Reconciling Ourselves to Plurality10-22-2017
Reconciling Ourselves to Plurality
As our readers know, there is no constitutional right to free speech on a private college campus. What there is, instead, is an intellectual need to listen and respond to people with whom we strongly disagree. As Hannah Arendt writes, "We know from experience that no one can adequately grasp the objective world in its full reality all on his own, because the world always shows and reveals itself to him from only one perspective, which corresponds to his standpoint in the world and is determined by it." The plurality of voices in the public sphere allows each of us to encounter divergent and opposed points of view that remind us of the basic plurality of the world. Hearing opposing and unpopular views reminds us that our own view of the world is partial; it compels us to listen to the opinions of others and protects the opinions of the majority from uncritical acceptance. That is why for Arendt considering opposing views is the foundation of all expansive and right thinking. I have been told that some in the community of Arendt scholars are angry that the Arendt Center invited Dr. Marc Jongen to speak at our recent conference. Apparently, there is a letter circulating that is criticizing the Arendt Center. No one who has signed the letter has shared the letter with me; no signee has asked me for a comment or solicited my opinion; not one of them has suggested to me what it is that we are supposed to have done wrong. Through a mediator, I have been told that there is a concern that by bringing Dr. Jongen to speak, the Arendt Center was at risk of somehow endorsing the Alternative für Deutschland. I want to belabor the obvious and say this is not the case. Since the letter condemning our invitation to Dr. Jongen may one day become public, I think it worthwhile to explain why it is important that the Hannah Arendt Center exist as a place where we can listen and respond to people like Dr. Jongen, people with whom we strongly disagree. I have written an open letter explaining the decision to include Dr. Jongen as one of our speakers. In part, I argue that engaging with, understanding, and resisting opposing ideas is part of what Arendt means by reconciling oneself with the plurality of the world, which is a prerequisite for amor mundi, learning to love the world. Arendt insisted, repeatedly, that when one confronts wrongdoing and even evil, the only way to resist evil is to understand it.
"Over and again in her life, Arendt got into trouble because of her willingness to give uncomfortable and offensive views a full public hearing. Her account of Adolf Eichmann sought to understand who Eichmann was and what it was that allowed him to actively participate in the killing of millions of Jews. For many of her readers, this effort to understand Eichmann was a betrayal. They thought he should be simply and categorically condemned as a monster. Arendt also thought he should be condemned and hanged for what he did. But she insisted first on the necessity of understanding him, and coming face to face with his account of what he had done. The act of understanding evil, she believed, was fundamental to the effort to resist evil. The strong belief that we must confront and face up to evil and offensive people and ideas also led Arendt to cite many Nazi authors in her work The Origins of Totalitarianism. She insisted that to understand Nazism and Stalinism, it was actually necessary to read and argue with both these ideologies. She has been roundly criticized for doing so, many going so far as to suggest that her extensive citations of Nazi writers betray a latent anti-Semitism. But Arendt makes the case for why it is essential that we engage with those we find to be deeply wrong. In a letter to Eric Vogelin, Arendt writes that her problem was “how to write historically about something?—?totalitarianism?—?which I did not want to conserve, but on the contrary, felt engaged to destroy.” To resist totalitarianism meant, as she wrote in Origins, that we must first seek to comprehend it. Comprehension “means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality?—?whatever it may be.” Her goal was to come to understand totalitarianism as an unprecedented and uniquely modern form of total domination. Only by understanding and comprehending the foundations and origins of totalitarianism, she argued, would it be possible to resist it. In speaking of understanding totalitarianism, Arendt writes of reconciling ourselves to the fact of totalitarianism. Arendt’s overarching project is to “come to terms with and reconcile ourselves to reality, that is to be at home in the world.” Her goal is to love the world, even with evil in it. This reconciliation with an often-horrific world is, she writes, the hardest task. Reconciliation with totalitarianism as a fact of history and thus a present possibility does not mean an uncritical acceptance of the evil of totalitarianism; rather, reconciliation means risking “the interminable dialogue with the essence of totalitarianism” that can allow us to “understand it without bias and prejudice” as something that is bound up with our own needs. Only in such an honest and dispassionate reconciliation can we recognize the stirrings of totalitarian impulses in ourselves and in our world. Such reconciliation is what allows us to at once love and resist the real totalitarian dangers of our time."You can read the entirety of Roger Berkowitz's open letter on Medium.Form more information visit: https://medium.com/@arendt_center/an-open-letter-on-the-hannah-arendt-centers-inclusion-of-a-talk-by-marc-jongen-as-part-of-the-46390f0ddb9d
A central theme of the Arendt Center's recent conference was the tension between democracy and technocracy. Nicholas Tampio attacks this tension head on arguing that "Democracy, instead, requires treating people as citizens – that is, as adults capable of thoughtful decisions and moral actions, rather than as children who need to be manipulated. One way to treat people as citizens is to entrust them with meaningful opportunities to participate in the political process, rather than just as beings who might show up to vote for leaders every few years." In an essay worrying about the technocratic dominance of representative democracy, Tampio discusses the new interest in sortition, the selective of our governing representatives by lottery rather than by election.
"Guerrero, a philosopher at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks that direct democracy cannot work because most people lack the time and ability to understand the complexities of modern public policy. Democrats have responded to this situation by creating a system of representative democracy where people vote for politicians who act as our agents in the halls of power. The problem is that most people cannot pay sufficient attention to hold their representatives accountable. Citizens are ‘ignorant about what our representatives are doing, ignorant about the details of complex political issues, and ignorant about whether what our representative is doing is good for us or for the world’. To make matters worse, powerful economic interests have the knowledge and resources to capture representatives and make them serve the rich. The time for electoral representative democracy has passed, argues Guerrero. Rather than waste people’s votes in elections, political systems should create a lottocracy that randomly selects adults who can perform modified versions of the jobs that elected politicians presently do. Right now, US congresspersons are predominantly white, male, millionaires; a lottocracy could instantly raise the number of women, minorities and lower-income people in the legislature, and take advantage of each group’s epistemic contributions to policy debates. Guerrero envisions single-issue legislatures whose members are chosen by lottery and serve three-year staggered terms. At the beginning of the legislative session, experts set the agenda and bring the legislators up to speed on the topic, then the legislators draft, revise and vote on legislation. Guerrero dismisses the possibility that experts ‘would convince us to buy the same corporate-sponsored policy we’re currently getting’. On the contrary, the wealthy and powerful could easily manipulate a lottocracy. Think tanks and lobbyists, funded by economic elites, would welcome the opportunity to educate lottery-chosen legislators. Those who set the agenda make the most important decisions. This is the democratic critique of plans that tightly regulate the ways that people may participate in politics. Democracy means people exerting power, not choosing from a menu made by elites and their agents."Form more information visit: https://aeon.co/essays/why-rule-by-the-people-is-better-than-rule-by-the-experts
"Of the many books that deal with these two world-changing figures, “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives,” by the British historian Alan Bullock, published in 1992, is the best — and certainly, at more than 1,000 pages, the most comprehensive. Bullock’s thesis is persuasive. Despite their differences in age, background and temperament — and despite their mortal enmity in World War II — there was a symbiosis, even an affinity, between the two: in their careers, their ideologies, their methods and their psyches. They were both outsiders: the master of the Kremlin was a Georgian, not a Russian; the German Führer was an Austrian. Both, Bullock says, were narcissists. Both insisted on cults of personality and made themselves into high priests of warped versions of 19th-century social theories (Stalin’s Marxism, Hitler’s toxic combination of social Darwinism and the zanier ideas of Nietzsche). Both were homicidal paranoiacs, determined to deport, enslave and exterminate entire categories of human beings: in Stalin’s case, the kulaks during the collectivization campaign; in Hitler’s, not just Jews but Slavs, Romani and numerous others. Crucially, neither of these malevolent geniuses would have emerged from obscurity were it not for the first great cataclysm of the 20th century, then known as the Great War. Stalin was already a ruthless and canny militant in the 1890s when Hitler was still a toddler. The pivotal year 1905 found him in St. Petersburg, where a wave of social unrest and political protests forced the czarist government to accede to limited democratic reforms including a parliament (Duma) and a multiparty system. That was not the outcome Stalin and his fellow Bolsheviks wanted. Twelve years later, in November 1917, they had another chance to quash the democrats and impose a dictatorship. This time they got lucky, largely because Russia suffered a perfect storm of ill fortune and colossal folly."Form more information visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/books/review/stalin-hitler-totalitarianism.html