Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hannah Arendt for Independence Day

I'm just home from watching the film Hannah Arendt and filled with desire to learn more about her. Before seeing the film, I had only some graduate school recollections of the term "the banality of evil" and the sense that I should find out more.

I intend to do just that, but in the meantime her Wikipedia entry will have to suffice. On Independence Day, I thought this quote from the section of her entry about her book On Revolution  (1963) was worth noting:
Regardless of all her praise for the successes of the American Revolution, Arendt feels that America has misunderstood the important aspects of what the Founders accomplished, and has offered no resistance to the people's removal from the political process. The people still retain a respect for the Constitution, but have forgotten the meaning behind its origins, with the government presenting itself as perfection achieved.
America has failed to face the danger of the public sphere transforming itself into a realm where private interests are held above public interests. The disappearance of a space to form opinions through public discussion has taken away conviction that is able to sustain political dialogue, leaving in place subjective moods. The result is a government that is “democratic in that popular welfare and private happiness are its chief goals; but it can be called oligarchic in the sense that public happiness and public freedom have again become the privilege of the few.”

What then, is Arendt's answer to the lost spirit of the American Revolution, and to the dwindling space for action she saw in both capitalist democracies and socialist regimes? Arendt's admiration for popular councils and their equivalents seems to offer the clearest indication of how she believed political action could establish a permanent home in the modern world. Arendt insists that councils appeared and spread throughout history without any prompting or planning by trained revolutionaries or party cadres, and would permit the people to become participators in government.
 Sounds like the Occupy general meetings would have been of interest to her.

1 comment:

Gina said...

Me, too! I printed out the Wikipedia entry. It has a lot of info, plus resources. I think I would have wanted to study with her. We share a concern about power and its misuse and abuse.