linked to above image:
In a letter to Karl Jaspers, dated March 4, 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote the following on “radical evil”:
What radical evil is I don’t know, but it seems to me it somehow has to do with the following phenomenon: making human beings as human beings superfluous (not using them as a means to an end, which leaves their essences as humans untouched and impinges only on their human dignity; rather making them superfluous as human beings). This happens as soon as all unpredictability- which, in human beings, is the equivalent of spontaneity- is eliminated.
Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it. – Hannah Arendt
Johanna “Hannah” Arendt (/ˈɛərənt/ or /ˈɑrənt/; German: [ˈaːʀənt]; 14 October 1906 – 4 December 1975) was a German-born political theorist. Though often described as a philosopher, she rejected that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with “man in the singular” and instead described herself as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.” As an assimilated Jew, she escaped Europe during the Holocaust and became an American citizen. Her works deal with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. The Hannah Arendt Prize is named in her honor.
In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase
the banality of evil
to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction.
from eichmann banility of evil (wikipedia):
The banality of evil
Arendt’s book introduced the expression and concept “the banality of evil”. Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely average person who relied on clichéd defenses rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann’s actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional. She never denied that Eichmann was an anti-semite, nor that he was fully responsible for his actions, but argued that these characteristics were secondary to his stupidity.
This concept has been frequently misunderstood. In his 2010 history of the Second World War, Moral Combat, British historian Michael Burleigh calls the expression a “cliché” and gives many documented examples of gratuitous acts of cruelty by those involved in the Holocaust, including Eichmann. Arendt certainly did not disagree about the fact of gratuitous cruelty, but “banality of evil” is unrelated to this question. Similarly, the first attempted rebuttal of Arendt’s thesis relied on a misreading of this phrase, claiming Arendt meant that there was nothing exceptional about the Holocaust.
via director Margarethe von Trotta in nyt article
But if there’s a message in this film, it’s that you should
think for yourself,
don’t follow an ideology or a fashion. Hannah called this ‘thinking without banisters.’
via Larry Ferlazzo:
Here’s what I described the connection in my first book on teaching ELLs — English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work:
Organizers often cite the work of philosopher Hannah Arendt when they talk about the importance of reflection. Arendt wrote a book after she observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. She shared that she had expected to see a monster. Instead, she was shocked to see a man who was mechanical, bureaucratic, and thoughtless. She began thinking that evil was more the result of the absence of thinking and reflection, which she described in a famous phrase as the “banality of evil.”
Though Eichmann is obviously an extreme case, this point is important for those of us who are not perpetrating evil, too. If we don’t think and reflect, we can be mechanical and live our lives by a formula. We can fail to calculate the consequences of what we do, and we can make the same mistakes over and over again that can lead to personal and, sometimes, social destructiveness. We can learn the facts, but miss the opportunity to develop an understanding.
from talk to students at end of movie:
greatest evil.. was committed by nobodies.. men with no motives.. only obeying orders
i hold no defense of eichmann
trying to understand is not the same of forgiveness…
my responsibility to understand… since socrates and plato – thinking to be engaged in silent dialogue between me and myself…in refusing to be a person eichmann surrendered single most defining human quality.. being able to think… so no longer capable to make judgments ,,this inability to think creates possibility for many ordinary men to create evil deeds on a gigantic scale..
manifestation is not knowledge.. but ability to tell right from wrong beautiful from ugly.. … and i hope thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down…
– – –
more from her wikipedia page:
Arendt’s essay, “On Violence”, distinguishes between violence and power. She maintains that, although theorists of both the Left and Right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Power comes from the collective will and does not need violence to achieve any of its goals, since voluntary compliance takes its place. As governments start losing their legitimacy, violence becomes an artificial means toward the same end and is therefore, found only in the absence of power. Bureaucracies then become the ideal birthplaces of violence since they are defined as the “rule by no one” against whom to argue and therefore, recreate the missing links with the people they rule over.
more insight via stanford encyclopedia of philosophy
moved all notes for promise of politics to its own page when re re re reading it
2014 – via Maria
the life of the mind – thinking vs knowing.. diff between truth and meaning..
when philosophy had become the handmaiden of theology, thinking became meditation, and meditation again ended in contemplation, a kind of blessed state of the soul where the mind was no longer stretching out to know the truth but, in anticipation of a future state, received it temporarily in intuition… With the rise of the modern age, thinking became chiefly the handmaiden of science, of organized knowledge; and even though thinking then grew extremely active, following modernity’s crucial conviction that I can know only what I myself make, it was Mathematics, the non-empirical science par excellence, *wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the Science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances.
* sans embodiment ness..
of math and men
The disciplines called metaphysics or philosophy, Arendt notes, came to inhabit the world beyond sense-perceptions and appearances, while science claimed the world of common-sense reasoning and perceptions validated by empirical means. The latter is plagued by “the scandal of reason” — the idea that “our mind is not capable of certain and verifiable knowledge regarding matters and questions that it nevertheless cannot help thinking about.” (Four decades later, Sam Harris would capture this beautifully: “There is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”) But Arendt is most intensely concerned with the world we inhabit when we surrender to thought:
What are we “doing” when we do nothing but think? Where are we when we, normally always surrounded by our fellow-men, are together with no one but ourselves?
The great obstacle that reason (Vernunft) puts in its own way arises from the side of the intellect (Verstand) and the entirely justified criteria it has established for its own purposes, that is, for quenching our thirst, and meeting our need, for knowledge and cognition… The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth.
This vital distinction between truth and meaning is also found in the fault line between science and common sense. Arendt considers how science’s over-reliance on Verstand might give rise to the very reductionism that becomes science’s greatest obstacle to tussling with the unknowable
The end is cognition or knowledge, which, having been obtained, clearly belongs to the world of appearances; once established as truth, it becomes part and parcel of the world. Cognition and the thirst for knowledge never leave the world of appearances altogether; if the scientists withdraw from it in order to “think,” it is only in order to find better, more promising approaches, called methods, toward it. Science in this respect is but an enormously refined prolongation of common-sense reasoning in which sense illusions are constantly dissipated just as errors in science are corrected. The criterion in both cases is evidence, which as such is inherent in a world of appearances. And since it is in the very nature of appearances to reveal and to conceal, every correction and every dis-illusion “is the loss of one evidence only because it is the acquisition of another evidence, in the words of Merleau-Ponty. Nothing, even in science’s own understanding of the scientific enterprise, guarantees that the new evidence will prove to be more reliable than the discarded evidence.
And therein lies the paradox of science — the idea that its aim is to dispel ignorance with knowledge, but it is also, at its best, driven wholly by ignorance.
It was thinking that enabled men to penetrate the appearances and unmask them as semblances, albeit authentic ones; common-sense reasoning would never have dared to upset so radically all the plausibilities of our sensory apparatus… Thinking, no doubt, plays an enormous role in every scientific enterprise, but it is the role of a means to an end; the end is determined by a decision about what is worthwhile knowing, and this decision cannot be scientific.
By posing the unanswerable questions of meaning, men establish themselves as question-asking beings. Behind all the cognitive questions for which men find answers, there lurk the unanswerable ones that seem entirely idle and have always been denounced as such. It is more than likely that men, if they were ever to lose the appetite for meaning we call thinking and cease to ask unanswerable questions, would lose not only the ability to produce those thought-things that we call works of art but also the capacity to ask all the answerable questions upon which every civilization is founded… While our thirst for knowledge may be unquenchable because of the immensity of the unknown, the activity itself leaves behind a growing treasure of knowledge that is retained and kept in store by every civilization as part and parcel of its world. The loss of this accumulation and of the technical expertise required to conserve and increase it inevitably spells the end of this particular world.
2013 – Richard Bernstein on the Film “Hannah Arendt” | The New School
this is not a documentary … 75% of dialogue is authentic
he goes on to tell parts that were true and parts that were hollywood… and more of her story/life
28 min – she said something people don’t want to hear.. that perfectly ordinary people can get caught up in horrendous deeds…
30 min – evil is not radical but it’s extreme.. she meant.. scary thing is it doesn’t have to be deep rooted.. it just spreads on the surface..
Hannah Arendt, writing decades ago and timelier than ever, on being vs. appearing and our impulse for self-display brainpickings.org/2015/10/14/han
In this world which we enter, appearing from a nowhere, and from which we disappear into a nowhere, Being and Appearing coincide… Nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator. In other words, nothing that is, insofar as it appears, exists in the singular; everything that is is meant to be perceived by somebody… Plurality is the law of the earth.
every creature born into it arrives well equipped to deal with a world in which Being and Appearing coincide;
the lived experience of the length of a year changes radically throughout our life. A year that to a five-year-old constitutes a full fifth of his existence must seem much longer than when it will constitute a mere twentieth or thirtieth of his time on earth. We all know how the years revolve quicker and quicker as we get older, until, with the approach of old age, they slow down again because we begin to measure them against the psychologically and somatically anticipated date of our departure.
via Maria– love letters written by Martin Heidegger to Hannah:
When she was a 19-year-old university student, Arendt fell in love with her 36-year-old married professor, Martin Heidegger(September 26, 1889–May 26, 1976).
Jennifer Sertl #a3r (@JenniferSertl) tweeted at 10:29 AM – 31 Jan 2017 :
“The less we are free to decide who we are or to live as we like,the more we try to pump up a front,to hide the facts,to play roles.” #a3r https://t.co/NmPB7oy15T (http://twitter.com/JenniferSertl/status/826482614940876801?s=17)
since society has discovered discrimination as the great social weapon by which one may kill men without any bloodshed; since passports or birth certificates, and sometimes even income tax receipts, are no longer formal papers but matters of social distinction.
reverse that.. as discrimination increases.. ness
it is true that most of us depend entirely upon social standards; we lose confidence in ourselves if society does not approve us; we are — and always were — ready to pay any price in order to be accepted by society
Maria Popova (@brainpicker) tweeted at 6:01 AM – 7 Feb 2017 :
Hannah Arendt on the normalization of evil and our only real antidote to it – spectacularly relevant read from 1963 https://t.co/urqwuMoayr https://t.co/O35WqfE1V7 (http://twitter.com/brainpicker/status/828951803152719873?s=17)
“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,” the great French philosopher and activist Simone Weil wrote in 1933 as she contemplated how to make use of our suffering amid a world that seemed to be falling apart.
while acts of evil can mushroom into monumental tragedies, the individual human perpetrators of those acts are often marked not with the grandiosity of the demonic but with absolute mundanity.
The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.
It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,” that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is “thought-defying,” as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its “banality.” Only the good has depth that can be radical.
It’s time to reread Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (in which we find David Rousset’s famous quote:
“Normal men do not know that everything is possible”).
Open Culture (@openculture) tweeted at 1:06 PM on Fri, Oct 20, 2017:
Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” https://t.co/qZJYE8vf5Lhttps://t.co/QDrmddMhgb
Arendt and others recognized, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless.” She also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to as “gaslighting”:
The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.
via Maria – on how bureaucracy fuels violence
The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence..t.. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.
These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest..t
too much ness
on hold – thanks library
on love – via maria (feb 2019): https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/02/25/love-and-saint-augustine-hannah-arendt/
Arendt identified as the root of tyranny the act of making other human beings irrelevant. Again and again, she returned to Augustine for the antidote: love.
a love predicated on possession, Arendt cautions, inevitably turns into fear — the fear of losing what was gained. Two millennia after Epictetus offered his cure for heartbreak in the acceptance that all things are perishable and therefore even love ought to be held with the loose fingers of nonattachment
So long as we desire temporal things, we are constantly under this threat, and our fear of losing always corresponds to our desire to have. Temporal goods originate and perish independently of man, who is tied to them by his desire. Constantly bound by craving and fear to a future full of uncertainties, we strip each present moment of its calm, its intrinsic import, which we are unable to enjoy. And so, the future destroys the present.
Fearlessness is what love seeks. Love as craving is determined by its goal, and this goal is freedom from fear.
A love that seeks anything safe and disposable on earth is constantly frustrated, because everything is doomed to die. In this frustration love turns about and its object becomes a negation, so that nothing is to be desired except freedom from fear. Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future.
hannah arendt devoted an entire volume to an examination of will as the ‘organ of the future’.. in the same way that memory is our mental organ for the past.. the power of will lies in its unique ability to deal w things ‘visibles and invisibles, that have never existed at all . just as the past always presents itself to eh mind in the guise of certainty, the future’s main characteristic it is basic uncertainty, no matter how high a degree of probability prediction may attain’.. w freedom of will we undertake action that is entirely contingent on our determination to see our project thru. these are acts that we could have ‘left undone’ but for our commitment. *’a will that is not free’ arendt concludes ‘is a contradiction in terms’
*but ever present in most all of us today.. ie: krishnamurti free will law
arendt’s metaphor of will as the ‘mental organ of our future’ suggests that it is something built into us: organic, intrinsic, inalienable,.. moral philosophers have called this ‘free will’ because it is the human counterpoint to the fear of uncertainty that suffocates original action. arendt describes promises as ‘islands of predictability’ and ‘guideposts o reliability’ in an ‘ocean of uncertainty’.. they are , she argues, the only alternative to a diff kind of ‘mastery’ that relies on ‘domination of one’s self and rule over others’
the freedom of will is the existential bone structure that carries the moral flesh of every *promise, and my insistence on its integrity is not an indulgence in nostalgia or a random privileging of the pre digital human story as somehow more truly human.. this is the only kind of freedom we can guarantee ourselves.. no matter the weight of entropy or inertia and irrespective of the forces and fears that attempt to collapse time into an eternity of shadowboxing now and now and now.. these bones are the necessary condition for the possibility of **civilization as a ‘moral milieu’ that favors the dignity of the individual and respects the distinctly human capacities for dialogue and problem solving ..any person, idea or practice that breaks these bones and tears this flesh robs us of a self authored and we authored future..
dang.. i’m seeing promises as cancerous to the human spirits.. to play.. and to spontaneity.. to the bravery to change our mind everyday..
am seeing **civilzation as cancerous to society
these principles are not quaint accessories.. rather, they are had won *achievements that have crystalized over millennia of human contest and sacrifice.. our freedom flourishes only as we steadily will ourselves to close the gap between making promises and keeping them
dang.. that stinks.. that’s being sure ness
In 1951, Arendt wrote that the ideal subject of a totalitarian state is not the convinced Nazi or communist but “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (that is, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (that is, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
What had made people susceptible to fake news in the 1930s, Arendt argued, was loneliness: “the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”
That’s the kind of loneliness you experience today in small-town America, or in the left-behind industrial towns of Britain, or the backwaters of Poland and Hungary—all heartlands of the new authoritarian racism. It’s also, paradoxically, the kind of loneliness you can experience in a networked society:
Later, in her report on the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Arendt coined the famous phrase that could be applied to many of today’s authoritarian kleptocrats: “the banality of evil.” Thousands of Nazi functionaries like Eichmann had participated in mass killing, only to return home each evening to humdrum domestic life. What made them capable of this, Arendt argued, was the loss of their ability to think: “
This, in turn, was rooted in the modern bureaucratic lifestyle. Totalitarian states make people into cogs in an administrative machine, Arendt argued, “dehumanizing them.” Worse, she said, this might even be a feature of all modern bureaucracies.
too much ness
as we copied and pasted insights from Arendt into our Facebook pages, and held up her words on placards at anti-Trump rallies, a series of disturbing questions arose.
Third: Hitler was destroyed by Stalin. The entire postwar world in which Arendt, Orwell, Koestler, and Levi wrote their critiques of the totalitarian mind-set was created by the victory of one totalitarian state over another.
The paradox of today’s cult of Arendt is that, among all the anti-authoritarians of that era, her thought is the least equipped to help us answer those questions.
Practically, Arendt solved the problem of fascism versus Stalinism by escaping to America, an achievement nobody could begrudge. Theoretically, however, she solved it by claiming that American constitutional democracy was a form of industrial society uniquely immune to totalitarianism.
deeper: maté basic needs
Arendt was a theorist of “What’s gone wrong and how should humans live?”—but not “What’s happening, and why?”
The assumption that Arendt was the first person to identify the common features of the totalitarian projects of Nazism and Stalinism is nonsense.
The Austrian socialist Lucien Laurat proposed in 1931 that the USSR was neither capitalist nor socialist, but “bureau-technocratic”: a new ruling caste had seized control and imposed a new form of class society. Laurat explicitly connected this to the emergence of managerial bureaucracy in Western countries, creating “another form of exploitation of man by man” to replace capitalism.
It was in the aftermath of the Moscow trials that an oddball left-winger named Bruno Rizzi published a book entitled The Bureaucratisation of the World. In it, he argued that the Soviet bureaucracy was simply a Russian expression of a new form of class society that was replacing capitalism all over the world: “bureaucratic collectivism,” he called it.
When Hitler and Stalin signed their peace pact in August 1939, ..Rizzi’s bureaucratic collectivism thesis took off powerfully inside the Western left. ..“a new form of exploitative society.” This “managerial revolution” was destined to triumph everywhere, leaving historical progress with no option but to operate through the actions of totalitarian dictators.
In George Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is Burnham’s ideas that are parodied in The Book, the secret manual of the underground movement trying to overthrow Big Brother. Orwell rejected Burnham’s claim that the world was about to become three unmovable totalitarian dictatorships, but explored—by way of a warning—how it might come about: by suppressing all knowledge of the past; by turning language into political jargon so that people can’t think rebellious thoughts; and by repressing sexual desire.
Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, does find out about the past. .
He maintains a critical private language in his diary.
These ideas—circulating from Rizzi to Burnham to Orwell—had been current for more than ten years when Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism. What distinguished Arendt, then and later, was her refusal to explain why totalitarian ideologies triumph. “There is an abyss,” she wrote, “between men of brilliant and facile conceptions and men of brutal deeds and active bestiality, which no intellectual explanation is able to bridge.
Arendt failed to understand the class dynamics of the societies that produced both fascism and Stalinism.
the number one weapon for the US right is that self-same “eighteenth-century philosophy” that Arendt assumed had given Americans immunity from totalitarian rule: their individualism, which has been turned against them during thirty years of free-market rule, and their belief that economic choice constitutes freedom.
Collapse everything and start again is the modern right-wing fantasy.
if Trump has triggered a crisis of progressive thought, it is in particular a crisis for the cult of Hannah Arendt. The United States of America was her last and enduring hope: the only political institution on earth that was supposed to be immune to totalitarianism, nationalism, and imperialism.
Arendt’s humanism was based on “what ought to be,” not on what is. Human beings, she wrote, should resist totalitarianism by trying to live an active life of political engagement, and by carving out freedom to think philosophically.
But no matter how many progressive causes she espoused, hers was a worldview tainted by admiration for the reactionary German tradition in philosophy begun by Friedrich Nietzsche.Nietzsche taught the German bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century that its fantasies of empire and volk were more valid than the working-class project of collaboration, equality, and a human-centered society. Morality is a sham, he said, and the most honest thing to do is to pursue your own self-interest by any means necessary.There is no purpose to human existence, such as the “good life” imagined by Aristotle, and so no set of morals or ethics can be derived from it.
Nietzsche would become the cult figure of neoliberalism. Once human beings are reduced to two-dimensional, selfish, and competitive individuals—in a world where “there is no such thing as society,” as Margaret Thatcher once put it—the only logical response is to cast yourself as one of Nietzsche’s supermen: the alpha male, the ruthless manager, the financial shark, the pick-up artist.
Arendt certainly drew different moral conclusions from those of Nietzsche, but she could never see him or the philosophical tradition he gave birth to as the progenitor of Nazism. Indeed, she went out of her way to absolve him of responsibility for Hitlerism. To her dying day, she remained in awe of Nietzsche’s leading pro-Nazi follower, and her one-time lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger.
For us, understanding the philosophical through-line from Nietzsche via Hitler to the American neocons of the Iraq era and the alt-right of today is critical. Nietzsche is the all-purpose philosopher of reactionary politics. He says to the middle-class mind, dissatisfied with managerial conformity, that there is a higher form of rebellion than the one proposed by socialists, feminists, and other progressives: an individualist rebellion against morality, in favor of oneself.
He tells the elite that elites are necessary, and he is brutally honest that this demands a form of social apartheid in which most people perform “forced labor.” He decries state intervention, just as the modern right does, and advocates “as little state power as possible.” He is appalled, of course, at the possibility of working people using taxation to redistribute wealth. Nietszche, instead, idolizes the “criminal type”: all the gangster lacks to be a superhero, he says, is “the jungle, a certain freer and more dangerous form of nature,” in which he can demonstrate that “all great men were criminals and that crime belongs to greatness.”
Nietzsche greeted the rise of European imperialism with the words: “A daring master race is being formed upon the broad basis of an extremely intelligent herd of the masses.” What that master race needed was freedom from social norms and religious morals, so that they could become “the kind of exuberant monsters that might quit a horrible scene of murder, arson, rape and torture with the high humor and equanimity appropriate to a student prank.”
Any reading of what Nietzsche actually said, in the context of the rise of the German labor movement and the birth of German imperial ambition, should leave any humanist, democrat, or supporter of human rights reeling in disgust. But he did not repel Arendt.
The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that there is something logical in the repeated rediscovery of Nietzsche and his superman theory. Whenever the capitalist order comes under stress and the rule of the elite is challenged, the ordinary morality that rich people profess is called into question. Repression, deviousness, lies, and even murder become the order of the day. At these critical moments, the ordinary, boring bureaucrats discover that their norms and morals were just a jumble of old rules without any logical underpinning. Because of this, wrote MacIntyre, “it is possible to predict with confidence that in the apparently quite unlikely contexts of bureaucratically managed modern societies there will periodically emerge social movements informed by just that kind of prophetic irrationalism of which Nietzsche’s thought is the ancestor.”
That is exactly what we are living through now, and Arendt’s thought cannot explain it—because she refused to understand fascism as the elite’s response to the possibility of working-class power, or to understand the essential role of irrationalism in all such reactionary movements, and because hers was a philosophy based on American exceptionalist assumptions of immunity to totalitarian impulses.This is sadly disproved.
Arendt’s optimism about postwar America stemmed from her belief that people can learn to take self-liberating actions, learn to distinguish good from bad, and the ugly from the beautiful. But if you share her optimism—and I do—then you are now up against a very dangerous opposing force.
In this context, the rediscovery of Hannah Arendt and the humanism of the 1950s is not enough.
We need a humanism that can resist the re-establishment of biological hierarchies and root instead the universality of human rights on *more solid foundations than the ones currently under attack.
This project will need to survive contact with the new challenge of thinking machines and the new ideology of machine control known as post-humanism.
tech as it could be..
Thinking, no doubt, plays an enormous role in every scientific enterprise, but it is the role of a means to an end; the end is determined by a decision about what is worthwhile knowing, and this decision cannot be scientific.