Monday, October 09, 2006

The Age of Arendt

The world at the centennial of Hannah Arendt:
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.

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