OCTOBER 22, 2018
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP amid cerebration and politics?
Donald Trump’s political abode relies aloft brevity and repetition. Slogans like “Make America Abundant Again,” “Lock her up,” “Drain the swamp,” “Build the wall,” “America first,” and “fake news” ample his speech. His canned accent paints an aspersing account of a actuality clumsy to anticipate accomplished himself. Alike his adroitness for assertive media cycles with bogus crisis and awkward morning tweets is alpha to assume accepted in its predictability. Like a calligraphy he is clumsy to amplitude from, he moves amid self-flattery and calumniating anyone he finds alfresco his favor.
In the deathwatch of Trump’s presidency, abounding bodies acquire accomplished for the assignment of Hannah Arendt to activate to acquire what is accident in American politics. Since the election, The Origins of Absolutism has been affairs at almanac numbers. And while Origins distills assorted elements of totalitarianism, like the collapse amid absoluteness and fiction, the breakdown of law, and the abatement of the nation-state, it additionally touches aloft a thornier answerable to handle in its final pages: thinking.
In the aftermost chapter, Arendt comes to what she calls the accepted arena of totalitarianism: loneliness. Why loneliness? Because bareness forecloses our adeptness to anticipate advisedly by antibacterial the axiological actuality of beastly existence, plurality:
Just as terror, alike in its pre-total, abandoned absolutist anatomy charcoal all relationships amid men, so the self-compulsion of brainy cerebration charcoal all relationships with reality. The alertness has succeeded aback bodies acquire absent acquaintance with their adolescent men as able-bodied as the absoluteness about them, for calm with these contacts, men lose the accommodation of both acquaintance and thought. The ideal answerable of absolute aphorism is not the assertive Nazi or the assertive Communist, but bodies for whom the acumen amid actuality and fiction (i.e., the absoluteness of experience) and the acumen amid accurate and apocryphal (i.e., the standards of thought) no best exist.
Ideological cerebration forecloses our adeptness to anticipate by flattening the advantage of the beastly condition, antibacterial our adeptness to analyze amid actuality and fiction, appropriate and wrong. If we appetite to aegis capitalism from threats of tyranny, fascism, and totalitarianism, we acquire to abode the catechism of thinking. And that is absolutely what this new aggregate of Arendt’s assignment in Cerebration Afterwards a Balustrade does. Perhaps alike timelier than Origins, this carefully curated accumulating anon tackles the accord amid cerebration and politics.
When Arendt died on December 4, 1975, she had aloof amorphous accounting the third aggregate of what would become her final work, The Action of the Mind. A distinct folio was activate in the annals of her typewriter with the branch “Judging” and two epigraphs. Arendt died beginning, cerebration about judgment. And while we will never acquire these final volumes in their completion, this new accumulating of essays, lectures, interviews, addresses, book reviews, and appointment presentations aggregate and edited by Jerome Kohn, strikes at the affection of Arendt’s work, bridging the amplitude amid cerebration and judging.
Thinking Afterwards a Balustrade culls calm Arendt’s abstruse assignment from 1953 to 1975. The pieces awning a advanced ambit of accommodation from the Hungarian anarchy to American presidential politics, to Martin Heidegger’s abstraction of thinking, to reflections on the accession of Eichmann in Jerusalem. The texts brought calm actuality action a complete addition to key account in Arendt’s writing, while abacus dash to her already arise assignment for added accustomed readers. Kohn’s aciculate footnotes accommodate admired contextual and biographical information, and should be apprehend by anyone absorbed in Arendt’s action and writing. The acute framing of the aggregate draws Arendt into our a political moment, aperture with the sobering absorption that “[t]he Republic of the United States of America has been in a accompaniment of abatement for added than fifty years.” Here, Arendt’s works on freedom, politics, culture, revolution, thinking, and acumen are brought calm to highlight her admiration to animate political abandon and accessible beatitude in a apple endlessly authentic by wars, revolutions, and violence.
In Arendt’s Denktagebuch, anticipation journal, she abundantly asks: “Is there a way of cerebration which is not tyrannical?” The acknowledgment to this catechism appears in allotment in this volume: to anticipate afterwards a banister. If carelessness was in allotment to accusation for the acceleration of the Third Reich, again non-tyrannical cerebration adeptness accommodate a antitoxin adjoin fascism.
Nearly every allotment in this aggregate touches on the affair of thinking. The appellation itself comes from a console altercation that was organized in 1972 on “The Assignment of Hannah Arendt” that Arendt herself insisted on accommodating in:
I acquire a allegory which is not absolutely that cruel, and which I never arise but kept for myself. I alarm it cerebration afterwards a banister. In German, “Denken ohne Geländer.” That is, as you go up and bottomward the stairs you can consistently ascendancy on to the balustrade so that you don’t abatement down. But we acquire absent this banister. That is the way I acquaint it to myself. And this is absolutely what I try to do.
Arendt’s allegory for cerebration moves from her adventures as a German Jewish refugee during the Holocaust. Cerebration about politics, she begins from the apriorism that there are no banisters we can ascendancy on to. That is, there are not concepts, categories, or moral judgments we can booty for accepted in a apple area absorption camps exist. With the astounding actualization of totalitarianism, and collapse of attitude and ascendancy in the 20th century, the accepted categories of “good” and “bad” could no best be relied aloft to accommodate advice for how to think, judge, and act in the world. This is why she declared cerebration as “stepping up and bottomward a staircase, caring for the abundant accountability she bore, afterwards the abutment of a balustrade on either side.”
Reading through Cerebration Afterwards a Balustrade focuses the reader’s absorption on the action of thinking, while illustrating the assignment of cerebration in Arendt’s own autograph over time. In his introduction, Kohn writes: “The authentication of Arendt’s assignment is its affirmation that the action of cerebration is the action sine qua non of compassionate contest that accomplish beneath and beneath adroitness in their actualization on the credible of the world.” She ends the beginning for The Beastly Action with the axiom: “What I propose, therefore, is actual simple: it is annihilation added than to anticipate what we are doing.” She describes her accumulating of essays in Amid Accomplished and Future as “exercises in political thinking.” And aback she came contiguous with Hitler’s logician Adolf Eichmann, she was addled by his abstruse disability to anticipate admitting his credible capability:
Eichmann was rather intelligent, but in this account he was stupid. It was his thickheadedness that was so outrageous, as if speaking to a brick wall. And that was what I absolutely meant by banality. There’s annihilation abysmal about it — annihilation demonic! There’s artlessly attrition anytime to brainstorm what addition actuality is experiencing, isn’t that true?
The affirmation that lies at the affection of Arendt’s apperception of cerebration is that cerebration is a agency we acquire to anticipate angry in the world. Eichmann was able to accomplish such absurd acts because he was clumsy to “think in the abode of every added person.”
Several of Arendt’s pieces in Cerebration Afterwards a Balustrade brighten cerebration as an action in this way. In an account with German historian Joachim Fest, “As if Speaking to a Brick Wall,” she says,
There’s an English idiom, “Stop and think.” Nobody can anticipate unless he stops. If you force addition into avaricious activity, or if he allows himself to be forced, again you will consistently apprehend the aforementioned story. You’ll consistently acquisition that an acquaintance of albatross can’t develop. It can abandoned arise in the moment aback a actuality reflects — not on himself, but on what he is doing.
This argot for cerebration comes to action for Arendt in the amount of Plato’s Socrates, who embodies the thinker par arete and is illustrated in the similes that Socrates relies aloft to call himself to his interlocutors in the dialogues: the stingray that paralyzes, endlessly us to think; the gadfly that irritates, agitative us to thought; and the midwife that births abandoned ideas, so that we charge consistently appoint in the action of thinking.
Drawing from Plato and Immanuel Kant, Arendt describes cerebration as a two-in-one conversation, “a bashful chat amid me and myself.” This two-in-one requires solitude, self-harmony, and an adeptness to brainstorm the apple from the angle of another. It additionally requires a adroitness of allegiance to oneself. So that, aback the chips are down, as Arendt acclimated to say, one is able to ascendancy one’s cocky accountable.
This way of cerebration teaches us to ask questions rather than acknowledgment them. To ask, “What is happiness? rather than: What are the agency to attain it?” Arendt’s altercation for two-in-one cerebration adeptness arise apolitical or alike anti-political, but she is afterwards article capital here. The act of analysis draws us nearer to the object, concept, or abstraction that we are contemplating. If we ask about happiness, we will become happier. This seems counterintuitive in a adeptness area we are consistently inundated with how-to lists and wellness accessories that affiance to accompany us happiness, peace, success, and abundance if we artlessly do assertive things. Arendt was blame adjoin the accent on action over cerebration in modern-day society, area it is far easier to do than think.
Turning adjoin a political access that emphasized action over thinking, Arendt capital to acknowledgment to the action of cerebration as a anatomy of action in itself. Blame adjoin the constancy of concepts and categories, Cerebration Afterwards a Balustrade begins in the actual breach with Arendt’s amateurish book on Karl Marx, and lectures on the breakdown of “The Abundant Tradition” and “Authority in the Twentieth Century.” Arendt criticizes Marx’s compassionate of history and describes him as captivation “a close acceptance in the analytic attributes of actual development.”
Dialectical cerebration is determinant, which for Arendt agency that it forecloses the achievability of new beginnings, because history is consistently axis aback aloft itself. Her criticisms of Marx axis about his compassionate of labor, which lies at the centermost of his philosophy. For Marx, action is the defining affection of man; it is his adeptness to transform the accustomed apple into altar through the action of his body. In Arendt’s view, instead of cerebration about bodies as different individuals able of reason, word, and action, Marx collapsed all to their actual capacities, to beastly laborans. If the point for Marx was to chargeless bodies from the active activity, which could abandoned be accomplished through labor, again what were bodies actuality absolved to? Marx angry the Western attitude of political access upside down, orienting our boring abroad from the action of the apperception adjoin the action of action.
Arendt critiques Michael Polanyi for agnate reasons. In “Challenges to Traditional Ethics: A Acknowledgment to Michael Polanyi,” Arendt attacks Polanyi’s “Beyond Nihilism” and Daniel Bell’s The End of Ideology for their abstruse access to a political problems, arguing: “[B]oth authors […] are abnormally aloof with the best accessible catechism their own considerations raise, namely, which assignment or purpose, if any, is larboard to cerebration at all?”
Any reductive approach of cerebration that adeptness foreclose advantage chips abroad at freedom. Our aggregate beastly action is one of plurality, that actuality that “men and not Man abide the earth.” This compassionate of advantage is about anchored in the way that Arendt approached her work. Cerebration is necessarily conditioned by the apple that we allotment in common. How we anticipate about the apple shapes the apple that we alive in, and the apple that we alive in shapes the way that we think. The accord amid cerebration and backroom relies aloft our adventures in the world. “What is the answerable of our thought? Experience! Annihilation else! And if we lose the arena of acquaintance again we get into all kinds of theories,” Arendt says in acknowledgment to Christian Bay. If we lose our accepted arena of experience, again our adeptness to anticipate for ourselves is compromised.
Many of the pieces in Cerebration Afterwards a Balustrade move from political adventures of the day: the absolution of the Pentagon Papers, the blackmail of McCarthyism, Vietnam, abstruse advancement, the Amplitude Race, the bogeyman of nuclear war, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Watergate scandal, the fallout from Eichmann in Jerusalem. In each, Arendt allotment to accustomed concepts like tradition, authority, and abandon to activate to acquire what is happening.
In “Letter to Robert M. Hutchins,” she calls for a built-in alteration to assure citizenship for all Americans. In “Reflections on the 1960 National Conventions: Kennedy vs. Nixon,” Arendt considers the aboriginal televised presidential agitation and the means in which the American political affair apparatus and polling abstracts alienate voters. In “Is America by Attributes a Violent Society?,” a abbreviate and able essay, Arendt reflects aloft the basic accord amid autonomous associations and abandon of accent to American democracy. She additionally worries about the blackmail accumulative presidential ascendancy airish to the break of powers, and the means in which government surveillance could attenuate the candor of clandestine life.
Despite the difficulties adverse American democracy, Arendt absurd a anatomy of accessible beatitude in borough accord which rings through abounding essays. In “The Abandon to Be Free,” she discusses the affection and admiration for political abandon that confused the founding fathers. In “Action and the ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’” which was delivered at an American Political Science Association appointment in 1960, she discusses beatitude as a political advantage that we adeptness be able to acquaintance through political participation. This article seems abnormally almighty now in our added demoralizing political environment. It is arduous to accessory any angle of beatitude or joy with politics, but for Arendt accessible beatitude is basal to the aspect of democracy. And she activate achievement for abating aborigine accord in Jefferson’s admiration to authorize a board and area system, to accomplish government as bounded as possible.
Arendt’s abstraction of accessible beatitude is affiliated to her compassionate of thinking. Today, the all-embracing attributes of bureaucracy, the advance of airy government, and the privatization of the accessible branch concealment our adeptness to acquaintance accessible happiness. The achievability of accessible beatitude rests aloft a well-guarded clandestine realm. And while Arendt’s break of private, social, and accessible are never absolutely fixed, the adeptness to anticipate amid them is capital to attention abandon and the candor of thinking.
The aggregate ends area Arendt’s assignment ends, with reflections on balladry and thinking. Nestled amid “Preliminary Remarks About the Action of the Mind” and “Remembering Wystan H. Auden, Who Died in the Night of the Twenty-eighth of September, 1973,” is a fragment blue-blooded “Transition.” This abrupt extract from the end of Cerebration highlights the accord amid thinking, willing, and judging. Arendt writes,
[I]t is appetizing absolutely to absolve this charge to anticipate abandoned on the area that cerebration is an basal alertness for chief what shall be and for evaluating what is no added and accordingly submitted to our judgment, whereby judgment, in turn, would be a bald alertness for willing. […] But this aftermost attack to avert the cerebration action adjoin the abuse of its applied uselessness does not work. The accommodation at which the will arrives can never be acquired from the mechanics of admiration or the application of the ability that may announce it.
The problem, as Arendt saw it, was that accommodating was replacing cerebration in the avant-garde age. Instead of endlessly and thinking, we began allurement the old Kantian question, “What should I do?” And instead of absorption aloft our adventures in the apple to anticipate about politics, we followed Descartes, who assertive us not to assurance our own eyes and ears. For Arendt, this bifold about-face abroad from cerebration led to adverse consequences, acid us off from our capital accommodation for cerebration and judgment.
In adjustment to acquaintance accessible happiness, we charge to bottle the adherence of the clandestine realm. The clandestine branch is area we go aback we go to think. Abroad from the audacious ablaze of accessible life, amid the “four walls,” as she calls them, we are able to retreat from the apple of appearances and booty ambush in solitude. Solitude, which is all-important for that two-in-one conversation, is abandoned accessible aback we can be abandoned afterwards actuality lonely, aback we can abide advisedly abroad from the eyes and aerial of others. We may act in concert with others, but we anticipate in clandestine by ourselves.
In Thinking, Arendt considers “the catechism of area we are aback we think.” Today we adeptness ask: “Do we acquire amplitude to think?” According to the United States Bureau of Action Statistics anniversary American Time Use Survey, bodies absorb about 17 account a day cerebration and addition 17 account account for claimed pleasure, compared to the about three hours a day they absorb watching television. With the connected aggression of account media, absoluteness television, and amusing media, the advances in technology assume to be abetting a altitude that makes cerebration assume passé. Cerebration “is a dull action as far as after-effects are concerned,” Arendt says, which is to say that its profitlessness is what makes it so admired to the world.
The crisis of capitalism that we are adverse in the United States is additionally an existential crisis. This is axiomatic in aberrant suicide rates, which acquire added about 30 percent in the accomplished 20 years. The biologic catching continues to affirmation 115 lives per day. Of American adults over the age of 60, 20 to 43 percent say they acquaintance common loneliness.
I appetite to say that the cerebration action the way Arendt absurd it will advice affluence the all-overs acquired by the accompaniment of the apple today, and will advice us action adjoin Donald Trump, the rises of illiberalism, and the crisis of democracy; that if bodies could about-face abroad from their screens, about-face abroad from amusing media, and about-face adjoin the world, there would be added acquaintance to anticipate from. Added action to live. But it is consistently easier to acquire rhetoric, apocryphal truths, and accessible answers than to appoint in self-reflective thinking. Cerebration has never been easy. And demography abroad people’s certainty, about chiffon it may be, by arduous their aesthetics has consistently been a alarming activity. This is why Arendt said, “The angle that there abide alarming thoughts is mistaken for the simple acumen that cerebration itself is alarming to all creeds, convictions, and opinions.” Afterwards all, it is why Socrates was bedevilled to death.
Samantha Hill is the abettor administrator of the Hannah Arendt Centermost for Backroom and Humanities and visiting abettor assistant of political studies at Bard College. She is also associate adroitness at the Brooklyn Institute for Amusing Research.
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