What Are We Fighting For?06-20-2020
The Philosopher asked a wide range of political thinkers to answer the question: What Question Should We Be Asking? Building upon Hannah Arendt, Roger Berkowitz answers that we need to ask: What Are We Fighting For?
What is terrifying about nihilism is its silence. Amidst the death of God, the loss of tradition, and the end of political ideals, we are left, Hannah Arendt argues in Between Past and Future, with “the ominous silence that still answers us whenever we dare to ask, not, ‘What are we fighting against’ but ‘What are we fighting for?’” We all know what we oppose and fight against: totalitarianism, fascism, racism, sexism, loneliness, and meaninglessness. But we are silent in the face of the challenge: What are we fighting for?
The basic experience of being abandoned by religion, authority, and tradition, and left alone with ourselves is one Arendt calls modern loneliness. For the lonely masses today there is a pervasive feeling of meaninglessness. “The despair of loneliness,” Arendt writes in “On the Nature of Totalitarianism,” “is its very dumbness, admitting no dialogue.” To be lonely is to feel abandoned, uprooted, and homeless. It is to experience the world as crushing and others as unreachable. One can be surrounded by people, and yet feel oneself utterly abandoned and disconnected.
Arendt considers the challenge of rebuilding a common and meaningful world without an appeal to nostalgic traditions to be part and parcel of revolutionary founding, the spontaneous and free establishment of new, meaningful, and free institutions. In an interview with Adelbert Reif in 1970, she argues that a revolutionary founding demands precisely what is lacking today, “a group of real revolutionaries” who can offer a compelling answer to the question, “what are we fighting for?”