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.
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.
The excellence of higher education in the United States has been an assumption for decades. Ambitious students from around the flock to leading research universities in the United States and also to liberal arts colleges, seeking to benefit from academic freedom and cutting-edge research. And yet, in recent years, the combination of an anti-immigrant atmosphere and also a decline in research leadership threatens to undermine the relative advantage held by U.S. Universities.
Olúfémi O. Táiwò reflects on his unease at being asked to speak for underprivileged black people in elite and professional settings. As a Black American of Nigerian descent, Táiwò is an elite; to have him and others like him “represent” and “speak for” poor or excluded people of color contributes, he argues, is more to the maintenance of elitism than to real revolutionary change.
“Human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold character of equality and distinction.” Arendt sets plurality as the foundation of her understanding of man as a political being. According to plurality, we are all equal, which means we can understand each other and those ancestors who came before us and those will come after us. And yet, as distinct, we need to seek to make ourselves understood.
Some things, Julie Beck argues, are more important than truth. Hannah Arendt says something similar, arguing that thinking is concerned not with truth, but with meaning. It is meaning, not truth, that Arendt holds to be the basic human need. That is why for Arendt, the most basic of human rights is the right to have rights, the right to speak and act in a political world so that one is meaningful.