Tag: Hannah Arendt

How eerie and unsettling it can be when people change their minds: From Thomas Mann to today

In the wake of the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a number of people have been commenting, complaining, celebrating, noticing how quickly mainstream liberal opinion—in the media, on social media, among politicians, activists, and citizens—has been moving toward Sanders-style positions. And without acknowledging it. Positions, policies, and politics that two years ago were deemed beyond the pale are now being not only welcomed but also embraced as if the person doing the embracing always believed what he or she is now saying. This, as you can imagine, causes some on the left no end of consternation. For some legitimate reasons. You want people to acknowledge their shift, to explain, to articulate, to narrate, perhaps to inspire others in the process. And […]

Noah and Shoah: Purification by Violence from the Flood to the Final Solution

In shul this morning, I was musing on this passage from Genesis 8:21, which was in the parsha, or Torah portion, we read for the week: …the Lord said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.” This statement comes just after the Flood has ended. God commands Noah to leave the ark, to take all the animals with him. Noah does that and then makes an offering to God. God is pleased by the offering, and suddenly—out of nowhere—makes this resolution: I won’t do this again. I won’t drown the world, destroy its […]

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. The banality of evil: https://t.co/BbhxhmGl0q — Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) July 28, 2017 I didn’t think Clinton was using Arendt’s concept of “the banality of evil” correctly. I retweeted her with some snide commentary. This is what happens when you know something as a cliche or slogan rather than as an idea. Totally the opposite of what Arendt meant. https://t.co/Rh8jT7jlct — corey robin (@CoreyRobin) July […]

Share the Earth

Donald Trump thinks it’s appropriate to leave out any mention of the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day. So what happens when we remove any mention of the Jews from Hannah Arendt’s final statement in Eichmann in Jerusalem? And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with…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. We get an apt description of Donald Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and refugees—and of our revulsion for it, and for him.

Bowling in Bratislava: Remembrance, Rosh Hashanah, Eichmann, and Arendt

In synagogue over the last two days of Rosh Hashanah, I was struck by a passage that I never really noticed in previous years. It’s from Zikhronot, the prayers or verses of remembrance in the Musaf Amidah that we recite on the holiday: You remember the deeds of the world and You are mindful of Your creatures since the beginning of time. Before You stands revealed all that is hidden, and every mystery from the moment of creation. Nothing is forgotten in Your awe-inspiring presence, nothing concealed from Your gaze; You remember every deed, and nothing in creation can be hidden from You. Everything is revealed and known to You, Adonai our God; You see to the end of time. It is You who established a […]

When Advertising is Action: Clarence Thomas Channels Hannah Arendt and Friedrich von Hayek

In Lorillard Tobacco Company v. Reilly, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts ban on tobacco advertising on First Amendment grounds. In his concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas writes: The State misunderstand the purpose of advertising. Promoting a product that is not yet pervasively used (or a cause that is not yet widely supported) is a primary purpose of advertising. Tobacco advertisements would be no more misleading for suggesting pervasive use of tobacco products than are any other advertisements that attempt to expand a market for a product, or to rally support for a political movement. Any inference from the advertisements that business would like for tobacco use to be pervasive is entirely reasonable, and advertising that gives rise to that inference […]

Upcoming Talks on Hannah Arendt and Clarence Thomas

I remember reading once, somewhere, that when Amos Oz was a child, it took his neurotic parents six months to prepare for a trip to the pharmacy, so taxed were they by the idea of an outing. I feel like I’ve become those parents. Even so, I seem to be taking three trips in the coming ten days to give three talks. If you’re around at any of these places, stop by and say hello. On Friday, April 8, at 3:30 pm, I’ll be delivering the Somers Lecture at Georgia State University. The topic is “White State, Black Market: What Clarence Thomas Sees in Capitalism.” Location is 25 Park Place, Room 2150, in Atlanta. On Tuesday, April 12, at 12:15, […]

Trump Talk

1. At last night’s debate, Trump said of Rubio, “And he referred to my hands—if they are small, something else must be small—I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.” Lest you think we’re tumbling down a new rabbit hole here, it’s important to remember that once upon a time, the king’s body and the body politic were one and the same. Trump’s reference is more pre-modern than post-modern. Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic book on the topic, The King’s Two Bodies, was subtitled “A Study in Medieval Political Theology.” In any event, I’d rather hear Trump’s opinions about his penis than his views on Muslims and Mexicans. 2. The rhetorical brutality of Trump is unprecedented. Never before have we seen a candidate so cruel.   […]

Trump and the Trumpettes: In Stereo

Everyone’s worried about Donald Trump. As they should be. They should also worry about his friends across the aisle. Division of Labor Monday, which saw Trump reveal his plan to stop all Muslims from coming into the United States, also announced this convergence between right and left. Newt Gingrich: Nine percent of Pakistanis agree with ISIS, according to one poll. That’s a huge number. We need to put all the burden of proof on people coming from those countries to show that they are not a danger to us. Michael Tomasky: It [Obama’s statement] says to Muslim Americans that the rights you have as Americans have to be earned, fought for. And you know, that’s OK…But I do know that if other Americans had some […]

When Henry Edited Hannah

In the early 1950s, Henry Kissinger edited the journal Confluence. Among the writers he published there was Hannah Arendt. Their editorial relationship was fraught. His edits were heavy; her resistance, strong. Here she responds to his attempted edits on August 14, 1953: I fear you will be disappointed to see from the galleys all sentences which you wrote were eliminated and quite a few of my own sentences re-instated….I realize that your editorial methods—re-writing to the point of writing your own sentences—are quite current….I happen to object to them on personal grounds and as a matter of principle. If we had given this matter a little more thought, you might have decided not to want this, or any of my manuscripts, which […]

Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth: Parallel Lives

In the second half of the twentieth century, a writer of uncommon gifts travels to Israel. There, the writer, who is Jewish and fiercely intellectual, attends the trial of a Nazi war criminal. When the trial’s over, the writer writes a book about it. No, it’s not Hannah Arendt. It’s Philip Roth. Arendt and Roth led oddly parallel lives. Both were denounced by the Jewish establishment—at roughly the same time, in remarkably similar terms—for pieces they had written for The New Yorker. Long before Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth antagonized the Jewish community with his short story, “Defender of the Faith,” which appeared in the magazine in 1959. Describing the controversy, Judith Thurman writes: It sparked a violent reaction in certain quarters of the Jewish establishment. Roth was vilified as a self-hating Jew and […]

Arendt, Israel, and Why Jews Have So Many Rules

For more than five decades, readers of Eichmann in Jerusalem have accused Hannah Arendt of being a self-hating Jew. In the current issue of The Nation, I turn that accusation on its head. Eichmann in Jerusalem, I argue, “is a Jewish text filled not only with a modernist sense of Jewish irony…but also with an implicit Decalogue, a Law and the Prophets, animating every moment of its critique.” The reaction against Eichmann in Jerusalem, on the other hand, often coming from Jews, “has something about it that, while not driven by Jew-haters or Jew-hatred, nevertheless draws deeply, if unwittingly, from that well.” What explains this reaction from Jews? Perhaps, I go onto write, it has something to do with the jump, within a relatively short period […]

What do Hannah Arendt and Mel Brooks Have in Common?

Mel Brooks, interview with Mike Wallace: How do you get even with Adolf Hitler? How do you get even with him? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule….If you can make people laugh at him, then you’re one up on him…One of my lifelong jobs has been to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler. Hannah Arendt, interview with Joachim Fest: In my opinion people shouldn’t adopt an emotional tone to talk about these things [the Eichmann trial], since that’s a way of playing them down….I also think you must be able to laugh, since that’s a form of sovereignty.

The Epic Bureaucrat

Hannah Arendt often seems to counterpoise the epic nature of political action, the glorious and distinctive deeds of ancient heroes, to the anonymous and impersonal processes of modern life. Where is the Achilles of bureaucracy, the Pericles of the corporation? Nowhere, she appears to say: we live in an age where everyone behaves, no one rules. Patchen Markell has an excellent article, “Anonymous Glory,” in the latest issue of the European Journal of Political Theory showing how subtly and carefully Arendt helps to undermine that distinction. The opposition she appears to draw between ancient action and modern behavior, between glorious deeds and impersonal processes, is not nearly as stark as we might imagine on a first—or second or third—read of her work. There’s actually a wonderfully illustrative moment […]

Thoughts on Violence

In my post yesterday on Irving Howe, I linked to an essay I wrote about ten years ago on language and violence. Several readers expressed an interest in the piece, so I’ve decided to repost some excerpts from it here; the full version is here. Though it came out in 2006, it speaks, from a distance, to some of the issues we’re currently wrestling with in France and elsewhere. * * * * * In 1965, George Steiner asked, “Is there any science-fiction pornography?” Mostly rhetorical, the question was a typically Steinerian prompt to a typically Steinerian rumination on the relationship between sex and language. With its ability to alter “the co-ordinates of space and time” to “set effect before cause,” science fiction would seem the natural […]

The Touchy Irving Howe

Last night, I was trying to find a comment I had remembered Irving Howe making about Hannah Arendt, and I found myself holed up, late into the night, with a volume of his criticism. I run into these sorts of detours a lot. I set out for a destination, and before you know it, it’s 2 am, and I’m miles away from where I need to be. I’ve read Howe’s criticism many times before, but I never noticed just how touchy he is about what he perceives to be the haughtiness of authors and critics. Howe is sensitive, perhaps too sensitive, to the power dynamics of fiction and criticism: how writers look down on the people they’re writing about or the readers they’re writing for, how they […]

In Defense of Taking Things Out of Context

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that the push to contextualize and historicize in the humanities and some of the social sciences has become a stumbling block to thought itself, to new ideas and original thinking. This is on my mind, I suppose, because next year, I’ll be giving the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Society for US Intellectual History; I’m thinking of titling it “Against Context, Against History” or perhaps just “In Defense of Taking Things Out of Context.” That needn’t be the case: ideally, historicism and contextualism should alienate us from a familiar past, should push us beyond conventional interpretations. They should force us to grasp the past in its pastness, and thereby render our present strange. […]

Saskia Sassen…Willem Sassen…Adolf Eichmann

Marc Parry has a poignant, almost haunting story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Saskia Sassen, the Columbia sociologist and urban theorist, whose father was Willem Sassen. If you’ve read Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem—or are a close reader of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem—you’ll know that Willem Sassen was a Dutch Nazi who joined up with the SS. More important, he was part of a circle of Nazis in postwar Argentina, where he led a series of interviews with Adolf Eichmann, in which Eichmann outs himself as a committed anti-Semite and firm believer in the Final Solution. The Sassen interviews have always been a part of the Eichmann/Arendt story, but they have become especially important in the last few […]

Dayenu in Reverse: The Passover Canon of Arendt’s Critics

One of the more recent criticisms I’ve read of Eichmann in Jerusalem—in Bettina Stangneth’s and Deborah Lipstadt’s books—is that far from seeing, or seeing through, Eichmann, Arendt was taken in by his performance on the witness stand. Eichamnn the liar, Eichmann the con man, got the better of Arendt the dupe. For the sake of his defense, the argument goes, Eichmann pretended to be a certain type of Nazi—not a Jew hater but a dutiful if luckless soldier, who wound up, almost by happenstance, shipping millions of Jews to their death. Arendt heard this defense, and though she never accepted the notion that Eichmann was an obedient soldier (she thought he was a great deal worse than that), she did […]

Adolph Eichmann: Funny Man?

One of the criticisms often made of Hannah Arendt’s account of the Eichmann trial was that she found Eichmann to be so unintentionally funny. Throughout Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt can barely contain her laughter at the inadvertent comedy of the man. Many at the time found this distasteful; since then, her ironic appreciation of Eichmann’s buffoonery has been a sign, to Arendt’s critics, of her haughty indifference to the suffering he inflicted. Yet, in reading about the trial, it’s quite clear that Arendt wasn’t the only one who found Eichmann funny. So did the courtroom, which periodically broke out into laughter at the accidental hilarity wafting down from the witness stand. As Deborah Lipstadt reports: This was not the only time […]