milan Miller, Media Intern and Ava Lindenmaier, Graphic Design Intern.
And we’re continuing to grow the Arendt Center media archive. You can watch nearly all of the lectures given at the Center from our website. Currently, our interns are hard at work on one of our most exciting projects, extracting audio from each of our video clips and preparing it for you in a podcast format!
VIRTUAL READING GROUP
Our Virtual Reading Group completed its 26th session on Friday, December 2nd, with a discussion on the text, “Tradition and The Modern Age,” from Arendt’s Between Past and Future. This year, we completed Crises of the Republic, along with “Preface: The Gap Between Past and Future” and “The Crisis in Education,” both essays from Between Past and Future, as well as “Reflections on Little Rock” from Responsibility and Judgment.
HA: THE JOURNAL, Volume 4
We released our fourth volume of HA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, which draws principally on the 2015 Arendt Center Conference, “Does Privacy Matter?” Volume 4 features contributions from Edward Snowden, Robert Litt, David Brin, Ben Wizner and Dr. Anita Allen, among others…
We held our 9th annual international conference, “REAL TALK: Difficult Questions about Race, Sex, and Religion?” with speakers including Claudia Rankine, Mary Gaitskill and William Deresiewicz. The conference was a tremendous success, with many hundreds in attendance. You can view the entire webcast of the two-day event here (individual edits of each talk to come). Look out for these essays in Volume 5 of the Journal…
NADIA MURAD BASEE TAHA
We hosted Nadia Murad Basee Taha, the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, who spoke about her campaign against sexual violence and other war crimes committed by the Islamic State against the Yazidi people. (View the video by clicking the image below.)
We also hosted Jerome Kohn and his inaugural lecture in the Arendt Center’s new “Hannah Arendt Edition Lecture Series,” which will include scholars working on a new bi-lingual edition of Arendt’s collected works (video available soon at the above link).
DORM ROOM CONVERSATIONS
Our new student-led initiative, Dorm Room Conversations, hosted an inaugural public conversation between supporters of Donald Trump and supporters of Hillary Clinton. As part of our Free Speech Project, Dorm Room Conversations bring together students, faculty, and staff with different political views for honest talks and deep listening to those with fundamentally different opinions and politics. (View the video by clicking the image below.)
SAVE THESE DATES IN 2017!
COURAGE TO BE SERIES
We are excited to continue the ‘Courage To Be’ Dinner and Lecture Series with Penny Gill on Tuesday, February 7th at 6:00pm EST, Tania Bruguera on Tuesday, February 28th at 6:00pm EST, and Mariame Kaba on Tuesday, April 11th at 6:00pm EDT. The Practice of Courage Seminar Instructors for the Spring 2017 term include Tabatha Ewing, Truth Hunter, Thomas Keenan, Bruce Chilton, and Ariana Stokas.
THE HA CIRCLE
We will host The Hannah Arendt Circle’s 11th annual meeting for three days at the end of March, an international meeting of scholars exploring the work of Hannah Arendt. To learn more about the event, working groups, and special book panel, visit the event page for more information.
VRG 27 AND BEYOND
We’ll be picking back up our reading group sessions with Virtual Reading Group #27 on January 6th, discussing the essay “The Concept of History: Ancient and Modern,” from Between Past and Future.
After next week’s discussion of “The Concept of History: Ancient and Modern,” we’ll be changing gears for 10 meetings and beginning a weekly discussion of Arendt’s famous work, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Members and Bard students are welcome to attend, and opportunities for the public to join in on each week’s discussions will be made available via our reading group page.
IS THE PRIVATE POLITICAL?
On Friday, April 21st, we will host a Colloquium titled “Is The Private Political,” a meeting of leading Arendt scholars on the connections between privacy, feminism, and politics. To learn more about the event, panelists, and schedule, visit the event page.
10th ANNUAL FALL CONFERENCE
We’ll be hosting our 10th Annual Fall Conference on October 12-13th, entitled, “Thinking in Dark Times: The Crisis of Democracy.” Mark your calendars, and remember, all members receive free access to the two-day conference!