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Amor Mundi: American Citizenship

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.


American Citizenship

From calling President Obama’s nationality into question to the announcement of his candidacy which targeted Hispanic immigrants, Donald Trump has put citizenship at the center of his political agenda. His announcement this week to end Birthright Citizenship should not come as a surprise.

Last February Trump removed the words “nation of immigrants” from the mission statement of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This past summer in July Michael Anton, former national security official in the Trump administration, penned an editorial calling for an end to Birthright Citizenship. Anton wrote that it is up to Trump to issue an executive order to end Birthright Citizenship.

This is not the first time in American history that citizenship has been mobilized as a weapon of political fear. During the McCarthy Era in 1956, The US Attorney General Herbert Brownell proposed a plan to deprive native and naturalized citizens of their citizenship in order to punish them for communist activities. The policy was not carried out, but the proposal revealed the tenuousness of American citizenship in the United States and the ways in which statelessness can be used to threaten, punish, and exclude those individuals from society that are deemed undesirable.

Responding to Brownell’s proposal in a letter to University of Chicago President Robert M. Hutchins, marked January 27, 1957, Hannah Arendt warned the following: “If this proposition had been carried out, statelessness as punishment would have been incorporated into the very legal structure of this country, thereby putting in jeopardy all citizens, and not only communists.”

Writing as a German Jewish émigré, Arendt was politically attuned to the conditions of homelessness and statelessness, and the ways in which these conditions are mobilized by anti-democratic political forces. She was stateless for nearly 20 years before receiving citizenship in the United States in 1951, the same year she published The Origins of Totalitarianism.

It is not a coincidence that Trump’s proposal comes a week before the midterm elections, which will be a referendum on his presidency, and just days after the mass murder of eleven Jewish individuals, who were targeted in part for belonging to a synagogue that supports HIAS, an organization that helps to relocate immigrants.

The attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the rise of anti-Semitic acts in America is an extension of the President’s attack on American pluralism. Anti-Semitism historically has been used as an instrument to propagate a certain form of ethnic nationalism. Trump’s consistent appeal to nationalism versus globalism, alongside attacks on citizenship and immigration are nothing short of a new form of Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s community. This idea was used to rally Germans during World War I, to give the people a sense of united purpose by appealing to their land of birth. It was later deployed by Hitler against the so-called “elites” to make sense of the economic hardships and crises facing the people and to create a common enemy.

Political attacks on citizenship are nothing new in America, in part because citizenship is the very thing that unites us as a country. The United States is a nation of immigrants, despite Trump’s desire to erase this fact. What makes America unique is that we are a people united not by land or blood, but by our commitment to the principles of the constitution. Discussing her own emigration, in an interview with Roger Errera in 1973, Arendt reflected:

“these citizens are united only by one thing, and that’s a big thing: that is, you become a citizen of the United States by consenting to its Constitution. The Constitution… is the constant remembrance of a sacred act, the act of foundation. And the foundation is to make a union out of wholly disparate ethnic minorities and religions, and still (a) have a union and (b) not assimilate or level down these differences.”

For Arendt, the issue was not simply a question of statelessness, but one of common humanity, and the responsibility we have to one another as human beings who share the world in common. As long as we live in a world that is territorially organized into national states, a stateless person “is not simply expelled from one country” they are “expelled from humanity.”

We need a Constitutional Amendment to protect American citizenship, so that statelessness cannot be used as a weapon of political rhetoric and policy. “It seems absurd,” Arendt wrote, “but the fact is that, under the political circumstances of this country, a Constitutional Amendment may be needed to assure American citizens that they cannot be deprived of their citizenship no matter what they do.”

–Samantha Hill


Hannah Arendt asks after the “basic experience which finds its expression in totalitarian domination.”  She names that experience loneliness. Totalitarianism, she argues, “bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”  It is hard to pin down precisely what loneliness means. Fay Bound Alberti writes about the largest study of modern loneliness ever completed. Loneliness, Alberti writes, is as Arendt saw a uniquely modern experience.

“Most research acknowledges the role of modernity in the “epidemic” (the rise of single households, less face-to-face interaction, the influence of social media) but presumes people have always been lonely. But that’s not the case. Loneliness as a problem is a product of modern ways of thinking about the self and society.

Before 1800, the English word “loneliness” did not exist. People lived in small communities, they tended to believe in God (which meant they were never really alone, even when they were physically isolated), and there was a philosophical concept of the community as a source of common good. There was no need for a language of loneliness.

Of course, solitude existed, and solitude (when not chosen) could be damaging, just as loneliness is today. But the modern, existential angst of feeling alone couldn’t exist, because the modern “individual” didn’t emerge until the 19th century, with industrialisation in the west and the creation of philosophical and political systems focusing on individualism. Scientific medicine separated mind and body, identifying the brain as the organ of both cognition and mind. Pathological emotions were defined as “mental” problems. Today, the mental health organisation Mind links loneliness to other mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. It recommends talking therapies that focus on mental health, but overlooks much of the physical dimension of loneliness.”


Jonathan Kay has written a contemporary field guide for how to think about and use the word Nazi today. The term has become a popular political slur, but Kay reminds us that Nazi is a term that we should take seriously, and use sparingly:

Indeed, there is a perverse incentive for modern activists to imagine that we inhabit an age in which Nazis are powerful and ascendant—because this conceit gives moral grandeur to their own activism: It allows them to position themselves as moral heirs to the French Resistance, the martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the Allied armies that defeated the Nazi menace.

Sometimes, the supposed Nazis who are targets of these spurious verbal attacks, if they are eccentric malcontents or pathological attention-seekers, will even invite such comparisons by festooning their social media with Nazi symbols, pledges or dimly understood non sequiturs culled from Nazi sources. (A prominent example in Canada would be fringe YouTuber and former mayoral candidate Faith Goldy.)

These individuals are offensive, ignorant and often psychologically disturbed. Sometimes they are genuinely dangerous or even engage in acts of murder. But to imagine that they are “Nazis” is almost invariably wrong—even if they use that term themselves as a means to lend ghoulish historical grandeur to their vile acts. What I have written here will, I hope, discourage such crude distortions of language. But I also invite readers to do their own research, so that they may educate themselves about this uniquely dark chapter in the history of humankind.


Edward Mendelsohn returns to Thucydides and finds a guide to understanding the decline of America today.

“In the two years since the 2016 US election, it seems ever more clear that Thucydides is the greatest historian not only of empire but also of contemporary politics. This excerpt is his account of civil war in Corcyra, 427 BC—and, equally, of politics in America, AD 2018:

So revolutions broke out in city after city, and in places where the revolutions occurred late the knowledge of what had happened previously in other places caused still new extravagances of revolutionary zeal, expressed by an elaboration in the methods of seizing power and by unheard-of atrocities in revenge. To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defense. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect….

As the result of these revolutions, there was a general deterioration of character throughout the Greek world. The simple way of looking at things, which is so much the mark of a noble nature, was regarded as a ridiculous quality and soon ceased to exist. Society had become divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each side viewed the other with suspicion. As for ending this state of affairs, no guarantee could be given that would be trusted, no oath sworn that people would fear to break; everyone had come to the conclusion that it was hopeless to expect a permanent settlement and so, instead of being able to feel confident in others, they devoted their energies to providing against being injured themselves. As a rule those who were least remarkable for intelligence showed the greater powers of survival.”


Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the phenomenon of Drake, the half-Jewish, half-black musician from Toronto, the “the world’s only superstar mixed-race rapper.” For Williams, Drake is remarkable for his ability to “exude his blackness without triggering most people’s learned anti-black responses. ” Drake is a  hybrid and his hybridity allows him freedoms. He has performed as a Southern rap star, in faux-Jamaican patois, and black British “road rap” styles. Most remarkable, Williams argues, is that we are at a cultural moment where such hybridity is a pathway to mass success.

Now we’re a decade into the reign of Drake, and perhaps nothing better encapsulates the scale of the paradigm shift he has both ushered in and normalized than the remarkable—and underremarked-upon—2012 music video for the song “HYFR” from his second album, Take Care. “On October 24th 2011 Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham chose to get re-bar mitzvah’d as a commitment to the Jewish religion” the opening text reads before shifting to footage of him as an Afro’d child, and then to the present, where we see him as the sole black member among a group of otherwise white Jews standing with yarmulkes on their heads and loosened ties and collars in front of the Temple Israel of Greater Miami.”

The nimble rap verse starts and then, spliced with what looks like an entirely authentic Torah-reading ceremony, wherein Drake finds his place in the Hebrew scroll, the video cuts to rap scenes in the synagogue with DJ Khaled (whose parents are Palestinian), and the indubitably street-credentialed Brian “Baby” Williams backing him up. He is celebrating becoming a man in twinned binaries—black and white, young and old, Drake and Lil Wayne, the suburbs and the street, a Jewish kid rejoicing in a synagogue with his Palestinian friend. He looks fully at ease in all these scenarios.

It is not frivolous to dwell on this exercise in dualism a little longer. Of the video, Drake has observed that it simply marked the moment in his life when he felt rich enough to throw himself the kind of bar mitzvah his mother couldn’t afford when he was a boy. But his decision to pair the video with this specific song offers a clue to something even deeper. “Today,” these images announce, “I am a man for real”—an assertion not just of his maturity in the world of hip-hop, but of his right to use his own unique birthrights (white, black, Jewish, Canadian, whatever) in a world where some might rather he not. “As of right now, all the responsibility is mine,” he seems to be telling us here, “and all the credit is, too.” There has never been a white rapper with as many white and non-black friends as Drake. Not even Eminem—especially not—has displayed anything approaching such a degree of comfort in the presence of whiteness. “What have I learned since getting richer?/ I learned working with the negatives can make for better pictures,” Drake rhymes on “HYFR” with what feels like unusual wisdom in the realm of pop music. (This line is typically understood as a double entendre, though I detect a third meaning there in addition to the play on developing film and processing setbacks: Is he not also shrewdly implying there is a payoff in moving toward that which is opposite of oneself?) The result is that he blends seamlessly between the seemingly incommensurate poles of his personal identity. As a viewer you do not object to any of it because the cultural groundwork has been laid before he got here.

Quote of the Week

Augustine once said that things incomprehensible must be so investigated that one should never think he has found nothing when he has found out how incomprehensible they are, because the one who asks these questions becomes better and better at questioning. And this, curiously enough, was also Socrates’ opinion: namely, that though we cannot define goodness or beauty, and have difficulty in persuading men of our opinions in these matters, we become more just and more pious by thinking and talking about justice and piety.

— Hannah Arendt

This quotation comes from “The Crisis Character of Modern Society,” a short address from 1966, which appears in the new volume of Hannah Arendt essays, Thinking Without a Banister.

Crisis was one of Arendt’s recurring secondary concerns. The term is used explicitly in Crises of the Republic and in the essays “The Crisis of Education” and “The Crisis of Culture” that appear in Between Past and Future. The notion of crisis also lingers in the background of key passages elsewhere in Arendt’s oeuvre even when it is not overtly invoked. Arendt begins “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” for instance, with a characterization of World War I as an “explosion” and “catastrophe” that shook Europe from its moorings and placed it at a moment of fateful impasse. She also writes that every event at the time “had the finality of a last judgment.” That image, in particular, recalls the classical Greek usage of krisis, which linked the term (as historian Reinhart Koselleck reminds us) not merely with decisions made in the course of legal proceedings, or with medical determinations about the course of an illness, but with the Last Judgement foreseen in the New Testament.

Nevertheless, crisis per se is at no point the subject of Arendt’s sustained reflection, and her thinking on the topic must therefore be reconstructed from a variety of sources. In this regard, “The Crisis Character of Modern Society” is suggestive because it is one of the few writings in which she dwells on the concept at some length.

Significantly, the text does not employ “crisis” in the manner it is often used in public discussion today, as a buzzword that may be loosely applied to any number of urgent and controversial topics (the “subprime mortgage crisis,” the “Greek debt crisis,” the “refugee crisis,” and so on). Instead, it defines crisis — both more broadly and more pointedly — as a condition of dramatic transformation that provokes disorientation and uncertainty in political life. In a crisis, the received verities we used to take for granted in the ordering of our common existence no longer pertain. At such a moment, we discover that “there are no general standards to determine our judgments unfailingly, no general rules under which to subsume the particular cases with any degree of certainty” (328). As a result, we cannot (or can no longer) rely on the past to provide reliable instruction, and we find that the future has lost the air of predictability we once thought it possessed. In Augustine’s words, a crisis is a moment when we are confronted with “things incomprehensible.” In the absence of established answers, we are compelled (once more) to ask questions.

One might imagine such a crisis to be an occasion of loss and danger. After all, if the grounds of our previous reasoning and action no longer carry the authority they once did, on what basis can we navigate our circumstances with some measure of confidence or, for that matter, even hold onto the sense that we share something with others? How can we fashion a common world without commonly held principles? And, perhaps most ominously, are we not vulnerable at such a moment to forces that would seek to remedy our disorientation — to answer our unresolved questions — with new, absolutist forms of authority and belonging? In other words, might crisis open the door to totalitarianism?

There are passages in Arendt’s writing that would seem to confirm this dispiriting view. “What is Authority?”, for example, contends that “the rise of political movements intent upon replacing the party system, and the development of a new totalitarian form of government, took place against a background of a more or less general, more or less dramatic breakdown of all traditional authorities” (91). Significantly, Arendt explicitly casts this situation as a “crisis of authority.” What is more, “The Crisis Character of Modern Society” seeks to disabuse us of the hope that we might find new verities to replace the old ones. Here Arendt writes: “theoretically it is, of course, quite conceivable that one could first define the general rules and standards that have lost their validity, analyze what was wrong with them, and then proceed to think up some other standards we hope will do better, be more adequate to the enormously changed and daily changing realities of our world. Practically speaking, I don’t think this is feasible” (329). Whatever its underlying aims, she goes on to suggest, such an approach impels us to make misguided comparisons between irreducibly particular events, to seek “lessons of [or from] history” that do not fully account for the novelty of the present (330).

But the quote with which I began does not entirely adhere to this pessimistic stance, for it implies that crisis may offer a moment of possibility rather than simply danger. Taking her cue from Augustine, Arendt contends that in “investigating the incomprehensible,” we confront the limits of our previously held convictions and endeavor to find our feet once more. Even if we are not entirely successful, we sharpen our capacity to ask questions and to engage with that which eludes our understanding. In the process, Arendt suggests in line with Socrates, we become more discerning in the activities of thinking and judging. Although we may not arrive at definitive and widely accepted standards of, say, goodness, justice and piety, we gain a greater sensitivity for the potential forms these moral concepts and codes of conduct might take, and we are better prepared to enact them in the course of our lives. (This, at least, is how I read the paradoxical claim that we can become more just and pious even if we cannot define justice and piety.)

Furthermore, Arendt implies that “crisis” cannot ultimately be construed as a discrete event or moment within the larger flow of historical time. Rather, it may well be an enduring condition that defines the larger tenor of “modern society.” At a key point in “The Crisis Character,” for example, Arendt attributes the “spectacular careers” of modern art and science to a generative “break in the tradition” — a loss of general standards and rules, a departure from precedent — that long preceded World War I and continues to persist today (329). Indeed, one might go even further and claim, with German studies scholar Jakob Norberg (2011), that some form of crisis may be endemic to, and necessary for, political life. In his words: “to occupy oneself with politics, which is only possible among a plurality of men and women, is to dive into a crisis, in which the extant rules by which groups separate themselves from others have become fragile. A community that practices politics is a community in crisis, neither definitely cohering nor definitely splitting up” (143).

In the end, then, Arendt does not seek to downplay the perplexing and threatening character of crisis. Indeed, she is all too aware that certain intellectual and political impasses — like those associated with the incomprehensible power of nuclear weaponry — could spell the demise of human existence in its entirety. But she also sees in crisis a potential opportunity, and not in the cynical sense of those political figures who invoke “crisis” to justify security measures and political restrictions that might otherwise meet with opposition. Rather, Arendt regards crisis as an opportunity for (renewed) thinking, one with the potential to invigorate our efforts to live together in the world

Journal Feature: Jacksonian and Arendtian Critiques of Liberal Democracy

Linda Zerilli

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in organizing this conference. It’s been a pleasure to be here and very educational for me, too, because normally I am around a group of people like myself, not only with very similar political opinions, but also similarly located in academic positions.

“The raison d’être of politics is freedom. Freedom is the right to be a participator in politics, in government, or it’s nothing.” These short sentences capture what I take to be the key to Hannah Arendt’s political thinking. I’m going to deploy them today as a departure point for reflecting on our current political predicament.

We live in a political climate characterized by daily scandals generated by random presidential tweets, a climate in which there is continual hand-wringing over public life in an echo chamber, a post-truth climate in which a pervasive sense of threat and of threatening others—think immigrants—far exceeds any credible empirical evidence, and actual threats to citizen well-be- ing—think climate change—are dismissed as fake news; a climate in which Americans have vastly more trust in the military and small business
than they do in Congress. The list goes on. It can seem strange in this climate to talk about freedom, unless of course one is talking about constitutionally based civil rights such as the right to freedom of assembly, to free speech, to religious liberty, and so on.

According to the freedoms we associate with our specific form of democracy, namely liberal democracy, politics is a mere means to secure constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, and especially the freedom from politics. For Arendt, however, the activity of politics itself is freedom. We are free when we act, not before and not after. Freedom is not something we possess by means of constitutionally based rights.

According to her, it is a fateful error to confuse constitutionally based civil rights with the constitution of political freedom, fateful because such confusion can lead us to misrecognize the origins of constitutionally guaranteed rights in the actions of a law-giving sovereign, rather than in the practices of citizen action in concert, which is political
freedom proper in her view. And fateful because such confusion entangles us in the political logic of sovereignty from which the American Revolution, in Arendt’s view, represents a decisive break. Now, there are several registers or dimensions to Arendt’s critique of sovereignty, all of which are relevant to the current crisis of liberal democracy; but for the purposes of this talk I’m going to focus on what is called “organ sovereignty.” Organ sovereignty is the idea that somewhere in any political body there must be an ultimate authority that has the last word; that is to say, one institutional organ can trump all the others in the polity. This is of course the problem animating the current battles
between the president and the Congress, the president and the courts, the president and the free press, etc. It is the problem that is at the heart of federalism and the system of checks and balances that characterizes the American political system.

But Arendt’s critique of sovereignty goes beyond conventional understandings of the liberal constitutional order and the idea of “limited government.” It goes beyond these because its inspiring principle is not negative freedom in the sense of constitutionally guaranteed rights, but political freedom in the sense of being a participator in government. Those of you who are familiar with Arendt’s work will know that she celebrated the
American Revolution as unique in generating a space of public freedom that was not reducible to constitutionally based civil rights. Thanks to historical circumstances and a variety of contingent factors, a federal system of institutions was created around local practices of self-government. She also celebrated Jefferson’s unrealized idea of a ward system, and she was equally taken with the phenomenon of revolutionary councils, from the Paris Commune of 1871, to the Russian soviets of 1917, to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Arguably, she would have celebrated the councils of the Spanish Indignados, or
the Occupy movement in 2011, those of the Arab Spring in 2011, or Gezi Park in 2013, and yes, Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.

Arendt’s praise for the ward system, the councils, and the soviets is commonly read as of a piece with her celebration of action and the space of appearance in which action, and thus genuine politics, could be momentarily experienced by citizens as part of what she called “the lost treasure” of political freedom, only to give way to the deadening forces of
representative democracy and the modern state. This reading, though not wrong, misses a vital aspect of Arendt’s account. As my student Nikolas Plaetzer argues, the councils, just like the wards, were always also organs of order to her as much as organs of action. They are forms of “power” in Arendt’s idiosyncratic sense of the word that have nothing to do with sovereignty or power over others; rather, power is what arises when people act together in concert.

As power, this acting together in concert, however, has a kind of stability or durability that action lacks; that is to say, wards, councils, soviets, etc., are organizational forms that have not yielded action to order. They are not episodic in the way that spaces of appearance are, but inaugurate a different kind of state of being in common that we have yet
fully to grasp. The main point is that she thinks of the councils as being wholly alien to the principle of sovereignty and as proliferating sites of power, in her idiosyncratic sense of the word, that can counteract attempts at achieving sovereignty in any one sphere of government.

Now, how does Arendt’s account of these alternative sites of power and cri- tique of
sovereignty help us to think through the impasses of contemporary liberal representative democracy? One crucial way she does so is by calling our attention to how contemporary struggles within the Democratic Party might become caught in the logic of sovereignty. It is all too easy to associate this logic with the DNC and its failed candidate, Hillary Clinton. The Sanders campaign, “Our Revolution,” which rightly challenges the fundamental con-
figuration of the Democratic Party, also stands in danger of losing track of the lost treasure of political freedom that Arendt saw as being resurrected in the councils. When we focus almost exclusively on achieving certain social goods, as important as these are—free tuition, Medicare for all, etc.—we risk losing sight of another source of anger and frustration that has led to the momentous shifts that characterize U.S. contemporary politics. This is not just frustration over a government that is unresponsive to citizens’ needs and demands, the decline of the welfare state, the erosion of the middle class, the growth of a permanent underclass, and the impoverished homeless. This is also a
problem of what happens when citizens are reduced to beings who can be “represented.” The question then is whether we are represented well or represented poorly; but political representation, whatever its form, is not synonymous with the experience of political freedom in Arendt’s view.

Critical analyses of our contemporary political malaise tend to focus on what government, and in particular the Democratic Party, has or has not delivered in the form of goods, be they jobs, health care, housing, defense, etc. These are crucially important to how citizens view their government, no doubt; but it seems hard to imagine that the general loss
of faith in government and the pervasive disdain for politics as the very lowest of all activities will be assuaged by a better delivery system of goods. The overwhelming sense that ordinary citizens have no say includes, but surely goes beyond, these goods and their delivery.

Likewise, the current debate over gerrymandering, which has made its way to the Supreme Court in the Wisconsin case of Gill v. Whitford, only begins to scrape the surface of our deep democratic deficit. The claim that gerrymandered districts essentially deprive citizens of their constitutional right to vote for their electors, to be represented by
candidates of their choosing, is of course right; but it is also symptomatic. Will non-gerrymandered or less-computer-generated gerrymandered districts really address the problem that Arendt diagnosed?

Like Uday Mehta, who spoke earlier today, I am suspicious of arguments to “save liberal democracy.” For these mostly fail to acknowledge the ways in which our current political crisis is symptomatic of certain limitations in our historical practice of liberal democracy. I’m not talking about liberal democracy in the abstract; I’m talking about the way in
which liberal democracy has actually been enacted and practiced in this country. And with all due respect to Micah White, who spoke about the importance of winning elections, I don’t think that pursuing sovereignty should be the main goal of a political movement that takes seriously the importance of political freedom as Arendt understood it.

Now, does this mean that we’re condemned to a purely negative opposi- tional politics, as Martin Gurri suggested yesterday? Well, I think not. Black Lives Matter, feminism, radical environmentalism, and yes, even Occupy Wall Street, are not or were not devoid of demands or visions of what would con- stitute a more just society. They are affirmative. They are not just negative. I really think that this is a false critique. The fact that they
don’t want to repeat familiar sovereign forms of leadership leads us to think that they don’t have any demands or a vision of what would be a better society, but this critique does not resonate with my own reading of these groups and, to some extent, participation in these groups.

What also disturbs me in the discussion of saving liberal democracy is the implicit and at times quite explicit assumption that it must be saved from “the people.” The caricatured image of populism that circulates on both the right and the left leaves us wondering how ordinary folks could ever be capable of self-government. I thank James Fishkin for his
wonderful talk this morning, which reminded us of the capacity of ordinary people to rationally deliberate about what is best in their lives and of how important it is to hold on to this idea. Finally, in reference to the Alternative für Deutschland, which we heard about this morning: it is mistaken to label that populism or to call it the peo- ple’s party. The AfD was founded by a group of conservative elites, not by “the people.” It is a party that has articulated the legitimate grievances that people have, just as Donald Trump has
articulated politically some of the legitimate grievances that people have, in such a way as to completely obfuscate the real sources of those grievances; and that’s really what we need to be focusing on. In other words, political parties articulate people’s grievances. They can articulate them better, or they can articulate them worse; but it’s not as if these parties are just “the voice of the people,” as if that voice were not heavily mediated and articulated by power.


Linda Zerilli: Is The Private Political?



Posted on 4 November 2018 | 8:31 am

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