When We Don’t Know What She Would Say10-12-2019
By Roger Berkowitz
Josh Rogin in the Washington Post asked readers to choose the public figures they would most like to hear comment on our present era. Tanner Greer published his answer: Hannah Arendt. What Greer welcomes above all in Arendt is her independence. That she approaches every issue fresh. And that before you read what she writes, you don’t know what she will be arguing or how she will get there. It is Arendt’s incredible independent that should make us suspect anyone who claims to know what Arendt would or would not think about a particular event today. Such independence of thought should be a criteria for taking any writer and thinker seriously.. Sadly, it is a rare commodity.
What issue of importance today did she not ponder? How should Western countries understand and respond to authoritarian states? What makes meaningful community possible? Does bureaucracy, technology, and settled life diminish our freedom? Why do politicians lie—and what consequences should there be for lying in office? How do political institutions decay? Should we forgive our political enemies? When is violence justified, and when is it not? How can it be controlled or avoided? What should the 'justice' in phrases like 'social justice' actually mean? What role should guilt, rage, and fear play in our political lives? How should we translate abstract political principles into living realities?
Arendt wrote about all of these things and more. She would have the intellectual background needed to say something useful about the biggest political and social challenges we face today: America's relationship with China, technology's encroach upon democracy, the unsettled relation between the sexes, the collapse of American social capital and community life, the strengths and foibles of social justice campaigning, partisanship and 'post-reality' politics, and of course, the presidency of Donald Trump.
I wish we could hear her opinions on these things. I wish this because I honestly do not know what her opinions would be. I recognize positions she would not adopt, but I can only guess what she would make of Facebook or consider the proper political grounding for impeachment.