monkey-557586_1920

Amor Mundi: December 4th, 2016

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.

Establishment Blues

Gerald Herbert/AP

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

Continue Reading...
people-692005_1280

Amor Mundi: November 27th, 2016

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.

The Lying World of Consistency

Arthur Goldhammer argues that Trump’s “farrago of falsehoods” threatens the common world that allows any society to exist.

“In his essay “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde refutes the charge that politicians are the consummate prevaricators. “They never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation,” he ironizes, “and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind.”

Wilde would therefore have been flabbergasted by the spectacle of Donald Trump, who embodies “the temper of the true liar” like no politician before him. The full catalog of his superb irresponsibility need not be rehearsed here. Everyone knows about his excursions into the birtherist fun house, his phantasmagoric evocation of Jersey City Muslims cheering the destruction of the Twin Towers, his baseless insinuation that an opponent’s father abetted the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his contemptuous confidence that Mexico would pay for the wall he would build to cut it off from the United States, and his jaw-dropping assertion that President Obama was “the founder” of ISIS, to mention only a few of his lunatic ravings—the mind boggles at the merest enumeration. Yet this man is to become the President of the United States.

How could this have happened? What does the triumph of brazen fabulation portend for the future? What does it tell us about the state of the American psyche?…

His farrago of falsehood bespeaks an era in which the meaning of democracy has been debased to the point where every claim of truth, no matter how flimsy, is treated equally. Faith in independent authority has withered; the once “lamestream media” is now the Lügenpresse (lying press), a term tellingly borrowed from Weimar Germany, where the distinction between truth and falsehood was enforced by party discipline. Tocqueville foresaw what this vacuum of intellectual authority portended: “No society can prosper without common beliefs,” he wrote. Indeed, “none can survive…for without common ideas, there is no common action, and without common action, men may still exist, but they will not constitute a social body.”

Trump’s lies speak to this craving for a social body. His myth of past greatness, of a vanished glory that only he can restore, reflects a hunger for wholeness. Hungry Trumpians subsist on a diet of denial: They imagine a communion in which American supremacy is universally acknowledged, nonwhites and non-Christians know their place, and jobs long since forfeited to robots can be “brought back” by forcing China to its knees. As Tocqueville explained, each individual “retreats within the limits of the self and from that vantage ventures to judge the world.” Any dissent from this imaginary consensus is mocked. Such fables can survive only if never put to the test.”

As Donald Trump appoints people of color and women to his cabinet and as he flirts with a reconciliation with Nikki Haley and Mitt Romney, it is tempting to normalize Trump’s election, to argue that his extreme comments were simply PR, part of a campaign of bluster. It is likely that Trump will tilt to the middle for a time. Doing so will consolidate his power. But as Marianne Constable wrote for the Arendt Center last week, Trump’s “true” lies are based in his refusal to accord meaning to words. How are we to read Trump’s new moderated tone? Do his moderate words merit more weight than his extremist words? The problem, as Constable argues, is that “Dialogue and discussion, including civil disagreement, depend on words. All become impossible when words cease to matter.” Given the loss of dialogue, we are all thrust back on our individual hopes and personalized interpretations. There is an inflation of multiple and contradictory meanings that makes spurious all standards and truths.

To understand the damage Trump’s true lies may portend, it is important to see that he has set himself explicitly at the head of a movement. Movements need to move forward, which means that movements can never be satisfied with reaching a goal or upholding the status quo. Movements move by promising to fulfill a deep spiritual need. That is why movements mobilize masses who are longing for a “completely consistent, comprehensible, and predictable world.” There is what Hannah Arendt describes as a “desire to escape from reality because in [the mass of the people’s] essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects….” For Arendt, movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations.” In such a lying world, we are just one terrorist attack or war away from a mobilization in institutions are laid low and truth is finally abolished. This would be the full victory of cynicism, as I’ve argued elsewhere. —RB

Continue Reading...
silvio_berlusconi_to_a_joint_session_of_congress

Amor Mundi: November 20th, 2016

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.

Selfishness, Greed, and Identity Politics

Leon Botstein offers nine “Speculative Thoughts on the Trump Presidency.” Here are the first two.

“So for what it is worth, I have these speculative thoughts on the coming Trump presidency.

1. The Trump presidency is the consequence of dominant culture of selfishness and greed that has flourished in this country for decades, ever since the Reagan 1980s. In my view, even the collapse of communism helped discredit any value system capable of competing with an Ayn Rand style individualism focused on individual comfort and advantage and therefore money and wealth. Trump is the ideal symbol — the very essence of an American culture that holds that wealth is the only proper measure of human success and superiority. Kim Kardashian style super stardom and fame are close runner-ups. In the eyes of the electorate — particularly those without more than a high school education — Trump, falsely, of course, is the embodiment of the American dream.

One of the unintended consequences of the end of communism is the vacuum of any plausible value system that is not about wealth and mega-fame. The rise in executive pay, and the prominence of the so-called 1 percent have eroded any pride in middle class status, and in modest virtues such as character, service and learning. In a culture that justifies the notion that if one were truly smart, one would be rich, who else should be president other than a Trump, who passed himself as a successful entrepreneur. The consequences of radical inequality are cultural as well as material. Voluntary conformism — the absence of desire to use freedom — is one such consequence.

2. We have systematically eroded any sense of shared citizenship. We prize subordinate identities — by race, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and religion — all at the expense of a common notion of the citizen in a free society. What goes along with that is an oppositional attitude to government as a necessary evil, not as an asset or a virtue. As a consequence, there is a decline in the quality of public servants, elected and appointed. Anyone with a career in the public sector is seen as inferior to someone in the private sector. So Trump’s having never served as a public servant, and never paid his taxes, was seen as a badge of honor.”

Continue Reading...
protest-464616_1920

Amor Mundi: November 13th, 2016

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.

What Comes After Denial? Thoughts on Donald Trump's Movement

the origins of totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism (Source: Amazon)

In writing about the evils of genocide and totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt insisted on the effort to understand. “To understand totalitarianism is not to condone anything, but to reconcile ourselves to a world in which such things are possible at all.” Understanding means making our knowledge of totalitarianism meaningful. Understanding is a “strange enterprise,” and an “unending activity” by which we “come to terms with and reconcile ourselves to reality, that is, try to be at home in the world.” But why should we make totalitarianism meaningful? Why reconcile with evil?

Arendt argues that by making totalitarianism “meaningful,” understanding “prepare[s] a new resourcefulness of the human mind and heart.” In understanding, we take the other person’s point of view. We don’t abdicate our power to judge, but we do seek to make sense of that view, to see the world from its perspective. When I seek to understand I broaden my own view of the world and come to know my own view of the world as partial. This is why “Understanding is the specifically political way of thinking;” in understanding I take “the other fellow’s point of view!” and thus enter into political dialogue.

The election of Donald Trump as President needs to be understood; we need to enter into a political dialogue with the people who are angry. We need to listen to them. Listening does not mean agreeing. We may find them wrong. But we need to listen and we need to reconcile ourselves to a world in which people who don’t like Trump, who find what he says offensive and rude, would nevertheless take the risk in making him President because they are desperate to break up and destroy the corrupt system of power. My remarks here are an effort at such an understanding.

Continue Reading Roger Berkowitz’s essay “What Comes After Denial?” on Medium

Continue Reading...
gran_consiglio_fascismo

Amor Mundi: November 6th, 2016

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.

Generosity and The Real Evil

the origins of totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism (Source: Amazon)

Writers are turning to Hannah Arendt’s thinking about totalitarianism and fascism to try to understand Donald Trump. Last week Ingrid Burrington offered 14 quotations from Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism that she thinks shed light on Trump.

This week in the New York Times, Jason Stanley offers this quotation from Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism on his way to arguing that Trump is a dangerous authoritarian figure.

Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered with corruption … The modern masses do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.

Arendt did rightly see that a deep human need for simplicity and coherence lie as one of the foundations of totalitarianism. Such simplicity leads totalitarianism to adopt and push ideologies, pseudo-scientific truth claims that reduce the world’s problems to one basic cause. If there is poverty, it is because of Jews, or Africans; and it is because of the capitalists or the one percent. Ideologies insist that “one idea is sufficient to explain everything.”

The danger of ideologies is that logical coherence replaces free thinking. Ideologies free us from the messiness of reality. In offering truths that… continue this piece on Medium.

Continue Reading...
schroedinger_cat

Amor Mundi: October 30th, 2016

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.

The Confusion Between Discomfort and Abuse

At the Arendt Center’s “Real Talk” Conference two speakers (Erica Hunt and Claudia Rankine, both poets) recommended Sarah Schulman’s new book Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and The Duty of Repair. Schulman makes an essential argument, that we too often confuse the feeling of conflict or being uncomfortable with the experience of abuse or serious medical trauma. Looking at the way the police and also victims wrongly elevate claims of discomfort into arguments for abuse, Schulman argues that we must take up our “special responsibility to end shunning, facilitate communication, and do the work to reveal complex views of human behavior as we practice self-criticism and stand up to negative groups.” Hers is an important book. Megan Milks, offers a thoughtful meditation on Schulman’s project. ‑RB

“Schulman’s starting point is that normative conflict is too often mistaken for abuse, and that these false accusations of harm are often used to justify cruelty. Perhaps her most persuasive early example is police overreaction. The police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, for instance, encountered normative, nonthreatening resistance to their power and “saw threat gross enough to justify murder”; they “saw abuse.” More controversially, she relates these instances of police escalation to the behavior patterns of recovering victims of trauma. Because of the cruelty they have experienced in the past, she observes, victims in recovery may feel threatened despite the absence of threat, and respond by shunning, blaming, and/or projecting…. Making a historical link to the antiviolence movement, Schulman suggests that what she calls “the new victimology” is a distortion of that movement’s goals.

Schulman goes on to identify two patterns of behavior that she sees as closely related, naming them Supremacist behavior and Traumatized behavior. Those responding to conflict from a Supremacist position, she explains, “will not tolerate any opposition,” and so refuse knowledge. The Traumatized are similarly challenged by opposition, their “fragile selves” unable to bear it. Both seek control, Schulman writes, “in order to feel comfortable.””

Continue Reading...
gaudino-robert-with-student-1024x698

Amor Mundi: October 23rd, 2016

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.

Real Talk, Green Shoots

The Hannah Arendt Center had a spectacular Conference this week “Real Talk.” Amazing lectures and talks and conversations with Mary Gaitskill, Janet Halley, Alexandra Brodsky, Greg Lukianoff, Angus Johnston, Erica Hunt, Chris Lebron, Deroy Murdock, Jennifer Doyle, Annie Seaton, Goran Adamson, Judith Shulevitz, Claudia Rankine, Ariana Stokas, Carolyn Lazard, Robert Boyers, Uday Mehta, Bill Deresiewiecz, Wyatt Mason, Dina Toubasi, Mark Williams Jr., Sam Reed, Ken Marcus, Ken Stern, Dima Khalidi, Peter Rosenblum, Leon Botstein and our incredible members and audience. Thank you all.

Here is a transcript of Roger Berkowitz’s Introductory Talk. To read it in its entirety, view the piece on Medium here.

“Robert Gaudino was a professor at Williams College who developed an educational course in “uncomfortable learning.” Inspired by his experience in the Peace Corps, Gaudino would ship Williams students to live in villages and cities in India where they pursued independent projects with local communities. Above all, the students were encouraged to reflect about their work as an an experience that unsettled their worldviews. College, Gaudino argued, should “actively promote a range of experiences that have the creative potential to unsettle and disturb.”

Gaudino died in 1974 but his legacy lives on. In 2014 a group of students founded the “Club for Uncomfortable Learning” in Gaudino’s spirit. On a liberal campus, the club has a lecture series that aspires to host speakers who challenge left-wing verities. Greg Lukianoff, who calls himself a liberal defender of free speech and will be speaking later today, was one of the inaugural speakers in Williams’ Uncomfortable Learning Series. Inspired by the Uncomfortable Learning lectures, the Arendt Center has started a new lecture series at Bard, “Tough Talks,” which picks up the challenge of inviting speakers whose views are bold, challenging, and uncomfortable. Bill Deresiewiecz, who will speak tomorrow, will inaugurate Bard’s Tough Talks Lecture Series on November 7th. Camille Paglia will be speaking in the Spring.

Paradoxically, the Williams club dedicated to uncomfortable learning last year disinvited two speakers. First, the club uninvited Suzanne Venker, the author of many books including “The War on Men” and “The Two-Income Trap.”

Just months later, the “Club for Uncomfortable Learning” uninvited John Derbyshire, a mathematician and part-time columnist for The National Review. Derbyshire calls himself a “race realist,” which means he thinks statistics show the average black American to be more dangerous and less intelligent than whites. Students protested. This time, the Club held firm against protest. But when they refused to disinvite Derbyshire, William’s President Adam Falk stepped in and banned Derbyshire from campus. Falk wrote in a letter to the campus, “Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech.” He wrote, “free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard.” But he added, there is a line that cannot be crossed, and Derbyshire had crossed it.…

How has this happened? How has the act of listening to somebody with an opinion foreign to one’s own now seen as dangerous? Is this Group Think? Political correctness? Neo-totalitarianism? Or something new?

To answer that question, we must listen carefully to the disinviters.”

To read the rest of this talk, come on over and visit us on Medium. Or view the conference here.

Continue Reading...
By Unknown - http://www.flickr.com/photos/joegratz/83460811/, from the 1964 yearbook of St. Lawrence University, CC BY 2.0

Amor Mundi: October 16th, 2016

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.

It's About Race, Stupid

Dylan Matthews contests those who say that those voting for Donald Trump are from the economic fringe. In fact, 50% of Trump voters are simply Republicans, and vote Republican in every election. The average income of the Trump voter is $72,000 per year, well above the average in the United States. So why are these voters supporting Trump? Matthews says its simple: Race.

“So what is driving Trump supporters? In the general election, the story is pretty simple: What’s driving support for Trump is that he is the Republican nominee, a little fewer than half of voters always vote for Republicans, and Trump is getting most of those voters.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA’s Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents’ racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

In April, when the Pew Research Center asked Republicans for their views on Trump, and their opinions on the US becoming majority nonwhite by 2050, they found that Republicans who thought a majority nonwhite population would be “bad for the country” had overwhelmingly favorable views of Trump. Those who thought it was a positive or neutral development were evenly split on Trump.

By contrast, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 got less primary support from voters with high racial resentment and anti-immigration scores than they did from less racially resentful or anti-immigrant voters. Those two primaries were lost by the white nationalist wing of the Republican Party at a time when that wing was gaining in number. As New America’s Lee Drutman has found, Republicans’ views of blacks and Latinos plummeted during the Obama years: The white nationalist wing was gaining in strength, and due for a win. It got one in Trump.

Even in the general election, while support for Trump is correlated most strongly with party ID, the second biggest factor, per the analysis of Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, was racial resentment. Economic pessimism and income level were statistically insignificant.

The message this research sends is very, very clear. There is a segment of the Republican Party that is opposed to racial equality. It has increased in numbers in reaction to the election of a black president. The result was that an anti–racial equality candidate won the Republican nomination.”

Continue Reading...
randall_stephenson_ceo_of_att

Amor Mundi: October 9th, 2016

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.

Against Trump, But Not All Those He Has Inspired

For the third time since 1857, The Atlantic Magazine has endorsed a candidate for President of the United States.

“Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.

These concerns compel us, for the third time since the magazine’s founding, to endorse a candidate for president. Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

The Hannah Arendt Center is not only bi-partisan. It seeks to be beyond partisanship. The very premise of Arendtian thinking is the embrace of plurality. Plurality means that… continue this piece on Medium here.

Continue Reading...
via-dei-fori-imperiali-rome_1200_edit

Amor Mundi: October 2nd, 2016

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.

Speaking Dangerously

arendt

Arendt in conversation with Günter Gaus for his segment, Zur Person

A number of years ago amidst the effort in California to eliminate state benefits for immigrants, I became aware of how arguments from constitutional authority can be dangerous. Over and again I heard opponents of the referendum insist the referendum was unconstitutional. They were right. And I heard proponents of the referendum argue why they thought benefits for immigration were a mistake. The referendum won handily. It was later declared unconstitutional. But the non-debate taught me a fundamental political principle. Constitutional arguments belong in the courts. In politics, argue on the merits; don’t retreat to constitutional principle. If we defend something we value, for example free speech, by appealing to its constitutional status and its historical importance, there is a danger that we will forget why free speech matters.

To read the rest of this piece, please continue on to Medium here.

Continue Reading...
gavin_hamilton_-_coriolanus_act_v_scene_iii_edit2

Amor Mundi: September 25th, 2016

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.

A Better Way To Hear People

gavin_hamilton_-_coriolanus_act_v_scene_iii_edit2Jo Guldi argues that the Brexit vote and similar anti-elitist political movements need to be understood as more than simply a form of economic populism. While it is true that many Brexit and Trump voters are part of a working class milieu that has been excluded from the benefits of a global cosmopolitan society, these voters are motivated by more than economics. Guldi rightly sees that the rise of the anti-intellectual and anti-elite voting blocs is rooted in an ancient discord between the elites’ claim to justified mastery over the masses.

“Brexit in fact belongs to a centuries-old contest between expert rule and participatory democracy. In order to make sense of the possible directions that overall policies might turn, we need a longer history that puts into perspective the notion of an underclass exacting revenge against an elite. The story of that contest in Britain, stretching back to the eighteenth century, provides a corrective to both the enthusiasts and the cynics. It shows the deeply entrenched impediments to greater local control even within a national tradition at the same time that it furnishes models for new forms of participatory engagement.”

Teaching Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Coriolanus this week, I was struck by the powerful sympathy the bard finds in his hero’s extraordinary elitism. He has contempt for the people. He refuses to flatter them, to say they deserve grain won in conquest, to even profess to love and value them. Yes, Coriolanus goes too far, he lacks discipline, and he does not understand that a statesman must moderate his extreme character. But his claim that the best should rule and the best should rule for the good of the commonwealth resonate in the tragedy. Should not those who sacrifice the most for the public good receive the largest shares? Coriolanus is a tragic hero for Shakespeare because that unfiltered claim for nobility is both recognized as a virtue and piteously taken too far.

The play is popular today because of the obvious parallels with present politics. Many see the rise of authoritarian figures like Donald Trump in Coriolanus. But actually, Trump is closer to a Sicinus and Brutus, the cynical and power hungry Tribunes of the people. Where the play reflects politics today is in the extremity of the positions taken by both sides, Coriolanus who refuses to respect the people and the people who react with blood in their eyes. What both sides forgot is that the side also is comprised of good people seeking the common good. This is a lesson that Thomas Jefferson knew well, as he wrote to Abigail Adams in 1804:

“Both of our political parties, at least the honest portion of them, agree conscientiously in the same object: the public good; but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good. One side believes it best done by one composition of the governing powers, the other by a different one. One fears most the ignorance of the people; the other the selfishness of rulers independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove.”

What statesmanship and politics require is to understand that the other side – at least the honest portion of them – are also good people who simply disagree about the path to the good of the public. The other side is not simply a “basket of deplorables” or a bunch of effeminate elites. What Shakespeare teaches is that amidst the eternal political divisions of the elites and the masses, there is above a need to discipline our feelings and learn to see our political adversaries as also our political allies in a common struggle.

Guldi’s essay is insightful in reminding us that the revolt of the masses is not simply a call for better jobs, although it is surely that in part. It is also a call for respect and participation in the democratic practice of self-government. After fifty years of an extreme rise in elite governance and bureaucratized rule, large majorities of people in Europe and the United States are concluding that the global and cosmopolitan world is not one that values them. To respond that all they want is better jobs is to refuse to listen to what they are saying, all of which is made easier by the charge that they are racist and xenophobic.

It is easy to advocate democracy in the abstract. When the people actually seek to claim what they want is when democracy becomes challenging. The hard work is to truly listen to the so-called deplorables, to work with them, to seek to forge a common good that allows all sides to thrive in accord with their visions of the good. This happens best when there are multiple and active institutional means for the people to voice their opinion in public. But with the nationalization of power in the United States and the rise of multi-national governance in Europe, there are increasingly few such means. As the elites govern in bureaucratic castles, the danger is the rise of tribunes of the people who trumpet the most dangerous populist fantasies.

Guldi writes that the past offers a helpful path forward:

“A proliferation of new models for democratic participation thus appeared throughout the twentieth century, many linked to the rethinking of expert rule and bureaucracy itself. Patrick Geddes criticized the bureaucrat as well as the university-based book learning that formed a part of the professional economist’s education. Through the 1960s, student and worker movements protested for greater inclusion of their agendas into politics, and British radicals such as Colin Ward theorized what self-government on the local level might look like, drawing inspiration from worker-owned cooperatives and the self-built public housing schemes of Sweden. But only a limited number of these ideas actually received the state support necessary to see them replace an expert-run welfare state with a welfare state run by neighbors. The Mass Observation movement of wartime Britain used mass participation, rather than expert bureaucracy, as a model of anti-spy surveillance. From the 1980s forward, Britons experimented with participatory mapping as a means of performing regional planning where everyone could take part, but their results were mostly limited and trivial.

Brexit is a recrudescence of this ongoing struggle between experts and citizens—a showdown between the ideal of state and capitalism forged in the eighteenth century and ideas of participatory democracy articulated in the early nineteenth century, fought for in the twentieth century, and still unrealized at present.”

—RB

Continue Reading...
smithsonian-nmaahc-outside-20160720

Amor Mundi: September 18th, 2016

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.

How To Kill Innocent People

snyder-black-earthTalking about his recent book Black Earth, Timothy Snyder lays out what he does and does not owe to Hannah Arendt.

“The entire book owes a lot to Hannah Arendt. Everyone who works on these subjects engages with Arendt in a way or another. I do it by taking her ideas further. The type of speculative history she writes is bound to get certain things wrong; what I try to do is to see where she was right in the light of things that we have learnt since the 1950s.

There are four ways in which I find her very important for my studies. The first is the way she treats ideology. People tend to prefer coherence over factuality. If Hitler tells a story according to which human beings are basically in nature and Jews have disrupted nature, and if we eliminate the Jews, nature will return – that is a story which is not true, but it’s coherent. Anything that happens can be made to fit into that story. This understanding of ideology as a machine that can absorb the facts is very important.

The second way is the way in which she understands totalitarianism. What Arendt means by totalitarianism is not the overpowering state: it’s the complete breakdown between the public and the private. This doesn’t necessarily involve administration and bureaucracy: it is primarily about the overwhelming pressure on the individual. As I pointed out in Bloodlands, this overwhelming pressure is most acute where the two systems encounter each other. It happens in places like Vilnius or Riga in the summer of 1941 more than anywhere else.

The third thing is her discussion of imperialism. I think she was right that at the end of the nineteenth century something very important happens with the notion of empire. This was basically an intuition of hers – her main sources were the novels of Joseph Conrad – but I think she was right in her guess that the racialization of empire has a crucial role in the genesis of totalitarianism. Hitler, and not only him, looks at what is happening in Africa, and to some extent in America, and applies to Europe, in a very crude and simplified way, the notion of racial empire. She is right in stressing that this could not have happened without the colonial experience in Africa.

The fourth, and maybe the most important point is her argument about how the Holocaust could have happened. In order to kill a person, you have to kill the juridical person first – you need to remove the law from the person you are killing. I think she is fundamentally right about that. She saw how the juridical person was being killed, step by step. The entire historiography of the holocaust, from Raul Hilberg onward, has followed this insight. Hitler comes to power in 1933, the Nuremberg laws are promulgated in 1935, followed by the Aryanization of Jewish property, which peaks in 1938. It’s presented as a sort of gradual, step-by-step process within Germany itself. What I’m trying to show is that this is not the real prehistory of the Holocaust: this was not the main way in which the Holocaust took place. The main way to kill the law in the person…

…is to kill the state.

Exactly. Hannah Arendt doesn’t see that, because she’s German. She’s a West European Jew, and so are her friends. What the Nazis learnt in the East, however, is that if you take the law away entirely, then things are possible that would not have been possible otherwise. So I’m taking Arendt’s insight, which I find correct, and radicalizing it.”

One of the core insights of Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism is that totalitarian rule is not nationalist but imperialist and opposed to the limits of nation-states. She saw both Germany and the Soviet Union as overrun by trans-nationalist movements in which bureaucracy and racism combined to eliminate the limits of law, morality, and borders. This is true also of an organization like the Islamic State. For Snyder, Arendt is right to see the connection between totalitarianism and the breakdown of the states; but her focus on the two main totalitarian states, Germany and the Soviet Union, occludes the way that totalitarianism could only be fulfilled in the ruins of states outside of Germany, those states that comprise the killing fields of Eastern Europe. —RB

Continue Reading...
vincent_willem_van_gogh_002

Amor Mundi: September 11th, 2016

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.

Victims of Conscience

Vincent van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum. On the Threshold of Eternity.Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, published the following open letter to students.

“This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.”

We should not be distracted by jargon and vitriol in the dog fights and exaggerations around questions of “trigger-warnings” and “safe spaces.” The real issue is that just as conscience demands discomfort, democracy demands talking with, hearing, and understanding those with whom we deeply and even desperately disagree. After coming to understand someone whose politics or opinions we find wrong, we may still believe them to be mistaken. But in the process of hearing and talking we will have begun to create the threads of commonality that comprise our shared commitment to democracy and public life. Democracy is not about bringing everyone to agree on political questions ranging from abortion to police reform. But it is about respecting our fellow citizens enough to hear them and confirm our fellowship as citizens.

No doubt democracy is hard. The fracturing of the political and media worlds through the internet has made it easier to avoid opposing and uncomfortable opinions. But if colleges and universities stand for something, it should be as ivory towers where we are safe to be deeply uncomfortable and confront those ideas and people most challenging to who we are. —RB

The exploration of the meaning of discomfort is the theme of the Arendt Center’s upcoming conference “Real Talk: Difficult Questions About Race, Sex, and Religion.” You can register and learn more here.

Continue Reading...
william-shakespeare

Amor Mundi: September 4th, 2016

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.

Shakespeare as Teacher


Scott Newstok bemoans the way newly entering college students have been cheated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, “which ushered in our disastrous fixation on testing.” He worries that “unrelenting assessment has stunted your imaginations.” In response, he suggests that students open themselves to thinking like Shakespeare.

“The most fascinating concept that Shakespeare’s period revived from classical rhetoric was inventio, which gives us both the word “invention” and the word “inventory.” Cartoon images of inventors usually involve a light bulb flashing above the head of a solitary genius. But nothing can come of nothing. And when rhetoricians spoke of inventio, they meant the first step in constructing an argument: an inventory of your mind’s treasury of knowledge — your database of reading, which you can accumulate only through slow, deliberate study.

People on today’s left and right are misguided on this point, making them strange bedfellows. Progressive educators have long been hostile to what they scorn as a “banking concept” of education, in which teachers deposit knowledge in passive students. Neoliberal reformers — the ones who have been assessing you for the past dozen years — act as if cognitive “skills” can somehow be taught in the abstract, independent of content. And some politicians seem eager to get rid of teachers altogether and just have you watch a video. You, having been born when Google was founded, probably take it for granted that you can always look something up online.

But knowledge matters. Cumulatively, it provides the scaffolding for your further inquiry. In the most extreme example, if you knew no words in a language, having a dictionary wouldn’t help you in the least, since every definition would simply list more words you didn’t know. Likewise, without an inventory of knowledge, it’s frustratingly difficult for you to accumulate, much less create, more knowledge. As the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante said, “There is no work … that is not the fruit of tradition.””

Continue Reading...
free-speech-conditions-apply

Amor Mundi, August 28th 2016

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.

Free Listening or Why The Free Speech Bogeymen Exist

This week Dean John (Jay) Ellison of the University of Chicago sent a letter to all incoming University of Chicago Freshman. The letter offers a bold defense of academic freedom, “one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.”

Ellison’s decision to inform incoming University students about the importance of free speech is praiseworthy. He also rightly explains that free speech is not absolute, writing that “Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.” This claim is legally and morally correct. It offers a principled defense of free speech with an awareness of the limits on uncivil, harassing, and threatening speech. Ellison succinctly informs students that academic and political freedoms depend on encountering contradictory and opposed ideas, limited, of course, by concerns of outright harassment and calls to violence. None of this is controversial, or at least it should not be.

But Ellison’s letter has unleashed a controversy by stating clearly that the limits on free speech for harassing and threatening speech do not mean that we should impose formal “trigger warnings,” cancel speakers whose ideas offend some, or provide “safe spaces” to those who are bothered by controversial ideas. He writes:

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Such a statement of principle by a Dean at a major University is beyond reproach. It should be a non-event. Sadly, it is necessary at a time when colleges around the country are disinviting speakers to prevent uncomfortable or unpalatable views from being expressed. It is important for academic institutions to stand up and state clearly that the life of the mind means that we listen to those with whom we disagree.

Continue this piece on Medium…

Medium-logo-canvas-1200x500

Continue Reading...