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Friday intellectual spot 1

09 Jan

Here you will see some real thought because I have not written what I post in these spots. Sometimes I will harvest something from the Arts & Letters Daily, which is very good even if it favours the Right somewhat, but it does seek a degree of balance and almost always offers at least one post per day that is worth a look. 3 Quarks Daily is also an excellent source, but I have that in my Google Reader picks. The poems on 3 Quarks Daily are especially good. They always feature in my Google Reader.

Today it’s from New Yorker.

…This rejection of inwardness, so constant in Arendt’s work, from “Rahel Varnhagen” on, is the key to what is most valuable in her legacy, and also what is most questionable. No one has argued more forcefully than Arendt that to deprive human beings of their public, political identity is to deprive them of their humanity—and not just metaphorically. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” she points out that the first step in the Nazis’ destruction of the Jews was to make them stateless, in the knowledge that people with no stake in a political community have no claim on the protection of its laws.

This is the insight that makes Arendt a thinker for our time, when failed states have again and again become the settings for mass murder. She reveals with remorseless logic why emotional appeals to “human rights” or “the international community” so often prove impotent in the face of a humanitarian crisis. “The Rights of Man, after all, had been defined as ‘inalienable’ because they were supposed to be independent of all governments,” she writes in “Origins,” “but it turned out that the moment human beings lacked their own government and had to fall back upon their minimum rights, no authority was left to protect them and no institution was willing to guarantee them.” This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and what is happening now in Darfur. Genocide is a political problem, Arendt insists, and it can be solved only politically.

Yet the supreme value that Arendt places on individual pride and aristocratic distance, on intellect and excellence, also sharply restricts the human understanding that must be the basis for any confrontation with political evil, especially the evil of the Holocaust. Too much of life and too many kinds of people are excluded from Arendt’s sympathy, which she could freely give only to those as strong as she was. If, as she wrote, “it is the desire to excel which makes men love the world,” then our love for the world actually makes it harder for us to love the people who inhabit it. This is the dilemma that runs through all Arendt’s writing, demonstrating that what she observed about Marx is true of her as well: “Such fundamental and flagrant contradictions rarely occur in second-rate writers; in the work of the great authors they lead into the very center of their work.”

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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, intellectual spot, magazines, politics, writers

 

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