Yesterday, I got into an argument with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt.

Yesterday, I got into an argument with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt.

It began with Clinton tweeting this really upsetting story from the Washington Post about a man who set fire to a LGBT youth center in Phoenix. The headline of the piece read:

Man casually empties gas can in Phoenix LGBT youth center, sets it ablaze

Here’s what Clinton tweeted, along with that headline.

I didn’t think Clinton was using Arendt’s concept of “the banality of evil” correctly. I retweeted her with some snide commentary.

To my surprise, Clinton didn’t appreciate my commentary.

No, let me rephrase that.

To my surprise, Chelsea Clinton—author of a best-selling book; vice chair of a powerful global foundation; former special correspondent for NBC; possible congressional candidate, with a net worth of $15 million; daughter of the former president of the United States; daughter of the former Secretary of State and almost-president of the United States—read my tweet.

To my even greater surprise, Chelsea Clinton had an opinion about my tweet.

And to my even greater greater surprise, Chelsea Clinton responded to my tweet.

How do you respond to Chelsea Clinton? On Twitter? About Hannah Arendt?

I thought about that a bit.

And then it hit me: The way you respond to any mistaken comment on Twitter about Hannah Arendt.

So I re-read the article, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything the first time around, and tweeted my reply.

Now I need to make a detour and explain something about Eichmann in Jerusalem.

One of the key questions Arendt takes up in that book is: What motivated Eichmann to help organize the mass murder of the Jews?

Was he crazy?

No, says Arendt.

Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as “normal”—”More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him,” one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that his whole psychological outlook, his attitude toward his wife and children, mother and father, brothers, sisters, and friends, was “not only normal but most desirable”…Behind the comedy of the soul experts lay the hard fact that his was obviously no case of moral let alone legal insanity.

Did Eichmann personally hate the Jews?

No, says Arendt.

His was obviously no case of insane hatred of Jews, of fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind. He “personally” never had anything whatever against Jews; on the contrary, he had plenty of “private reasons” for not being a Jew hater.

This, as virtually every reader of Arendt knows, was one of her more controversial moves, and it has plagued her and discussion of her book ever since. But regardless of one’s position on Arendt’s argument, it’s a relatively well known fact—certainly well known to anyone who’s read the book—that one of the central postulates of the book is that Eichmann’s crimes cannot be explained by his personal animus to the Jews.

According to the original Washington Post piece that Clinton was referencing, the Phoenix arsonist had once used the services of the LGBT youth center. From 2013 to 2016, when, the article reports, he turned 25 and “aged out.” So why did the arsonist do it? The article doesn’t reach any conclusions, but it strongly suggests that the man is mentally unstable and in desperate need of some kind of psychiatric care.

“This news hurts,” executive director Linda Elliott said in a news conference Wednesday. “Obviously this young man has issues and needs help.”

…The center staff last made contact with him about two months ago. He apparently also sought services at other organizations in the Valley.

A number of the young people who come to One-n-Ten struggle with mental illness and behavioral health problems.

Virtually nothing in the story is suggestive of the banality of evil. Not the arsonist’s motives. Nor his deeds: one of the major issues of contention in and around the Eichmann trial as well as Eichmann in Jerusalem was that this was a man who had sent millions of people to their death, without ever (or hardly ever; I’d have to re-read the whole book to say for sure), lifting a hand against them. Eichmann’s crimes were not ones of personal or direct violence; they were of a completely different order.

So that’s why, to get back to my exchange with Clinton, I tweeted that I had read the article but still wondered why she thought it held up her claim regarding the banality of evil.

Hours went by. I didn’t hear back from her, which is exactly what I would have expected.

I mean, if I were Clinton, I wouldn’t be wasting my time with me.

But I’m not Clinton, so I did waste my time with me. I tweeted out a few other comments about the strangeness of this exchange (one of which I’ll come to below).

Then, on Friday night—Friday night!—Clinton came back to the conversation.

With this:

Remember, Clinton had opened this exchange with the assertion that she wasn’t responding to the headline of the article but to something in the article itself, not conveyed in the headline. Now she was claiming the opposite: she was responding to the headline.

I replied.

I also thought about tweeting that nothing in Eichmann in Jerusalem suggests that Arendt believes Eichmann was casual about his crimes. In fact, as Arendt goes to great lengths to show, he was extraordinarily meticulous and conscientious about his crimes, demonstrating great initiative and care in their execution. He took his “duty” to organize the mass murder of Jewish men, women, and children very seriously.

But I figured, eh, it’s Friday night, let it go.

Also, I figured we were done.

We weren’t.

Remember, earlier in the day, while Clinton was off doing more important things than arguing with me—On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt—I had been tweeting random thoughts about how surreal, almost lunarly surreal, this whole exchange was.

This was one of my tweets:

Kinda lame, I know, but I was kinda flabbergasted—I’d say gobsmacked, but that word annoys me—by the fact that I was arguing with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt.

Anyway, on Friday night, Chelsea Clinton returned to that tweet. With this response:

That article she’s referencing is this one. Someone on Twitter had pointed her to it.

But that reference to the desensitization to violence in Eichmann in Jerusalem: What was she talking about?

In Eichmann, Arendt had argued almost the opposite.

When Eichmann learned of the planned extermination of the Jews, Arendt says that he was shocked. He proceeded to cope with that knowledge, and the role he was to play in the Holocaust, not by desensitizing  himself to violence but by wrapping his actions and deeds in all manner of “language rules”—euphemisms, jargon, and the like—that prevented him from knowing not what it was that he was physically, actually doing (that, he always knew: organizing the mass murder of the Jews) but the moral significance of what he was doing.

And even then, as Arendt goes on to point out in excruciating detail, when he was brought face to face with the actuality of violence, when the facts broke through that scrim of words that was built to disguise the meaning of those facts, Eichmann couldn’t take it.

The system [of language rules], however, was not a foolproof shield against reality, as Eichmann was soon to find out….

Shortly after this, in the autumn of the same year, he was sent by his direct superior Müller to inspect the killing center in the Western Regions of Poland that had been incorporated into the Reich, called the Warthegau. The death camp was at Kulm (or, in Polish, Chelmno), where, in 1944, over three hundred thousands Jews from all over Europe, who had first been “resettled” in the Lódz ghetto, were killed. Here things were already in full swing, but the method was different; instead of gas chambers, mobile gas vans were used. This is what Eichmann saw: The Jews were in a large room; they were told to strip; then a truck arrived, stopping directly before the entrance to the room, and the naked Jews were told to enter it. The doors were closed and the truck started off. “I cannot tell [how many Jews entered], I hardly looked. I could not; I could not; I had had enough. The shrieking, and…I was much too upset, and so on…I then drove along after the van, and then I saw the most horrible sight I had thus far seen in my life. The truck was making for an open ditch, the doors were opened, and the corpses were thrown out, as though they were still alive, so smooth were their limbs. They were hurled into the ditch, and I can still see a civilian extracting the teeth with tooth pliers. And then I was off—jumped into my car and did not open my mouth any more.

Page after page, Arendt narrates incidents and encounters like these. And nowhere does she question Eichmann’s veracity in telling of these encounters. (Though she does seem to question or mock his legal strategy: as if he could slip out of the hangman’s noose by showing that despite being a self-confessed mass murderer, he somehow didn’t enjoy the work.)

Desensitization to violence, in other words, was not one of Eichmann’s problems, at least as Arendt saw it.

I pointed some of these passages out to Clinton.

And that, mercifully, was the end of it.

Except for this guy.

Who is Jordan Horowitz, you may ask?

He’s this guy.




Remember the Academy Awards this year, when at first it seemed that La La Land had won, then it turned out that Moonlight won? That guy in the video, announcing this sudden plot twist at the Oscars, was Jordan Horowitz, co-producer of La La Land.

And that’s Jordan Horowitz protecting Chelsea Clinton—author of a best-selling book; vice chair of a powerful global foundation; former special correspondent to NBC; possible congressional candidate, with a net worth of $15 million; daughter of the former president of the United States; daughter of the former Secretary of State and almost-president of the United States—from me.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because I still can’t go over the fact that yesterday, I got into an argument with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt.

We have in this country a really weird ruling class.

Update (4:20)

Originally, I had a different conclusion, based on a series of tweets that I thought were Clinton’s but turned out to be a parody account (thanks to the good people of Twitter who pointed that out to me and saved me from even more embarrassment!) Ordinarily, when I make a mistake or error on this blog, I simply strike through the mistake. In order not to hide the error or pretend that I didn’t make it. I would have done that in this case, but since 3/4 of what I had were tweets from that parody account, and you can’t do strike-through’s with tweets, I’ve simply deleted the whole thing. Sorry for the confusion.

Update (5:55)

People seem to be confused by my update. Let me try this again. In the original post, there were a few (as in three) tweets at the VERY END of the post that turned out to be from a parody account. You can see what those posts were in the links that I provide in my update at 4:20. All the other tweets from Clinton which I respond to in this blog—i.e., EVERY TWEET YOU’VE JUST BEEN READING ABOVE, BEFORE THE UPDATE—is a real tweet from Clinton. In other words, I did have an exchange with Clinton, which you’ve just read here.


  1. s.wallerstein July 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm | #

    Very few people actually read books like Eichmann in Jerusalem, even if they go to Stanford.
    In fact, very few people actually read difficult books like the ones you read and write about and even write yourself. Yes, I know that Eichmann in Jerusalem is not Arendt’s most difficult book, that, say, the Life of the Mind and the Human Condition, are tougher going, but still, for most people, even people with pseudo-intellectual pretensions like Chelsea C., Eichmann in Jerusalem is a book that is beyond them, basically because reading it takes some intellectual effort and most people make zero intellectual effort.

    Now I imagine that Chelsea Clinton lives in a world where everyone says that they’ve read Eichmann in Jerusalem and no one has actually read it. So meeting someone who has actually read the books that they say that they’ve read must have been a weird experience for her.

    Simple exercise: think of what phonies and liars her parents are. It would be very strange if she grew up to be a frank, authentic and honest human being.

    • Dan July 29, 2017 at 5:23 pm | #

      I read Arendt in college because I was reading Voegelin on Plato and Totalitarianism, partly for a classical political philosophy class and partly because (unknown to me at the time) I was being influenced by proto-alt-right paleoconservatives to read stuff like Voegelin. (He’s great in many respects and maybe their least worst idol, but it depends what and how you read — and like all conservative sources, has a reactionary core that can really work on adolescent male minds if they’re not aware of the problem.)

      The upshot is Arendt was a gateway to a lot of other people and the New York Intellectuals. Cured a lot of banalities.

      Glad to see Clinton conceded defeat in her own banal way.

      • tacitusxiv July 30, 2017 at 11:15 pm | #

        Erich Voegelin was immensely portentous in all his pronouncements about the modern world.

        Peter Sloterdijk gets called a “right-winger” but he is also enough of a child of 1968 to be far preferable.

        There is a passage in “Neither Sun nor Death” – a collection of long conversational interviews with Sloterdijk – where Sloterdijk mocks both Nazism and those Voegelin who grant Nazism a wholly undeserved magnificence.

        Voegelin is one those people who describe Nazism in high religious terms. It wasn’t. It was vulgar and philistine.

        The whole discussion that Peter Sloterdijk has with Han-Jurgen Heinrichs on Germany’s Nazi past is well worth reading. The contemporary trend in Germany seems to be to puncture the Wagnerian phantasmagoric monstrosity picture of Nazism and to bring in back to horrid human thing that it was.

        The specific mentions of Voegelin occur on page 67-68 of the MIT translation of “Neither Sun Nor Death”

        Elsewhere in “Foams: Spheres Volume III: Plural Spherology” Sloterdijk writes about “the nihilistic pathos that involuntarily accompanied a reflection disappointed by the monological metaphysics during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”

        (a fuller quote of the passage in which the above occurs can be found here: )

        Which is a brilliant description of a great many people, Erich Voegelin amongst them

  2. louisproyect July 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm | #

    I am only left with the conclusion that Twitter is a waste of time when it comes to serious debate or discussion, and FB less so. It is a shame that listserv’s have become superseded–except for Marxmail.

    • JohnnyGL July 30, 2017 at 10:42 am | #

      As someone who’s visited and enjoyed your blog, I respectfully disagree. Many ordinary people instinctively assume that members of our ruling class are on a very high level, intellectually, and that they are careful with their words.

      I see this less as an academic argument about some texts that college sophomores often read and more about an ’emperor has no clothes’ kind of moment where those college sophomores can have a look for themselves and say, “Wow, I understand this stuff better than Chelsea Clinton and I couldn’t even get an A in this class. And, additionally, a super-famous Hollywood film director volunteered himself, needlessly, as an attack dog to defend the intellectual bankruptcy of a member of the privileged class”

      Without twitter, this wouldn’t have been exposed and these glimpses of honesty wouldn’t be plain for all to see. Moments like this chip away at the fraud that we live in a kind of meritocracy, ruled by the best and brightest among us.

  3. Simona July 29, 2017 at 4:49 pm | #

    I taught Eichmann in Jerusalem in prison two days ago. Students got it.

  4. Mike Sabbeth July 29, 2017 at 5:03 pm | #

    For whatever it’s worth, I had the same problem with ‘gobsmacked’ yesterday. Couldn’t stomach it. Changed it to ‘floored’ before sending the email. Belly laughed when I read that part.

    Additionally, the Horowitz bit somehow strikes me as the most fucked up part of this story.

    Anyway, glad we have people out there to flash their Ivy League credentials so that plebs of academia such as myself know to keep our mouths shut. I’ll put down my newspaper now and get back to watching TMZ. All apologies.

  5. Chris Morlock July 29, 2017 at 5:04 pm | #

    I would have pointed out that “the banality of evil” would best be applied to Clintonian politics, for instance. Our ruling neo-liberal class doesn’t hate the working class, they just destroy it because it means power and money, moving up the ladder………….

    • David Egan July 31, 2017 at 3:44 pm | #

      … brilliant rejoinder rounding out the whole discussion: its her influences, not the soundbites that make her a pseudo-politician, like her mother.Those mis-phrasings are the musings of a dilettante.

  6. Robert Kircher July 29, 2017 at 5:06 pm | #

    the ruling class pastime with tweet seems for the most part an indication of self-righteous arrogance, not fact but a brand assurance of sorts that someone, anyone is paying attention. Hannah wouldn’t approve as so little understanding of anything is to be gained. It all seems a form of easily played out self-obsession.

  7. freetofu (@freetofu) July 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm | #

    I sort of feel sympathy for her in this case. I mean, yeah, she was born rich, went to expensive universities that she probably wouldn’t have been able to get into other wise. And I myself once tweeted at her to please please stay the hell out of politics.

    But she’s also someone who, since she was a young girl, has often been on the receiving end of pretty vicious personal attacks in the mass media by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk simply because of who her parents are. So, yeah, she makes kind of a dumb little tweet, as most of us do occasionally, and along comes an academic using what most people would consider a fairly pedantic point in order to ridicule her education, and she lamely tries to defend herself… well, your main response is twitter is weird and the overclass is weird, and mine is that I kind of sympathize with her…. well, different strokes

    • David Egan July 29, 2017 at 5:59 pm | #

      sympathetic and lovely thought…but, let’s not emboldened her to lead us , as president, into The Clinton Wars.
      As an aside: $95,000.00 per speech? Who would listen to such tripe as she splays? Clintons are over in Washington.
      Their new-found money will only prop themselves up against an unforgiving history.

    • iowan2 July 31, 2017 at 7:57 am | #

      Viciously attacked? I don’t think you you follow the circumstances. People forget that almost all of those “attacks” , are in response to her, injecting herself into the public arena, propelled only by her self declared celebrity.

      Much the same as President Trump. who ever is gets a response, is not in response to those people carrying on their day to day activities. It is is direct response to ‘choosing’ to inject themselves into something they have no personal ‘skin in the game’ Go back to President Trumps media hyped battles. Rosie ODonnell? She starts throwing feces, Spouting insanely stupid opinions, with personal ad hominem attacks. You mention Rush attacking Clinton’s daughter. not until she spouts of some inanity.
      So, these peoples are not victims, They are provocateurs, thinking their celebrity is enough Armor to protect them from a full on assault on their stupid opinions.

  8. jonnybutter July 29, 2017 at 5:49 pm | #

    I sort of feel sympathy for her in this case

    In THIS case? You don’t offer much support for that. Like you, I feel sympathy for her having grown up in a fishbowl, and all the ugly attacks, the humiliation re: her father, her mother, and the rest of it.

    But in this case? Why did she respond at all? Why did she double down? Why did she change her story? It *is* weird.

  9. freetofu (@freetofu) July 29, 2017 at 5:51 pm | #

    Fine, scratch “in this case.” Whatever.

    • freetofu (@freetofu) July 29, 2017 at 5:53 pm | #

      I dunno, I just thought all that might have as much to do with her response as does being a member of the overclass. I can’t read her mind though.

      • jonnybutter July 29, 2017 at 6:12 pm | #

        I remember the Neera Tanden Twitter ‘incident’ – which was somewhat similar, although more weird, IMO. If you didn’t go back and read: Tanden denied, repeatedly, doing something she is ON VIDEOTAPE doing. She said it didn’t happen, then said she wasn’t there, then changed the story again. CR watched the unedited video, and there it was. So, why did she engage him at all? But then having done so, why deny what’s easily provable?

        Why deny? Why bullshit your way through? If an academic like CR were to tell me on Twitter that I’m wrong about something in his area of specialization weather I responded or not, I think I’d at least check – wouldn’t you?

        • Jonnybutter July 29, 2017 at 7:50 pm | #

          Just to be clear, I wouldn’t jump on her case just for making a common mistake. But why not make it a “teachable moment”, a good natured “WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?”? That kind of simple, normal grace would raise her stock and everybody would learn something.

          I’m sure it’s tough to be her in some ways, but ?? It *is* weird. A combination of combativeness and lassitude?

          • freetofu (@freetofu) July 29, 2017 at 11:29 pm | #

            I really don’t disagree with any of that or to David Egan’s response. I guess I just have an immediate empathy for people getting publicly ridiculed for saying dumb-but-harmless stuff on twitter, based on my own experiences. But it’s no big deal.

            Of course if she goes against her public statements and runs for office then it should be no holds barred.

  10. xenon2 July 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm | #

    A book? It was published in The New Yorker.
    I remember reading it. Is there more?

    twitter is matter of whom you follow. I don’t follow @ChelseaClinton
    twitter can be idiotic skirmish or one important component of the internet.

    I don’t have Facebook account, which will tell you something about the choices
    I’ve made.

  11. Tom DUmm July 29, 2017 at 7:52 pm | #

    I was going to point out that Eichmann in Jerusalem originally was published as a series of articles, with Arendt but the prior respondent beat me to it. (Never before, to my knowledge, but Corey would know better than I, had Arndt ever served straightforwardly as a reporter.)

    I sometimes marvel at what seems to be a shift toward idiocracy in the decades since.

    The difficulty I have with this exchange is less with the Clinton/Robins “debate” per se, than that it feels to me — though I have good authorities who tell me I need to attend better to Twitter — as though this level of debate is succumbing to the trend toward idiocracy always present in our culture but intensified with Trump in the WH.

    Chelsea Clinton is a celebrity. She was hired as an assistant provost, if I recall, at NYU while she was still a graduate student. This wasn’t because of her dazzling record, it was a result of the obvious influence of her parents. Her intellectual prowess, for better or worse, has nothing to do with her influence or positional power. (A Columbia professor named C. Wright Mills caught the essence of this sixty years ago in his classic The Power Elite). She will probably (I initially wrote undoubtedly, but ???) be more cautious in future tweets. But unless and until she runs for office, why does this matter (other than that a lot of us are fans of Corey’s blog)?

  12. Tom DUmm July 29, 2017 at 7:54 pm | #

    Sorry for the typos. Like Trump’s son-in-law, I hit “send” prematurely.

    • xenon2 July 29, 2017 at 9:31 pm | #

      Typo’s OK, but you really need to pay attention to twitter—every journo, every academic is there. can you think of a name? while we have it! some serious stuff, plus an occasional fun-bit. start doing it now? it’s not too complicated.

      • Propertius July 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm | #

        This merely serves to reinforce my own personal view of Twitter: if your deepest political or philosophical insights can be expressed in 140 characters or less, you should probably do the world a favor and keep them to yourself.

        • Sigdrifr (@Sigdrifr) August 1, 2017 at 9:11 pm | #

          I’m sure Nietzsche would have been killer on Twitter.
          Less snarkily, it took me a while to get Twitter.
          Twitter is a window on breaking news, what reporters and their publications are up to and what the celebrity, academic and elite classes are chattering about.
          With commentary by anyone who bothers to sign up, some brilliant, most banal.
          You don’t even need to Tweet yourself, just follow who interests you and treat it as a custom news feed.

  13. Thomas Rossetti July 29, 2017 at 8:16 pm | #

    Gaetano Mosca lives! Doesn’t he deserve at least a citing for the use, or is it abuse, of his term? Sadly overlooked political theorist and historian of political thought. In Hanna Kahn’s translation, Mosca is a marvelous prose stylist. I know there have been many writers go on about the Ruling Class. But as an analytical term it is Mosca who developed it as a conceptual tool. Mosca was a believer in the juridical defense, a liberal who was anything but neo.

  14. Benjamin Blanchard July 30, 2017 at 12:06 am | #

    So, does anyone remember Clinton’s original tweet? Clinton shares an article about a person who lit an LGBT youth center on fire and condemns it as evil, and Corey Robin decides to waltz in to criticize… the inaccurate use of a phrase?

    • Benjamin Blanchard July 30, 2017 at 7:23 am | #

      Upon more fully reading the article in the original tweet, I see that my initial understanding of the case (and likely Clinton’s!) was in error – so, I retract this comment!

  15. Roquentin July 30, 2017 at 11:48 am | #

    I read Eichmann in Jerusalem almost solely because of your blog. True story.

    There’s that saying that the “cover up is worse than the crime,” and what I mean by that here is that it’s odd that Chelsea Clinton didn’t simply say, “I was using the phrase loosely. I apologize for it not being closer to the spirit and the theme of Arendt’s original book.” That would have ended the argument rather quickly, take your lumps and move on with life. We’ve all been there. Lord knows I have. Where things really take a turn for the weird is when she starts insisting that she wasn’t actually wrong about it. It takes on the flavor of Freud’s borrowed kettle: it was in good condition when she returned it, it was damaged when she borrowed it, in fact she never borrowed it at all.

    I’m sure this looks ridiculously pedantic to her and a lot of her followers. It probably never occurred to them that someone, anyone cares that much about the works of Arednt. But you do, obviously, and they were forced to reckon with the fact they quite simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

  16. pat July 30, 2017 at 12:26 pm | #

    A big problem in this country is the tyranny of inherited wealth and inherited (passed on) political aspirations that saddle us with people like Trumps, Clintons, Bushs, Cuomos etc etc. People like Jamie Dimon and lloyd Blankfein have children and grandchildren too and that is concerning. Its time to bring back the tax rates of the Eisenhower era and educate people as to why Inheritance taxes and bankruptcy laws exist in the first place.

  17. Caladanbrood (@TacitusXIV) July 30, 2017 at 12:28 pm | #

    Thank you for the link to Jordan Horowitz’s tweet. (“Haven’t read Arendt. But I just *know* Chelsea has to the one that’s correct ‘cos, you know, power, glamour, brand-name recognition and all that”)

    I had a nice time tweeting a couple of replies to him.

    I do rather wish that Zizek was more economical with the word “Leninist”.

    But if the self-stroking Jordan Horowitz cares to read about his film then we can all pray for the miracle his forthcoming enlightenment

    All the Chelsea groupies could benefit from this:

    • THANK YOU!!!

      Your humble servant is a documentarian and is GRATEFUL for this intervention.

      The Zizek is now a permanent presence in my home iMac’s bookmarks! I will dive right in regularly!!!! I’d send a thank-you e-card but I don’t think blogs work that way.

      (*ahem* — Can I say “bookMarx”?)

      • Caladanbrood (@TacitusXIV) August 1, 2017 at 2:55 am | #

        You may also be interested in:

        Actually, I’m somewhat uneasy at the fact of Zizek’s fame.

        I would much prefer that Immanuel Wallerstein and his school of World-Systems Analysis had the same name and brand recognition.

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 1, 2017 at 10:18 am | #

          My thanks to you, too!! I am going to bookmark those philo links on my mac as well.

          I am ok with Z’s fame; what is worth noting is that fame and familiarity are two separate things. What often happens is that fame acts as a stand-in for familiarity or understanding. We both know that ain’t Zizek’s fault.

          I am lucky enough to be close friends with a retired philosophy professor living Astoria who can decode Z for me over lunch on Sundays. I don’t pretend to “get” something when I clearly don’t; if your bud’s a philo prof who you have on speed-dial, you have no excuse. You certainly have none if you are a millionaire daughter, educated in an elite institution, of a millionaire family who enjoys an elevated status in a stratified society — and you can still call your (probably) still-working prof on the phone to get the lowdown on a famous author you (were likely to) read in that prof’s class and would like to reference in public.

          Separate from C. Clinton’s/J. Horowitz’s Neera Tanden-esque response to Corey, the more accessible lesson from his interaction with C. Clinton is that a writer’s fame (Arendt’s, say) becomes an instrumentality for some who pretend at understanding what that writer wrote, but then makes the error of exposing such pretense in public. You risk that someone who TEACHES that author’s work may call you out on it. Status will offer no protection (at least it should not, ideally).

          For those of us who try to be engaged, it is our obligation that we be smarter than an author’s fame, be it Zizek’s or Arendt’s.

  18. geoffreyskoll July 30, 2017 at 12:34 pm | #

    I don’t suppose it occurred to Chelsea Clinton That Hannah Arendt was writing about people like her.

  19. Daniel Kleitman July 30, 2017 at 2:41 pm | #

    What struck me was Ms. Clinton’s assumption that the arsonist was evil. I interpreted that to her assumption that the arsonist was some evil right wing chap who hated LGBT types. In fact the arsonist was a pathetic apparently disgruntled and desperate client of this facility.
    I suppose you can call that evil, and it is certainly very sad.
    What it indicates to me that the place failed in dealing with the arsonist, and he acted on his disappointment with that failure.
    Dealing with emotionally unstable people is extraordinarily difficult, and I do not blame the staff of the center for the failure. But I think it would be much wiser for folks to concentrate on trying to discover what could have been done differently in helping him, than assuming that evil is involved.
    The man destroyed property. Many people, when very upset throw things around and rip things up. This case is closer to that kind of reaction than it is to evil. It is banal to call this evil.

  20. JRStern July 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm | #

    Eh. If I were going to discuss this event and this phrase I’d do it entirely differently, on the self-righteousness of the victims being put in the shoes of the Jews in WWII. Whatever Arendt may have meant by the phrase, after the fact, is less than clear, certainly it points most listeners in the wrong direction taken of context. Perhaps a more proper example of the banality of evil is taking seriously a tweet from Chelsea Clinton – both sides participating.

  21. DeeTee July 30, 2017 at 7:03 pm | #

    There’s a touch of “shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic” to this whole thread, debating the minutiae of Chelsea Clinton’s familiarity with this text. I’d be hard-pressed to remember texts–even texts that academics (or, more widely, public thinkers) consider iconic–that I read 15 (or 30) years ago as an undergraduate and never revisited. OK, perhaps she was foolish not to have researched the provenance of a half-remembered quotation she planned to commit to Twitter. But…

    I’m actually semi-impressed that Hannah Arendt was even within her frame of reference, misremembered or not. Of all of our recent presidents, the only ones I can imagine having even an inkling of the existence of Arendt (for whom we can substitute any number of iconic critics…Sontag, Zizek, Judith Butler, whoever) are Obama, Carter, Clinton, and maybe, maybe George H. W. Bush. Maybe. Never mind their kids having that knowledge… I’m not sure that this silly kerfuffle is evidence of her stupidity, or the “fact” that her wealth and influential parents got her into colleges she otherwise couldn’t have gotten into. Love or hate her parents, both are highly intelligent and seemingly well-read people. Chelsea strikes me as a fairly serious person. I taught at an Ivy League university for 10 years, and trust me…the overwhelming majority of my students, seniors included, would have had no clue who Hannah Arendt was.

    Meanwhile, in the current White House, we have a guy who’d be wondering where and when he’d f-cked that Hannah chick, in between his musings on when historians will get around to asking, “Did slavery have anything to do with the Civil War?”

    • tacitusxiv July 30, 2017 at 10:54 pm | #

      If you look at Chelsea Clinton’s educational background, she would most certainly have studied Arendt at one point or other

      And all of the names that you mention are regularly referred to in “high-brow” magazines of current affairs that she would read. Especially the American ones sympathetic to the Democrats.

      The Nation; Common Dreams; The New Yorker; etc.

      As well as in more specialist and expert literature.

      The problem is that when certain names get bandied around, when certain names reach the stage of having been written well over a billion or even more times in a great many places and by a great many people for many reasons, then these names become vulgarized and the reality of what they said and meant becomes all but destroyed.

      Think of name “Jesus Christ”, for example

    • mockmook July 30, 2017 at 10:59 pm | #

      Of course you are more impressed with what people have read than what they actually do with their thoughts and especially their deeds

    • SD Harms July 31, 2017 at 6:19 am | #

      Good grief! You assume or are fooled into thinking all those Dems are well-read and philosophical? They all read Cliffs Notes. Including CC.

    • pdquick July 31, 2017 at 12:32 pm | #

      I think that pretty well sums up the whole issue. Done.

      Now I realize that my education was deficient in Hannah Arendt. Time to engage some more of that life-long learning. Thanks.

  22. wat stearns July 30, 2017 at 9:33 pm | #

    Kinda seems to me there was a semantic difference as to what constitutes ‘desensitization’, and that there was actually less to argue about than there appeared to be.

  23. CarolAnne July 30, 2017 at 10:53 pm | #

    My question is why are you so impressed that Chelsea Clinton was tweeting you? She is as big a non entity as exists in public life. She doesn’t have a real job, after all. Lot’s of time on her hands.

  24. Elizabeth July 31, 2017 at 2:06 am | #

    I hate Twitter, but I like you and I even like Chelsea. But I especially like that you called her out on this. I think it is important to correct people, any people, but especially celebrity/watched people when they make such a gross mistake of understanding. You might not have been so crass about the call out, but it is a famous quote and she so clearly misunderstood it and misrepresented Arendt’s main idea. Bravo for standing up for clarity.

  25. hinckleybuzzard July 31, 2017 at 9:23 am | #

    The whole kerfuffle simply illustrates that there are some who read a text. And some who understand what they read.

  26. Immolate July 31, 2017 at 11:02 am | #

    Not having had the benefit of a classical education at an Ivy League institution, I’d neither read nor heard of Arendt. I was able to grasp the meaning of the term through context, after hearing it used a couple of times.

    It’s embarrassing to have your ignorance exposed, and called out, especially when you’re somebody. Clinton’s response to your holding her feet to the fire is far more interesting than her error.

  27. JCBeer July 31, 2017 at 2:30 pm | #

    An amusing exchange.
    I don’t think its healthy for anyone (herself included) to put Chelsea Clinton on such a pedestal.

  28. Harold Brackman July 31, 2017 at 2:49 pm | #

    Several comments here speculatively touch on Hannah Arendt’s love life. She had an affair with her teacher, the fascist fellow traveler Heidegger, One hopes she would not have slept with DJT, but who knows? That would be a case of the banality of sex–but certainly NOT of the urbanity of evil!

  29. BrittanyG July 31, 2017 at 3:29 pm | #

    Here’s the thing: Dr. Robin, you are 100% correct in your portrayal of Arendt’s thought in Eichmann, and it is quite clear that C. Clinton either misunderstood Arendt entirely or misapplied Arendt’s thought in this case. However, I don’t think that your manner of addressing this situation helped anyone – Clinton or any followers – gain a better understanding of Arendt.

    You started off combatively, belittling her comment and her education, when you thought there was little chance of her reading it. Then, when she responded, and you had her ear and that of her vast number of Twitter followers, what did you do? Taunt her, pointing out flaws in the manner she engaged with you (oh, it was the headline after all) rather than delve into the heart of the disagreement. You even say here that you considered following up on that combative tweet with one that meaningfully addressed the matter but decided not to because it was a Friday night.

    This could have been a teachable moment. You could have used this opportunity to explain Arendt’s thought and how it did not apply to the original article (as you did here), giving both Clinton and her followers better insight into an idea that is far too applicable to modern times. It would have been simple enough to condense the thesis here into 1-2 tweets. Instead, you took the opportunity to make her look small. What does that achieve?

    • Caladanbrood (@TacitusXIV) August 1, 2017 at 12:10 am | #

      >>>”What does that achieve?”

      The force which is greater and which extends beyond the two interlocutors involved here is the ancient confrontation between the people and their power elites.

      And if the result is a half-victory then is a far greater victory than those battles wherein billions of people throughout were defeated and died.

      And hence Dr Corey Robin achieved a reminder to Ms Clinton that “communists like us” – to coin a phrase – know full well that though of the power elite she is a carbon-based life form like all others on Earth.

      This essay has be doing the rounds (and was posted in the twitter exchange discussed here by yours truly):

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 2, 2017 at 10:02 am | #

      And how do you explain to a representative of our “betters” that her understanding of a famous passage is a misunderstanding without her taking umbrage or without seeming “combative” — or without her followers taking sympathetic offense (example evidenced by Jordan Horowitz)?

Leave a Reply