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April 16, 2019
Rethinking the Thin-Thick Distinction among Theories of Evil (and Then Rereading Arendt)
first published on April 16, 2019
According to a standard interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s remarks about evil, she had a psychologically thin conception of evil action. This paper has two aims. First, I argue that the distinction between psychological thinness and thickness is poorly conceived, at least as it commonly applies to theories of evil action. And second, I argue that, according to a better conception of the thin-thick distinction, Arendt is being misinterpreted.
Hannah Arendt on Science and Technology
first published on April 16, 2019
This article expands Patchen Markell’s (2011) seminal problematization of The Human Condition by examining the impact that the modern developments in science and technology had on Arendt’s signature categories. Whereas Markell is interested in the systematic “architecture” of the book, I attempt to historicize Arendt’s distinctions in light of the story she tells about science and technology. From the invention of the telescope to the splitting of the atom, technoscience has provoked shifts in the hierarchies within the vita activa; spawned new varieties of “labor,” “work,” and “action”; and blurred the traditional boundaries between “nature” and the “human world.” These reconfigurations draw the contours of a new, “modern world” that is different from the world whose story and conceptual tradition Arendt set out to articulate. Largely as a result of the activities of science and technology, the experiences that informed the categories of the “Western tradition” correspond to a world that is no longer our own.
October 25, 2018
The “Origins of The Origins”
Antisemitism, Hannah Arendt, and the Influence of Bernard Lazare
first published on October 25, 2018
Unlike “Imperialism” and “Totalitarianism,” the last two chapters in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), written in the United States in the 1940s, the completion of the first chapter, “Antisemitism”, was preceded by more than two decades of writing in Europe and in the United States, during which Arendt found it increasingly necessary to address issues related to the Jews’ political and social situation. The chapter may be only one part of the book, but it is in fact the “origin of The Origins” and its cornerstone. In order to trace several themes of this seminal chapter, we must analyze the contribution of the French Jewish thinker, Bernard Lazare, to Arendt’s thinking. Without him, “Antisemitism” would never have coalesced and seen the light of day as a political analysis of the phenomenon. Without the “Antisemitism” chapter, The Origins of Totalitarianism would not have become a canonical work of twentieth-century political thought.
October 10, 2018
Rethinking the Relationship Between Past, Present, and Future
Arendt’s Account on Revolution
first published on October 10, 2018
In this paper, I focus on Arendt’s concept of revolution in order to tackle the intricate relationship among past, present and future in the fields of action and politics. For this purpose, I propose to rethink the concept of authority and to show its possible connection with action and revolution. On the basis of her reflections on the American Revolution, I claim that authority and Arendt’s concept of power are not incompatible and can appear together. On the other hand, I hold that if power seeks to found, establish and consolidate a new republic, it requires to be endorsed by authority. Authority can provide a horizon of longevity that is not present within power and can enable the task of foundation to succeed.
Reimagining Zionism and Coexistence after Oslo’s Death
Lessons from Hannah Arendt
first published on October 10, 2018
Zionism needs a fundamental overhaul given both the collapse of the Oslo-initiated peace process and the erosion of liberal values in Israeli society. There is no better guide than Hannah Arendt for such an undertaking. On the one hand, she provided a searing diagnosis of mainstream Zionism’s foundational shortcomings, which persist to the present. One is a creed that assumes an eternal anti-Semitism. Two is a corresponding insular nationalism, which rejects affirmative engagement with the outside. On the other hand, Arendt articulated an affirmative humanist Zionism based on three elements. First, is a Jewish self-determination aimed at cultural enrichment and emancipation. Second, is an outward-oriented Zionism that embraces internationalism. Third, is substantive coexistence with Palestinians based on an innovative alternative to the homogenous nation-state model. This article retrieves and updates Arendt’s humanist Zionism. I emphasize her plea to confront Zionism’s pathologies, break from an insular nationalist mindset, and foster new political channels for attaining genuine reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
July 6, 2018
Love and Personhood in Hannah Arendt
first published on July 6, 2018
Both love and politics name relations, according to Arendt, in which a subject is constituted as a unique person. Following up on this suggestion, I explore how love gives rise to a conception of personhood that temporarily suspends the public judgments and social prejudices that reduce the other to their actions or to their social identity. I do so by tracing a similar movement in the various tropes of Arendt’s phenomenology of love: the retreat away from the collective world into the intimacy of love, followed by the necessary return to the world and the end of love. This exploration casts a new—and surprisingly positive—light on some key notions in Arendt’s thought, such as the body, the will, and life. However, Arendt disregards that love, as De Beauvoir argued, requires a constant effort in restraining our tendency to reduce the lover to their social identity.
June 21, 2018
Look at Politics With Eyes Unclouded By Philosophy
The Arendtian Reading of Montesquieu
first published on June 21, 2018
In the following, I will trace the presence of Montesquieu in Arendt’s work, giving an account of both Arendt’s praise for the French writer’s particular way of thinking the political and his approach to problems that will become central to the development of Arendt’s own thought. Firstly, I will follow Arendt down the path that led her to discover fundamental tools in Montesquieu for understanding totalitarianism “with eyes unclouded by philosophy.” Secondly, I will track the way in which the Arendtian reconceptualization of some key political words—power, law and freedom—is threaded through with her reading of the French author. Thirdly, I will look into the way in which Montesquieu’s formulation of a particular link between what Arendt calls the basic experience and the political regime, allows her to go on to discover a criteria that makes it possible to distinguish between political and anti-political ways of living together; and allows us to see that there is a phenomenally essential element within tyranny and totalitarianism that ensures that it “develops the germs of its own destruction the moment it comes into existence.”
May 10, 2018
Reading Kant against Himself
Arendt and the Appropriation of Enlarged Mentality
first published on May 10, 2018
In this paper, I examine Hannah Arendt’s notion of “enlarged mentality.” I use a close textual exposition of enlarged mentality in Arendt’s writings in order to offer an interpretation of Denktagebuch Notebook XXII, in which Arendt initially sketched her political interpretation of the Critique of Judgment. I maintain that a close examination of enlarged mentality—particularly as it appears in Arendt’s notebooks—answers basic questions about Arendt’s appropriation of Kant’s third Critique that have eluded scholarly commentators. In this paper, I seek to answer one such question: why did Arendt turn to Kant’s Critique of Judgment? I argue that in turning to Kant for a model of political judgment Arendt took herself to be correcting methodological inconsistencies that she believed she located in the Critique of Judgment.
May 4, 2018
Arendt, Truth, and Epistemic Responsibility
first published on May 4, 2018
In this article, I offer a politico-philosophical perspective to reassess the much-contested role of truth in politics to put forth a principle of political action that will make sense of a “right to unmanipulated factual information,” which Hannah Arendt understands as crucial for establishing freedom of opinion. In developing a principle of epistemic responsibility, I will show that “factual truth” plays a key role in Arendt’s account of political action and provides a normative order that can extricate her account from charges of immoralism. The article will be divided into three sections: section 1 deals with the distinction between rational truths and factual truths, and the question of their validity, section 2 deals with what a principle of political action is, and lastly, section 3 proposes a principle of “epistemic responsibility” that becomes action-guiding in the political sphere, in order to shed new light on the 2013 Gezi Park protest, one of the recent democratic uprisings of our century.
March 14, 2018
The Janus Face of Political Experience
first published on March 14, 2018
Arendt’s concept of experience can contribute in important ways to the contemporary debates in political and feminist theory. However, while the notion is ubiquitous in Arendt’s thinking we lack an understanding of experience as a concept, as opposed to the impact of Arendt’s personal experiences on her thought. Drawing from her notes for “Political Experiences in the Twentieth Century,” the article seeks to enrich our understanding of the Janus-faced character of political experience. It emphasizes the importance of vicariousness, and argues that experience should be understood as a process of suffering, enduring, and re-experiencing events beyond our conscious control. The article further posits that experience appear only when events, through metaphors, are allowed to leave their mark on our way of using language. It is argued that this concept poses an important challenge to the different ways experience is approached in contemporary political and feminist theory.
Being and Appearing
Notes on Arendt and Relationality
first published on March 14, 2018
The article examines Hannah Arendt’s contribution to the development of a philosophical anthropology that takes relationality as its point of departure. The relations in question are to ‘others’ and to ‘place.’ The first part of the article argues that while relationality has to be understood as a descriptive of human being, the possibility of coming into relation—in Arendt’s terms ‘appearing’—needs to be understood as the actualization of a potentiality. While the potentiality has a necessary existence, its actualization is inherently contingent. It is the problem of potentiality as that which demands actualization that, while fundamental to Arendt’s project, she fails to take up. The second part of the article traces the presence of this limit in Arendt’s thought through her engagement with Heidegger in her text What is Existential Philosophy?
February 24, 2018
Lorraine Krall McCrary
Natality and Disability
From Augustine to Arendt and Back
first published on February 24, 2018
Arendt’s “natality,” a promising foundation for humanness that might be expanded to include those with profound cognitive disabilities, emerges in part out of Arendt’s creative interpretation of Augustine. Returning to Augustine provides natality with resources to escape the weaknesses of Arendt’s thought when viewed from the perspective of disability theory: The traps of grounding human dignity in rationality, of downplaying expressions of creativity in non-political spheres, and of denigrating the role of the body.
September 6, 2017
The Politics of Defining Today: Towards a Critical Historicism of Judgment
first published on September 6, 2017
Greater and greater attention is being paid to Hannah Arendt’s iconic The Origins of Totalitarianism as a way to understand contemporary politics and particularly the global rise of the Far Right. With this promising resurgence, though, comes a distinct danger that was a central concern of Arendt herself in her post-war writings and the development of the book. Arendt was sharply critical of her contemporaries, particularly the social sciences, for their loose historical methods. An unthinking historical sensibility led, in her view, to the too-easy drawing of analogies between past dominations and totalitarianism. In her pre-Origins talks and writings, Arendt slowly built an entire historiographic methodology around her concern with political judgment, a radical historicism that argued for the preeminence of progenesis and novelty in the politics of history. This paper looks to excavate that historicism and draw out its full implications not only for Arendt’s theoretical orientation, but for the broader praxis she demanded of all those who would be politically minded. Arendt’s radical historicism, which can rightly be called the groundwork for writing Origins and her turn to judgment, represents the beginning of what became her thorough-going practice: an ethics of responsibility, to the past and present.
August 31, 2017
On the Confluence of Thinking, Judging, and Action
An Experience with the Thought of Hannah Arendt
first published on August 31, 2017
The text is an analysis by a former student of Hannah Arendt, with the living experience of her thought in public life. As Brazil’s Foreign Minister on two occasions and as Ambassador to Genève, the Author discusses how her thought shaped many facets of his outlook in dealing with the challenges of international life. Diplomatic judgement as a reflective judgement is the unifying thread of the issues discussed. Among them, environment and sustainable development, human rights, nuclear disarmament, authority, power, violence, factual truth and lies.
August 4, 2017
Hannah Arendt (1945–1950)
A “European” Public Intellectual?
first published on August 4, 2017
In this paper I ask how Arendt, a relatively obscure Zionist activist, became a public intellectual in postwar US and Europe. I argue that Arendt’s idealization of Europe—that is her presentation of a federal Europe as the political and cultural ideal for other peoples to imitate—accounts for her postwar success in both Euro-American and German and Jewish-American public spheres. An analysis of Arendt’s writings during the period shows that she idealized Europe despite also condemning European fascism, imperialism, and totalitarianism (to which she considered Jews to have contributed). I also show that Arendt’s idealization of Europe determined her self-presentation. While much has been made of Arendt’s insistence on identifying as a Jew, in fact in the postwar period she identified alternatively, as a Jewish, European, and non-national public intellectual. She held these varying identifications precisely because her idealized view of Europe led her to conflate Jewish and European identities despite also considering these to be separate.
August 1, 2017
Arendt and Blücher
Reflections on Philosophy, Politics, and Democracy
first published on August 1, 2017
The importance of Hannah Arendt’s intellectual dialogue with her husband, Heinrich Blücher is widely acknowledged, yet it has rarely been systematically studied. In this paper, I use Blücher’s lectures to highlight the way some of his reflections and insights shed new light on Arendt’s political thought. Blücher, I seek to show, offers through the figure of Socrates an alternative understanding of the meaning of philosophy and its relation to politics. His reflections help us see that Arendt worked with two conceptions of philosophy: not only the dominant one in the Western philosophical tradition, of which she was famously critical, but also an alternative one in which philosophy and politics become mutually supportive, rather than mutually exclusive activities. What emerges from the comparison between Arendt’s and Blücher’s reflections on the relationship between philosophy and politics, I argue, is a joint and life-long commitment on the part of both to question the philosophical tradition in order to offer new theoretical foundations for participatory democratic citizenship.
Resisting the Neoliberaliztion of Higher Education
Arendt and the Subversive Potential of Thinking
first published on August 1, 2017
In this essay, I examine both the neoliberalization of higher education, as well as a powerful alternative which is implicitly sketched out in the work of Hannah Arendt. This paper is divided into three parts. In part one, I briefly discuss important neoliberal features of contemporary American higher education, with a specific focus on the ways in which neoliberal ideology is transforming contemporary higher education along vocational and utilitarian lines. In the second part of the essay I argue that there are ways in which thinking (as Arendt describes it) is an especially powerful ideal for proponents of the liberal arts to seize upon in order to establish a contrast with the demand that we reconfigure higher education along vocational and corporatist lines in order to fulfill neoliberal imperatives. In the third and final part of the paper, I will attempt to address objections to this proposal.
June 20, 2017
Robert P. Crease
Arendt and the Authority of Science in Politics
first published on June 20, 2017
Arendt’s explorations of the dynamics of politics, facts, and truth in the public sphere contain important insights into the authority of science and science denial. This article reviews and contextualizes Arendt’s views on modern science and technology, discusses her views on authority, and identifies some insights that her writings provide on the dynamics of science denial. Arendt’s writings point to another possible source of authority besides Weber’s three categories (traditional, legal-rational, charismatic), based on a relationship between ruler and ruled that precedes the issuance of commands. Her writings help clarify what makes scientific findings vulnerable to denial, expose some of the specific tactics of science denial, and include some clues for what it would take to keep the public space open, and to nourish the compelling element that would have to underlie scientific authority.
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