At the end of my talk introducing the Friendship and Politics conference last week, I posed a simple question: Can an Israeli and a Gazan be friends? Is it even conceivable at this point that Israelis can come to talk to a Gazan who votes for and defends Hamas, a movement that for decades has sought the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, and who supports the October 6th flood of torture and murder that Hamas terrorists unleashed on Israeli civilians?
Michael Lind is one of the few thinkers today who has consistently understood that the fault line of American politics are educational and cultural. One trend he puts at the center of our political dysfunction is the retreat of centers of power that exist beyond the centralized government. For Lind, both Republican and Democratic elites have given up on granting power to the people, whether that be through unions or local assemblies.
Mie Inouye offers a thoughtful reflection on the nature of solidarity in the latest Boston Review forum on Solidarity. Inouye approaches solidarity from a decidedly Arendtian direction insofar as she seeks solidarity not only amongst one class or with one class but “across lines of domination.”
At the very core of Arendt’s thinking about politics is her view that politics is about opinions and not truth. We all come to politics with opinions formed at times by prejudices and at other times by reason and judgment. Persuasion is the coin of politics but it is not always rational and often emotional and raw.
The reasons for the rise of ethno-nationalism are many, and include economic insecurity, an epidemic of loneliness, and the algorithmic seduction of social media. Also leading to the rise of the right is widespread distrust and even disdain for elite, liberal technocrats who have presided over rising globalization that has brought very little advantage to most working class voters.
For Arendt, the experience of freedom, of constituting and self-governing, was an essential factor in the emergence of a free political system. The great threat to freedom Arendt perceived in the United States was, first, that the U.S. Constitution did not institutionalize spaces for the practice of freedom for everyday citizens and, second, that the drive for bourgeois wealth and success tended to overwhelm the love of political action.
One of the perils of running the Hannah Arendt Center is that I am expected to respond to controversies that I would rather avoid. I strive to be ecumenical, to allow all sorts of readings of Arendt, not to impose my own or disqualify others. One recent essay, however, has caused quite the stir. It is the pugilistic and highly conceptual essay by Samuel Moyn that warns us to be wary of reading Arendt’s work because, he argues, she was a “Cold War liberal.”
In the wake of the Alpine Fellowship on Human Flourishing in Fjallnas, Sweden last week, I’ve been reading Lisa Miller’s book The Awakened Brain. Miller makes what my daughter says is an obvious argument, that mental illness and especially depression and anxiety can be prevented and also helped by having a rich spiritual and inner life. Hannah Arendt isn’t mentioned in Miller’s book, but the fundamental idea underlying Miller’s work is the Arendtian worry about the loss of meaningfulness, the absence of purpose, and the feeling of abandonment that has become widespread in the modern world.