Hungarian President Viktor Orbán has advocated illiberal democracy. In a recent speech, however, he has gone further and explicitly embraced what is called the “great replacement” theory, the idea that ethnic Europeans are being replaced by non-whites and explicitly Arabs and Jews. An article in Politico showed that European leaders, and even some of Orbán's supporters, are worried that the Hungarian President has gone too far.
This week, Italy's government fell apart and two far-right parties are favored to win upcoming elections. A war of aggression in Europe has upended basic assumptions about the liberal world order. And, in the United States, former President Trump threatens to run again for President even as a Congressional Committee has painstakingly demonstrated his efforts to illegally subvert a democratic election. It is at times like these that we must remember Hannah Arendt's warning: totalitarianism is now an ever-present possibility in our world. In such a world, Arendt argues, the fear of concentration camps and total domination invalidates all political differentiations and serves as "the politically most important yardstick for judging events in our time, namely: whether they serve totalitarian domination or not."
Few books have defined an entire world-historical event as Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Not only has Arendt’s book dominated the reception of Adolf Eichmann and his trial, but also her account of the banality of evil has become a cultural, moral, and legal touchstone, an insight perennially invoked (rightly or wrongly) to explain how and why everyday people engage in genocidal and other evil acts.
Now Yariv Mozer, an Israeli filmmaker, has created and directed a new documentary series The Devils Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes that played recently in Israel. Transcripts of the tapes have existed since before the Eichmann trial, and Arendt read many of them. But the actual tapes had long been thought lost. Mozer uses excerpts from these tapes to argue that Eichmann was in fact an ideological Nazi and was hardly banal.
Liberalism is the political system that claims to balance the competing claims of freedom and order on the side of freedom. The demands of order and security are strong everywhere. For that reason, it is important to take stock of the way China is using technology to preserve public order; China’s innovations will be seductive in Hobbesian liberal democracies as well. Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao, and John Liu write about the efforts in China to employ big data and technology in surveillance and prevention of crimes. Increasingly, China is at the world leader in promoting technology as a way forward towards a secure society. The elevation of security over freedom, however, raises profound questions for a free society.
Mars Hill was an evangelical church founded by a charismatic figure Mark Driscoll that was based in Seattle. Driscoll proved a controversial figure, at once a brilliant evangelical leader and a bullying leader also accused of plagiarism and fraud. Mike Cosper tells this story in his podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast speaks to our present moment, whether or not one is interested in Christianity or in megachurches. It is an extraordinary example of how to tell a story of our time through an in-depth exploration of one exemplary cultural catastrophe. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cosper and Yuval Levin- who will also be speaking at our Fall Conference -on the most recent episode of Cosper's podcast.
After Donald Trump was elected in 2016, sale of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism skyrocketed. Now, in Russia, both The Origins and Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, are in high demand yet only available in private classifieds.
I was fortunate enough to be gifted the opportunity to award Jerry Kohn an honorary degree in Humane Letters yesterday at the 2022 Bard College Commencement. There is no one more deserving of a degree in humanity and letters than is Jerry and it was a special day. Here is the commendation I wrote.
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.