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.
Michiko Kakutani offers another approach to the meaning of the modern lie, what she calls the “destruction of truth.” Turning back to Hannah Arendt,
Lying in politics is nothing new. Many rehearse this basic Arendtian insight and nevertheless go on to condemn President Trump as a liar. But when Hannah Arendt began to explore political prevarication, first in The Origins of Totalitarianism, and then in a series of essay following the Vietnam War and the controversy surrounding her coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, she was not interested simply in the pedestrian fact that politicians lie.
Hannah Arendt has become the thinker of the present moment, cited in hundreds of essays and think pieces seeking to explain our current predicament. There are some good reasons for her newfound relevance. Arendt’s fearless thinking insisted on confronting reality. She understood the uniqueness of totalitarianism, but also its origins in imperialism, bureaucracy, racism, loneliness, and the decline of the nation state.
In thinking about totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt came to see it is a form of government founded upon a mass loneliness. Samantha Hill writes about the way that loneliness emerged as a mass phenomenon in the 20th century.
We in the United States are preparing to vote—some have already voted—in what many call the most important Presidential election of our lifetimes. Voting in a democracy is a sacred right. It is through voting that we elect representatives. And it is by elections we can hold those representatives responsible. Perhaps most importantly, it is in voting that we signal our involvement and engagement in the act of self-government, thus announcing that in the end it is us, and not our elected representatives, who are answerable to ourselves.
As the lies pile up, people ask why the President’s lies don’t seem to hurt his standing. Roger Berkowitz argues that lies barely register today because lying has become, simply, a way of life. And he asks, “How Do We Rebuild a Shared American Reality on a Foundation of Lies?”
At the beginning of a conversation with Bill T. Jones this week as part of the Hannah Arendt Center’s “Race and Revolution” lecture series, Bill T. Jones read an excerpt from Hari Kunzru’s essay “Wages of Whiteness.” Kunzru’s essay is a magisterial retelling of the rise of current focus on whiteness, identity politics, and white privilege, one that raises as many questions as it answers.
William Foege, one of the leading epidemiologists in the world, sent a private letter to Robert Redfield of the Center for Disease Control urging him to create a written record acknowledging that the CDC had responded poorly to Covid-19. Foege writes: “I start each day thinking about the terrible burden you bear. I don’t know what I would actually do, if in your position, but I do know what I wish I would do. The first thing would be to face the truth.