Hannah Arendt is a thinker who insists that we make distinctions. One of Arendt’s most controversial distinctions is that between racism and what she alternatively will call “race thinking” in The Origins of Totalitarianism, and then "prejudice" in many of her later essays. In the wake of the shooting in Buffalo last week, John McWhorter made his own distinctions while trying to understand the place of racism in U.S. society. McWhorter argues that we use the word racism today to mean too many things. He states that we need to distinguish between different aspects of what we call racism in order to think more clearly about the problems and prevent such tragedies as the shooting in Buffalo.
Philip Roth and Hannah Arendt are buried but two meters from each other in the Bard College Cemetery. Two of the greatest Jewish intellectuals and writers of the 20th century, Arendt fled Nazi Germany. Roth, as Corey Robin writes, “fled his parents and kept going home.” In an essay on Roth and Arendt, Robin begins on their shared propensity to challenge the Jewish consensus, to bring a critical eye to bear on their own people.
There is a new journal dedicated to difficult topics, The Journal of Controversial Ideas. But the most provocative and well-researched essay of the week was published independently on Medium. Nearly three million people have died from the Covid 19 novel Coronavirus, and yet we still know remarkably little about how the virus emerged. The origin-story of the novel Coronavirus became a political hot potato under the Trump administration.
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.
Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition is not about human nature. Arendt says little if anything about what it means to be human in the sense of our natural humanity. Her inquiry is premised on the fact that we humans are conditioned beings, that we are born into an already existing world. That world is made through human artifice; it also conditions us humans insofar as we must live and die in a humanly built world.
In Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville argues that the American brand of religion—strong on morality while permissive on rituals and dogma—is deeply important to liberal democracy. While democracy secures and fosters political and civil liberties, religion nurtures a “civic religion” that privileges moral consensus over dogmatism.
There are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, a reality that makes the United States notorious for being the world's leader in incarceration. In recent years, however, this phenomenon—mass incarceration, has gained momentum as a matter of discussion in conversations about criminal justice.
Louis Menand writes a long and important account of the “New Left” as it emerged in the cultural politics of the 1960s. Pace Menand, the core tenets of the “New Left” are a fight against “the system” and an understanding of politics as an existential struggle in self-actualization.