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.
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.
Jeffrey Goldfarb writes that his 2006 book The Politics of Small Things was inspired by Hannah Arendt’s idea that “politics is about people meeting each other as equals in their differences, speaking and acting together.” In his Democracy Seminar, Goldfarb invites activists to speak about the ways they act together.
Jennifer Senior writes that the reason Congress is out of touch is not that it has too many millionaires, but that it is filled with people with too many academic credentials. This is a fact central to the argument for sortition—the selection of representatives by lot rather than by election. The Arendt Center held a webinar asking the question of whether it would be good to bring randomly selected citizens into the legislative process in October.
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.
I recently wrote about a study by Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Robert D. Putnam who argue that—contrary to popular expectations—the years in which black Americans performed best on metrics of economic and social prosperity were before the Civil Rights Movement; Garrett and Putnam show that since the 1970s, black achievement has stagnated. How does this fact require that we reassess both the Civil Rights Movement and the new Movement for Black Lives?