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Example research essay topic: Analysis Of Hannah Arendt - 1,969 words

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Analysis of Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt, in "What is Authority?" and "What is Freedom?" , presents a critique of a theory about how regimes, which have overthrown dictatorial rule, can manage to maintain the new order without resorting to the old ways. Arendt proposes that they must be as democratic as possible by setting up councils in which the public can participate. However, Olson argues that this is too simplistic and he uses the Spanish Civil War to demonstrate his argument. Trades unions refused to participate in the councils and the revolutionaries were a threat because they were likely to reject the new form of authority too. Hannah Arendt argued that the only way to keep a revolution from degenerating into an authoritarian regime no more hospitable to freedom and equality than the regime it overthrew is to create a republic of broad-based councils to institutionalize wide participation in public affairs. Yet Arendt's claim is incomplete because it rests on an analysis assuming that revolution involves a simple two-sided conflict between old and new and neglects the social aspects of post revolutionary life.

The complications arising from multi sided conflict and the importance of the social foundations of participation can be better understood by examining carefully the experiences of Spanish anarchist collectives in the 1930 s. Their experience fleshes out the practical aspects of establishing and maintaining the federated council system capable of maintaining a highly participatory and hence truly democratic society. (Ernest Vollrath, 1977: 160 - 72). Revolution has long been the last great hope of the dispossessed. When the suffering and exploitation of the old order become too much to bear, the wretched can either hope for a better life in the afterworld or for a complete overthrow of the present. The history of particular revolutions, however, has been characterized by failure as much as by hope. So many times a revolution has made a fife of freedom, equality, and social peace so thrillingly close that its participants could actually live it for a few days, weeks, even months, only to dash their hopes as the new order is consolidated and the world of oppression, exploitation, and the daily grind reappears. (Lisa Disch, 1994).

Arendt stages a struggle between meaning and truth. We cannot properly end the struggle by saying that they have no relation to each other and hence are not in competition with each other. Now, if Arendt does not believe in the possibility of truth, then the issue is dissolved. But things are not so easy. On the matter of truth, Arendt's teaching is of course subtle and complex, as always, but elusive. What makes it elusive is her distinction between rational truth and factual truth.

She is eloquent in affirming human dependence on the integrity of factual truth against the efforts of massive liars, propagandists, and image-makers in either totalitarian or democratic societies. Factual truth is the truth of details. (Yet she can also speak of a genuine and "undeniable affinity, " though limited, between lying and acting in the world, because the liar, like the actor, wants things to be different, wants to change the world"). (Lisa Disch, 1994). Rational truth, at the other end of the spectrum, is not clearly defined, but seems to mean the alleged absolute truth of one metaphysical system or another. What is not highlighted in Arendt's reflections on truth is the sizable middle realm of empirical truth, warrantable beliefs about historical and natural sequences and conditions, the very subject of some of her greatest writing. Arendt is confident that Kant himself "would certainly have been prepared to sacrifice truth to the possibility of human freedom; for if we possessed truth we could not be free." I suppose that she is saying that if enough people knew that determinism is true, they would give up the aspiration to freedom. But the model is not Kant but Lessing, who, she says, would have sacrificed truth unhesitatingly "to humanity, to the possibility of friendship and of discourse among men." I believe that the case against truth is truthfully made when we say not that we must be prepared to sacrifice truth to some other end, but rather that metaphysical or theological or religious absolutes that are put forth as truthful are not truthful, are never warrantable.

Moral truth, however, does not need any of these absolutes. It is strange; by the way, that Arendt can simultaneously admire the meaningfulness that metaphysical and other systems confer on reality, even though they are "fallacies, " while disparaging them in other texts not because they are false but because they are true. (Ernest Vollrath, 1977: 173 - 81). What matters finally are not the inadequacies of Arendt's conceptualization of truth but her seeming willingness to sacrifice it, as she understands it, to other values? Whatever the inconsistency she shows in adjudicating between the claims of truth and the claims of political freedom, she is clear that the claims of meaningfulness must prevail over the claims of truth. Nonetheless, I would quote a formulation that appears in "Religion and Politics." She says "freedom of thought and action is possible only under conditions of insecure and limited knowledge, as Kant demonstrated philosophically." The wisdom in this view far surpasses her other formulations. (Seyla Benhabib, 1990: 188). Arendt speaks of favoring circumstances such as the feeling that there are superfluous and lonely masses of people.

A few leaders see in them the raw material of a new opportunity; the people themselves find meaning in being captured and caught up in new projects. Instructed by Arendt, however, I doubt that there can be any general theory to account for the initial appearance of a particular fanaticism. In a revelatory footnote to her essay of 1954, "Understanding and Politics: (The Difficulties of Understanding), " she says, "An event belongs to the past, marks an end, insofar as elements with their origins in the past are gathered together in its sudden crystallization; but an event belongs to the future, marks a beginning, insofar as this crystallization itself can never be deduced from its own elements, but is caused invariably by some factor which lies in the realm of human freedom." Fanaticism is a free (hence unpredictable) leap into mental bondage, and it can never be fully understood, just as a system of fanaticism like totalitarian dictatorship is a transcendence of its elements and therefore can never be fully understood. (David Luban, 1983: 218). It is noteworthy -- it has been noticed and discussed many times -- that Arendt's work on totalitarianism after Origins downplays the importance of ideology in totalitarianism, especially in its maintenance as a system. The concept of thoughtless conformity to the administration and execution of a policy of legalized or authoritatively sanctioned murder on a vast scale that Eichmann in Jerusalem explores and that is famously distilled in the phrase "banality of evil, " takes the place of ideological fanaticism. In a letter to Mary McCarthy, written in the wake of the controversy aroused by the book on Eichmann, Arendt goes so far as to say: "If one reads the book carefully, one sees that Eichmann was much less influenced by ideology than I assumed in the book on totalitarianism.

The impact of ideology upon the individual may have been overrated by me." (Hannah Arendt, 1959: 163 - 64). That people can play their part in a policy of atrocities unthinkingly and mechanically is undeniable. But I think that it would be misleading to see Eichmann as devoid of a passionate commitment to something other than his career. If not personally an ant-Semite, he was surely a devoted patriot and believer in Germany's racial destiny as defined by Hitler.

He would have worked to kill any category of the population, if ordered to do so, but simply would not have understood a command to kill loyal non-Jewish German patriots randomly. Such rigorous devotion cannot be understood without some reference to an initial fanatical zeal, a zeal instigated by Nazi ideology. Only a prisoner of a fiction, only someone aesthetically intoxicated by a design for a new reality, could possibly be so immune to moral considerations. If the inability to think, as Arendt defines that inability -- here, as the inability to put oneself in the place of others -- is made into a sufficient explanation of Nazism, from the top to the bottom of the party hierarchy, the resulting analysis is far too reductive. Indeed, it is ideology that helps to sustain the inability to think, just as the inability to think initially draws the susceptible to an ideology. Ideology is indissociably linked to the inability to think, but they are two distinct phenomena. (Ernest Vollrath, 1977: 82).

I suggest, however, that a clue regarding Arendt's definition of the political is provided in "What is Freedom?" This essay is part of Between Past and Future, the volume of articles that Arendt published after The Human Condition and that, according to Elisabeth Young-Brush, "fulfilled, though not entirely" the never written Introduction to Politics. Introduction to Politics was intended critically to reexamine political concepts, and then political institutions. This second purpose was not fulfilled, but in "What is Freedom?" Arendt states: "Whatever occurs in this space of appearances is political by definition, even when it is not a direct product of action." All modes of public appearance are political, irrespective of whether they are or are not related to political action. What makes "words and deeds" political is that they are visible, not that they are related to what we generally understand as glorious political activity. (Seyla Benhabib, 1990: 188). Arendt's summary of Waldemar German's "theatrical" conception of the political seems to fit her own: "his political sense therefore became essentially a sense for the dramatic in history, in politics, in all contacts between man and man, soul and soul, idea and idea. " In a letter to Karl Jaspers written in 1955, in which she confesses her discomfort with academic life, Arendt writes, "I don't ever want to go through that again!

Curiously enough, the thing about it I really can't tolerate is, of all things, the political aspect -- being in the public eye every day. " Life on a university campus and teaching are considered political because they imply publicity. For Arendt, the political is the web of all the visible passages through the various realms of the public world. (Lisa Disch, 1994). Action, speeches, and, therefore, freedom produce stories, but the willingness to expose oneself comes first and, as such, is the true condition of everyday politics and of stories that relate actions. Arendt suggests that the political exists independently of specific actions and speeches, even "if the 'hero' happens to be a coward, " as long as he or she has the initial courage to go out of his or her private space.

Indeed, "to leave one's private hiding place" does not immediately involve acting and speaking. Arendt's mythological example demonstrates dramatically that to expose oneself consists first in taking part in "the Trojan enterprise" which, even before being a war, is an expedition, a trip, no matter how one eventually behaves on the battlefield. Disclosure lies in the acceptance of leaving the home (the "private hiding place") behind in order to move into the world. (David Luban, 1983: 219). Words: 1, 847. Bibliography: David Luban, "Explaining Dark Times: Hannah Arendt's Theory of Theory, " Social Research 50 (1983): 218 - 9.

Ernest Vollrath, "Hannah Arendt and the Method of Political Thinking, " Social Research 44 (1977): 160 - 82. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (New York: Anchor Books, 1959), 163 - 64. Lisa Disch, Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994). Seyla Benhabib, "Hannah Arendt and the Redemptive Power of Narrative, " Social Research 57 (1990): 188.


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