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.
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.
Shortly after the January 6th failed insurrection in Washington DC, PEN held a writers benefit that featured a panel of writers talking about post-Trump politics. Peggy Noonan adopted a hopeful tone, arguing that after a short period of time where feelings of loss would be respected and salved, Republicans would come to their collective senses and re-enter the real world.
The crisis of truth is upon us and for many this is a phenomenon associated with Donald Trump. But Hannah Arendt diagnosed the crisis of truth in modern politics over 60 years ago. And in her essay “Truth and Politics” Arendt argues that one foundation for that crisis is the loss of a non-political standpoint from which one can speak about the world and politics.
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.