From today's NY Times: Bringing Kids to enjoy summer Math a Bard.
At this camp, asking “What kind of math do you like, algebra or geometry?” is considered an appropriate icebreaker, and invoking the newly learned term “the multiplication principle” elicits whoops and high-fives.
My friend and Colleague Walter Russell Mead has recently posted an excellent essay to his equally excellent blog Via Meadia. Mead is a good friend of the Arendt Center and he will be speaking at the Hannah Arendt Center's Fall Conference, Truthtelling: Democracy in an Age Without Facts. Our blog will continue to follow his posts.
The theme of his recent essay is the tragedy that is the American inner city. He writes:
The state of the American inner city is an unacceptable human tragedy, and the costs in money spent and prosperity forfeited create an unsustainable drag on the national economy at a time when we need all the help we can get.
Mead argues that while the Great Society programs had some positive effects, they have failed.
"We are spending massive amounts of money and conditions are getting worse."
According to Mead, the problems now are so deep and profound that we need radical new approaches to them and that the first step is "to break with the core assumptions of the catastrophically wrongheaded ‘best and the brightest’ of the 1960s." Towards that end, he writes, we need to be "Thinking less racially about urban problems." This is controversial, but it is also right in many ways. As Mead writes in Part II of his essay:
Racial problems in the US contributed to the particular history of the urban underclass and race can never be totally ignored in this country, but the inner city today is haunted by three serious problems, none of which is racial in nature: a lack of jobs, an advanced state of social disintegration and decay, and the presence of the illegal drug industry.
One of Mead's most provocative "solutions" is the need for "bad jobs" to return to the inner cities. The kinds of jobs that currently most Americans don't want and that we give to illegal immigrants, jobs "where people bang metal and use power tools all day long." The problem is that these jobs are often not allowed to exist because we have created health, safety, and environmental regulations that protect workers and make operating such small businesses too difficult and too expensive. Or, if they are allowed, the regulatory requirements are so extensive that it takes too long and costs to much to start such businesses, to they are outsourced to less regulated areas, leaving the members of the inner city without the kinds of jobs that they need. Mead is arguing that to save the inner cities, we have to abandon, or at least slacken, the protections of our regulatory state that, for many of us, are at the core of our self-image as a civilized society.
I recall conversations with some libertarians after Hurricane Katrina who criticized--often in racially tinged language--the fact that the residents of New Orleans waited for the Government to act and didn't rebuild on their own. I could only point out the obvious, that it was actually illegal for residents to rebuild on their own! That the government required permits, zoning waivers, environmental plans, etc., things that no self-reliant individual could muster. The point is that our cities have squashed individual self-reliance and small business in the name of safety and regulation. This is well-meaning and has benefits. But we must also recognize that it is squashing the path to economic self-sufficiency for those who cannot afford the lawyers and fees to start a business within the modern regulatory state.
Something has to give, and one of the real conversations we need to have in our nation today is whether we would rather have a clean and safe regulatory state with lots of unemployed workers supported by the wealthy, or whether we are willing to let people work in dirty,demanding, and sometimes dangerous jobs so that they can work themselves and their families up the economic ladder.
These are the serious questions Mead's posts raise. He asks us to confront head on facts that most of us would rather ignore—that our desire to have clean cities with shiny glass storefronts that look and feel suburban, that our desire to make our cities green and protect workers from dangers, and that our desire to impose strict building codes—have all, beyond their obvious benefits, made the cities unaccommodating to small businesses that the cities need.
Mead has been roundly criticized because he says that we need to, at times, see the problems of the inner city as problems caused by the progressive regulatory state; and, also, because he does not blame racism for the problems of the inner cities. Of course racism is still pervasive and debilitating. And yet, Mead asks us to confront other facts as well and then to think about them. He wants us to see that our well-meaning effort to make cities greener, safer, and more livable is also stifling the economic development of the cities and choking off the opportunities for dynamic small-business-led growth that is the best bet to break the cycle of underclass dependency in our cities. This debate is one we need to have, whatever the answers we decide upon. And Mead should be credited for his courage in helping to initiate that debate. In the spirit of Hannah Arendt, he is asking us to "think what we are doing" and to go back and challenge the basic prejudices and assumptions that underlie are not 50+ year effort to solve the problem of the inner cities.
You can and should read all three of his posts here:
Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and tried by Israel in 1961. The Fiftieth Anniversary of his justly famous trial has yielded a series of appraisals and re-appraisals, none more controversial than Deborah Lipstadt's new book The Eichmann Trial. Lipstadt's book is distinguished for its critical approach to Arendt's own account of the Eichmann trial in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Given the controversy stirred by Arendt and reignited by Lipstadt, The Hannah Arendt Center Blog will publish a series of comments and appraisals of both Arendt and Lipstadt over the course of the year. This post by Kaye Cain-Nielsen reviews Lipstadt's book. See also Daniel Maier-Katkin's discussion of Lipstadt's book and Roger Berkowitz's latest blog on Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem.
On September 12, 2001, author and activist Ward Churchill posted a now-notorious essay called “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” In the essay, Churchill famously deemed those working in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,” or people whose daily, bureaucratic work betrayed a blind compliance with an immoral, harmful system.
Ten years after Churchill's essay, and fifty years following the trial of Eichmann, it is time to consider the weight and meaning of the phrase “little Eichmanns.” For the past half-century, Eichmann’s name has signified a special breed of modern human. Thanks to Hannah Arendt, most people have come to understand Eichmann as a herald for the terrifying possibility of ordinary people displaying and promoting true evil. In other words, the popular belief is that this particular Nazi was just a normal person driven by his desire to succeed, rather than any true hatred or criminal intent, to facilitate the murder of millions.
Arendt covered the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for The New Yorker. Although her insights and conclusions from the trial, including an original justification for Eichmann’s execution, are often wildly misconstrued. Eichmann in Jerusalem has been torn to shreds ad naseum; critics have labeled Arendt a self-hating Jew, among other things, for the formulations and criticisms contained in her book.
For the sake of presenting the trial and Arendt’s coverage, let us dosomething that most critics have not, and take a moment to consider how Arendt characterized her own words. In the wake of Eichmann in Jerusalem’s publication, and at the zenith of harsh criticism, Arendt wrote this in the postscript to her book:
- This book, then, does not deal with the history of the greatest disaster that ever befell the Jewish people, nor is it an account of totalitarianism, or a history of the German people in the time of the Third Reich, nor is it, finally and least of all, a theoretical treatise on the nature of evil. The focus of every trial is upon the person of the defendant, a man of flesh and blood with an individual history, with an always unique set of qualities, peculiarities, behavior patterns, and circumstances. All the things that go beyond that, such as the history of the Jewish people in the dispersion, and of anti-Semitism, or the conduct of the German people and other peoples, or the ideologies of the time and the governmental apparatus of the Third Reich, affect the trial only insofar as they form the background and the conditions under which the defendant committed his acts.
This year, Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt took it upon herself to free Eichmann’s trial from Arendt’s clutches with her new book, The Eichmann Trial. At least, this has been the prevailing critical interpretation of Lipstadt’s contribution. The bulk of the book is actually not about Arendt. In the first five of the book’s seven chapters, Lipstadt tells the story of the trial itself.
There are a few things that Lipstadt’s book does well. She presents the trial in its entirety, and since she has had ample experience in the genre, she does tell a court story well. She offers a sensational description of Israel’s discovery of a broken Eichmann in a squalid Argentinean shack and his bizarrely eager compliance with his captors. She relays the facts of the trial itself as she sees them, and presents some interesting new information.
She covers Ben-Gurion’s fierce defense of Israel’s questionable right to try Eichmann, the construction of a makeshift courtroom for Eichmann in Jerusalem’s new community center, the various squabbles over judge appointments and the polarized views on what the trial was meant to accomplish. She shares the reaction of the press, noting the way they flocked to Israel looking for a grand trial of Nazism in general, and the speed at which many journalists fled to the next story when matters became more complicated.
Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center, lectures to the National Endowment of the Humanities Seminar on Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism. Specifically, his lecture focuses on the first chapter of the Imperialism section of Arendt's inquiry into the "Burden of Our Times," as she originally titled the book.
The talk moves from Arendt's discussion of Cecil Rhodes's quotation, "Expansion is everything,"--which Arendt argues defines the character of Imperialism, the explosion of limits and the breach of the nation-state--to Thomas Hobbes' claims that "Reason is reckoning" and that man is a "power-thirsty" being--which Arendt sees as the bursting of human limits that underlies the appearance of totalitarianism.
You can hear some of the Questions and Answers session addressing Arendt's discussion of Hobbes here:
You can hear some of the Questions and Answers session addressing Arendt's discussion of the birth of racism here:
Back on April 12, Arendt Center Senior Fellow Wyatt Mason joined Simon Critichley (New School) and others for a panel asking this eternal question. Sponsored by the Villa-Gillet, the event also includes a dramatic reading of a new English translation of Stefan Zweig's Schachnovelle, by Roger Grunwald. It is a dramatic beginning to an essential questioning.
You may have heard about or Read Deborah Lipstadt's new book on The Eichmann Trial. Amidst some powerful storytelling, Lipstadt offers a powerful Zionist reading of the Eichmann trial and, in the process, takes aim at Arendt. She agrees with Arendt's defense of Israel's right to hold the trial and agrees with Arendt's defense of the importance of the trial for Israel and the Jews. But she also criticizes Arendt on numerous accounts. At times, her criticisms become hysterical and divorced from the facts. She writes that Arendt denies that Eichmann was an antisemite, which would be laughably false if it weren't also widely believed. She suggests that Arendt's anti-Jewish presentation of the trial was influenced by her enduring love for Martin Heidegger, again an utterly ridiculous premise. And she says that Arendt was, like Eichmann, unthinking--something is hard to take from such a polemical writer as Lipstadt.
Despite wild inaccuracies and self-interested potshots, Liptstadt's book has received much attention, some of it positive. And the book has some positive features.
To separate good from bad and to engage the ongoing conversation, The Hannah Arendt Center will be publishing a series of blogs, essays, reviews, and talks that address Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and the controversy it has spawned.
We recently posted a short plea to be sceptical of second-hand mis-appropriations and to read Arendt's book oneself, before one criticizes or defends it.
Here, we post a video of a recent talk by Daniel Maier-Katkin, author of an excellent intellectual biography of Arendt, The Stranger from Abroad.
On July 5, 2011, Maier-Katkin gave a talk at an NEH Seminar at Bard College in which he addresses Lipstadt's book alongside Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. You can watch the talk here.
n.b. The sound is a bit quiet, but very audible, especially if heard with earphones.