Hannah Arendt on racism…

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Hannah Arendt, about the time she wrote her dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine, under Karl Jaspers

Last month, I wrote about an international conference on Hannah Arendt — best known for her Eichmann in Jerusalem (which coined the term “banality of evil”); article is here.  At the conference, the organizers played a 3-minute clip of the political philosopher speaking — Arendt’s friend  Gerhard Casper and others called it “vintage Arendt.”

It was the first time I had heard her voice — so thickly accented in her native German  it’s almost impossible at times to decode, even though she had, by that time, spent more than two decades in America.  I wanted to include the sound clip with the article — to give a flavor of one of the last century’s most powerful thinkers.

No joy.  My ever-vigilant editors didn’t want to run the clip unless they could clear copyright permission.  We traced the talk back to a 1968 Bard College lecture that was once available online, but which had mysteriously disappeared.  Was it withdrawn because of flagrant copyright violations resulting from the link?

Never underestimate the power of the boo-boo.  We finally heard from Bard last week.  The clips had inadvertantly been dropped from the website during an update.  The link has been restored.  And we, belatedly, will be including it in the article.

Until that time, I include the links  here and here.  It’s more than three minutes.  I transcribed a short portion on the justifications of violence, and racism, before getting overwhelmed by the (at times) impenetrable accent.

Here she goes:

Casper at the conference, Robert Harrison in the background (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“We all know to what an extent the old combination of violence, life, and creativity has survived in rebellious state of mind of the new generation.  Their taste for violence is again accompanied by the glorification of life, and it frequently understands itself as a necessarily violent negation of everything that stands in the way of the will to live.  … Nothing, I think, is more dangerous theoretically than this tradition of organic thought. You saw it in all three:  revolution and power and violence.  You saw it in the concept of progress,  in the concept of power, and in the concept of violence. … The precedence of violence is justified on the grounds of creativity.”

“So long as we talk about these matters in non-political, biological terms, the glorifiers of violence will have the great advantage to appeal to the undeniable experiences inherent in the practice of violent action.  The danger of being carried away by the deceptive plausibility of such metaphors is particularly great, of course, where racial issues are involved.  Racism, white or black, is fraught with violence by definition, because it objects to natural, organic facts — the white or black skin, which no persuasion and no power could change.  All one can do when the chips are down is exterminate their bearers. Violence,  interracial struggle is always murderous, but it is not irrational.  It is the logical and rational consequence of racism — by which I do not mean some rather vague prejudices on either side, but an explicit ideological system.  Today’s violence, black riots, and the much greater potential for white backlash, are not yet manifestations of racist ideologies and their murderous logic.  The riots, as has recently been stated, are a particular protest against genuine grievances — and much the same is true for the backlash phenomena.  The greatest danger is rather the other way around:  since violence always needs justification, an escalation of the violence industry may bring about a truly racist ideology to justify it, in which case violence and riots may disappear from the streets and be transformed into the invisible terror of the police state.”

The Q&A session is supposed to be particularly interesting — haven’t gotten to that yet, but if I’m up to it, I’ll include a few notes later.


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3 Responses to “Hannah Arendt on racism…”

  1. Frances Madeson Says:

    Cynthia,
    I got here via http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/06/sunday-poem-2.html

    Rereading To the Choirmaster (and Hole’s lyrics) after listening to the Hannah Arendt MP3s made for a fierce evening. Especially what she says about “organic metaphors” around the 20:50 mark of the Part II Q&A. A sample vintage Arendtism:

    “A normal reaction to injustice is rage.”

    Interesting definition of “paradise” around the 26:04 mark, too. A valuable way to spend an hour this Father’s Day. Thank you so much!

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks for dropping by!

    I could use a fierce evening myself — maybe I’ll get a chance to transcribe some more Arendt bits and pieces, though transcribing is grinding and usually thankless work, and journalists have more than enough of it as it is.

    I thought there was a lot of the spirit of Juan de la Cruz’s “nada” in that mysterious poem, as well as Habakkuk — I’ll go back and reread it.

    Meanwhile, I like the title of your forthcoming book: “Droit de Seigneur, Whether He Wants It Or Not.”

  3. Recruiting Animal Says:

    There are a number of clips of Hannah Arendt on YouTube. She speaks English though it is soon drowned out by the French or German of the translator.

    Your other report on Arendt was funny. Even her friend said that she was not scientific but narrow-minded and suggestive and not respected by political scientists or philosophers.

    “She was putting forward a kind of truth, not definitive, about the human condition.”

    One had to wonder why she continues to be popular.

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