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Amor Mundi: The Four Prejudices

The Four Prejudices Underlying Our Crises of Democracy

Roger Berkowitz opened the Hannah Arendt Center’s 10th Annual Conference on Thursday by exploring the four prejudices underlying the worldwide crisis in liberal-representative democracy. You can watch Berkowitz’s lecture here; and you can read his essay here.

“A crisis, writes Hannah Arendt, “tears away façades and obliterates prejudices.”

“The opportunity provided by the very fact of crisis—which tears away façades and obliterates prejudices—[is] to explore and inquire into whatever has been laid bare of the essence of the matter…. A crisis forces us back to the questions themselves and requires from us either new or old answers, but in any case direct judgments. A crisis becomes a disaster only when we respond to it with preformed judgments, that is, with prejudices.”

            —Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education”

Populist and authoritarian movements have exposed the fantasy of peaceful, stable, and just liberal representative democracies. The forgotten middle class has risen up and said enough; black Americans subject to police violence are insisting that black lives matter. Around the world, millions of citizens of these democratic regimes are rebelling; they are raising fundamental questions about previously taken-for-granted assumptions concerning political inclusion and exclusion, ethnic and racial prejudice, and economic and social inequality.

If Arendt is right and a crisis only becomes a disaster when we respond to it with prejudices, we need to look upon our prejudices with open eyes.

In what follows, I suggest four prejudices that have been exposed by our democratic crises. Four prejudices that we must obliterate; at the very least, we must open ourselves to revisiting these questions.”

Continue Reading on Medium.


Crises and Democracy

Samantha Hill continues our exploration of Crises of Democracy.

“Crisis, in other words, provided a center and sense of urgency for thinking about problems of democracy. And the events of crisis that theory was organized around were political events. But today, politics and theory have been decentered. Everything is political and so nothing is political. Crisis multiply ad infinitum, and instead of responding with a sense of urgency, we wither under an endless siege and end up playing political whack-a-mole instead of trying to open up space where we might engage in political discourse by finding a center to which we can respond. We must find a center that is not reflective of the immediate crisis. We must find a way to bring about a real state of emergency that focuses on those who make and profit off of crises.

Today, in the United States, the sensation of crises is fueled by the relationship between new media technology and the progressive privatization of public goods. The new media fueled state of constant political terror that thrives off small moments of crisis, where every event is ripe for politicization, forecloses real spaces of democracy, participation, and discourse. This has become exacerbated in a moment where our President is a television star, always ready for attention.

The development of new media technologies along with the progressive privatization of traditional public goods—education, health care, military, and so on—has opened up space for people like Donald Trump to leave the private realm of economic interests and enter into the public sphere of politics and government, bringing the market drive of crisis with him. This form of expansionism comes at a great cost to democracy. It is an artifact of the creation of a political class in the United States which has been slowly fomenting for some time, where corporate leaders and CEOs are incentivized to enter into the political realm to continuing expanding.

A good illustration of this is the composition of Congress, which was once dominated by lawyers. Lawyers made up almost 80% of Congress in the mid-19th century. According to a study conducted by Nick Robinson, that percentage fell to less than 60% in the 1960s, and less than 40% by 2015. According to an article from the American Bar Association, many elite attorneys who were admired for their rhetorical skills moved to corporate boardrooms and private practices where there were high economic incentives. At the same time, politics itself became a profession made up of lobbyists, think tanks, public-interest jobs, and campaign work.”


The Crisis of Freedom

At our conference, Walter Russell Mead observed that minority identity politics eventually leads to majority identity politics and that majority identity politics is usually bad for majorities but even worse for minorities. He and Linda Zerilli got into a fascinating disagreement over this statement, one well worth watching here–scroll down to their session. Wendy Brown has another take on the nature of freedom in the 21st century:

“Reducing freedom to unregulated personal license in the context of disavowing the social and dismantling society achieves something else important. It anoints as free expression every historically and politically generated feeling of (lost) entitlement based in whiteness, maleness, or nativism, and releases it from any connection to social conscience, compromise, or consequence. Lost entitlement to the privileges of whiteness, maleness, and nativism is then easily converted into righteous rage against social inclusion of the historically excluded. This rage in turn becomes the consummate expression of freedom and Americanness. With equality and social solidarity discredited, and the existence of powers reproducing historical inequalities, abjections, and exclusions denied, white male supremacist politics gain a novel voice and legitimacy in the 21st century.

Now we are in a position to grasp how Nazis, Klansmen, and other white nationalists can publically gather in “free speech rallies,” why the authoritarian white male supremacist in the White House is identified with freedom by his supporters through his “political incorrectness,” and how decades of policies and principles of social inclusion, antidiscrimination, and racial, sexual, and gender equality come to be tarred as tyrannical norms and rules imposed by “social justice warriors.”

What happens when freedom is reduced to naked assertions of power and entitlement, while the very idea of society is disavowed, equality is disparaged, and democracy is thinned to market meanings? Social justice is demeaned, and crude and provocative expressions of supremacism become expressions of liberty that the First Amendment was ostensibly written to protect. Except it wasn’t. It was a promise to democratic citizens to be unmolested by the state in their individual conscience, voice, and faith. It was not a promise to protect vicious attacks on other human beings or groups, any more than it was a promise to submit the nation to a corporatocracy. Alas, a neoliberal culture of unsocial liberty paves the way for both.

What is to be done?”


Posted on 15 October 2017 | 8:00 am

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