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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.””

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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.

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Amor Mundi, August 21st 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.

On Violence

Leslie Doyle remembers a visit to the late Seamus Heaney’s house, in the time of the Troubles:

“I mostly remember the poems from his latest collection at the time, Field Work. Descriptions of armored tanks and patrols and bullets and the deaths of young people were silted between images of green fields and grey rocks and eating oysters beside the sea. Heaney talked to us about the Troubles, the political and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. Lives lost. Scores settled and rekindled. At one point, something he said sounded to me like an advocacy of violence in an uncomfortable way, but I said nothing because it was his house, his country, his world that was being shaken every day. I was a visitor in all ways…

Afterward, our professor said that Heaney had told him he was disappointed we hadn’t challenged him on the subject of violence. I think, even looking back, it would have been wrong to do so in his house, as if I had any right or standing to question his world. But then again, I’m certain on how I feel on violence and its use as a tactic, no matter what the circumstances. Six years before, I had been in the Tower of London the day before a bomb exploded in it, killing one person and injuring many others. Exactly forty-one years from the day I started writing this. So, what sows the gap between certainty and willingness to speak out?

I knew the oppression in the North was wrong, but so were the bombings. Turning it again: two months before that Tower of London bombing, several car bombs exploded simultaneously around Dublin and a town to the north. Thirty-four people died, the most in one day of the Troubles. The Ulster Volunteer Force took responsibility for those murders seventeen years later. When I call it “oppression,” I am sugar-coating the horrors. Heaney and his family lived this.”

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Amor Mundi, August 14th 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.

Why Free Speech?

fire

Cecilia Capuzzi Simon explores the recent prominence of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and its President Greg Lukianoff.

The free-speech watchdog FIRE is a familiar irritant to college administrators, but until this past year, the rest of the country wasn’t paying much attention. An “epic” year is what Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, calls it. Colleges and universities were forced to publicly and painfully deal with a confluence of national issues — race, sexual assault, gay rights, politically correct speech — mirrored and magnified in the microcosm of campus life.

Finally, FIRE’s activism was syncing with the zeitgeist, in part because of Mr. Lukianoff’s role in framing the public interpretation of the campus turmoil. It was Mr. Lukianoff who made the argument, in a widely read opinion piece in The Atlantic, that today’s students are “coddled” and demanding protections against offensive words and ideas at the expense of intellectual rigor and the First Amendment. It was also Mr. Lukianoff who happened to be at Yale during the infamous Halloween costume shout-down of Prof. Nicholas Christakis, and whose viral video of it appeared to vividly illustrate his observations that many college students don’t understand what freedom of speech is, and who it applies to.

Freedom of speech, he said, is not an “intuitive” concept, and Americans take its benefits for granted. “I think everyone understands that they have a free-speech right, but they don’t necessarily understand why you should have one,” he said, sitting in his eighth-floor office in FIRE’s satellite space in Washington…

Most significantly, students are, wittingly or not, becoming vocal opponents of free speech by demanding protections and safe spaces from offensive words and behaviors.

“Something changed,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “I don’t entirely know why.” But he can date the shift: October 2013, at Brown University, when the New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was invited to speak but was shouted down by students over his support of stop-and-frisk practices.

“I count that as the symbolic beginning because that’s when we noticed an uptick in student press for disinvitations, trigger warnings and microaggression policing,” he said. “That doesn’t mean administrators have stopped doing goofy things, but now they can say, at least more convincingly, that they are being told by students that they need to do those things.””

Why should we have a right to free speech and why is freedom of speech important?

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The Courage to Be: Leora Kahn

On Monday, April 11th, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College welcomed photo editor and human rights advocate Leora Kahn as keynote speaker for its second “Courage to Be” Dinner/Lecture of the Spring 2016 semester.

Written by 2016 Student Fellows Morgan Evans and Anne Burnett

Leora Kahn is the founder and executive director of PROOF: Media for Social Justice, a non-profit organization based in New York City whose aim is to use visual storytelling and education to inspire global attitude and policy changes. PROOF is just one of Ms. Kahn’s achievements which, among other things, include photo editorial work, documentary film producing, and human rights advocacy. She was previously the director of photography at Workman Publishing and at Corbis. She has also worked for Time, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and US News and World Report as well as for the Ford and Annie E. Casey Foundation. She has curated exhibitions for the Ford Foundation, ABC Television, Amnesty International, Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Holocaust Museum in Houston.

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Amor Mundi, August 7th 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 Delight in Being Right

Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books offers her thoughts on Brexit in the United Kingdom. And in doing so, hits upon the fundamental themes that are rocking the liberal consensus around the globe.

“After settling this question, we all moved on to bemoaning the strange tendency of the younger lefty generation to censor or silence speech or opinions they consider in some way wrong: no-platforming, safe spaces, and the rest of it. We were all right about that, too. But then, from the corner, on a sofa, the cleverest among us, who was at that moment feeding a new baby, waited till we’d all stopped bloviating and added: “Well, they got that habit from us. We always wanted to be seen to be right. To be on the right side of an issue. More so even than doing anything. Being right was always the most important thing.”

In the days following the result I thought about this insight a lot. I kept reading pieces by proud Londoners speaking proudly of their multicultural, outward-looking city, so different from these narrow xenophobic places up north. It sounded right, and I wanted it to be true, but the evidence of my own eyes offered a counternarrative. For the people who truly live a multicultural life in this city are those whose children are educated in mixed environments, or who live in genuinely mixed environments, in public housing or in a handful of historically mixed neighborhoods, and there are no longer as many of those as we like to believe.

For many people in London right now the supposedly multicultural and cross-class aspects of their lives are actually represented by their staff—nannies, cleaners—by the people who pour their coffees and drive their cabs, or else the handful of ubiquitous Nigerian princes you meet in the private schools. The painful truth is that fences are being raised everywhere in London. Around school districts, around neighborhoods, around lives. One useful consequence of Brexit is to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in British society that has been thirty years in the making. The gaps between north and south, between the social classes, between Londoners and everyone else, between rich Londoners and poor Londoners, and between white and brown and black are real and need to be confronted by all of us, not only those who voted Leave.

Amid all the hysterical characterization of those Leavers in the immediate aftermath—not least my own—I paused and thought of a young woman I had noticed in the playground the year my daughter spent in that school in special measures. She was a mother, like the rest of us, but at least fifteen years younger. After walking behind her up the hill to my house a few times I figured out she lived in the same housing project in which I myself grew up. The reason I noticed her at all was because my daughter happened to be deeply enamored of her son. A playdate was the natural next step.

But I never took that next step and neither did she. I didn’t know how to penetrate what I felt was the fear and loathing she seemed to have for me, not because I was black—I saw her speaking happily with the other black mothers—but because I was middle class. She had seen me open the shiny black door to the house opposite her housing project, just as I had seen her enter the project’s stairwell each day. I remembered these fraught episodes from childhood, when things were the other way around. Could I ask the girl in the big fine house on the park into our cramped council flat? And later, when we moved up to a perfectly nice flat on the right side of Willesden, could I then visit my friend in a rough one on the wrong side of Kilburn?

The answer was, usually, yes. Not without tension, not without occasional mortifying moments of social comedy or glimpses of domestic situations bordering on tragedy—but still it was yes. Back then, we were all still willing to take the “risk,” if risk is the right word to describe entering into the lives of others, not merely in symbol but in reality. But in this new England it felt, to me at least, impossible. To her, too, I think. The gap between us has become too large.

The tall, narrow Victorian house I bought fifteen years ago, though it is exactly the same kind of house my middle-class friends owned when I was growing up, is now worth an obscene amount of money, and I worried that she might think I had actually paid that obscene amount of money to own it. The distance between her flat and my house—though it is, in reality, only two hundred yards—is, in symbol, further than it has ever been. Our prospective playdate lay somewhere over this chasm, and never happened, as I never dared ask for it.

Extreme inequality fractures communities, and after a while the cracks gape so wide the whole edifice comes tumbling down. In this process everybody has been losing for some time, but perhaps no one quite as much as the white working classes who really have nothing, not even the perceived moral elevation that comes with acknowledged trauma or recognized victimhood. The left is thoroughly ashamed of them. The right sees them only as a useful tool for its own personal ambitions. This inconvenient working-class revolution we are now witnessing has been accused of stupidity—I cursed it myself the day it happened—but the longer you look at it, you realize that in another sense it has the touch of genius, for it intuited the weaknesses of its enemies and effectively exploited them. The middle-class left so delights in being right! And so much of the disenfranchised working class has chosen to be flagrantly, shamelessly wrong.”

Smith suggests that there is something about left liberal elites that wants deeply to be right. Of course closed communities of believers know they are right. But the delight in being right is deeply engrained in an educated-elite mindset, even in a bi-partisan elite mindset. What makes the elite the elite is its propensity for being right, its faith that its rightness is based upon rational and scientific inquiry.

This need to be right may have its source in the years of schooling and university—the want to please teachers and be acclaimed by fellow students. Or it may be a corollary of our uncritical belief in social science, the confidence that we can study human behavior in ways that can improve humanity. Whatever the case, the college-educated elites who have risen to positions of political and economic leadership over the last 70 years are fully convinced of their superior skills of analysis and of their rightness.

The claim of rightness may be at home in philosophy or science, but it is foreign to politics. Politics is about opinions and while there are better and worse opinions, there are no true or false opinions. Opinions differ as do the people who hold them. But politics is also about finding those common opinions that unite a people amidst their different opinions. It is the recognition of what is common that goes by the name common sense.

Hannah Arendt is known for valuing common sense judgments over the knowledge of social science. It is common sense, the “sixth sense… that fits us into, and thereby makes possible, a common world.” Common sense does not come from knowledge or science but from the living together in a common world – from sharing in a world in which facts, buildings, and acts are experienced and shared in common. It is the shared life in a built and factual world that unites people without denying their real differences.

What Smith rightly argues is that rampant inequality prevents the sharing of a common world that both reflects and nurtures a common sense.

The key to living in a common world is talking with others, even those with whom one strenuously disagrees, and learning to share a world with them. That is the importance of “Real Talk: Difficult Questions about Race, Sex, and Religion,” the 9th Annual Conference of the Hannah Arendt Center, October 20-21. Learn more about the conference and register now. —RB

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Amor Mundi, July 31st 2016 – #100in10 Final

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 Lonely Crowd

Robert Zaretsky, citing a 19th century Frenchman but taking on a tradition that goes as far back as Aristotle, wonders whether there really is such a thing as mob rule in the age of Trump, or at any other time:

“For those who have followed Le Donald’s rise to power, the crowd again seems to be rearing its massive head. It is the crowd, it appears, that swells Trump’s campaign events where the candidate praises the torture of terrorism suspects and justifies the violence of aides and followers. It is the crowd, one might believe, that shouts as he brands his political opponents as criminals, and promises to deport entire ethnic groups and deny entry to religious groups because of the alleged danger they present to the republic. It is the crowd, so it seems, that encourages Chris Christie’s call and answer to lock up Hillary Clinton and cheers Ben Carson’s suggestion that Clinton is a Lucifer’s apprentice. It is the crowd—this late-19th-century creature theorized by [Gustave] Le Bon, then ridden by the likes of Mussolini and Hitler (both of whom read the Frenchman’s work)—that Trump has apparently resurrected.

But here’s the rub: “le crowd” is, in part, a mythical creature. As contemporary sociologists and psychologists like Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews, argue, the crowd is less a feature of the modern political landscape than a creature of Le Bon’s private nightscape. Rather than surrendering their identity or losing themselves in the crowd, as Le Bon argued, individuals who join the group instead embrace a collective identity, one usually hedged by limits and informed by rules. In his work on riots in 18th-century England, the historian E.P. Thompson revealed how these so-called mobs were, in fact, governed by what he called a “moral economy.” Similarly, in his landmark work on crowds in the French Revolution, the historian George Rudé showed how the “mob” that took the Bastille was not bestial and base, but instead shaped by the actions of literate artisans…

Despite the correctives offered by social scientists, however, Le Bon’s vision remains very powerful. In part, this is because at times it does reveal telling traits to both crowds and those who seek to lead them. Yet, Le Bon’s vision also persists because it reveals truths about our own fears and resistances. Those of us who identify with America’s humane and liberal traditions are rightly horrified by Trump’s racist, violent worldview. But, ironically, Democrats risk committing the very same error that Trump has made his stock in trade: seeing his supporters in terms of abstractions, not particulars; groups, not individuals. When they see Trump’s supporters as a crowd, Trump’s opponents relieve themselves of the task of seeing them as men and women driven by an array of motives. The challenge is to defeat not just Trump, but the all-too-human tendency to turn the world into us versus them.”

Zaretsky and Reicher argue that social science shows that the crowd is more normal than one might think. The effort to normalize, rationalize, and thus to explain away what is unique and meaningful in a social phenomenon is a central effort of social science. By studying the behavior of large numbers of people, social science creates a bell curve in which most people act normally and only the outliers on the fringe are abnormal. By the law of large numbers, nearly all behavior is normalized and action – a surprising and exceptional act that can change and impact the course of the world – is excluded, in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Reichert’s argument that the modern mob is really rational may be true, but, as Zaretsky concedes, such a sociological reduction also doesn’t deal adequately with the power of the mob today. How then are we to understand the rise of the mob that is so consequent around the world?

Hannah Arendt argued that one distinctive feature of totalitarian movements is what she saw to be the transformation of the mob, the crowd, into a mass. Confronted with something new, like the 20th century totalitarian mass movements in Germany and the Soviet Union, Arendt insisted we understand what was new and extraordinary about them. In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt distinguishes the mob from the mass in ways that are deeply instructive for our contemporary politics.

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Arendt/Schmitt

Amor Mundi, July 24th 2016 – #100in10 Edition

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.

Arendt vs. Trump (and Schmitt)

Arendt/Schmitt

Feisal G. Mohamed writes at The Stone in The New York Times that the U.S. Presidential election can be understood as a contest between the ideas of Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt.

“Listening to Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech, I felt as though the election was turning into a battle between two very different, though equally formidable, 20th-century political philosophers, Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt. “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced,” Schmitt wrote in his 1927 work, “The Concept of the Political,” “is that between friend and enemy.” It is a statement meant to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive: The friend-enemy distinction is central to politics in the same way that a good-evil distinction is central to ethics and a beautiful-ugly distinction is central to aesthetics. All other considerations are peripheral to this core concern.”

Schmitt’s “friend and enemy” distinction is the basis of his understanding of politics as a contest between conflicting groups or tribes. Schmitt sees it as realist counsel to understand that politics is about groups fighting other groups. To win and succeed, any political unity must be willing to sacrifice and fight for itself and against other groups. A political order for Schmitt is not a matter of laws that treat all people equally. When we mistake legality for politics, Schmitt argues, we weaken the friend/enemy distinction and the bonds of unity amongst friends in opposition to enemies that is the core of politics. Politics is the expression of the truth of a people in opposition to its enemies; and the Schmittian political dictator is the one gifted with the ability to speak for the people in a way that unifies and brings that people to exist. Trumps “I am your voice” is a true example of a Schmittian political dictator.

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HAC 100_10 logo 2015

Our 2016 100/10 Membership Challenge Contests and Drawings Begin!

We at the Hannah Arendt Center are very excited about this year’s 100/10 membership challenge, especially all of the contests and drawings we have planned!

The Big Three

First up, we have three drawings that will last the duration of the challenge. Each of these contests has its own rules:

  1. Perks for New and Renewing Members – All new members receive a complimentary copy of the inaugural HA Journal, Vol. I. Additionally, All new & renewing members are all entered into a raffle for a complimentary DVD of the film, Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta
  2. Referral Challenge – Like last year, we have included a text field in our membership form that reads, “Please enter the contact name of the person who requested you to submit your donation.” If you have a friend enter your name here when they are purchasing or renewing their membership, you will be entered into a drawing to win our Tote Bag package, which includes (1) HA Tote Bag, (1) copy of HA: The Journal, Vol. 1, 2, 3 and 4, and (1) signed copy of Thinking in Dark Times.

    ha library

    Hannah Arendt’s Library

  3. $1000 Challenge – Any person who purchases or renews a membership of $1000 and above will be entered to win a copy of Hannah Arendt’s Library, an exclusive artist book by Heinz Peter Knes, Danh Vo, and Amy Zion. More info can be found about the book here: http://hac.bard.edu/membership/

The winners will all be announced sometime on or after Sunday, July 31st after their names have been selected in a random drawing.

Please note that different winners will be selected for the Referral and $1000 challenges.

Social Media Mini-Contests!

We also have three mini-contests scheduled, all of which have the same basic guidelines:

Share, like or comment any Tweet/Status Update/Instagram posted during our #100in10 Challenge and you will be entered into a drawing for three (3) Tote Bag Packages.

We will be giving away three (3) Tote Bag Packages, one on July 26th, another on July 29th, and the last one on August 1st. Each contest will run a total of approximately three days. At midnight on the 25th, the 28th, and August 1st, we will close each of our contests and will draw a winner randomly from those who have participated. We will then contact the winner and announce their names on our social media accounts pending their approval. This means that each person has three chances to win, but please note you can win only once. **Each entrant may enter on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram

A few rules to consider:

Facebook

  • Anyone found to be using multiple accounts in this contest will be deemed ineligible to win and will be withdrawn from all future contests during this year’s challenge.
  • Participants can only be entered ONCE for each one of the three mini-contests. We have three mini-contests scheduled, which means each person has three chances to win. However, please note you can only win once, regardless of whether it is on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • You will NOT be considered an entrant if you use your personal Timeline or someone else’s Timeline to share a contest post. Entry into each contest is limited to liking or commenting the contest post, which will be found on our Facebook page.
  • Please note that this contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. As such, all entrants to this promotion agree to release Facebook of all responsibility.

Twitter

  • Anyone found to be using multiple accounts in this contest will be deemed ineligible to win and will be withdrawn from all future contests during this year’s challenge.
  • Participants can only be entered ONCE for each one of the three mini-contests. We have three mini-contests scheduled, which means each person has three chances to win. However, please note you can only win once, regardless of whether it is on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Please make sure to include our Twitter handle, @Arendt_Center, in your Tweet should you decide to re-Tweet our contest post.
  • Please note that this contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Twitter. As such, all entrants to this promotion agree to release Twitter of all responsibility.

Instagram

  • Anyone found to be using multiple accounts in this contest will be deemed ineligible to win and will be withdrawn from all future contests during this year’s challenge.
  • Participants can only be entered ONCE for each one of the three mini-contests. We have three mini-contests scheduled, which means each person has three chances to win. However, please note you can only win once, regardless of whether it is on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Please make sure to include our Instagram handle, @hannaharendtcenteratbard, in your “regram” should you decide to regram our contest post.
  • Please note that this contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram. As such, all entrants to this promotion agree to release Instagram of all responsibility.

Choosing winners:

An attempt will be made to contact the user via the network they engaged from. After 48 hours has passed with no response, we reserve the right to choose another winner in that user’s place.

New Membership Thank-You

As part of The Big Three mentioned above, all new members will receive a free copy of the Hannah Arendt Center’s inaugural edition of the HA: The Journal. Additionally, all new & renewing members are entered into a raffle for a complimentary DVD of the film, Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta. More information on the journal can be found here.

blackandredlogoAny questions, comments, or concerns should be directed to Daniel Fiege, Media Coordinator of the Hannah Arendt Center, at dfiege@bard.edu.

Thank you, and good luck to all of the participants!

Sincerely,

The Hannah Arendt Center