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 New York Times this week ran an important series of five articles (and a summary) on the increasing use of shell corporations in high-end real estate. The shell corporations and other practices allow political criminals and international businessmen to avoid taxes and launder money. The practice has accelerated swiftly: “In 2003, one-third of the units sold in Time Warner were purchased by shell companies. By 2014, that figure was over 80 percent.” Now “nearly half of the most expensive residential properties in the United States are purchased anonymously through shell companies.” These shell corporations are complex: It took the NY Times over one year to “unravel the ownership of shell companies with condos in the Time Warner Center, by searching business and court records from more than 20 countries, interviewing dozens of people with close knowledge of the complex, examining hundreds of property records and connecting the dots from lawyers or relatives named on deeds to the actual buyers.” Aside from facilitating money laundering and tax evasion, the turn towards complex anonymity raises serious questions in a democracy. “Public records, dating back to at least the 1800s in New York, set real estate apart as more transparent than bank accounts or stock portfolios. ‘There’s a whole Jeffersonian rhetoric about land ownership,’ said Hendrik Hartog, a professor of the history of American law at Princeton. ‘There was a goal to make land transparent, and it was justified by civic values and a whole range of moral judgments like not hiding ownership.'” For Hannah Arendt, “everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity. For us, appearance – something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves – constitutes reality.” To be part of a public realm means to be visible. And while Arendt also insisted that we had a need and a right to hide ourselves behind the four walls of our private property, there is an important need to be able to identify where the boundary of the public and private realms are. That government and business leaders are vanishing from public sight, hiding their money, property, and public lives behind a endless series of fake corporations and legal smokescreens, means that they are increasingly divorced from our public and shared existence. While privacy inside one’s home is important, public invisibility can be dangerous for democracy.
Mark Greif once spent over a month in the Yale Library reading through the entirety of the print run of Partisan Review from 1934 into the 1950s. During this time Partisan Review offered the highest quality essays and fiction by the leading public intellectuals of the 20th century. Greif was struck by the fact that Partisan Review “was impossibly good. It was better than I expected or could have imagined, maybe the best American journal of the century, or ever.” Why, he asked himself, was public intellectual writing then so much better than it is today? The answer, Greif suggests, is that Partisan Review and its writers aspired to a dreamlike public sphere that was engaged, serious, and relevant. The public world of the public intellectual in the mid-twentieth century“conjectured a province that had supposedly been called into being by the desires, and demands, of ‘the real world.’ And this conceit, or illusion, was needed and ultimately embraced on all sides–by the writers, by the readers, by the subsidizers–even, in fact, by parts of that ‘real world’ itself, meaning bits of commerce, derivative media, politics, and even ‘official’ institutions of government and civil society. The collective conceit called that space, in some way, into being. But the additional philosophical element that made this complicated arrangement work, and the profound belief that sustained the fiction, on all sides, and made it ‘real’ (for we are speaking of the realm of ideas, where shared belief often just is reality), was an aspirational estimation of ‘the public.’ Aspiration in this sense isn’t altogether virtuous or noble. Nor is it grasping and commercial, as we use ‘aspirational’ now, mostly about the branding of luxury goods. It’s something like a neutral idea or expectation that you could, or should, be better than you are–and that naturally you want to be better than you are, and will spend some effort to become capable of growing–and that every worthy person does. My sense of the true writing of the ‘public intellectuals’ of the Partisan Review era is that it was always addressed just slightly over the head of an imagined public–at a height where they must reach up to grasp it. But the writing seemed, also, always just slightly above the Partisan Review writers themselves. They, the intellectuals, had stretched themselves to attention, gone up on tiptoe, balancing, to become worthy of the more thoughtful, more electric tenor of intellect they wanted to join. They, too, were of ‘the public,’ but a public that wanted to be better, and higher. They distinguished themselves from it momentarily, by pursuing difficulty, in a challenge to the public and themselves–thus becoming equals who could earn the right to address this public.” Greif sees that the professors and intellectuals who now write for the public aim lower, seeking to be funny, trendy, and simple. Public writing by intellectuals is a “talking down to readers in a colorless fashion-magazine argot [that] is such second nature that any alternative seems out of place.” The public that public intellectuals write for today is, Greif suggests, a public for which they have contempt. He counsels a re-imagining a meaningful public sphere, one that appeals to our higher aspirations. But that assumes, without argument, that intellectuals today have escaped the mass-culture desire for edutainment.
Andrew Sullivan stopped blogging last week and had a few parting words about the form: “Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this–so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life–and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.”
Building on a post by Nolen Gertz, Josh Jones explores G.W.F. Hegel’s often overlooked influence on Martin Luther King Jr. “We are generally well aware of King’s debt to Gandhi and the Satyagraha movement that won Indian independence in 1947, yet we know little of his debt to the same thinker who inspired Marx and his contemporaries–G.W.F. Hegel. As philosopher and ‘Ethicist for Hire’ Nolen Gertz has recently demonstrated on his blog, King was highly influenced by Hegelianism, as much as, or perhaps even more so, than he was by Gandhi’s movement. Marx may have turned Hegel’s system on its head, but King, writes Gertz, ‘fought White America… by turning the ideas of dead white men against the oppressive practices of living white men.’ King read and wrote on Hegel as a graduate student at Boston University and Harvard in the mid-50s, where he studied theology and the history of philosophy and religion. He took a yearlong seminar on Hegel with his advisor at BU, Edgar Brightman (see King’s diagram notes of Hegel’s system above), and found a great deal to admire in the ‘dead white’ philosopher’s logical system, as well as a good deal to critique. The two-semester class, King wrote in his autobiography, was ‘both rewarding and stimulating’: ‘Although the course was mainly a study of Hegel’s monumental work, Phenomenology of Mind, I spent my spare time reading his Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Right. There were points in Hegel’s philosophy that I strongly disagreed with. For instance, his absolute idealism was rationally unsound to me because it tended to swallow up the many in the one. But there were other aspects of his thinking that I found stimulating. His contention that “truth is the whole” led me to a philosophical method of rational coherence. His analysis of the dialectical process, in spite of its shortcomings, helped me to see that growth comes through struggle.’ While King may have disagreed with Hegel’s idealism, he found support for his own philosophy of nonviolence in Hegel’s dialectical method, a mode of analysis that seems particularly well suited to socially revolutionary thought. In Stride Toward Freedom, King wrote, ‘The third way open to oppressed people in their quest for freedom is the way of nonviolent resistance. Like the synthesis in Hegelian philosophy, the principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites–acquiescence and violence–while avoiding the extremes and immoralities of both.'”
Jon Ronson looks into the phenomenon of public shaming on the internet and suggests a reason why the archaic practice has made a comeback online: “Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own–a bid for the attention of strangers–as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.”
Jacob Silverman wonders why we don’t care that our devices are snitching on us: ‘Always-on data collection, combined with porous privacy policies and insecure devices, are changing our expectations for security and privacy. What matters now is not just what our devices and apps collect but also why, for whom, when, and how. It may not concern you that your carmaker is collecting location information in order to improve its navigation system. But what if that information is being sold to marketers, who might be curious to learn when you go to your psychologist, or divorce lawyer? Or what if that information is also stored in an unencrypted, hackable system? As Internet connectivity becomes ubiquitous, there has been little discussion about the extent to which it’s even necessary. Adding 4G to your car or TV is presented as a simple upgrade–an added convenience, should you ever care to use it. There may be a place for always-on, information-rich devices. But without better security, public education, and proper consumer protections, we risk seeding our environments with machines whose utility is far outweighed by the costs of their inevitable leaks.” Over and again, we are choosing to sacrifice privacy for convenience, so much so that concerns over privacy appear nostalgic. Does privacy even matter today? This is the question being asked at the 8th annual Hannah Arendt Center Conference on October 15-16th. Save the Date.
Matthew Kirschenbaum wonders what it means to be an author in a digital age: “There is also a new kind of archive taking shape. Today you cannot write seriously about contemporary literature without taking into account myriad channels and venues for online exchange. That in and of itself may seem uncontroversial, but I submit we have not yet fully grasped all of the ramifications. We might start by examining the extent to which social media and writers’ online presences or platforms are reinscribing the authority of authorship. The mere profusion of images of the celebrity author visually cohabitating the same embodied space as us, the abundance of first-person audio/visual documentation, the pressure on authors to self-mediate and self-promote their work through their individual online identities, and the impact of the kind of online interactions described above (those Woody Allenesque ‘wobbles’) have all changed the nature of authorial presence. Authorship, in short, has become a kind of media, algorithmically tractable and traceable and disseminated and distributed across the same networks and infrastructure carrying other kinds of previously differentiated cultural production.”
Megan Garber discusses the importance of the chalky, talky Valentines Day conversation heart as a cultural artifact: “All of that–the ebb and flow of sentiment, romantic and otherwise–says something about what it means to be an American in 2015. And it says something about what it’s meant to be an American in previous years, as well. Arthur Miller said that a newspaper is a nation talking to itself; but–SWEET TALK, literally–you could say the same about candy hearts. Taken together, over time, stamped out in a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, the candies record where we’ve been, and hint at where we’re going.”
The Hannah Arendt Center announces three post-doctoral fellowships for the 2015-2016 academic year.
To learn more about the fellowships, including how to apply, click here.
Application Deadline: Thursday, March 5, 2015
Courage To Be: Lecture and Dinner Series, with Eyal Press
The Courage To Refuse
Monday, February 9, 2015
Kline Faculty Dining Room, 6:00 pm
The film is based on the newly discovered diaries of Heinrich Himmler. Watch a trailer here.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Campus Center, Weis Cinema, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
“Natality and its Vicissitudes”
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center, 12:00 pm
HAC members at all levels are eligible to participate in a monthly reading group led online via a telecommunication website by Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center.
For questions and to enroll in our virtual reading group, please email David Bisson, our Media Coordinator, at email@example.com.
Friday, March 6, 2015
Bluejeans.com, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
“Figuring Rights: Wollstonecraft and the Right to Political Community
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center, 6:00 – 7:00 pm
“Arendt’s Critique of Modern Society as an Analysis of Process Imaginary”
Date and Time TBD
Putting Courage at the Centre: Gandhi on Civility, Society and Self-Knowledge
Monday, March 30, 2015
Manor House Cafe, 6:00 pm
Property and Freedom: Are Access to Legal Title and Assets the Path to Overcoming Poverty in South Africa?
A one-day conference sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, the Human Rights Project, and the Center for Civic Engagement, with support from the Ford Foundation, The Brenthurst Foundation, and The University of The Western Cape
Monday, April 6, 2015
Bard College Campus Center, Weis Cinema, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Thursday and Friday, October 15 and 16, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center’s eighth annual fall conference, “Privacy: Why Does It Matter?,” will be held this year on Thursday and Friday, October 15-16, 2015! We’ll see you there!
This week on the Blog, Richard A. Barrett discusses how political lies not only skew history but also undermine a political actor’s ability to engage with reality in the Quote of the Week. Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca provides this week’s Thoughts on Thinking. And we appreciate the influence of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on Hannah Arendt’s writings in our Library feature.
We are pleased to announce that Michiel Bot, one of our post-doctoral fellows, has received the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities at Tilburg University for the summer of 2015! Congratulations, Michiel!
More information about the fellowship can be found here.