By N.A.J. Taylor[i]
“The horror that swept over mankind when it learned about the first atomic bomb was a horror of an energy that came from the universe and is supernatural in the truest sense of the word. The scope of the devastation to buildings and boulevards, even the number of human lives destroyed, was relevant only because, in unleashing death and destruction on so vast a scale, this newly discovered source of energy had eerily impressive symbolic power from the very moment of its birth.”
-- Hannah Arendt (2007b, 1977), The Promise of Politics
Although Arendt wrote relatively very little on the nuclear age, we know from her earlier writings what she thought about the existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war. From such disparate references to the nuclear age, a strikingly simple yet prescient idea emerges that arguably bears more resemblance to Eastern cosmology than any Western tradition: the human condition must be properly understood as being co-constituted and mutually implicated in the cosmos.
By Kazue Koishikawa
“The famous sovereignty of political bodies has always been an illusion, which, moreover, can be maintained only by the instruments of violence, that is, with essentially nonpolitical means. Under human conditions, which are determined by the fact that not man but men live on the earth, freedom and sovereignty are so little identical that they cannot even exist simultaneously. Where men wish to be sovereign, as individuals or as organized groups, they must submit to the oppression of the will, be this the individual will with which I force myself, or the ‘general will’ of an organized group. If men wish to be free, it is precisely sovereignty they must renounce.”
-- Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future
Arendt posits that freedom and sovereignty cannot coexist politically. As she reasons in Between Past and Future, freedom in its essence is highly or even purely political matter. She thinks that freedom is about bringing something new through human action into the world, a new beginning inexplicable by the law of causality governing Nature. Action and what a series of actions can bring about are characterized as it could be otherwise. This can be understood if we can think about the unfulfilled and/or fulfilled socio-political changes in history. As such, the very condition of action is the presence of others who are equal. When action brings something new into the world, a tangible change, it is always because of acting in concert with others. A tyrant can’t act but only conducts violence in order to fulfill his will since he is lonely without fellow persons.
On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Collection housed in Bard College's Stevenson Library, we came across this copy of Springfellow Barr's The Will of Zeus: A History of Greece from the Origins of the Hellenic Culture to the Death of Alexander:
Hannah Arendt made several annotations to her copy of this book. For example, on pages 154 and 155, she placed vertical lines adjacent to four passages, one of which includes some underlining.
- Among many other things, the Oedipus recalled Solon's commandment, "Know thyself." It suggested strongly that this commandment was hardest to obey for those who wielded power, since power tended to blind.
- It was in the context of Aeschylus's tragic vision of the will of Zeus and the will of other gods fulfilling itself through the free choices of men;....
- Like Solon, he [Pericles] was a man of both thought and action, and this at a moment in Athenian history when war and violence more and more threatened the marriage of thought and action.
- He [Pericles] was learned in mathematics and medicine; he speculated in natural philosophy; and he taught the doctrine that neither air, nor fire, nor earth, nor water had originated our universe but that this universe had been made out of such elements by Nous--that is, by mind, intellect.
It should be noted that the underlinings in the fourth passage are Arendt's. Additionally, adjacent to the vertical line she made signifying this passage's importance is placed a question mark.
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"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."
-- Henry David Thoreau
(Featured Image Source: JRBenjamin)
Henry David Thoreau's Biography
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Massachusetts, USA. A graduate from Harvard, Thoreau was a prolific writer who left behind a vast body of work from poetry to philosophy, from transcendentalism to history, from resistance against unjust states to abolitionism, compiling in over 20 volumes of work. Thoreau invested in a philosophy of life and praxis as opposed to a way of thinking and writing, he was a thinker that thought in terms of nature and the human condition. He was a very well read thinker with an excellent knowledge base from ancient Greek thought, passing through Asian traditions, and the western philosophy of his time. He is most famous for his literary work Walden and for his political work Civil Disobedience, although he also greatly contributed to the philosophy of science.
Thoreau had a long term relation with Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom he saw as a guide and a friend and with whom he constantly argued due to their different philosophical and personal positions. In his early works he followed Transcendentalism, the philosophy, supported by Ralph Waldo Emerson, based on the idea that the individual spirit transcends the material. He was also one of the first supporters of the evolution theory from Charles Darwin. During his life time, Thoreau only published two works, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and Walden, neither of which gave him any sort of income. Thoreau also worked in his family's pencil factory and as a land surveyor for most of his adult life. He died at the age of 44 after almost thirty years struggling with tuberculosis, and is buried in Concord, Massachusetts. His work has inspired thinkers well beyond his time, specially in the field of ecology, phenomenology, and radical political thought. After Thoreau's death, many groups were founded in his honour most notably The Walden Woods Project and The Thoreau Society.
(Sourced from The European Graduate School)
You can also read the thoughts of other authors here.
By Hans Teerds
“Jaspers’ thought is spatial because it forever remains in reference to the world and the people in it, not because it is bound to any existing space.”
-- Hannah Arendt, ‘Karl Jaspers: A Laudatio’
It is in the midst of her description of the German philosopher and her tutor Karl Jaspers’ ‘faculty for dialogue [and] the splendid precision of his way of listening’ that Arendt identifies his spatial approach. Jaspers, she argues, through his thinking created a space wherein ‘the humanitas of man could appear pure and luminous.’ In speaking and listening, Jaspers was able to change and widen, sharpening and therewith ‘illuminating’ the subject. This approach of course depends upon the ability to take other perspectives into account, i.e. Kant’s ‘enlarged mentality,’ of which Arendt was the ‘political mentality par excellence.’
By Jeffrey Champlin
“Without actually standing where Archimedes wished to stand (dos moi pou sto), still bound to the earth through the human condition, we have found a way to act on the earth and within terrestrial nature as though we dispose of it from outside, from the Archimedean point. And even at the risk of endangering the natural life process we expose the earth to universal, cosmic forces alien to nature's household.”
-- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
The final chapter of The Human Condition takes an apparently disheartening turn beyond Arendt's core development of the concepts of labor, work, and action. While Chapter 4 on "Action" offers the hope of people coming together to start something new in a reinvigorated sense of the political, Chapter 5 seems to narrate the inevitable decline of "the modern age's triumphal world alienation." In particular, her use of the way science can now "act on the earth" fundamentally challenges the optimistic sense with which she discussed "action" earlier in the book.
On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Library at Bard College, we came across this book: The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine.
As one can see from the following images, Arendt spent some time adding marginalia to this particular selection of Augustine's Confessions, Book XI: page 202. At left, we see Arendt react to Chapter 29 with the following comment: "Distinction! because time is distinctive."
Below, we see that Arendt has annotated two passages. The first, marked by a single vertical line and an "X," reads: "'What did God make before He made heaven and earth?' Or, 'How came it into His mind to make anything when He never before made anything?'"
The second section, distinguished by two "X's" and an underline, proceeds as follows: "Let them therefore see that there could be no time without a created being."
Saint Augustine played an important part in Arendt's intellectual development. After all, she spent the greater part of her career writing and re-writing her dissertation on Augustine's conception of love. You can read more about Arendt's dissertation here.
“And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations - as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world - we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang."
-- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
The closing paragraphs of the epilogue of Eichmann in Jerusalem reformulate Arendt’s final argument that the judges of the tribunal should have delivered if they had dared to declare the definitive reason for which they sent Eichmann to the gallows. This reason has retribution at its core: Eichmann and his kind did not want to share the world with us, and he claimed the right to decide who should and should not inhabit the earth. In that case, we decided we did not want to share the world with him.
Thursday, April 7, 2011: “Revenge and the Art of Justice”
Roger Berkowitz - Associate Professor of Political Studies and Human Rights; Academic Director, Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, Bard College.
Roger Berkowitz gave a talk at Haverford College in April 2011. Focusing in on the conceptual relationship between revenge and justice, Berkowitz begins his talk with the story of the Massie trial, a 1932 criminal case which drew national attention. Thomas Massie’s wife was gang-raped by five men who were released by a hung jury in a Hawaiian court. After the trial, Massie conspired with his mother-in-law to kidnap and torture one of the rapists, who died during his violent interrogation. Clarence Darrow himself traveled to Hawaii to defend Massie from the subsequent charges brought against him. Darrow, in the course of his defense, makes two claims about revenge: first, though illegal, it can be just; and second, it is sourced in our animal nature and as such is a fundamental part of human life itself.
(Featured Image: An aerial view of a jumble of cars, Source: Slickzine)
“If, in concluding, we return once more to the discovery of the Archimedean point and apply it, as Kafka warned us not to do, to man himself and to what he is doing on this earth, it at once becomes manifest that all of his activities, watched from a sufficiently removed vantage point in the universe, would appear not as activities of any kind but as processes, so that, as a scientist recently put it, modern motorization would appear like a process of biological mutation in which human bodies gradually begin to be covered by shells of steel.”
--Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 322-3.
In the preface to The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt not only starts provocatively with the point of view of an “earth born object made by man,” but describes this object, the recently launched Sputnik satellite, as the realization of the dream of science fiction literature that illuminates “mass sentiments and mass desires”. In this passage quoted above from the very last section of the book, Arendt returns to space and for a moment herself sounds like a science fiction writer, inviting the reader to look with her from a number of challenging perspectives.
“The earthly home becomes a world only when objects as a whole are produced and organized in such a way that they may withstand the consumptive life-process of human beings living among them – and may outlive human beings, who are mortal.”
--Hannah Arendt, “Culture and Politics”
In reflections upon the writings of Hannah Arendt, specifically The Human Condition, scholars traditionally respond to her concepts of politics, action, and the public realm. And rightly so: these concepts are undeniably at the core of Arendt’s philosophy, sometimes quite ambiguous in their definition, and hence often in need of scholarly analysis. However, meaningful responses to Arendt’s interpretation of work are quite rare. That might not be a surprise. In her writings, the category of work remains underexposed. One might even argue that beyond the chapter on Work in The Human Condition, only in the essays “Crisis in Culture” (1961) and the preceding “Kultur und Politik” (1959) does work receive any significant attention. Of course, scores of her critics have argued that the categories of human activity – labor, work, and action – are much more intermixed in real life than how Arendt understands them. But this does not undermine the basic tenets of Arendt’s philosophy.
Monday, August 16, 2010: “Earth Alienation: From Galileo to Google”
Lecturer: Roger Berkowitz, Associate Professor of Political Studies and Human Rights at Bard College; Academic Director, Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities.
In this lecture, Roger Berkowitz welcomes the incoming Class of 2014 at Bard College with an important question: “Is humanity important?” The human race has witnessed impressive scientific and technological achievements, some of the most remarkable of which have occurred in the past 50 years. While some of these have advanced the history of humanity, others threaten to dampen its spark. Nuclear and biological weapons are capable of killing untold millions of people, and the urge to embrace automation in our everyday lives cultivates the fear that society may one day embrace euthanization as a way to rid itself of “superfluous persons”. Acknowledging this increasingly dangerous world we live in, Berkowitz argues it is imperative that we at this moment in time take a closer look at ourselves and consider our significance. He proposes two sources that can help us in our task: Galileo and Google.