Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born in Hanover, Germany, was a public intellectual, refugee, and observer of European and American politics. She is especially known for her interpretation of the events that led to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

Arendt studied under German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers and set out to pursue a path as an academic, writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. However, Hitler, the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and the bloody Holocaust forever changed her life. Being Jewish, Arendt was forced to flee the country, seeking refuge in France and eventually the United States. After living through the outbreak of WWII, Arendt devoted the rest of her life to writing about politics, although less in a traditional philosophical sense and more in the vein of a political observer, interpreting events of the twentieth century.

This essay explains some central insights of her political thought and how she developed these concepts to overcome the loss of politics as public debate in Nazi Germany.

1. Totalitarianism and the Loss of Public Debate

 Arendt understands “politics” as public debate by a community about meaningful aspects of their shared life together. She witnessed the collapse of politics, in this sense, under Nazi totalitarianism. This form of rule seeks to diminish public debate by making it a criminal act to criticize the regime. Arendt sought to understand the rise of this unprecedented form of government, and to defend public debate against threats to its existence.

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Lady Gaga and Moral Reasoning

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Lady Gaga’s popular song “Born This Way” (sometimes described as a “gay anthem”) affirms and celebrates various diversities as good, including sexual diversity—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender sexuality. Why? Because, according to Gaga and many of her fans, this is how one is formed at birth, and, according to Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.”

Is this good moral reasoning? I think not. I have two arguments to support my view: one philosophical, one theological.

A philosophical argument

Here is some philosophical reasoning—which applies whether one believes in God or not.

Lady Gaga rightly encourages us to respect and accept all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. After all, each person has great intrinsic moral worth (Christians would say that this is so because each person is made in the image of God, but one needn’t be a Christian to recognize this worth). So far, so good.

But at this juncture Lady Gaga’s thinking become problematic.

Respecting and accepting all people doesn’t automatically also mean that we should accept and affirm all the behaviours of all people. Nor does it also mean that we should accept and affirm all their (our) dispositions and urges to behave in various ways.

Why not? Because not all urges and behaviours are good—some urges and behaviours are harmful to one’s self and/or others.

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A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

Christian Stache interviews Victor Wallis about resistance in the German Hambach Forest, class politics, technology, progress and an ecological-economic conversion.
This interview by Christian Stache of Victor Wallis was Translated with permission from the October 6 2018 issue of the Berlin-based daily newspaper junge Welt (young World), which bears no responsibility for the English-language text.

Christian Stache: Recently, a huge socio-ecological conflict escalated in the Hambach Forest in Germany. Have you heard about it in the US?

Victor Wallis: It was not widely covered in the corporate media, but there was very good coverage on the independent Democracy Now! program, whose host, Amy Goodman, spent a week in and around Bonn during the recent international conference, and visited some of the occupiers in their tree-houses. Singer/songwriter David Rovics has just now posted a tribute, in narrative and song, to the forest-protectors and to the journalist Steffen Meyn who died tragically while attempting to cover their story.

CS: How do you characterize the struggle? Are there decisive similarities with, for example, the battles against oil pipelines in North America?

VW: It is a classic case of confrontation between a big corporation and people trying to save a priceless ecosystem. There is a definite parallel with the clashes in North America, including especially the more recent battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which government forces intervened decisively on the side of the corporation.

CS: You recently published Red-Green Revolution (Political Animal Press 2018) which has a special focus on ecosocialist politics. Can you explain what makes politics ecosocialist? How does it differ from the ecological politics, for example, of the Green Parties, the United Nations or the big environmental NGOs like Greenpeace?

VW: Ecosocialist politics is based on recognizing that a sound ecological policy cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. In order to restore (to the extent possible) the health of the ecosphere, it is necessary that economic decisions be no longer based on the capitalist goals of maximizing profit and accumulating wealth. They should instead be based on the common interest of humanity, which is bound up with the health of the natural environment.

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As a Child of Deaf Adults: Problems with Identity Politics from a Progressive Perspective

By: Brian Birnbaum

Among contemporary progressives, the space for debate over the value of identity politics is shrinking at pace with its growing popularity within political discourse. Today’s dominant progressive tastemakers seem to feel that identity politics should either be bought wholesale, or you’re not a progressive. But as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), a firsthand witness to deaf alienation, and even more importantly, as a progressive myself, I find it unacceptable that such particularistic, individuated, and limiting rhetoric as that employed by proponents should preclude the validity of my own political stance.

I’ve always been suspicious when new code-words and ideologies are introduced into the political sphere, as they strike me as euphemistic spins on old and often pernicious tropes. Take, for example, ‘Make America Great Again’, which was a dog whistle for returning to a time more prosperous for whites at the expense of all others. But my awakening to the deeper perils of identity politics came during the Democratic National Convention for the 2016 election, where hardliners ascended with pageantry to the podium and proselytized the masses, ostensibly for the good of the party. At their own earlier convention, the Republicans had trotted out the bereaved mothers of Benghazi, and now the DNC responded with the bereaved mothers of police brutality. The RNC had brought out the Boys in Blue to talk tough on crime, and the DNC called up Khizr and Ghazala Khan to thump the constitution and pick at its semantics. It was a lot of standard pandering to the parties’ respective bases, sometimes to mild success, other times to a fault.

But I observed a major difference – a massively important difference – between the way things were presented at the two national conventions. Nearly every individual the Democrats sent up to the stage used a variant of the same phrase: “As a black woman…”; “As a Muslim man…”; “As a Mexican immigrant…” Hearing this anaphora – and noticing it more and more after the convention, whether from a guest on CNN or a friend’s Facebook feed – I felt caught in a unique position. As a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), not once, among the DNC’s lineup of marginalized persons (or on CNN, or on the feeds of non-deaf Facebook friends), did I hear any mention of the deaf, nor any language related to the deaf population.

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One Year Later: Reflections on #MeToo

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Social movements, like revolutions, tend to follow a similar cycle in the process of rewiring certain beliefs and norms of behavior. This was perhaps best diagramed by Crane Brinton in his book The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), a study of the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, respectively––and how all of these revolutions (with the American being the perennial outlier) echoed one another in their stages of development. The same pattern can be mapped onto intellectual life during any period of cultural change; for moments of cultural upheaval are themselves soft revolutions, in a way, smaller in the order of magnitude than revolutions that demand a renovation of state power. This cycle goes as follows: right-to-centre, centre-to-left, left-to-far left, back to centre, back to right. Or, put differently: exposure of tyranny, modest demands, modest demands not good enough, rise of the radical left, reign of terror, reaction to the terror. What happens after that can vary.

We’ll come back to that in a bit though. At the moment, the #MeToo movement has reached its first anniversary: the Harvey Weinstein exposé turned one-year-old this past weekend, Bill Cosby has been through a court of law and will see the inside of a jail cell in this life, and the Preminger-esque drama that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has come to a close (we’ll return to that soon as well). Even as we are living in this, the second year of his highness, Donald J. Trump the first, the #MeToo phenomenon has been arguably the most journalistically exhausted subject in the Anglosphere, with scarcely a side of its episodic saga gone unexamined. (I say this because at the moment I am living in central Europe, and talk of it here has been, so far as I can tell, peripheral.) Thus, one’s proverbial two cents feel even less asked for than usual, but a few things are still discoverable, and need to be pointed out.

In relation to the cycle sketched above, the #MeToo movement continues to tarry (one hopes for not much longer) in the Terror phase. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, or unduly harsh, try to come up with another word that describes a) the vigilance with which accusers are rooted out and brought forward, b) the limpid motivation to destroy careers and eliminate transgressors from public life, and c) the fear (however unfounded) that men may have about their pasts and their behavior in the future. This is not to say there can’t be legitimate and just censure of sexual assault and misconduct during the Terror phase. The Kavanaugh case is certainly one of them. One more disclaimer (just in case): I support the #MeToo movement and believe it is long overdue. The reason I add this disclaimer is precisely that a feature of the Terror is the way in which even a modicum of criticism is perceived as opposition or treachery––the discourse at this point having all the nuance of a cudgel.

If #MeToo has followed the revolutionary cycle, then the first two phases (exposure of tyranny and modest demands) were short-lived. Signs of unthinking started to appear as early as December 2017, when Matt Damon reasonably suggested there is, “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that both, while reproachable, should not be conflated. The response to this was what you would expect: You don’t respect women’s pain. What gives you, a man, the right to say that? You simply can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. Really? Seriously? Seriously?
Yes, seriously.

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Petroleum Junkies of the World, Unite!

by Craig Collins

I’m a fossil fuel junkie. I drive a car and use electricity. My computer, TV, telephone, refrigerator, stove, lights, water, and sewage all run on carbon-based energy. [1] All of the materials used to build my house and furniture were made with hydrocarbons. The wood, sheetrock, cement, metals, glass, wiring, pvc pipes, and other plastics were all manufactured with carboniferous energy. My high-energy lifestyle mainlines fossil fuels.

The petroleum coursing through the veins of our global economy allows me to do miraculous things. If I have the money, I can hop on a plane and be scuba diving in the Caribbean in a matter of hours. I can pick up a phone and talk to people anywhere in the world. I can buy coffee shipped from Kenya, tea from India, mangos from Mexico, rice from Thailand, and bananas from Ecuador anytime I want for a few dollars. I never have to do the backbreaking work of growing my own fruits, grains, and vegetables or raising my own livestock. I can light and heat my home, cook my food, do my laundry, and take a hot shower without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, or even start a fire. My family can toss their luggage into the car and journey hundreds of miles in a few hours for the cost of a tank of gas. Even with a host of servants and slaves the great kings of old could not have imagined doing many of the amazing things I can with do with the energy of fossil fuels. Power like this is addicting.

It may sound odd, but I didn’t realize I was addicted to petroleum until I was about 30. Like most Americans, I was born into a lifestyle of cheap energy and took it for granted. Growing up in the latter half of the 20th century, cars and electricity were just part of daily life. Nobody thought of it as addiction; it was progress. Every new electronic device and labor saving appliance was a testament to the miracle of modern science and technology. The future was usually portrayed as a technological utopia where all our wants and needs would be met by some new scientific wonder. Remember The Jetsons?

I felt fortunate and proud to live in America because it was the most modern country in the world. It never occurred to me that our prosperity had anything to do with our dependence on oil; in school we were told our affluence was the product of free enterprise, liberty, and democracy. I knew that every country in the world aspired to be as modern as the United States. Poor countries were trying to copy our success and our enemies behind “the iron curtain” claimed they would soon out-modernize us. Growing up, I felt sorry for people who still lived without the conveniences of modern life.

It took me years to realize that our supercharged lifestyle depends on a vanishing supply of fossil fuels and cannot possibly be reproduced on a global scale. If the people of China lived like Americans there would be more cars in China than there are in the entire world today. [2] Their cars would need all of the oil the world produces plus fifteen million extra barrels a day. China would consume two-thirds of the world’s grain harvest; burn more coal than the entire world uses today; and use twice as much paper. [3] And this is just China. The Earth simply does not have enough land, water, and hydrocarbons for everyone to live the high-energy lifestyle of Americans. In fact, America’s coveted lifestyle is running on empty and on the verge of going bust, like the boomtowns that became ghost towns after the gold rush panned out.

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Senator Orrin Hatch Time Travelling to 1851

Mission to Correct America’s Timeline by Changing the Past

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington, D.C. – In a surprising turn of events, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), has announced that he is retiring from the 115th U.S. Congress and is time travelling back to 1851.  Once there, he will run for Congress again.

The 84-year old Senator feels that this move will do him and the country some good.  “1851 certainly lines up more with my ideals and vision for what this great Country should stand for.  Too many people have rights in 2018.  Too many of them insist on being treated fairly and, frankly, it’s become rather disgusting,” said Hatch.

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Much Is Lost

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.

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On the Strange Agreement Between Artists and Trump Administration: Doubts About the International Criminal Court

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris
In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe, analyze, and influence contemporary politics.

In a rare case of agreement, politicians and artists alike are casting doubts on the viability of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.). In a statement last week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. might sanction the I.C.C. because it is considering prosecuting Americans for war crimes in Afghanistan. This stance is also one of the major concerns that underlines Milo Rau’s performance and film work “Congo Tribunal,” and Chris Weitz’s recent film “Operation Finale,” both of which question the potency of the I.C.C.

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Wholesale Crimes

by Victor Wallis

In their 1979 book The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Noam Chomsky and the late Edward S. Herman drew a distinction between retail and wholesale acts of terrorism. Retail acts were those carried out by individuals or small groups; wholesale, those committed by vast national military forces.

Tom Engelhardt, in a recent column explaining the deeply criminal thrust of the Trump legacy, recalls to our attention a term coined in 2013 by journalist Nick Turse: terracide, meaning the total destruction of the earth-system — next to which the common crimes committed by isolated individuals pale in magnitude.

The distinction here is one of scale and not of principle, as in the classic juxtaposition of robbing a bank (“retail”) versus owning one and fleecing the entire public (“wholesale”). This point is easy enough for anyone to see, but, sadly, it has not become a matter of common awareness.

Why is it so difficult for people in the United States to perceive the criminality of the dominant priorities? This is where the political culture – aka the politics of mass deception – comes into play.

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