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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Arendt's thoughtlessness..

A flashback this morning as I recalled a televised scene from coverage of the demonstrations (later characterized as a "police riot") outside 1968 Democratic Party Convention held in Chicago. Besides the shouting and beating of heads that is shown in the old news clips, there was a great deal of theatric performance on the street, all in tune with the "Yippie Party" agenda that set the tone for what was happening. Although I never saw it again in any documentary footage, what I remember is a group of protesters standing on the corner, arranging themselves in choir-like order facing a "conductor" who was leading them in a chant notable for its clear unison expression: Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarchy!....

What brought on this recollection was piece in the latest New York Review of Books by Jeremy Waldron on the recent flurry of published works and attention (see, for example, here) given to Hannah Arendt (sorry, it is behind subscription wall). He offers a critique of her admirers (I regard myself as one; see here) who want to play the intellectual game of "what would Hannah Arendt say?" if she were confronted with our own "dark times". To put his point briefly (at least as I see it), Waldron argues that she would take exception to the question and wonder why we aren't thinking for ourselves rather than seeking guidance from her.

One of the most striking contributions Arendt made to the debate over the modern "human condition" was her locating her famous "banality of evil" in the thoughtlessness of our actions, and by that she meant not merely the absence of contemplation, but also the adoption of simple and ready-made formulaic responses to the challenges and dilemmas of our public and private lives. Finding and following some Arendtian perspective on issues of the day, Waldron argues, would be the opposite of what she advocated and pursued in her writing....

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