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.
Wolfram Eilenberger finds in Hannah Arendt’s encounter with Rahel Varnhagen a paradox between the rational individual and the power of past prejudices.
My Bard Colleague Masha Gessen has won the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking. Porter Anderson covers the announcement.