The Illuminations of Hannah Arendt By Richard J. Bernstein


 

The Illuminations of Hannah Arendt
By Richard J. Bernstein


 

Richard Bernstein is a professor of philosophy at The New School for Social Research and the author of the forthcoming “Why Read Hannah Arendt Now.”

Men in Dark Times,” Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination.”


known for her major works, including

  • “The Human Condition,”
  • “On Violence,”
  • “Truth and Politics,”
  • “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and especially
  • “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” which grew out of her coverage of the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker.

she speaks of “dark times” and warns of the “exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under

the pretext of upholding old truths degrade all truth in meaningless triviality”


a critique of the horrors of 20th-century totalitarianism


but also a warning about forces pervading the politics of the United States and Europe today.


warn that the ever-increasing numbers of stateless persons and refugees would continue to be an intractable (uncontrollable) problem.


1943 essay “We Refugees,” based on her personal experiences of statelessness,


graphically describes what it means to lose one’s home, one’s language and one’s occupation


the “creation” of masses of people forced to leave their homes and their country: “Refugees driven from country to county represent the new vanguard of their peoples … The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.”


Almost every significant political event during the past 100 years has resulted in the multiplication of new categories of refugees


There are now millions of people in refugee camps with little hope that they will be able to return to their homes or ever find a new one.


In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.”


In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.”

 


The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself.


The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself.


The most fundamental right is the “right to have rights.”


the aim of total domination is to destroy human spontaneity, individuality and plurality,

Arendt probed what it means fully to live a human life in a political community and begin something new


what she called natality.


natality


the dignity of politics


individuals confront each other as political equals, deliberate and act together — a politics in which empowerment can grow and public freedom thrive without violence.


Her essay “Truth and Politics,” published in 1967


analysis of systematic lying and the danger it presents to factual truths is urgently relevant. Because factual truths are contingent and consequently might have been otherwise, it is all too easy to destroy factual truth and substitute “alternative facts.”


“Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.”


one of the most successful techniques for blurring the distinction between factual truth and falsehood is to claim that any so-called factual truth is just another opinion —


creating a fictional world of “alternative facts.”


 The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world — and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end — is being destroyed.”


The possibilities for lying become boundless and frequently meet with little resistance.


The possibilities for lying become boundless and frequently meet with little resistance.

Many liberals are perplexed that when their fact-checking clearly and definitively shows that a lie is a lie, people seem unconcerned and indifferent.


“What convinces masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.”


People who feel that they have been neglected and forgotten yearn for a narrative — even an invented fictional one —


 

(Which can) make sense of the anxiety they are experiencing, and promises some sort of redemption.


An authoritarian leader has enormous advantages by exploiting anxieties and creating a fiction that people want to believe.


A fictional story that promises to solve one’s problems is much more appealing than facts and “reasonable” arguments.


she elaborated a detailed conception of the dignity of politics.


Because of our natality, our capacity to act, we can always begin something new.


Because of our natality, our capacity to act, we can always begin something new.

She warned against being seduced by nihilism, cynicism or indifference.


description of the lying,

 
  • deception,
  • self-deception,
  • image-making and
  • the attempt of those in power to destroy the very distinction between truth and falsehood.

the dignity of politics

  • provides a critical standard for judging the situation
  • the opportunity to participate,
  • to act in concert and to
  • engage in genuine debate with our peers

resist the temptation to opt out of politics and to assume that nothing can be done


Arendt’s lifelong project was to honestly confront and comprehend the darkness of our times, without losing sight of the possibility of transcendence, and illumination.

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Author: charlesburchfield

I am an artist working primarily with collage.

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