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When I draw comparisons between libertarians and slaveholders…

19 Oct

When I put libertarians and slaveholders in the same orbit, libertarians go ape-shit.

But when they do it

We treat John C. Calhoun as a precursor of modern public choice theory. Calhoun anticipates the doctrine of public choice contractarianism as developed by Buchanan and Tullock and expands this approach in original directions. We consider Calhoun’s theory of why democracy fails to preserve liberty and Calhoun’s suggested constitutional reform, rule by unanimity. We also draw out parallels between Calhoun and Hayek with regard to theories of social change and Hayek’s analysis of “why the worst get to the top.” The paper concludes with some remarks on problems in Calhoun’s theory.

—it’s all good.

Of course, it helps if you can resolve that pesky question of slavery like so:

Furthermore, Calhoun furnishes only weak ethical foundations for his advocacy of the concurrent majority…

This lack of ethical foundation shows up in Calhoun’s defense of slavery, which continues to hurt his reputation and draw attention from his more valid and interesting contributions.

H/t Suresh Naidu

Of Collaborators and Careerists

17 Oct

The announcement of the death of David Greenglass has got me thinking a lot about collaborators. Though much of twentieth-century history could not be written without some discussion of collaborators—from Vichy to Stalinism to the Dirty Wars to McCarthyism—the topic hardly gets a mention in the great texts of political theory. Eichmann in Jerusalem being the sole exception.

In my first book on fear, I tried to open a preliminary discussion of the topic. That discussion drew from a wide range of twentieth-century experiences, in Europe, Latin America, the US, and elsewhere, as well as from my reading of Eichmann and Montesquieu’s Persian Letters.

Reading over what I wrote, I’d say I failed. I was so intent on breaking apart the conventional understanding of the collaborator as someone who aids and abets a foreign enemy that I wound up broadening the category too much. So intent was I, also, on breaking apart the three-legged stool of perpetrator-victim-bystander—where was the collaborator in all this, I wondered—that I wound up conflating low-level perpetrators with collaborators; I now think there’s an important difference there.

That said, I thought I’d reprint my discussion here. As I said, political theorists have yet to grapple with the problem of collaboration. Or of careerism, which is a related topic. One day, when I’m in my dotage, I’d like to write a book, a kind of political theory of careerism and collaboration. Arendt thought we should take our theoretical cues from actual political experience; political theory was first and foremost an attempt to understand what we are doing. That’s why she wrote books and essays on totalitarianism, revolution, action, and other political phenomena. But when it comes to careerism and collaboration, we have yet to understand what we are doing. So here goes.

 • • • • • 

By conventional understanding, a collaborator is one who assists an enemy, helping groups to which he does not belong threaten groups to which he does belong. (1) But this definition, it seems to me, is too restrictive. It presumes that a group is a discrete whole, that once in it, we can’t get out of it or have competing affiliations.

Collaborators, however, cannot be so neatly bound. Some do not entirely belong to the group they betray; others, like the French fascists of Vichy, have a deep affinity for the enemy they aid. Informers are perhaps the most common kind of collaborator, but they are notorious chameleons, making it virtually impossible to pin down their affiliations at all.

Knud Wollenberger, an East German dissident who secretly kept the Stasi apprised of his wife’s subversive activities, claims that his collaboration was entirely consistent with his membership in the couple’s oppositional circle. One way to challenge the government, he explains, was “through open dissidence, and the other way [was] through government channels. I was on the inside and the outside at the same time.” (2)

Harvey Matusow joined the American Communist Party in 1947, began informing on it in 1950, recanted his testimony in 1954, and then lied about all three phases of his career in his memoir False Witness, published in 1955. So promiscuous were Matusow’s politics, it is impossible to know what he had been false to, except the truth. The title of another FBI informant’s memoir—I Led Three Lives (as Communist, informer, and “citizen”)—was more apt, suggesting the multiple identities the collaborator regularly assumes. (3)

I don’t wish to carry this notion of multiple affiliations too far. Wollenberger could very well be rationalizing a past of which he is ashamed, and Matusow may simply be the hollow man many at the time suspected him to be. Whether we belong to one group or another in some existential sense, in the course of our lives we do incur moral obligations to our comrades and friends, whom we betray when we aid our opponents.

But to avoid the question of identity that restrictive definitions of collaboration entail, I will use the definition contained in the word’s Latin root collaborare: “to work together.” By collaborator, I simply mean those men and women who work with elites and who occupy the lower tiers of power and make political fear a genuinely civic enterprise.

Collaborators may be low- or mid-level perpetrators; suppliers, like the warehouse in Jedwabne, Poland, which provided the kerosene local residents used in 1941 to burn a barn containing 1,500 Jews, or Ford and General Motors, which funded a Brazilian security outfit that interrogated and tortured leftists; attendants (cooks, secretaries, and other supporting staff); or spies and informers. (4) Though all are not equally compromised by their deeds, each is guilty of complicity.

The collaborator is an elusive figure. With the exception of The Persian Letters and Eichmann in Jerusalem, he seldom makes an appearance in the literature of political fear. One of the reasons for his absence, I suspect, is that he confounds our simple categories of elite and victim. Like the elite, the collaborator takes initiative and receives benefits from his collaboration. Like the victim, he may be threatened with punishment or retribution if he does not cooperate. Many collaborators, in fact, are drawn directly from the ranks of the victims.

Perhaps then we can distinguish between collaborators of aspiration, inspired by a desire for gain, and collaborators of aversion, inspired by a fear of loss. The first are akin to elites, the second to victims. But even that distinction is too neat. Elites also fear loss, and victims hope for gain, and as the economist’s notion of opportunity costs attests, the hope of gain often informs the fear of loss. (5)

Collaborators serve two functions. First, they perform tasks that elites themselves cannot or will not perform. These tasks may be considered beneath the dignity of the elite: cooking, cleaning, or other forms of work. They may require local knowledge—as in the case of informers, who provide information elites cannot access on their own—or specialized skills.

We often think of torturers, for example, as thugs from the dregs of society. But torture is a weapon of knowledge, designed to extract information from the victim, often without leaving a physical trace. The torturer must know the body, how far he can go without killing the victim. Who better to assist or direct the torturer than a doctor? Thus, 70 percent of Uruguayan political prisoners under that country’s military regime claim that a doctor sat in on their torture sessions. (6)

Second, collaborators extend the reach of elites into corners of society that elites lack the manpower to patrol. These collaborators are usually figures of influence within communities targeted by elites. Their status may come from the elite, who elevate them because they are willing to enforce the elite’s directives. (7)

More often, their authority is indigenous. Figures of trust among the victims, they can be relied upon to persuade the victims not to resist, to compound the fear of disobedience the victims already feel.

During its war against leftist guerillas in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Salvadoran army worked closely with such indigenous leaders. In 1982, a battalion officer informed Marcos Díaz, owner of the general store in the hamlet of El Mozote, with friends in the military, that the army was planning a major offensive in the region. To ensure their safety, the officer explained, the townspeople should remain in the village. Though many in El Mozote thought such advice unsound, Díaz was the local potentate who knew the army’s ways. His voice held sway, the villagers did as they were told, and three days later, some eight hundred of them were dead. (8)

Because their functions are so various, collaborators come in all shapes and sizes. Some travel in or near the orbit of elite power; others are drawn from the lower orders and geographic peripheries.

One common, though unappreciated, influence upon their actions is their ambition. While some collaborators hope to stave off threats to their communities and others are true believers (9), many are careerists, who see in collaboration a path of personal advance. In Brazil, for example, torture was a stepping stone, turning one man into the ambassador to Paraguay and another into a general, while doctors advising the torturers in Uruguay could draw salaries four times as high as those of doctors who did not. (10)

Whether the payment is status, power, or money, collaboration promises to elevate men and women, if only slightly, above the fray. Nazi Germany’s Reserve Police Battalion 101, for example, was a unit of five hundred “ordinary men,” drawn from the lower middle and working classes of Hamburg, who joined the battalion because it got them out of military service on the front. All told, they were responsible for executing 38,000 Polish Jews and deporting some 45,000 others to Treblinka.

Why did they do it?

Not because of any fear of punishment. No one in the 101 faced penalties—certainly not death—for not carrying out their mission. The unit’s commander even informed his men that they could opt out of the killing, which 10 to 15 of them did. Why did the remaining 490 or so stay?

According to Christopher Browning, there were different reasons, including anti-Semitism and peer pressure, but a critical one was their desire for advance. Of those who refused to kill Jews, in fact, the most forthright emphasized their lack of career ambitions. One explained that “it was not particularly important to me to be promoted or otherwise to advance. . . . The company chiefs . . . on the other hand were young men and career policemen who wanted to become something.” Another said, “Because I was not a career policeman and also did not want to become one . . . it was of no consequence that my police career would not prosper.” (11)

Though ambitious collaborators like to believe that they are adepts of realpolitik, walking the hard path of power because it is the wisest course to take, their realism is freighted with ideology. Careerism has its own moralism, serving as an anesthetic against competing moral claims. Particularly in the United States, where ambition is a civic duty and worldly success a prerequisite of citizenship, enlightened anglers of their own interest can easily be convinced that they are doing not only the smart thing, but also the right thing. They happily admit to their careerism because they presume an audience of shared moral sympathy. How else can we understand this comment of director Elia Kazan in response to a colleague’s request that he justify his decision to name names? “All right, I earned over $400,000 last year from theater. But Skouras [the head of Twentieth-Century Fox] says I’ll never make another movie. You’ve spent your money, haven’t you? It’s easy for you. But I’ve got a stake.” (12)

Notes

(1) According to Jan Gross, the word “collaboration” first took on this negative connotation—as opposed to the more neutral notion of two parties working together—with the Nazi invasion of France, whereupon it was used to refer to natives of occupied countries who colluded with the Germans. Jan Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 5, 205-6.

(2) Tina Rosenberg, The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism (New York: Vintage, 1995), xiii.

(3) Herbert A. Philbrick, I Led Three Lives: Citizen, ‘Communist,’ Counterspy (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1952); Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little Brown, 1998), 310-13, 344-349.

(4) Gross, 97-100; Lawrence Weschler, A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, 1998), 44.

(5) Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope (New York: Modern Library, 1970, 1999), 42; Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958), 19.

(6) Weschler, 126.

(7) Levi, 33.

(8) Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (New York: Vintage, 1993), 17, 20, 23, 50, 59.

(9) Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 77-82; Victor Navasky, Naming Names (New York: Penguin, 1980, 1991), 3-69; Gross, 37-40, 60-62, 65, 91, 123-125; Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins, 1992, 1998), 162, 177, 180, 196-200, 202.

(10) Weschler, 76, 127.

(11) Browning, 1-2, 55-77, 169-170; Bauer, 37.

(12) Stefan Kanfer, A Journal of the Plague Years: A Devastating Chronicle of the Blacklist (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 173. Even if Kazan had refused to testify and been penalized by Hollywood, he undoubtedly could have had a thriving career as a Broadway director—a point he affirmed before his death. Bernard Weinraub, “Book Reveals Kazan’s Thoughts on Naming Names,” New York Times (March 4, 1999), E1.

Violence Against Women and the Politics of Fear

7 Oct

Last week, Gloria Steinem had this to say:

If you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9/11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

PolitiFact then confirmed the truth of her claim.

How can this be, you ask? How can something that is so dangerous to the population (at least a majority) not galvanize political attention and public policy in the same way that something less dangerous does?

That was a question that inspired my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea. Here’s what I wrote there:

Political fear can work in one of two ways.

First, leaders or militants can define what is or ought to be the public’s chief object of fear. Political fear of this sort almost always preys upon some real threat—it seldom, if ever, is created out of nothing—but since the harms of life are as various as its pleasures, politicians and other leaders have much leeway in deciding which threats are worthy of political attention and which are not. It is they who identify a threat to the population’s well being, who interpret the nature and origins of that threat, and who propose a method for meeting that threat. It is they who make particular fears items of civic discussion and public mobilization.

This does not mean that each member of the public actually fears the chosen object: not every American citizen, for instance, is actively afraid today of terrorism. It merely means that the object dominates the political agenda, crowding out other possible objects of fear and concern.

In choosing, interpreting, and responding to these objects of fear, leaders are influenced by their ideological assumptions and strategic goals. They view danger through a prism of ideas, which shapes whether they see a particular danger as threatening or not, and a lens of political opportunity, which shapes whether they see that danger as helpful or not.

I elaborated this argument in a more recent piece that I wrote for Jacobin.

It is not necessarily a widespread fear of foreign or domestic threats — real or imagined — that compels the state to abridge civil liberties.  When the government takes measures for the sake of security, it is not simply translating the people’s fear of danger into a repressive act of state.  Instead, the government makes a choice:  to focus on some threats and not others, and to take certain actions (but not others) to counter those threats. Merely think of the attention — and money, staff, countermeasures, and air time — the US government has lavished upon terrorism as opposed to automobile accidents or climate change, even in the wake of Katrina, Sandy, and a host of other life-threatening weather events.

Even though this power to define the objects of public fear suggests that danger or harm is whatever the state says it is, Hobbes did believe that there were real dangers that threatened a people. The sovereign had every reason to make the proper determination of what truly threatened the people and to act only upon those determinations.  The sovereign’s interest in his own security dovetailed with the people’s interest in theirs. So long as the people were, or at least felt, secure, they would obey the sovereign; so long as they obeyed the sovereign, he would be secure.

Hobbes also assumed that the sovereign would be so removed from powerful constituencies in society — in his time, the church and the aristocracy — that the sovereign would be able to act on behalf of an impartial, disinterested, and neutral calculation of what truly threatened the people as a whole and of what measures would protect them. Because the sovereign’s power depended upon getting these calculations right, he had every incentive not to get them wrong.

The reality of modern state power, however, is that we have inherited some of the worst aspects of Hobbesian politics with none of its saving graces.  Governments today have a great deal of freedom to define what threatens a people and how they will respond to those threats. But far from being removed from the interests of and ideologies of the powerful, they are often constrained, even defined and constituted, by those interests and ideologies.

To cite just one example:  it is a well known fact that African Americans have suffered as much from the American state’s unwillingness to protect them from basic threats to their lives and liberties as they have from the willingness of white Americans to threaten those lives and liberties.  Throughout much of US history, as legal scholar Randall Kennedy has shown, the state has deemed the threat to the physical safety of African Americans to be an unremarkable danger and the protection of African Americans an unworthy focus of its attentions.

In the Hobbesian account, this constitutes a grievous failure; in America, it has been a semi-permanent boundary of state action.  At the most fateful moment of white-on-black violence in US history, in fact, the national government deemed the threat to African Americans a relatively minor item of public safety, unworthy of federal military protection; by contrast, it deemed the threat to employers from striking workers an public emergency, worthy of federal military protection.

When we talk about the politics of fear, this is what we mean.

If you want to learn more, buy my book!

Forgiveness, Yom Kippur, and Arendt

3 Oct

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and I’ve been talking, a lot, about Arendt.

So via Amy Schiller, who is my student at the Graduate Center, come these perhaps more appropriate words from a perhaps more appropriate text for the holiday, The Human Condition.

The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility is the faculty of forgiving….forgiving relates to the past and serves to undo its deeds…Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell….In this respect, forgiving and making promises are like control mechanisms build into the very faculty to start new and unending processes.

Happy New Year. And have an easy fast.

References No One Seems to Have Checked

2 Oct

Amos Elon on how Eichmann in Jerusalem was treated after its publication:

Hand-me-downs from one critic to another drew on alleged references in the book which no one seemed to have checked. The argument was by no means restricted to academic circles but exercised young and old, historians, philosophers, journalists, as in the case of [Anthony] Grafton’s father; priests of several faiths; atheists; community functionaries; and professional propagandists.

Did Hannah Arendt Ever See Eichmann Testify? A Second Reply to Richard Wolin

2 Oct

In his critique of Seyla Benhabib’s account of the Arendt/Eichmann controversy, which I wrote about earlier today, Richard Wolin makes an additional claim I’ve been puzzling over:

Second, a perusal of Arendt’s correspondence indicates that so great was her impatience with the proceedings that she never saw Eichmann testify. Arendt endured chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner’s lengthy opening statement and, following an absence of several weeks, returned to Jerusalem to witness the final verdict. But, remarkably, she never saw Eichmann himself take the stand. (Here, one suspects that Arendt’s rather brazen disregard for the value of testimony, not to speak of the norms of journalism, is an instance of Germanic philosophical arrogance. As J. G. Fichte said, if the facts fail to accord with the sublimity of the idea, so much the worse for the facts!)

I’ve spent the better part of this evening re-reading Arendt’s letters to her three main correspondents during the Eichmann trial—the philosopher Karl Jaspers, her husband Heinrich Blücher, and her friend Mary McCarthy—and I cannot find any evidence for Wolin’s claims; in fact, there’s much in the letters indicating that they are incorrect.

It helps first to remember three key dates from the Eichmann trial:

April 11, 1961: first day of the Eichmann trial

June 20, 1961: Eichmann takes the stand

December 11, 1961: the Israeli court issues its verdict

Right off the bat, it’s clear that Wolin’s chronology is off: Arendt could not have been in Jerusalem for the prosecutor’s opening statement only, left for a few weeks, and then returned for the verdict. Roughly eight months separate the first day of the trial from the announcement of the verdict.

And indeed, when the verdict was issued in December, Arendt was either in New York, nursing Blücher back to health (he had suffered from a ruptured aneurism), or in Middletown, Connecticut, where she would have been wrapping up a seminar on Machiavelli she had been teaching at Wesleyan that fall. The one place she would not have been was in Jerusalem, as is clear from a letter she wrote to Jaspers on December 30, 1961, and from Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography.

But once I started poring over the correspondence, it became clear that Wolin got more than the dates of the trial and Arendt’s attendance wrong. He also seriously misstates what Arendt saw and heard at the trial and her attitude to the trial and its testimony. Most important, the centrally damning claim he makes—that Arendt never saw or heard Eichmann testify—is in all likelihood wrong. What’s more, the very evidence for its wrongness comes from the very sources Wolin cites as evidence: namely, Arendt’s correspondence.

Arendt arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday April 9, 1961, two days before the trial began, and headed straight for Jerusalem. At the trial, she listened intently not only to Hausner’s opening statement, but also to lengthy recordings of Eichmann’s depositions. As she wrote to Blücher on April 20:

Here everything is going as expected…with the ghost in the glass cage listening to his voice sounding from the magnetic tape.

Arendt also heard testimony from a great variety of witnesses for the prosecution, including one of the leaders of the Warsaw Uprising; the father of Herschel Grynszpan, whose assassination of Ernst vom Rath had provided the pretext for Kristallnacht; and Salo Baron, the eminent Jewish historian. In fact, as the days went on, Arendt grew increasingly frustrated by this testimony, as so little of it had to do with Eichmann himself. As she wrote to Blücher on May 6:

The basic mistake—if one can say such a thing—is not only that Eichmann has been completely forgotten, his name often not mentioned for days on end (really typical, e.g.,: After the prosecution put 29 volumes [!] concerning Hans Frank on the table, Servatius [me: Eichmann's attorney] rose and asked: “Does the name Eichmann appear in any of these volumes!” The answer: “No”)…

Far from being uninterested in what Eichmann had to say, Arendt was profoundly interested in him and his testimony. She watched him closely throughout the trial: “Eichmann is no eagle; rather, a ghost who has a cold on top of that,” as she wrote to Jaspers on April 13. And throughout her stay in Jerusalem and in the time after that, she kept recurring to the six volumes of testimony (more than 3000 pages) he had given in his depositions. Not to mention the lengthy trial transcript she pored over for months as she prepared her articles for The New Yorker.

Then, on May 6, she writes to Blücher that she is leaving Jerusalem the next morning for Switzerland, where she will visit Jaspers. As she’s about to leave, she wonders:

The question is: Should I come back here again for the defense? I imagine I should, but I’m not sure….Of course it also depends on my appointments. Zurich on June 24th—etched in stone!

That date, the 24th of June, was a reference to a long-planned reunion between her and Blücher, who would be meeting Jaspers and his wife, both of whom had played such an important role in Arendt’s life, for the very first time.

As the weeks go by, first in Switzerland with Jaspers, and then in Germany, Arendt decides she must return to Jerusalem. The only question is when. “If I only knew when I have to go back to Jerusalem,” she writes McCarthy on May 31.

Why was Arendt so eager to return to Jerusalem? Simply and solely to see and hear Eichmann testify. And what did she mean by “if I only knew when I have to go back to Jerusalem”? The date that Eichmann was to assume the witness stand. Contrary to everything Wolin explicitly states and implicitly suggests in his piece, seeing and hearing Eichmann testify was a top priority for Arendt between the time of her first and second visit to Jerusalem.

On June 4, Arendt tells Blücher that she thinks she’ll be in Jerusalem by the 17th. And adds, “With a bit of luck, it might happen in the week of June 17 that Eichmann will be called to the witness stand.”

On June 14, a Wednesday, she writes Blücher:

So I’m flying to Israel on Saturday, as I already wrote you. The trial will start again on the 20th, and I’m afraid that Hausner will try to delay matters even further. But I have at least to try to see Eichmann <editor’s note: on the witness stand>….I will leave there on Friday the 23rd, either directly for Zurich, or via Athens—it all depends.

So, that’s all. Here’s my address again, just to be sure: Hotel Eden, Jerusalem till Friday the 23rd. After that, with you: Waldhaus Dolderer, Zurich.

On June 16, a Friday, she writes Jaspers: “I’m off tomorrow morning.”

Unfortunately, the three editions of her correspondence do not include any letters from this second visit to Jerusalem. Probably because she knew she was going to be seeing Jaspers and Blücher, the two people she corresponded with most intently during that time, within days.

What we do know, from Lipstadt, is that Eichmann did indeed take the stand on the 20th of June, and unless Arendt canceled her trip to Jerusalem at literally the last minute (“I’m off tomorrow morning”), we also know that she was in the city when he took the stand. It would seem strange if, after all these expressions of desire to see Eichmann in court, she decided not to stop by.

I should say that I’ve only managed to consult the sources I’ve cited here. There may be other sources out there that would confirm Wolin’s claims. If there are, I apologize in advance. But I would also like to claim an exemption on two grounds. First, I didn’t have access to those sources; I did the best that I could with the books that I have and the books I could access on the web. Second, Wolin himself claims that it was “a perusal of Arendt’s correspondence” that led him to the conclusion “that she never saw Eichmann testify.” Limiting myself to that correspondence, which I read carefully rather than perused, should have yielded at least some evidence for his conclusion. It has not, so I believe I am justified in concluding, that at least by Wolin’s own lights, his claim is not correct.

Update (7:30 am)

I’m getting reports this morning that Deborah Lipstadt, whose The Eichmann Trial I link to above, makes a similar claim as Wolin. I don’t have her book and was able to access those pages regarding the chronology of the Eichmann trial that I mention above only through Google. I’ll try to get a copy of the book and report back what I find. Lipstadt is a careful scholar, so I’ll definitely want to see what she says and what sources she cites. Perhaps Wolin got his claim from her, perhaps she has further information. Anyway, will report back once I have more information.

Update (10:30 am)

I’ve now been able, with the help of Amazon and Google Reader, to find out what Lipstadt says in The Eichmann Trial. The crucial passages are on pp. 178-180. Long story short, she confirms what I said in my post.

First, Lipstadt says that after traveling in Switzerland for five weeks (also Germany, actually), Arendt returned to Jerusalem to see Eichmann on the witness stand. There, she saw and heard Servatius, Eichmann’s attorney, ask him questions.

Second, Lipstadt’s criticism of Arendt is that Arendt did not stay to witness Hausner’s cross-examination of Eichmann. Had she stayed, says Lipstadt, Arendt might have seen something about Eichmann, under Hausner’s withering critique, that she could not have gleaned from the transcript.

None of us, of course, knows if that’s true, but I suspect Lipstadt’s wrong. Given that Arendt was so irritated by Hausner’s and the prosecution’s general line of attack—Arendt felt that rather than trying Eichmann for his deeds, the state was more interested in narrating the larger history of the Holocaust—I suspect that seeing the cross-exam for herself would have only further confirmed Arendt’s premonitions. But that’s speculation. And in any event, immaterial to the larger issue of whether Arendt was ever there to see Eichmann testify. She was.

Third, Lipstadt is very careful to point out that simply because Arendt wasn’t there for part of the trial does not invalidate her conclusions; a great many accounts of trials, Lipstadt says, are based entirely on a reading of the transcript.

So, bottom line: Lipstadt does not provide any evidence for Wolin’s claim.

Lipstadt’s footnotes in this section make reference to Arendt’s correspondence with Jaspers and McCarthy, which I examined carefully last night and the results of which I reported in my post. Lipstadt also refers in her footnotes to p. 149 of Raul Hilberg’s memoir. Hilberg was a historian of the Holocaust. Indeed, he wrote the first genuinely comprehensive history of the Holocaust, from which Arendt drew extensively in her book—much to Hilberg’s chagrin; he felt like he never got the proper acknowledgment from her or from subsequent scholars of the controversy.

On p. 149 of his memoir, Hilberg claims that Arendt stayed in Jerusalem for ten weeks and then left three days before Eichmann assumed the stand. He claims that Arendt’s published correspondence with Jaspers shows this. Hilberg might be Wolin’s source, though I took Wolin’s “a perusal of Arendt’s correspondence” to mean that Wolin had done the perusing. In any event, Hilberg is wrong on all accounts: Arendt did not stay in Jerusalem for ten weeks; she did not leave three days before Eichmann assumed the stand; and her correspondence with Jaspers does not show any of this.

Two other sources.

According to a commenter on the blog, David Cesarini, no friend of Arendt’s, claims in his book on Eichmann that she was there for the first days of Eichmann’s testimony. Which fits with my account and Lipstadt’s.

Daniel Maier-Katkin, a professor at Florida State, has reconstructed the timeline of Arendt and the trial in footnote 44 of this post (h/t Patchen Markell). I don’t know what his sources are (I’ve emailed him to ask but have not yet heard back), but his reconstruction of the chronology largely fits with mine, albeit with some additional details:

The trial was in session between April 11 and July 24. Arendt was present in the courtroom from April 11 through May 8. Between May 8 and June 23 the trial was dominated by sessions on the admissibility of more than 1000 documents; Arendt, who was travelling in Europe during those weeks, had full access to all of those documents. Arendt was present between June 20 and 23 to hear the first sessions of Adolf Eichmann’s testimony, but not for the final two weeks of trial when he was cross-examined by Gideon Hausner, whose approach to the trial as a telling of the story of the Holocaust rather than a juridical inquiry into Eichmann’s role Arendt found tiresome and disquieting.

So, again, nothing in the correspondence even remotely suggests that Arendt was not there to witness personally at least some of Eichmann’s testimony. And much in the correspondence—and now secondary accounts—demonstrates precisely the opposite.

 

 

The Arendt Wars Continue: Richard Wolin v. Seyla Benhabib

1 Oct

Richard Wolin has written a response to Seyla Benhabib’s New York Times piece on Arendt and Eichmann.

I hesitate to weigh in on this controversy for two reasons. First, I know both Richard and Seyla, and Richard is a colleague. And even though, when it comes to Arendt, I have consistently found Seyla to have the better of the argument, I have a great deal of respect for both of them and their work. Second, I may be writing about the war over Eichmann in Jerusalem in a lengthier piece in the coming months—More than a half-century after its publication, how is it that this book still manages to get under people’s skin? Is there any other book, not allied to a political or religious movement, that can do that?—so I don’t want to get too caught up in any one bit of the fracas right now.

Still, I wanted to respond to this one paragraph in Wolin’s critique:

Benhabib’s claim that Kant’s moral philosophy plays a systematic role in Eichmann in Jerusalem is similarly unsustainable. Arendt’s reliance on Kant’s theory of judgment—the idea that we broaden our mental horizons by virtue of our ability to reason from the standpoint of other persons—is limited to one meager passage (Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 48).  Moreover, in the passage in question, Kant’s name is not even mentioned. Casual allusions along these lines hardly qualify as systematic or serious employment. As most Arendt scholars are aware, Arendt only developed these Kantian precepts in earnest circa 1970, in the course of her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy and in the complementary essay “Thinking and Moral Considerations.”

That last claim, which I’ve bolded, is simply not true.

In a brilliant article—”Arendt, Aesthetics, and ‘The Crisis in Culture’“—that totally changed how I see some of Arendt’s work, University of Chicago political theorist Patchen Markell shows that the Kantian presence in Arendt’s thought, particularly regarding these issues of judgment and enlarged mentality, well predate her 1970 writings, extending as far back as the 1950s. And in fact, as Patchen shows, most serious Arendt scholars know that.

If memory serves (I only read this essay in draft more than a year ago), Patchen looks at Arendt’s essay on culture from the 1950s, which finally appears in Between Past and Future in 1961 (the year Eichmann went on trial). He shows, among a great many other things, that Arendt and Jaspers were corresponding about Kant’s Critique of Judgment in the late 1950s (the text was very much on her mind), and that the Critique of Judgment very much informs her essay on culture, and how to think about questions of taste and judgment and their relationship to politics. In other words, whether or not Kant is present in what Arendt wrote in Eichmann in Jerusalem (and again, I think Seyla’s got the better of that argument), he, and his writing about judgment, were clearly present in Arendt’s thinking on the eve of her travels to Jerusalem.

Inspired by Wolin’s piece (and Patchen’s corrective, avant la lettre), I read Arendt’s other essay from that period, “Culture and Politics,” which I don’t think Patchen actually discusses but which is nevertheless instructive.

In that essay, Arendt claims Kant’s Critique of Judgment as an explicit inspiration for her thinking about judgment and politics: it “contains,” she says, “what is in my opinion the greatest and most original aspect of Kant’s political philosophy.” That was in 1959, two years before Arendt would head to Jerusalem to report on the Eichmann trial.

As she goes on to develop the political implications of Kant’s theory of taste and judgment, Arendt writes:

It is as though taste decided not only what the world should look like, but also who belongs together in the world….The belonging-together-of-persons—this is what gets decided in judgments about a common world. And what the individual manifests in its judgments is a singular “being-thus-and-not-otherwise”….

As soon as I read that “who belongs together in the world,” I stopped. The passage has an eerie resonance.

In the epilogue to her report on the Eichmann trial, Arendt delivers what she thinks should have been the Israeli court’s judgment against Eichmann. Her very last two sentences read:

And just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations…we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

Though I have no idea if Arendt intended these last sentences of Eichmann in Jerusalem to be read as such, it’s hard for me not to read them as an indication of how, for her, Eichmann’s crimes are a terrible and ironic perversion of the Kantian themes she was developing in her 1959 essay.

Just as a person reveals herself in her tastes (and what she reveals in part is “who belongs together in the world”), so does Eichmann reveal himself in his taste (or lack thereof), and what he reveals is who belongs together in his mind (namely, Aryans as opposed to Jews) and who belongs together in actuality: namely, he and all the other Nazis who refused to share the earth, as opposed to the rest of the peoples of the earth.

It is because of that terrible and ironic perversion of Kant’s theory of taste, which is connected to judgment, that Arendt insists so strongly on the court restoring the proper meaning of Kant’s theory of taste/judgment in its verdict on Eichmann: through its verdict, Arendt claims, through its revealing who or what it is, the court must decide who does indeed belong together in the world—namely, the peoples of the earth, in all their plurality—and who does not: those individuals, like Eichmann, who do not wish to share the earth with others.

Update (12:30 pm)

Patchen Markell has a very useful comment and corrective in the comments section, which I’m reproducing here. But first, here is the published version of that article of his that I discuss. And now here’s Patchen:

Thanks, Corey. I just sent you the the published version of the piece, which is in Nikolas Kompridis, The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought. Although the Jaspers correspondence does contain a letter from 1957, when she was busy re-reading the Critique of Judgment, that makes it pretty clear how seriously engaged she was with that text, the place to go to really see this is her Denktagebuch or notebooks, published in 2002, which contain 15 pages (in the published version) of handwritten notes from the third Critique, including notes and comments on the idea of an “enlarged mentality,” the importance of the presence of others for the validity of judgments, etc. The editors of the Denktagebuch themselves observed how significant it was that this material came prior to, not after, the Eichmann trial. The Anglophone scholar who reconstructs this stuff best, and really focuses in a way I do not on the continuities between the Kant reading of 1957 and the lectures of 1970, is David Marshall, who published a very detailed piece on this history of Arendt’s readings of Kant in Political Theory (2010): http://ptx.sagepub.com/content/38/3/367.

Also, for the geeky record, “Culture and Politics” is the English translation of a German lecture that Arendt subsequently incorporated into “The Crisis in Culture” (in Between Past and Future).

 Update (2 pm)

I’ve been reading Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem, which is what has kicked off this latest round of the Arendt Wars, and she tells a story there about Eichmann, which I posted about on Facebook over the weekend. It seems pertinent to this discussion re Kant and enlarged mentality. Here’s what I said:

In 1950, Adolph Eichmann, along with 15 others, managed to flee Europe and set sail for Argentina from Genoa on the Giovanna C. Years later, in a text titled “Meine Flucht,” he reminisced about the relief he felt, finally to have escaped his would-be tormentors. Drawing a parallel only he could have drawn, he marveled, “Once it was the Jews, now it was–Eichmann.” This is the sort of thing Hannah Arendt had in mind when she talked about Eichmann’s thoughtlessness.

It should be noted that Stangneth does not read the Eichmann comment in this way, but I found her reading tortured and unpersuasive, and unsupported by the text.

 

 

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