Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.
Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.
Ian Buruma looks at the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit vote. He argues that both votes are in important ways responding to a similar distaste for certain kinds of citizens.
“So Farage and Trump were speaking about the same thing. But they have more in common than distaste for international or supranational institutions. When Farage, in his speech in Jackson, fulminated against the banks, the liberal media and the political establishment, he was not talking about foreign bodies but about the aliens in our midst, as it were, our own elites who are, by implication, not “real, “ordinary” or “decent.” And not only Farage. The British prime minister, Theresa May, not a Brexiteer before the referendum, called members of international-minded elites “citizens of nowhere.” When three High Court judges in Britain ruled that Parliament, and not just the prime minister’s cabinet, should decide when to trigger the legal mechanism for Brexit, they were denounced in a major British tabloid newspaper as “enemies of the people.”
Trump deliberately tapped into the same animus against citizens who are not “real people.” He made offensive remarks about Muslims, immigrants, refugees and Mexicans. But the deepest hostility was directed against those elitist traitors within America who supposedly coddle minorities and despise the “real people.” The last ad of the Trump campaign attacked what Joseph Stalin used to call “rootless cosmopolitans” in a particularly insidious manner. Incendiary references to a “global power structure” that was robbing honest working people of their wealth were illustrated by pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein. Perhaps not every Trump supporter realized that all three are Jewish. But those who did cannot have missed the implications.
When Trump and Farage stood on that stage together in Mississippi, they spoke as though they were patriots reclaiming their great countries from foreign interests. No doubt they regard Britain and the United States as exceptional nations. But their success is dismaying precisely because it goes against a particular idea of Anglo-American exceptionalism. Not the traditional self-image of certain American and British jingoists who like to think of the United States as the City on the Hill or Britain as the sceptered isle splendidly aloof from the wicked Continent, but another kind of Anglo-American exception: the one shaped by World War II. The defeat of Germany and Japan resulted in a grand alliance, led by the United States, in the West and Asia. Pax Americana, along with a unified Europe, would keep the democratic world safe. If Trump and Farage get their way, much of that dream will be in tatters.”
The demonization of any group of law-abiding citizens is a dangerous form of identity-based populism. The populist may speak for the people, but who and what is the people? Identity-based populism imagines a fictional conception of a homogenous people. That fantasy of a defined “people” is powerful and deeply appealing. So when others appear who don’t belong to the fantasy, the easiest response for populists is not to revise and expand their conception of the people, but to eliminate or isolate those “enemies” of the people. Because populist movements are always tempted to prove the reality of their claims by achieving the purity they imagine, populism is dangerous and carries huge risks; under the wrong conditions (for example a major terrorist attack), populism can slide into authoritarianism. Vigilance is called for. But not all populism leads to authoritarianism. The recent outburst of populism in Europe and the United States is, at least in part, an illiberal democratic rebellion against an undemocratic technocratic liberalism. —RB