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.
Bill Deresiewicz in Harpers develops a must-read account of the perils and pitfalls of the corporatization of modern education. He begins with a truly insightful close reading of one college’s mission statement and corporate branding. But Deresiewicz’s analysis goes deeper, setting the contemporary college within an ongoing cultural movement in which the line dividing youth from adult is increasingly blurred if not eliminated. “Modernity is a condition of ever-increasing acceleration, but only, until recently, for adults. For the young, modernity means–or meant–something different. The modern age, in fact, invented the notion of youth as an interval between childhood and adulthood, and it invented it as a time of unique privileges and obligations. From the Romantics, at the dawn of modernity, all the way through the 1970s, youth was understood to have a special role: to step outside the world and question it. To change it, with whatever opposition from adults. (Hence the association of youth and revolution, another modern institution.) As college became common as a stage of life–one that coincides with the beginning of youth–it naturally incorporated that idea. It was the time to think about the world as it existed, and the world that you wanted to make. But we no longer have youth as it was imagined by modernity. Now we have youth as it was imagined by postmodernity–in other words, by neoliberalism. Students rarely get the chance to question and reflect anymore–not about their own lives, and certainly not about the world. Modernity understood itself as a condition of constant flux, which is why the historical mission of youth in every generation was to imagine a way forward to a different state. But moving forward to a different state is a possibility that neoliberalism excludes. Neoliberalism believes that we have reached the end of history, a steady-state condition of free-market capitalism that will go on replicating itself forever. The historical mission of youth is no longer desirable or even conceivable. The world is not going to change, so we don’t need young people to imagine how it might. All we need them to do, as Rothman rightly suggests, is to run faster and faster, so that by the time they finish college, they can make the leap into the rat race.” Hannah Arendt also understood education as that path from youth to adulthood, one that depended upon a clear understanding of the boundaries separating the immature from the mature. Education is conservative, at least at first in Arendt’s telling. It introduces them to the world into which they are born–the literal meaning of “to educate” is “to lead in.” Education is non-political. It is the way in which responsible adults teach young students to love the world into which they are born. There is, however, a second aspect of education for Arendt: it is revolutionary. By leading young people into the world, educators embrace the new and the possibility of revolutionary change because the world is always made anew by future generations. A liberal arts education, therefore, ought to teach students about the world as it is and prepare them to judge and act to conserve, improve, and re-imagine that world. Deresiewicz offers a similar account that is well worth reading. It is also worth noting that he will be a NEH/Hannah Arendt Center Distinguished Lecturer at Bard in October 2016.
Charles Murray has a new book calling for massive civil disobedience against the expansion of the regulatory state. In an interview with Jonah Goldberg, he explains how he came to write the book. “Let me tell you how the book came to be written because it’s a good illustration of what animated me. My wife and I have a friend who runs a business–I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. The point is he was being harassed by the regulatory state and fined large amounts of money because he was not complying with the various regulations that it was impossible for him to comply with. He was being given competing instructions from the government. And he finally said, I’m going to fight this in court. And the bureaucrat to whom he was talking said, try that and we will put you out of business. Well, when I heard that, as my wife will testify, I was so angry that I actually told her, I don’t want to hear any more of this because I just can’t stand it. And then, all at once, I had, first, an image in my mind. I’m not making this up. This is what really happened. I had an image–I think it was on a horse in my original image. A guy in pinstripe suit on a horse comes out of nowhere, taps the bureaucrat on the shoulder, and says, we are taking this man’s case. We are going to litigate it to the max, even though he’s technically guilty of the violation. But in the course of you having to demonstrate that, you’re going to wish you’d never taken this on because we’re also going to publicize it in ways which will embarrass your superiors and you. And at the end of the whole thing, when you finally levy a fine on him, we’re going to reimburse it. This satisfied me a great deal, just thinking of this. (Laughter.) And then I said, then I said, you can write a book. And so ultimately, I end up writing this book as a way of saying we could systematically do this. If you had a foundation with a couple of hundred million dollars–I’m not talking a little foundation–a place like Institute for Justice or the Pacific Legal Foundation or Competitive Enterprise Institute do wonderful work in litigation, but they are doing selective cases, where they are trying to have precedents that affect whole classes of cases. I’m talking about pouring sugar into the government’s gas tank.” Murray spoke of his Civil Disobedience Project during his talk at the 2014 Arendt Center Conference “The Unmaking of Americans,” which will be published in the forthcoming Volume III of HA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. You can become a member and receive the Hannah Arendt Center Journal by joining here.
Brendan O’Neill in The Spectator takes on the ever-present literature of dying, the “pornography of death.” O’Neill discusses memoirs, blogs, and films that turn death into public and literary spectacles. “To draw back the curtain on a woman’s death scene and watch her skin turn ‘deep red with flaky patches’–shouldn’t that be for friends and family, not for strangers? Even Diski seems to have doubts. ‘Another fucking cancer column’ is how she refers to it. She follows on from Christopher Hitchens, usually the scourge of fashionable hoohah, and Iain Banks, who set up a website where fans could read updates on his cancer and even sign a guestbook: a kind of pre-death condolence book which soon filled up with mawkish expressions of sorrow. On the site, Banks’s wife was referred to as his ‘widow-in-waiting’…. I don’t buy it. These are fancy terms for emotional incontinence. Some things are taboo for a reason. Our forebears kept quiet about the details of their decay not because they were scared or stupid, but because they recognised that something sacred is lost if we make them public. Death is a time for saying goodbye to those you truly love, for settling your affairs. Death requires quiet, contemplation, distance from the fussy, nosy world of public life. Invite strangers into this moment and you change it utterly.”
Miya Tokumitsu takes on the rhetoric of passion in the workplace: “Although simple Excel charts may present the flimsiest guise of empirical, objective data about workers’ supposed passion, the truth is that passion doesn’t equal hours spent in the office, nor does it necessitate burning oneself out. Passion is all too often a cover for overwork cloaked in the rhetoric of self-fulfillment. The falsity of passion-as-hours logic is that, quite simply, it produces shoddy work, which is not what someone who is ostensibly passionate about his or her work would allow. Emphasizing passion as a value in employees diminishes other potential–seemingly obvious–attitudes toward work that have more to bear on the quality of the work itself, things like competence and good faith. Passion, overwork, and 24/7 temporality are linked together by much more than the need for simple managerial metrics. Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming argue that work today is of such a nature that it exploits workers not only during their time in the workplace, but also in their very act of living.” Maybe we have much to learn from insurance officer Franz Kafka and the librarian Jorge Luis Borges.
In a 1991 letter, the pseudonymous Italian writer Elena Ferrante explains why she wishes to keep herself hidden. The cause is not privacy but is something else entirely: “I will only tell you that it’s a small bet with myself, with my convictions. I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. There are plenty of examples. I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child. I went to bed in great excitement and in the morning I woke up and the gifts were there, but no one had seen the Befana. True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known; they are the very small miracles of the secret spirits of the home or the great miracles that leave us truly astonished. I still have this childish wish for marvels, large or small, I still believe in them.”
M. G. Zimeta finds Google’s recent announcement that it will undergo a radical restructuring and come under the umbrella of a parent company called Alphabet to be downright Machiavellian: “It may seem to some that the creation of Alphabet releases Page and Brin from their 2004 promise. This, too, would be shrewd statecraft. ‘A wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer,’ advised Machiavelli. ‘It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful.’ Page didn’t take the opportunity, this week, to reiterate ‘don’t be evil’ as the new company’s unofficial slogan. But that promise hadn’t been repeated by Page or Brin in their annual founders’ letters after 2004 anyway. It’s as strong–or as weak–now as it’s been in the last eleven years, and its nature is unclear. ‘Don’t be evil,’ Google instructs its staff in its Code of Conduct–guidelines for professional ethics in the workplace. ‘You can make money without doing evil,’ Google asserts in its company philosophy–an edict that outlines its guiding principles for its advertising programs. If these are the only commitments that ‘don’t be evil’ entails, then there’s no reason to think the advent of Alphabet changes anything. The virtues required in statecraft are different than the virtues required of a private citizen–something Machiavelli was keen to impress upon his readers: ‘A prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to fidelity, friendship, humanity, and religion.’ But Machiavelli saw unethical acts by the prince as a legitimate last resort, rather than the core values on which the state should be built and maintained. For Machiavelli, the wisest course of action for a prince was to ensure that his people were happy and safe under his rule. In this way they would not be tempted to conspire against him or support rebellions; his reign would be able to withstand domestic stressors such as famine and external stressors such as war or the threat of invasion. The greatest rulers, in Machiavelli’s eyes, were those who won and maintained their kingdoms through strategic and diplomatic prowess–not through the good luck of a powerful family name or governing in prosperous times; not through relying on military force and violent intimidation; and not through relying on bribery or unsustainable gift-giving to try to earn respect. Seen in this light, Machiavelli doesn’t expect people to serve an unworthy ruler. Challenges from the population help a wise prince to get better.”
Jill Neimark suggests that we establish a canon for a kind of art that doesn’t seem to have one: “Even the briefest musical passage can become canonical: four notes–three Gs and a long E-flat–constitute the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a triumphant affirmation of life from a man nearly deaf at the time. And yet, history has never offered up corresponding touchstones for cuisine, nor formally measured human greatness by a good meal. We have traditionally regarded cuisines as pop or folk art at best–cherished but ephemeral, beginning as peasant food forged from the local landscape and naturally disappearing as people emigrated and landscapes changed. A single taste can resonate down an entire lifetime like Marcel Proust’s peerless madeleine. A taste can be so revered that we try to freeze it in time: the grape that is distilled into Cabernet Sauvignon wine is universally praised, and its taste has become inviolate. No new grape can supplant it. Similarly, Shanghai once staked its reputation on the white-fleshed peaches grown in its walled gardens, and to this day the delicate peaches are wrapped individually in newspaper and consumed within hours or days of picking. They are a distant relative of the famous Georgia peach, which comes from a pollinated seedling of the Chinese clingstone peach near Shanghai.”
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, September 11, 2015
Bluejeans.com, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
The Hannah Arendt Center’s eighth annual fall conference, “Why Privacy Matters: What Do We Lose When We Lose Our Privacy?,” will be held this year on Thursday and Friday, October 15-16, 2015! We’ll see you there!
**UPDATE** Registration for our conference is now open! Save your seat for this exciting two-day event here!
Thursday, October 15 and Friday, October 16, 2015
Olin Hall, Bard College, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
This week on the Blog, Martin Wagner discusses how what we overlook in the shadow of the humble man are the ways in which humility might threaten our most fundamental notions of justice in the Quote of the Week. Ludvig van Beethoven reflects on carrying and writing down one’s thoughts in this week’s Thoughts on Thinking. Finally, we come across several copies of “The Pentagon Papers” in Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Library in this week’s Library feature.