Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Arendt and silver linings

Hannah Arendt has only ever been a name in the academic constellation for me. As far as I know, I have never read any of her works. But in the past two weeks I have come across a couple of engaging ideas or passages of hers.

The most recent is from Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. From the left side of the spectrum, we have had several years of mob mentality in the name of Social Justice. From the Duke Lacrosse team to George Zimmerman to Ferguson we have had the digital and real life mob baying to suspend the laws of the land and convict people based on hatred rather than evidence and the law.

We also have some of our most respected institutions of higher learning demonstrating a repeated desire to suspend due process as well as suppress any speech that might be offensive to entrenched interests.

From the center (lifelong Democrat but now running as a Republican) we have such phenomena as Donald Trump who articulates little or no respect for the law of the land and the equality of all before the law.

I have no expectation that we will fall into a mob mentality. These are people at the fringes. None-the-less the fringes are impinging more than they usually do. Arendt saw this process herself in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Her words are disturbing for their resonance with some of the tides in public discourse today.
Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of the rise of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.
It seems to me that Trump and Sanders with their respective mobs are rising up against the institutional crony capitalism and political correctness of the Clintons and Bushes. "If you won't respect us by telling the truth and dealing in honest fashion, then we won't respect you and will follow the anti-establishment candidates." Not a desirable path to travel but if it is the self-correction needed to shock our political class out of their pampered complacency, then perhaps there is a silver lining.

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