Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities
9Mar/153

Hannah Arendt on Use and Consumption

consumption

By Philip Walsh

“In our need for more and more rapid replacement of the worldly things around us, we can no longer afford to use them, to respect and preserve their inherent durability; we must consume, devour, as it were, our houses and furniture and cars as though they were the ‘good things’ of nature which spoil uselessly if they are not drawn swiftly into the never-ending cycle of man’s metabolism with nature. It is as though we had forced open the distinguishing boundaries which protected the world, the human artifice, from nature, the biological process which goes on in its very midst as well as the natural cyclical processes which surround it, delivering and abandoning to them the always threatened stability of a human world.”

-- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

This quote reveals Hannah Arendt’s distinctive critique of the consumer society that she realized was becoming dominant in 1950s America. It is quite different from that of the ‘culture industry’ motif that the Frankfurt School thinkers of the time were presenting, but it was no less devastating and, I think, more prescient.

6Mar/150

Hannah Arendt Library: Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

ArendtLibrary

In a trip to Bard College's Hannah Arendt Library back in February, we came across this collection of the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. Schelling was a German philosopher who helped cultivate German idealism, a philosophical movement closely linked to Romanticism and to ideas inspired by the Enlightenment. Though his works have generally been neglected in the English world, which has as much to do with Schelling's method of analysis and changing ideas as it does with philosophy readers' preference for the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Schelling's friend and later rival, many philosophers in modern times, including Martin Heidegger, have expressed a renewed interest in Schelling's work.

schelling HA Library

4Mar/150

Howard Zinn on Thinking

Howard Zinn

"We all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.”

-- Howard Zinn, American historian, author, and activist, "Changing Minds, One at a Time,” Mar. 2005 (1922-2010)

(Featured Image: Howard Zinn; Source: PEN New England)

2Mar/153

Arendt and Transformation

Transformation

By Thomas Wild

“Let us assume I had an extraordinarily good memory, I would never have written anything down.”

– Hannah Arendt, 1964

“Let us assume I had an extraordinarily good memory, I would never have written anything down,” Hannah Arendt once said in an interview. We are lucky that Arendt actually did not have that kind of memory. Had she never written anything down, all her thoughts, in the moment she died, would have vanished from the world as though they had never existed.

27Feb/151

Hannah Arendt Library: St. Augustine

ArendtLibrary

On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Library at Bard College, we came across this book: The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine.

augustine confessionsaugustine confessions(2)As one can see from the following images, Arendt spent some time adding marginalia to this particular selection of Augustine's Confessions, Book XI: page 202. At left, we see Arendt react to Chapter 29 with the following comment: "Distinction! because time is distinctive."

Below, we see that Arendt has annotated two passages. The first, marked by a single vertical line and an "X," reads: "'What did God make before He made heaven and earth?' Or, 'How came it into His mind to make anything when He never before made anything?'"

The second section, distinguished by two "X's" and an underline, proceeds as follows: "Let them therefore see that there could be no time without a created being."

Saint Augustine played an important part in Arendt's intellectual development. After all, she spent the greater part of her career writing and re-writing her dissertation on Augustine's conception of love. You can read more about Arendt's dissertation here.

augustine confessions(3)

26Feb/150

The American Jewish Peace Archive

FromtheArendtCenter

We at the Hannah Arendt Center are always happy to celebrate the work of our fellows. This week, we recognize Aliza Becker, one of her Associate Fellows, and her creation of the American Jewish Peace Archive: An Oral History of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Activists (AJPA).

25Feb/151

Eric Hoffer on Thinking

eric hoffer

"The beginning of thought is in disagreement - not only with others but also with ourselves."

-- Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms (1955)

(Featured Image: Eric Hoffer; Source: ClockTower)

23Feb/150

Hannah Arendt and the Political Dangers of Emotion

emotion

By Johannes Lang

“Whatever the passions and the emotions may be, and whatever their true connection with thought and reason, they certainly are located in the human heart. And not only is the human heart a place of darkness which, with certainty, no human eye can penetrate; the qualities of the heart need darkness and protection against the light of the public to grow and to remain what they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for public display.”

–Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963)

Since September 11, 2001, historians and social scientists have rediscovered the political relevance of emotion. In the current climate of war and terror, public discussion is suffused with references to fear, hatred, and patriotism. But what are the moral and political consequences when such passions enter the public sphere? One of the most famous political thinkers of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt, worried about the entry of emotion into politics. She scolded the French revolutionaries for having been carried away by their compassion for the poor and praised the American Founding Fathers for their aloof commitment to universal ideals and for their detached attitude to the suffering masses. Emotions may be important as subjective motives for individual action, Arendt granted, but they should neither be aired in public nor be made the basis for collective action. Emotions disfigure politics; political movements should be based on rational argument, not passion. Yet, as Volker Heins has pointed out, there was one thing Arendt feared more than the intrusion of emotions into politics: a politics completely devoid of emotion. The “ice-cold reasoning” and bureaucratic rationality she discerned behind the Holocaust was infinitely more terrifying than any other political pathology known to man. Arendt’s deep ambivalence toward emotions confronts us with a fundamental question: What is the proper place of emotion in politics?

20Feb/150

Congratulations to Michiel Bot!

FromtheArendtCenter
michiel bot

Michiel Bot

(This post is a reproduction of a message included in the "From the Arendt Center Blog" section of our Amor Mundi newsletter dated 2/15/15.)

We are pleased to announce that Michiel Bot, one of our post-doctoral fellows, has received the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities at Tilburg University for the summer of 2015! Congratulations, Michiel!

More information about the fellowship can be found here.

20Feb/150

Hannah Arendt Library: Karl Marx

ArendtLibrary

On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Library at Bard College, we came across this small collection of books on economic theory. A number of titles can be identified from the photograph below. These include The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism, which is the principal work of Marxist theorist Rosa Luxemburg; Capitalism Today, a collection of 12 essays that, in the minds of some reviewers, cohere around the notion of capitalism providing unlimited material progress; and The Idea of Usury, a historical analysis of usury dating back all the way to the text of Deuteronomy.

Also readily apparent are several different copies of Karl Marx's Capital. Arendt was highly critical of some of the ideas put forth by Marx, including his reduction of all aspects of society to the fulfillment of labor and life's necessities, his characterization of social phenomena as symptoms of trans-historical processes, and his belief that self-alienation--not world-alienation, as proposed by Arendt--has dominated the modern age. No doubt these and other works of Marx played an important role in shaping Arendt's understanding of politics, economic affairs, and the world.

hannah arendt library marx

18Feb/150

Tolstoy on Thinking

Leo Tolstoy

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking...."

-- Leo Tolstoy

(Featured Image: Leo Tolstoy; Source: The Huffington Post)