Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities
31Jul/111

Uday Mehta: Gandhi and Political Truthfulness

"No one," Hannah Arendt wrote, "has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues." That politics does and also needs deception is an ancient insight. Lies have long been regarded as necessary tools of the politician.

At the same time, Arendt insists that politics also demands truth. Without some common truth that a people can agree upon, the political community will cease to exist. When political communities lose the ability to speak of common truths--when the lose the ability to "say what is" as a matter of common sense truths, that political community faces an existential question.

In March of this year, The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College, in collaboration with the New School for Social Research, hosted Lying and Politics, A two-day conference asking:

What is the fate of politics in an age of Lying, Advertising, and Mass-Market Deception?

Speakers at the conference included:

George Kateb,William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University

Andreas Kalyvas, Associate Professor of Political Science, The New School

Kirstie McClure, Associate Professor of Political Science, UCLA

Uday Mehta, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, CUNY

Roger Hodge, Former editor of Harpers Magazine.

Roger Berkowitz, Academic Director, Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College

Uday Mehta began his talk by questioning Arendt's acceptance of the proposition that Lying, when it is politically warranted, is justified. Mehta's talk asks two questions:

"What is it about political ends that allows it to justiably overwhelm the expectations of truthfulness?"

"What would politics have to be if it were the sort of activity that was constrained by the truth?"

Working through the thought of Gandhi, Mehta explore what it would mean to develop a politics based on a fundamental imperative to act truthfully.

You can watch Uday Mehta's exceptional talk here.

25Jul/110

Lying and Politcs

In June of this year, Americans celebrated a curious anniversary. The Pentagon Papers turned 40. For Hannah Arendt, what struck anyone who would sit down and read the 47 volumes was the "quicksand of lying statements of all sorts, deceptions as well as self-deceptions." The untruths in the Papers included factual deceptions: Phony body counts and doctored after-damage reports. But these factual lies, Arendt writes in her essay Lying in Politics, were known before they were published in the New York Times. Like the recent Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables that elicited a collective yawn from all but those who were caught with their feet in their mouths, the Pentagon Papers hardly revealed any spectacular news.

The import of the Pentagon Papers was not the sudden revelation of unknown facts, but the light they shone on the dangers of self-deception. The lesson Arendt drew was that highly intelligent problem solvers could so easily convince themselves of their technocratic ability to steer the war that, when the facts contradicted their theories and calculations, they concluded that it was the facts that must be wrong. What the Pentagon Papers showed, Arendt argued, was not the workings of cabal seeking to deceive others for some end so much as the powerful danger of lying to oneself.

In March of this year, The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College, in collaboration with the New School for Social Research, hosted Lying and Politics, A two-day conference asking:

What is the fate of politics in an age of Lying, Advertising, and Mass-Market Deception?

Speakers at the conference included:

George Kateb,William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University

Andreas Kalyvas, Associate Professor of Political Science, The New School

Kirstie McClure, Associate Professor of Political Science, UCLA

Uday Mehta, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, CUNY

Roger Hodge, Former editor of Harpers Magazine.

Roger Berkowitz, Academic Director, Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College

Videos of the talks are available and we will be posting them over the coming days. You can watch Roger Berkowitz's Introduction to the theme of Lying and Politics here:

And you can watch George Kateb's Lecture (introduced by Jerry Kohn pictured below) "Democracy and Lying," here:

And here is the Question and Answer session for George Kateb's paper:

25Jul/114

Walter Russell Mead and the Need to Think About our Inner Cities

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:

Read Part I of Mead's Essay here.

Read Part II of Mead's essay here.

Read Part III of Mead's essay here.

rb

20Jul/110

Roger Berkowitz on Arendt’s Reading of Imperialism

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:

DO THE HUMANITIES TEACH US TO BE FREE? by Villa-Gillet

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10Jul/110

Daniel Maier-Katkin Takes on Deborah Lipstadt

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.

RB