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Etienne Tassin

23 de maio de 2018
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Prof. Etienne Tassin

Em janeiro deste ano, faleceu tragicamente o pesquisador e professor francês Etienne Tassin, um dos maiores especialistas da atualidade na obra de Hannah Arendt. Doutor em filosofia pela Universidade Paris VIII  com a tese “La phénoménologie de l’action et la question du monde: essai sur la philosophie de Hannah Arendt”, de 1996, Etienne Tassin era professor da Université Paris VII – Denis Diderot desde 2003. Seu óbito foi provocado por um atropelamento no centro de Paris, quando o Prof. Tassin saia do teatro, em 06/01/2018. Chegou a ser hospitalizado, porém veio a óbito no domingo, dia 07/01/2018.

Além de grande intelectual, Etienne Tassin era engajado social e politicamente, atuando como militante ativo nos temas da contemporaneidade. Em seu útimo texto, “Les justes de Calais”, escrito e publicado em parceria com Camille Louis, abordou a crise migratória européia sob a ótica da exceção e do terror, que, conforme seu entendimento, colocou em xeque o Estado de direito e constrange as minorias, com tentativa de legitimação do terrorismo, da xenofobia, do racismo, da violência e dos discursos de ódio.

Em homenagem ao legado deste grande pensador, que tão prematuramente nos deixou, disponibilizamos aqui no blog para download sua fala de abertura nas Jornadas Internacionais Hannah Arendt, realizadas na Unicamp, “La triple aporie révolutionnaire: Comment continuer ce qui commmence?”, publicado no Dossiê Arendt dos Cadernos de Filosofia Alemã, em 2016 (texto em francês).

Em sua obra, destacam-se “Le Trésor perdu. Hannah Arendt : l’intelligence de l’action politique”, “Un monde commun. Pour une cosmo-politique des conflits” e “Maléfice de la vie à plusieurs. La politique est-elle vouée à l’échec ?”. No prelo e com previsão de publicação ainda em 2018, pela editora francesa PUF, temos sua mais recente a obra: “Pour quoi agissons-nous ? Questionner la politique en compagnie de Hannah Arendt”.

 

Anúncios

O estado da arte: Hannah Arendt | Entrevista com Celso Lafer, Cláudia Perrone-Moisés e Eduardo Jardim

21 de maio de 2018

Para o áudio da entrevista completa, clique aqui.

Ante categorias políticas tradicionais como “conservadorismo”, “liberalismo” ou “socialismo”, o pensamento de Hannah Arendt é elusivo, mesmo desorientador. Mas o que sugere uma mente paradoxal, talvez seja mera coerência, já que para Arendt o pensamento deve nascer dos “incidentes da experiência viva”, e a sua foi atravessada pelos incidentes mais dramáticos de seu tempo: por quase 20 anos, desde que a ascensão nazista deu início à sua diáspora pessoal, foi apátrida, refugiando-se em Genebra e Paris, até receber a cidadania norte-americana. Da Primeira Guerra à Guerra Fria, ela viveu e pensou no coração das piores catástrofes do século XX, como testemunham os títulos de suas obras: As Origens dos Totalitarismo, Da Revolução, Da Violência.

Mas após expor o mal em sua face mais monstruosa, Arendt também se inquietou com o seu caráter paradoxal em nosso tempo. Um de seus principais objetivos durante o pós-Guerra foi, nas suas palavras, “destruir a lenda da grandiosidade do mal, da força demoníaca; retirar das pessoas a grande admiração que têm por grandes malfeitores”. De fato, dizia ela, “o súdito ideal do governo totalitário não é o nazi convicto ou o comunista convicto, mas pessoas para quem a distinção entre fato e ficção (isto é, a realidade da experiência) e a distinção entre o verdadeiro e o falso (isto é, os padrões de pensamento) já não existem mais.” Personificado no medíocre mas consciencioso funcionário nazista Adolf Eichmann, esse diagnóstico deu origem à sua fórmula mais célebre e controversa: a “banalidade do mal.” Longe porém de estar restrita aos despotismos genocidas, algo dessa banalidade está impregnada no modo como concebemos a atividade humana na era da sociedade de massas. Para Arendt a vida ativa deve ser uma cooperação entre o nosso trabalho, pelo qual garantimos nossa subsistência material, as nossas obras, pelas quais criamos os objetos do mundo da cultura, e a nossa ação, pela qual, através do relacionamento e do diálogo interpessoal, construímos uma sociedade plural e solidária. Mas Arendt lamentava que a pressão da economia de mercado tenha invertido a hierarquia, impondo o predomínio da dimensão mais baixa: a do trabalho. Ante suas reflexões, somos tentados a parafrasear os versos de T.S. Eliot:  Onde está a ação que perdemos em nossa obra? Onde está a obra que perdemos em nosso trabalho?

Convidados

Celso Lafer: professor de Filosofia e Teoria Geral do Direito na Universidade de São Paulo e autor de A Reconstrução dos Direitos Humanos: um diálogo com o pensamento de Hannah Arendt.

Cláudia Perrone-Moisés: professora de Direito Internacional da Universidade de São Paulo e coordenadora do Centro de Estudos Hannah Arendt.

Eduardo Jardim: professor de Filosofia da Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro e autor de Hannah Arendt – pensadora da crise e de um novo início.

Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’

21 de maio de 2018

ROGER BERKOWITZ*, for The New York Times “Opiniator”

eichmann-trial-exhibitThe movie “Hannah Arendt,” which opened in New York in May, has unleashed emotional commentary that mirrors the fierce debate Arendt herself ignited over half a century ago, when she covered the trial of the notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann. One of the pre-eminent political thinkers of the 20th century, Arendt, who died in 1975 at the age of 69, was a Jew arrested by the German police in 1933, forced into exile and later imprisoned in an internment camp. She escaped and fled to the United States in 1941, where she wrote the seminal books “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.”

When Arendt heard that Eichmann was to be put on trial, she knew she had to attend. It would be, she wrote, her last opportunity to see a major Nazi “in the flesh.” Writing in The New Yorker, she expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Her reports for the magazine were compiled into a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” published in 1963.

The poet Robert Lowell proclaimed Arendt’s portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” a “terrifying expressionist invention applied with a force no imitator could rival.” Others excoriated Arendt as a self-hating Jew. Lionel Abel charged that Eichmann “comes off so much better in her book than do his victims.” Nearly every major literary and philosophical figure in New York chose sides in what the writer Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals — a war, he later predicted, that might “die down, simmer,” but will perennially “erupt again.” So it has.

This time, a new critical consensus is emerging, one that at first glimpse might seem to resolve the debates of a half century ago. This new consensus holds that Arendt was right in her general claim that many evildoers are normal people but was wrong about Eichmann in particular. As Christopher R. Browning summed it uprecently in The New York Review of Books, “Arendt grasped an important concept but not the right example.”

The many responses to the film — a feature by the German director Margarethe von Trotta — have restated this conventional wisdom in some form.

In the German weekly Der Spiegel, Elke Schmitter argued that new evidence shows Eichmann’s “performance in Jerusalem was a successful deception” — that Arendt apparently missed the true Eichmann, a fanatical anti-Semite. In a review in The New Republic, Saul Austerlitz wrote that Arendt’s “book makes for good philosophy, but shoddy history.” David Owen, a professor of social and political philosophy at the University of Southampton, recently faulted the movie for not grasping that “while Arendt’s thesis concerning the banality of evil is a fundamental insight for moral philosophy, she is almost certainly wrong about Eichmann.” In an essay in The New York Times in May, Fred Kaplan wrote that “Arendt misread Eichmann, but she did hit on something broader about how ordinary people become brutal killers.” 79011

Behind this consensus is new scholarship on Eichmann’s writings and reflections from the 1950s, when he was living among a fraternity of former Nazis in Argentina, before Israeli agents captured him and spirited him out of the country and to Israel. Eichmann’s writings include an unpublished memoir, “The Others Spoke, Now Will I Speak,” and an interview conducted over many months with a Nazi journalist and war criminal, Willem Sassen, which were not released until long after the trial. Eichmann’s justification of his actions to Sassen is considered more genuine than his testimony before judges in Jerusalem. In recent decades, scholars have argued that the Sassen interviews show that Arendt was simply wrong in her judgment of Eichmann because she did not have all the facts.

These facts, however, are not new. An excerpt from the Sassen interviews was published in Life magazine in 1960. Arendt read them and even wrote that “whether writing his memoirs in Argentina or in Jerusalem,” Eichmann always sounded and spoke the same. “The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of someone else.” His evil acts were motivated by thoughtlessness that was neither stupidity nor bureaucratic obedience, but a staggering inability to see the world beyond Nazi clichés.

In his 2006 book “Becoming Eichmann,” the historian David Cesarani finds common ground with Arendt, writing, “as much as we may want Eichmann to be a psychotic individual and thus unlike us, he was not.” But Cesarani also uses the latest documents to argue what so many of Arendt’s detractors have expressed: “It is a myth that Eichmann unthinkingly followed orders, as Hannah Arendt argued.” Similarly, in her 2011 book “The Eichmann Trial,” the historian Deborah E. Lipstadt claims that Eichmann’s newly discovered memoir “reveals the degree to which Arendt was wrong about Eichmann. It is permeated with expressions of support for and full comprehension of Nazi ideology. He was no clerk.”

 

maxresdefaultThe problem with this conclusion is that Arendt never wrote that Eichmann simply followed orders. She never portrayed him, in Cesarani’s words, as a “dull-witted clerk or a robotic bureaucrat.” Indeed she rejected the idea that Eichmann was simply following orders. She emphasized that Eichmann took enormous pride in his initiative in deporting Jews and also in his willingness to disobey orders to do so, especially Himmler’s clear orders — offered in 1944 in the hope of leniency amid impending defeat — to “take good care of the Jews, act as their nursemaid.” In direct disobedience, Eichmann organized death marches of Hungarian Jews; as Arendt writes, he “sabotaged” Himmler’s orders. As the war ground to an end, as Arendt saw, Eichmann, against Himmler, remained loyal to Hitler’s idea of the Nazi movement and did “his best to make the Final Solution final.”

Eichmann agreed at trial that he would have killed his own father if ordered to — but only if his father actually had been a traitor. Arendt pointed to this condition to show that Eichmann acted not simply from orders but also from conviction. To say that Arendt denied that Eichmann was a committed Nazi or that she saw Eichmann as a “clerk” is false.

The widespread misperception that Arendt saw Eichmann as merely following orders emerged largely from a conflation of her conclusions with those of Stanley Milgram, the Yale psychologist who conducted a series of controversial experiments in the early 1960s. Milgram was inspired by the Eichmann trial to ask test subjects to assist researchers in training students by administering what they thought were potentially lethal shocks to students who answered incorrectly. The test subjects largely did as they were instructed. Milgram invoked Arendt when he concluded that his experiments showed most people would follow orders to do things they thought wrong. But Arendt rejected the “naïve belief that temptation and coercion are really the same thing,” and with it Milgram’s claim that obedience carried with it no responsibility. Instead, Arendt insisted, “obedience and support are the same.” That is why she argued that Eichmann should be put to death.

The insight of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is not that Eichmann was just following orders, but that Eichmann was a “joiner.” In his own words, Eichmann feared “to live a leaderless and difficult individual life,” in which “I would receive no directives from anybody.” Arendt insisted that Eichmann’s professed fidelity to the Nazi cause “did not mean merely to stress the extent to which he was under orders, and ready to obey them; he meant to show what an ‘idealist’ he had always been.” An “idealist,” as she used the word, is an ideologue, someone who will sacrifice his own moral convictions when they come in conflict with the “idea” of the movement that gives life meaning. Evil was transformed from a Satanic temptation into a test of self-sacrifice, and Eichmann justified the evil he knowingly committed as a heroic burden demanded by his idealism. 800px-Adolf_Eichmann_at_Trial1961

The best treatment of Eichmann’s writing in Argentina is by the German scholar Bettina Stangneth. In her 2011 book “Eichmann vor Jerusalem” (Knopf is planning on publishing an English translation of the work in September 2014), Stangneth showed that Sassen was a Holocaust denier who attempted to get Eichmann to deny the Holocaust, which Eichmann did not. On the contrary, Eichmann boasted of his accomplishments, worried that he hadn’t done enough, and justified his role. Stangneth also revealed that Eichmann dreamed of returning to Germany and putting himself on trial, even drafting an open letter to the West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer to propose just that. His hope was that the royalties from his book, written with Sassen, would support his family for what he imagined would be a short stay in jail.

Stangneth concludes that Eichmann’s manifest anti-Semitism was based neither on religious hatred nor a conspiratorial belief in Jewish world domination. He denied the “blood libel” (the false accusation that Jews had killed Christian children and used their blood in rituals) and rejected as a forgery the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious anti-Semitic tract (and a czarist forgery). Eichmann justified genocide and the extermination of the Jews by appealing to the “fatherland morality that beat within him.” He spoke of the “necessity of a total war” and relied on his oath to Hitler and the Nazi flag, a bond he calls “the highest duty.” Eichmann was an anti-Semite because Nazism was incomprehensible without anti-Semitism.

Arendt famously insisted that Eichmann “had no motives at all” and that he “never realized what he was doing.” But she did not mean that he wasn’t aware of the Holocaust or the Final Solution. She knew that once the Führer decided on physical liquidation, Eichmann embraced that decision. What she meant was that he acted thoughtlessly and dutifully, not as a robotic bureaucrat, but as part of a movement, as someone convinced that he was sacrificing an easy morality for a higher good.

“What stuck in the minds” of men like Eichmann, Arendt wrote, was not a rational or coherent ideology. It was “simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique.” Eichmann described how difficult it was for him to participate in the Final Solution, but took pride in having done so. He added: “if I had known then the horrors that would later happen to the Germans, it would have been easier for me to watch the Jewish executions. At heart I am a very sensitive man.” In a terrifying act of self-deception, Eichmann believed his inhuman acts were marks of virtue. hannaharendt_large

Though von Trotta’s film is not a documentary, it does incorporate archival footage of the trial. The director has said that the footage was essential because it let the viewer encounter Eichmann directly. The movie cuts to Arendt, played by Barbara Sukowa, and captures the shock on her face, as Eichmann utters cliché after cliché. It makes visible how and why Arendt concluded that evil in the modern world is done neither by monsters nor by bureaucrats, but by joiners.

That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe. It is this thoughtless commitment that permits idealists to imagine themselves as heroes and makes them willing to employ technological implements of violence in the name of saving the world.

Perhaps Arendt has been so violently misunderstood because her thinking is both provocative and demanding. Her blessing, and her curse, was a facility for quotable aphorisms that, like Nietzsche’s, require whole books to reveal their unconventional meaning. It is easy to cite the “banality of evil.” It is much more difficult to make sense of what Arendt actually meant.

At a time when confidence in American institutions is at an all-time low, Arendt’s insistence that we see Eichmann as a terrifyingly normal “déclassé son of a solid middle-class family” who was radicalized by an idealistic anti-state movement should resonate even more urgently today. That is ever more reason to free Arendt’s book, once again, from the tyranny of the conventional wisdom.

*Roger Berkowitz is associate professor of political studies and human rights, and academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, at Bard College.

Arendt na Folha de São Paulo: “a arte do possível”

21 de maio de 2018

Em homenagem aos 10 anos deste blog e aos 50 anos de Maio de 68, trazemos um dos primeiros posts publicados aqui, quando da criação do blog do então Grupo de Estudos Hannah Arendt, que abrigou a semente do atual Centro de Estudos Hannah Arendt. Boa leitura!

Centro de Estudos Hannah Arendt

Correspondência inédita entre Hannah Arendt e o então estudante de teologia Hans-Jürgen Bendict, publicada na Folha de S. Paulo, em maio de 2008, onde Arendt rebate o alcance universal dos atos políticos.


Folha de S. Paulo, Ilustrada – 04/05/2008

Em carta de 1967, a pensadora antecipa questões que estariam no centro dos acontecimentos do Maio de 68.

Hans-Jürgen Benedict
355 Marburg
Universitätsstrasse 30-32
Marburg, 3 de junho de 196

Estimada senhora!

Ao reler, nos últimos dias, seu livro sobre a Revolução Húngara e o imperialismo totalitário, senti-me como quem recorda, depois de muito tempo, os ideais de sua própria juventude e só consegue vê-los à distância, tristemente, como através de um véu.

Do mesmo modo, os acontecimentos desde então lançaram uma nova luz sobre as suas idéias de outrora, cujo apelo não perdeu atualidade: conservar a memória dos acontecimentos é tão necessário agora como então, e a repressão brutal à…

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I’m obviously quite unpleasant

20 de maio de 2018

Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Melville House, 2013
Review by Jennifer Ruth

Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview is a brief but satisfying experience. The four interviews collected here have appeared before, but read together they deliver a strong impression of the who of Arendt. We know the what already. At least we think we do. Arendt is a brilliant but arrogant philosopher whose “mind [is] infatuated with its own agility” (Norman Podhoretz). She is a courter of controversy whose “psychologically obtuse” discussion of the Jewish Councils in Eichmann in Jerusalem outraged many (Mark Lilla). She is the “perpetrator of the notion of ‘totalitarianism,’” which became “the key weapon of the West in the Cold War ideological struggle” (Slavoj Zizek). Each of these whats come up in one way or another in this volume, and are roundly trounced by the who.

Let’s take them one by one.

(1) Arendt is an arrogant philosopher. No. Wrong. Turns out she’s an arrogant political theorist. I’ll return to the question of Arendt’s arrogance in a minute, but let’s address the issue of disciplinary identity. The question of whether Arendt is a philosopher or political theorist arises on the first pages of the book, which consist of the first few minutes of Gunter Gaus’s 1964 interview for his show Zur Person. Gaus begins clumsily and—at least to contemporary ears—almost offensively by asking Arendt if she views “her role in the circle of philosophers” as unusual given that she is a woman. She protests not because she’s irritated by the immediate focus on her gender but because “her profession…is political theory.” “I neither feel like a philosopher,” she says, “nor do I believe that I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers, as you so kindly suppose.”

Those familiar with her work—The Human Condition and Between Past and Future, in particular—will understand her point here. Arendt understands the Western philosophical tradition to have been inspired by a revulsion to politics. Throughout her work, in varying degrees of detail, she tells a story about Plato and Socrates. When Socrates was wrongly condemned, Plato gave up on democracy in disgust. Henceforth, people should be governed by philosopher-kings with privileged access to Truth. Truth, posited as something independent of the politics of men, becomes a tool with which to manipulate the unruly masses whose judgments have proven unreliable. This is an oversimplification, but you can see from it why Arendt assumes she would not be welcome in “the circle of philosophers” that she’d built an oevre around insulting. And she would not want to be considered a philosopher, with a philosopher’s inbred disdain for politics, because she considered politics deadly serious—consider her first-hand experience with the twentieth century’s totalitarian catastrophes—and not some dirty activity one does when not gifted enough to reflect on Truth.ruth_arendt_cover

Now, about that arrogance, or what Marie Syrkin called in the pages of Dissent her “high-handed assurance.” What strikes one is Arendt’s grace in handling Gaus’s patronizing opening move. It’s not that she’s gracious exactly—she is not solicitous of Gaus or affable—but there’s an undeniable grace in her directness and patience. She handles each part of the question (philosopher/political theorist, the status of being a woman) in turn, betraying no sign of irritation or impatience. (Visual confirmation of this can be had by watching the interview.) When Gaus insists, “I consider you to be a philosopher,” she responds, “Well, I can’t help that, but in my opinion I am not.” Her own identity is something about which others will have their opinion, just as she has hers.

Throughout The Last Interview, Arendt displays a generosity that seems one and the same as a striving for impartiality. One can understand how this impartiality, and her wonderful lack of feminine tics of self-deprecation, might come off as cold arrogance at times. As one moves through the interviews, however, this disposition looks much more like a commitment to one’s own thinking and to the right and responsibility we all share to think and judge for ourselves. Her equanimity as she’s thrown one oral grenade after another does not read like defensive superiority, but like a hard-won practice of trying not to take things personally. A continual battle to be free of that narcissism that, entering an intellectual exchange, deforms it.

Which takes us to (2) She courts controversy. The second interview published here was also conducted for a German TV show, Das Thema. The focus is her most controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Why, Joachim Fest asks, did she feel compelled to call out what might have been better left unsaid? The reference is to her (in)famous claim that had the Jewish Councils not cooperated with the Nazis, fewer Jews would have died. Her answer indicates that she has thought about this long and hard, that she has weighed the causing of personal pain against the documentation of facts, and only reluctantly has she come out on the side of documentation. She does seem a touch defensive here when she repeatedly reminds her interlocutor of the totalitarian approach to ugly facts—namely, their erasure:

I think that such is the historian’s task, as well as the task of people who live at the time and are independent—there are such people, and they need to be guardians of factual truths. What happens when these guardians are driven out by society, or driven into a corner or put up against a wall by the state—we’ve seen this happen in the writing of history. (64)

The Last Interview does not give us the material to develop a more nuanced understanding of Arendt’s answer. Maybe no single book could. What may not be clear in any isolated moment of Arendt’s conversation, but which becomes clear over the entirety, is that she is far from callously casual about the Jewish Elders placed in such soul-destroying conditions. She knows very well—and feels keenly—the judgment she’s making on them. Why does she do it? Because in her determination, no less than human freedom is at stake. We are always capable of being more than a bundle of Pavlovian responses to our environment, and more than the sum of utilitarian calculations to our circumstances: we make choices. These choices are the price we pay for freedom. When we are not held accountable to ourselves, we may emerge from the ruins blameless, but we deny our own agency—our own tiny contribution to the creation of a better future.

It might be melodramatic, but I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that everything of value for Arendt comes back to the basic idea, which is also a kind of faith, that we—not God, not the World Spirit, not materialist dialectics, not Survival of the Fittest—make our future. Arendt repeatedly said that the Holocaust is something we cannot reconcile ourselves to. Tragedy is the unfortunate confluence of events that we feel, heart-wrenchingly but resignedly, could not have unfolded otherwise. The Holocaust, in her view, is something more and less than tragedy. We cannot resign ourselves to the sum of innumerable moments in which people might have made different choices. young-arendt

Still, Arendt should walk a mile in the Jewish Elders’ shoes before she presumes to judge, no? That she insists that we all have a responsibility to make judgments goes against the very grain of the nonjudgmental modernity we inhabit. Arendt, though, is desperate to figure out what small contribution she might make to the avoidance of future man-made catastrophes. To her, thinking and judging are the ongoing work we can do on ourselves to prepare for reality’s potential assault. “When the chips are down,” might we make less devastating choices if we’ve conditioned ourselves to think?

3) She is a Cold Warrior. This one’s easy because it’s patently false. Forget the who vs. the what; just reading her in her books or in these interviews is all that is required.

To be a Cold Warrior is to be on one side—usually the capitalist one—of the capitalism/communism divide. Yes, by sketching the similarities between Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes and calling those similarities totalitarian, Arendt gave the capitalist West a humongous gift. But Arendt herself is neither pro-capitalism nor pro-socialism. She wants to figure out what kind of economic-political configuration best supports a free populace. In the final interview of the book, she says:

Just as socialism is no remedy for capitalism, capitalism cannot be a remedy or an alternative for socialism. The contest is never simply over an economic system. . . For the rest, it has to do with the political question: It has to do with what kind of state one wants to have, what kind of constitution, what kind of legislation, what sort of safeguards for the freedom of the spoken and printed word; that is, it has to do with what our innocent children in the West call ‘bourgeois freedom’. . . There is no such thing; freedom is freedom whether guaranteed by the laws of a ‘bourgeois’ government or a ‘communist’ state.

Can we wipe the dust off our hands from that one now? Yes, for a handful of decades, the academic left didn’t have to read Arendt because she used the word “totalitarian” unironically. Surely we are no longer desperate deniers of gulags and Moscow show trials who are scared to think about what Arendt is actually saying about socialism?

Yes, Arendt is very much worth reading, given that she had gotten beyond the divide that defined the twentieth century and was trying to give us ways to think about new political-economic configurations. And these interviews are worth reading. It is possible that if you have little familiarity with her work, the who that jumps off the page might be a caricature. At one point, discussing the Eichmann book, she says, “I’m obviously quite unpleasant in the eyes of a great many people. I can’t do anything about that. What am I supposed to do?” It’s easy to see how this could be paraphrased as, “I call things like I see them. Deal with it.” But it can also be interpreted as, “I am trying to work through my thoughts honestly and offer them up, for what that’s worth. Please don’t shoot the messenger.”

Jennifer Ruth is the author of Novel Professions: Interested Disinterest and the Making of the Professional in the Victorian Novel. She recently reviewed Dave Eggers’A Hologram for the King.

“We Refugees” – Hannah Arendt

19 de maio de 2018

Para a tradução em português, clique aqui

In the first place, we don’t like to be called “refugees.” We ourselves call each other “newcomers” or “immigrants.” Our newspapers are papers for “Americans of German language”; and, as far as I know, there is not and never was any club founded by Hitler-persecuted people whose name indicated that its members were refugees.

A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.

Before this war broke out we were even more sensitive about being called refugees. We did our best to prove to other people that we were just ordinary immigrants. We declared that we had departed of our own free will to countries of our choice, and we denied that our situation had anything to do with “so-called Jewish problems.” Yes, we were “immigrants” or “newcomers” who had left our country because, one fine day, it no longer suited us to stay, or for purely economic reasons. We wanted to rebuild our lives, that was all. In order to rebuild one’s life one has to be strong and an optimist. So we are very optimistic.

Our optimism, indeed, is admirable, even if we say so ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.

6a00d8341c86cc53ef01901d1dc1ef970b-600wiNevertheless, as soon as we were saved—and most of us had to be saved several times—we started our new lives and tried to follow as closely as possible all the good advice our saviors passed on to us. We were told to forget; and we forgot quicker than anybody ever could imagine. In a friendly way we were reminded that the new country would become a new home; and after four weeks in France or six weeks in America, we pretended to be Frenchmen or Americans. The most optimistic among us would even add that their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like. It is true we sometimes raise objections when we are told to forget about our former work; and our former ideals are usually hard to throw over if our social standard is at stake. With the language, however, we find no difficulties: after a single year optimists are convinced they speak English as well as their mother tongue; and after two years they swear solemnly that they speak English better than any other language—their German is a language they hardly remember.
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The Philosopher in Dark Times | George Prochnuk for The New York Times

17 de maio de 2018

What is the relationship between thinking, acting and historical consciousness? How do we preserve a spirited intellectual autonomy that yet includes enough sense of the past to contextualize and resist those power-grabbers who would bamboozle the public with their own fun house versions of truth? Hannah Arendt, the philosopher and political theorist, was always acutely concerned with questions of how to make thought and knowledge matter in the struggle against injustice, never more so than in the last two decades of her life, when the rich medley of the material collected in “Thinking Without a Banister” was created. “What really makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other kind of dictatorship to rule is that the people are not informed,” she remarked in a 1973 interview. “If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore — and rightly so, because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, to be ‘re-lied,’ so to speak.” A lying government pursuing shifting goals has to ceaselessly rewrite its own history, leaving people not only dispossessed of their ability to act, “but also of their capacity to think and to judge,” she declared. “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

She’d seen this process firsthand. Born in Germany in 1906, a Jew by birth and an iconoclast by temperament, she fled her native country after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, first for Czechoslovakia, then Switzerland, then Paris, where she was living in 1937 when the Nazis officially eradicated her citizenship so that she became stateless. Some of her most potent work reflects on the consequences of eliminating people’s national identity. Deprivation of citizenship should be classified as a crime against humanity, Arendt argued, because most legal protections are now conferred through functioning state governments. “Some of the worst recognized crimes in this category have … not incidentally, been preceded by mass expatriations,” she wrote, adding that the state’s ability to sentence someone to death was minor compared with its right to denaturalization, since the second could put the subject entirely beyond the pale of the law. Such passages make for particularly chilling reading at a moment when America has begun rescinding the temporary protected status of thousands of longtime residents, threatening to deport them to their countries of origin, some of which labor under severe economic disadvantages and sociopolitical strains, where their rights and safety cannot be assured.

A year after the fall of France, in the spring of 1941, Arendt emigrated to the United States. Through her prolific essays, she began building a reputation as a penetrating thinker with an urbane and unceremonious style that she would attribute to her zest for “pearl diving” in history. Tradition having been shattered by the calamitous events of the 20th century, she saw her task as plucking the precious bits from time’s waves and subjecting them to her critical thinking, without pretending they could be melded back into any grand, systemic whole. She warned her audience that if they attempted to practice her “technique of dismantling,” they had to be “careful not to destroy the ‘rich and strange,’ the ‘coral’ and the ‘pearls,’ which can probably be saved only as fragments.”

In New York, Arendt’s intellectual acuity and conversational punch swiftly translated into social cachet. After meeting her at a dinner party in the mid-1940s, the literary critic Alfred Kazin was smitten: “Darkly handsome, bountifully interested in everything, this 40-year-old German refugee with a strong accent and such intelligence — thinking positively cascades out of her in waves,” he wrote in his diary. Though she would only fully embrace the principle of amor mundi, love of the world, after contending philosophically with the cataclysm of World War II, the insatiable curiosity was there early on. “I believe it is very likely that men, if they ever should lose their ability to wonder and thus cease to ask unanswerable questions, also will lose the faculty of asking the answerable questions upon which every civilization is founded,” she declared in one address. Arendt’s sheer delight in intellectual speculation counterpoints her intense ethical commitment to thinking as a form of political engagement.

The relationship was sometimes uneasy and often controversial, most famously in the case of her account of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, in which she coined the term “the banality of evil.” Watching Eichmann testify in his glass booth, Arendt became convinced that he was, above all, an inarticulate buffoon whose wicked deeds resulted from his participation in a bureaucratic structure that dissipated the sense of personal responsibility, and deadened the capacity for cognition. Gershom Scholem, the pioneering scholar of kabbalah, was one of many public intellectuals who felt that Arendt had lost track of the human reality of the Holocaust amid the scintillating twists of her argument. She had failed to reckon with the raw pleasure that playing God over others could afford, and so had overemphasized the role of systemically enforced thoughtlessness in preparing individuals to execute enormous crimes. Recent historical scholarship suggests that Arendt did, indeed, underestimate Eichmann’s ideological passion for National Socialism: Much of his clownish bumbling in Jerusalem may have been a conscious, self-exculpating performance. But her core insight into how even mediocrities can be institutionally benumbed and conscripted into heinous projects remains fertile.

Some of the work anthologized in this volume, edited by Jerome Kohn, comprises Arendt’s responses to current events, like her analysis of the televised 1960 national conventions, in which Kennedy and Nixon were the principal rivals, offering a rather surprising defense of the onscreen experience as a revealing format for viewing those “imponderables of character and personality which make us decide, not whether we agree or disagree with somebody, but whether we can trust him.” Other essays provide deep conceptual etymologies of historical events, key figures and schools of thought. These include her profoundly enlightening study of how Karl Marx fits into the long Western political tradition and her detailed analysis of the challenge that the 1956 Hungarian revolution posed to the Russian military and propagandistic juggernaut. The most dynamic pieces here are Arendt’s interviews, in which the sweep and depth of her ruminations are layered with the caustic wit and engagé appeal of her voice. For all Arendt’s opposition to totalitarianism — and her willingness to implicate Marx in the development of certain totalitarian movements — Arendt remained unabashedly enamored of Marx’s proposition that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world. … The point, however, is to change it.” She relished his determination to wrest higher thought from the supine realm of the Greek symposium and thrust it into the ring of political activism, challenging, as she wrote, “the philosophers’ resignation to do no more than find a place for themselves in the world, instead of changing the world and making it ‘philosophical.’” For Arendt, thinking that helped advance the cause of human freedom entailed a form of relentlessly critical examination that imperiled “all creeds, convictions and opinions.” There could be no dangerous thoughts simply because thinking itself constituted so dangerous an enterprise.

Almost every essay in this book contains “pearls” of Arendt’s tonically subversive thinking, and many of her observations push readers to think harder about the language in which political activity is conducted. Reflecting on the numerous allusions to “reason of state” that crept into White House discourse after Watergate, she notes how the term became synonymous with national security. “National security now covers everything,” she commented, including “all kinds of crime. For instance, ‘the president has a right’ is now read in the light of ‘the king can do no wrong.’” This is no longer a matter of justifying particular crimes, she warns, but rather concerns “a style of politics which in itself is criminal.” The indictment chimes with her taxonomy of the tyrant in an essay titled “The Great Tradition”: “He pretends to be able to act completely alone; he isolates men from each other by sowing fear and mistrust between them, thereby destroying equality together with man’s capacity to act; and he cannot permit anybody to distinguish himself, and therefore starts his rule with the establishment of uniformity, which is the perversion of equality.”

Such observations should give pause to those who would prop up a tyrant for personal ends, and must redouble the opposition’s will to depose that ruler before the public’s capacity for thought and action alike is confounded.

George Prochnik is the author, most recently, of “Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem.”

THINKING WITHOUT A BANISTER 
Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975
By Hannah Arendt
Edited by Jerome Kohn
569 pp. Schocken Books. US$40.

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