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.
I’m often asked what I most like about Hannah Arendt. It is one of those annoying questions, such as: what is your favorite book? And yet, the answer I usually give to the first question is that reading Arendt is a constant surprise. There is no other writer and thinker who constantly provokes me and surprises me in ways that make me question my own prejudices and my own settled convictions. Reading Arendt is, for me, a spur to being a better thinker.
As the Presidency of Donald Trump comes to an end (and it will end on January 20th), it is time to think about what has happened. The worries about President Trump being an authoritarian, fascist, or totalitarian leader have proven overblown. The conspiracy theories about collusion with Russia were always just that, conspiracies. With the exception of his abuse of power trying to cajole and bribe the Ukranian President into investigating his political...
As I write this on Thursday morning, the United States still does not know who will be its next president. A few thoughts: First, after four years of Donald Trump, over 60 million Americans still believe it is acceptable to be governed by a con man and fraud, a broken human being, someone who fundamentally believes that he has the power to define, redefine, and build the reality that suits his own political and personal interests.
In the United States, there is an industry of people turning to Hannah Arendt to raise the spectre of totalitarianism. Sam Moyn has rightly questioned this approach. But there are places where it is worth worrying about the rise of totalitarianism. China—where reeducation camps for Uighur are leading to detention and torture—is also engaging in an unprecedented use of technology and state-sponsored repression to censor its population.
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.
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.
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.