In response to news that Howard University is disbanding its Classics Department, Cornell West reminds us that Frederick Douglas and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. were inspired and nurtured by the classics. West argues that the attack on the classics is an attack on the soul and symptom the moral and spiritual rot of American culture.
I am not a prognosticator. Take what I am going to say with a large dose of skepticism. It is very likely that in four years the United States will elect a minority woman as its President. The question may be, will that woman be Vice President Kamala Harris or former South Carolin Governor Nikki Haley?
Susanna Crossman reflects on the power of play. “Play is a powerful motor.” Play involves a “leap in the dark” and requires trust. Play, the thinker Eugen Fink writes, “unites ‘the highest desire and the deepest suffering’.” Play is thus deeply connected to the very human way of being alive, something we can hear in its etymologies, many of which go back to the Latin ludere. “Ludere in Latin refers to leaping fishes and fluttering birds. The Anglo-Saxon lâcan means to move like a ship on the waves, or to tremble like a flame.
Peter Baehr asks: “Can moral life survive dictatorship?” It is a question that many in politics think secondary. The rise of dictatorship—not to mention fascism—is said to justify resistance at all costs. The message of groups like Antifa is that in the fight against dictatorship and fascism, all means are acceptable and even necessary.
In 1958 in the second edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt published an Epilogue on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Two years later, the Caribbean intellectual and activist C.L.R. James delivered a series of public lectures in Trinidad that would be published as Modern Politics.
There has been a lot of worry recently about the health of American democracy. What the events of the last two weeks have confirmed, however, is that American democracy is quite robust and healthy. In spite of a President who sought to undermine an election, the system worked. The voters rejected a dangerous and narcissistic and corrupt President by over seven million votes and a large electoral college mandate.
Timothy Snyder argues that the abyss of American democracy is fed by a crisis in truth that has left us in a pre-fascist moment. But Snyder recognizes that President Trump never could bring himself to embrace fascism. He alienated the military, on which a fascist government would need to depend. He emboldened militias, but never organized them into a unit. His social media attacks were constant but scattered.
On May 31, 1887, William James gave a speech dedicating a monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts regiment that he led. The Massachusetts 54th was the first black regiment in the United States. Gould, an abolitionist, led the regiment into battle and he, along with many of the soldiers, was killed during an assault in 1863 on Fort Wagner in South Carolina.
Pope Francis published his annual Christmas Speech and, in his opening paragraph on the miracle of human freedom, invokes Hannah Arendt’s conviction that all men and women are beginners. Born free, we have the faculty and power to act and speak in ways that are unexpected and surprising. And such spontaneous doings can alter the course of history.
In a wide-ranging essay on Hannah Arendt’s approach to judgment and thinking, Blake Smith considers Arendt’s argument that “the dangers facing our political and moral life must be met with a particular kind of mental activity she called “judgment,” and distinguished from two others: “cognition” and “thinking.” As opposed to cognition that seeks truths and solutions, thinking aims for meaning.