Mike Vickers' Blog

March 24, 2019

Hannah Arendt – Thinking without a Bannister

Filed under: Europe, Hannah Arendt, Journalism, Politics, Writing — derryvickers @ 9:05 pm

Hannah Arendt Post Truth pioneer – Thinking without a Bannister

New Statesman 22-28 March 2010 by Lyndsey Stonebridge


The Article starts with:

“It is true that Arendt loved the public space of politics for the robust clarity it gave to the business of living together. It is also true that she argued for a political republic based on common interest. These are both reasons why we should be reading her today. But her commitment to plurality is not an invitation to nationalism. Arendt wanted politics dragged into the light so that we might see each other for what we are. But that didn’t mean we had to accept what was evidently ruinous to politics itself, merely that we had to acknowledge that what we find most repellent actually exists – and then resist it.

And if there is one thing we have learned over the past two years it is that our political reality is not what we thought it was and still less what we would like it to be. Because the times she lived in were also dark, violent and unpredictable, and because she was smart, diligent and hardworking, Arendt was good at thinking quickly and accurately about the politically and morally unprecedented. She distrusted easy analogies, thought historical precedents were a poor way of grasping the unexpected, and practised instead what she called “thinking without a bannister””


A couple more quotes from the Article:

“Even before the full horror of the death camps became clear, Arendt had spotted that the world “found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human”. It still doesn’t.

This wasn’t just because people had become unempathetic and nasty due to mass propaganda, but was also a consequence of the organisation of the world into nation states. When a person is driven away from one country, she argued, he is expelled from all countries, “which means he is actually expelled from humanity”.”

“It happened again to the Palestinians in 1948. On Israel, Arendt was troubled but again clear-sighted. Like “virtually all other events of the 20th century,” she wrote, “the solution of the Jewish question merely produced a new category of refugees, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of stateless and rightless by another 700,000 to 800,000 people.””

“The AfD is not wrong to say that power becomes dangerous at the point where there seems to be no public accountability any more. But it is precisely at such moments, Arendt teaches, that we most need to think politically, to resist populism: “When everybody is swept away unthinkingly by what everybody else does and believes in, those who think are drawn out of hiding because… [thinking] becomes a kind of action.””

And the article finishes with

“We cannot guess what she would think of our politics now, and she wouldn’t have respected us for trying. Think for yourself, she would have said. But Arendt left us with an important message: expect and prepare for the worst, but think and act for something better. The impossible is always possible.”

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