Hannah Arendt—a philosopher of the exceptional and/or a philosopher of the typical?


10月9日付けのNYTの記事。New York Sunの記事*2と読み比べられると面白いと思う。

October 9, 2006
Arendt’s Insights Echo Around a Troubled World

Hannah Arendt was a philosopher of the exceptional. But as the centennial of her birth approaches on Saturday, she can seem more like a philosopher of the typical.

After she saw her native Germany nightmarishly reconstitute itself into something monstrous, she tried to comprehend what had happened with the rise of Nazism and the parallel rise of Stalinism. These phenomena were, she said, unprecedented. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) she cataloged their characteristics: sweeping ideologies, death and concentration camps, vengeance against imagined conspiracies, imperviousness to political challenge. Together, she wrote, these characteristics “exploded” the familiar concepts of politics and government: “the alternative between lawful and lawless government, between arbitrary and legitimate power.” The lawless was made lawful; the arbitrary became legitimate. All categories were broken down; new ones needed formation. In the future the exception would shape a new rule.

And, to a great extent, with varied and vexing consequences, it has. Whether the world itself has changed (as she proposed), or our interpretation of it has, or both, it is no longer possible to discuss political life without in some way invoking those phenomena that once seemed so exceptional, without forming analogies to them, and without considering Arendt’s concepts that developed around them.

The Arendt centennial is now being celebrated with conferences and lectures in locations ranging from Germany to South Korea, from Kosovo to Australia (information: hannaharendt.org/conferences/conferences.html*3 ), and one theme keeps recurring. When Arendt analyzed totalitarianism, introduced the idea of the “banality of evil,” emphasized distinctions between private and public life and tried to articulate a new philosophy that would reconsider the nature of thinking and judging after both had become scarce, she could just as well have been speaking to us of our time, addressing contemporary debates.

So it is no accident that in discussing Arendt’s importance more than 30 years after her death, Iraq and terrorism are often mentioned alongside her views of power and violence, statelessness and totalitarianism; her most solemn assessments of the traumatic past become warnings for the imminent future. That is part of the polemical point of a new book, “Why Arendt Matters” (Yale University Press), by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, the author of an Arendt biography; she will lecture on the subject Thursday at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.

Beginning on Oct. 27 at Bard College (where both Arendt and her husband, Heinrich Blücher, are buried), a three-day conference, “Thinking in Dark Times: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt,” is to feature two keynote speakers about that legacy whose contemporary analogies may differ: the political journalists Christopher Hitchens and Mark Danner. (Information: www.bard.edu/arendt/overview.) And just over a week ago, at Yale University, a conference on Arendt alluded to current controversies in its title, “Crises of Our Republics,” with many speakers amplifying the allusion.

But something strange can happen in the midst of these comparisons. The exceptional provides the analogy for the present. The extreme becomes a model for understanding what is less extreme. The unprecedented remains ever-present, serving as a recurring admonition and an insistent demonstration, a guidepost for understanding politics itself. Even today when there is horror enough in the world, even when varieties of totalitarianism and genocide can be plainly found, the analogy insistently seeps into all cracks and distinctions dissolve. Societal flaws or flawed policies of democratic nations can start to seem as flagrant as the practices of totalitarian systems, because they provide glimpses of what might yet come to be.

This is a perspective Arendt occasionally fell prey to as well. She worried, for example, over incipient totalitarianism in the United States if Senator Joseph R. McCarthy became president in 1956, an unrealistic worry not unrelated to personal fears over her husband’s Communist past in Germany and her own experience of displacement and exile. Ultimately her sense of the democratic resilience of the United States was restored, but for Arendt, as for many of her readers on the political left, a crucial lesson of her anatomy of totalitarianism was that it could indeed happen here.

This may also have been one of the subterranean implications of Arendt’s most controversial book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” in which she introduced the idea of the “banality of evil,” giving a portrait of Adolf Eichmann as a Nazi bureaucrat without startling personal qualities, passions or hatreds, whose paper-pushing sent millions to their deaths. There were numerous problems with Arendt’s portrait (and with the concept as well) but it had the impact of a morality tale. Listen, she seemed to say, if radical evil is found in a banal bureaucrat, then why couldn’t it happen anywhere? Particularly if, as was the case in 1963 when Arendt was writing, even Western bureaucratic life had started to be seen by writers as intrinsically tainted?

That possibility was also a recurring motif for many speakers at the Yale conference. Of course there are serious questions to be asked about how Arendt’s categories can be applied to the contemporary scene, and as Samantha Power, who teaches at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, pointed out, the experience of statelessness and powerlessness is now part of the modern condition. It is no wonder Arendt’s ideas are widely cited. But how far should they be taken and where should they be applied? The political scientist Benjamin R. Barber, for example, dismissed the idea that Islamist fundamentalism was in any way totalitarian but suggested that given the current administration in the United States, an “American Eichmann is not altogether impossible.”

“I feel the American Republic is in the deepest crisis of my lifetime,” said the writer Jonathan Schell, fearing that though Arendt’s “checklist” for totalitarianism is only partly satisfied by current conditions in the United States, “we are on the edge of that abyss.” The philosopher Susan Neiman, the author of a subtle book, “Evil in Modern Thought,” interpolated her discussion of the crimes of Hitler and Stalin with wonder about whether more guilt should be ascribed to Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz for the war in Iraq. The political scientist George Kateb, after giving a supple discussion of Arendt’s views of morality, turned angry when applying her ideas to the current scene, seeing “the rudiments of a police state” here, and finding evidence of the worst constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

But when the extreme becomes the frame of reference, as it often does in our post-Arendtian world, any resemblance to it — however intermittent and fragmentary — is seen in its harsh light. Democracy’s failings warn of totalitarianism. Why, though, even if the critics’ diagnoses are correct, do failings indicate an incipient apocalypse any more than virtues herald a utopian paradise? Such an approach turns the exceptional into the typical. Arendt sometimes did something similar yet was also wary of the consequences. But that is the temptation that haunts the many Arendt commemorations now taking place.