What happens to democracy when individuals and groups are demonized on the basis of their religion? What happens to a society when critical thinking becomes an object of contempt and is disdained in favor of raw emotion or disparaged as fake news? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and becomes indifferent to the use of language in the service of a panicked rage that stokes anger but not about issues that matter?
What happens to a social order when it treats millions of illegal immigrants as disposable, potential terrorists, and criminals? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of a society are violence and ignorance? What happens is that democracy withers and dies, both as an ideal and as a reality. How else to explain the present historical moment with its collapse of civic culture and the future it cancels out?
What is to be made of the undermining of civic literacy and the conditions that produce an active citizenry at a time when massive self-enrichment and a gangster morality at the highest reaches of government undermine the public realm as a space of freedom, liberty, dialogue, and deliberative consensus?
Americans are in the midst of a crisis of history, politics, and agency, made all the more obvious by a government populated by right-wing extremists attempting to implement death-dealing policies regarding health care, the environment, the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and civil liberties. Democracy fails in an age when its leadership is stripped of credibility. As a habitual liar, Trump has attempted to obliterate the distinction between the facts and fiction, evidence-based arguments and lying, and in doing so has dangerously enlarged the landscape of distortion, misrepresentation, and falsification.
Consequently, he has managed to organize millions of people who believe that loyalty is more important than the truth and in doing so has emptied the language and the horizon of politics of any substantive meaning, thus contributing to an authoritarian and depoliticized culture of sensationalism, immediacy, fear, and anxiety. Trump has put in motion all the anti-democratic forces that have haunted American society for the last forty years. The broader consequence of his campaign of distortion, lies, and falsification has been captured in an interview Hannah Arendt gave to the New York Review of Books in in the aftermath of the horrors of fascism.
She writes:. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows.
And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind.
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It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. In the present moment, it becomes particularly important for progressives and others to protect and enlarge the formative cultures and public spheres that make democracy possible. Under a relentless attack on the truth, honesty, and the ethical imagination, the need for the American public to think dangerously is crucial, especially in a society that appears increasingly amnesiac—a country where forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated.
Rather than draining the swamp, the Trump administration has pushed cronyism and the rule of the elite to a new level of political corruption. While much has been made of Arendt's treatment of Eichmann, Ada Ushpiz, in her documentary Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt ,  placed it in a much broader context of the use of rationality to explain seemingly irrational historical events. In an interview with Joachim Fest in ,  Arendt was asked about Eichmann's defense that he had made Kant 's principle of the duty of obedience his guiding principle all his life. Arendt replied that that was outrageous and that Eichmann was misusing Kant, by not considering the element of judgement required in assessing one's own actions — " Kein Mensch hat bei Kant das Recht zu gehorchen " No man has, according to Kant, the right to obey , she stated, paraphrasing Kant.
Kant clearly defines a higher moral duty than rendering merely unto Caesar. Arendt herself had written in her book "This was outrageous, on the face of it, and also incomprehensible, since Kant's moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man's faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience.
The phrase Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen has become one of her iconic images, appearing on the wall of the house in which she was born see Commemorations , among other places. The phrase has been appearing in other artistic work featuring political messages, such as the installation by Wilfried Gerstel, which has evoked the concept of resistance to dictatorship, as expressed in her essay "Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship" She wrote:. On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry.
Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians , but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.
Although Arendt remained a Zionist both during and after World War II, she made it clear that she favored the creation of a Jewish-Arab federated state in Palestine, rather than a purely Jewish state. She believed that this was a way to address Jewish statelessness and to avoid the pitfalls of nationalism. It was not just Arendt's analysis of the Eichmann trial that drew accusations of racism.
In her essay in Dissent entitled Reflections on Little Rock  she expressed opposition to desegregation following the Little Rock Integration Crisis in Arkansas. As she explains in the preface, for a long time the magazine was reluctant to print her contribution, so far did it appear to differ from the publication's liberal values. Eventually it was printed alongside critical responses.
Later the New Yorker would express similar hesitancy over the Eichmann papers. So vehement was the response, that Arendt felt obliged to defend herself in a sequel. She felt that the children were being subjected to trauma in order to serve a broader political strategy of forcible integration. In The Origins of Totalitarianism , Hannah Arendt devotes a lengthy chapter The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man  to a critical analysis of human rights , in what has been described as "the most widely read essay on refugees ever published".
In contrast, civil rights are possessed by virtue of belonging to a political community, most commonly by being a citizen.
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Arendt's primary criticism of human rights is that they are ineffectual and illusory because their enforcement is in tension with national sovereignty. This can be seen most clearly by examining the treatment of refugees and other stateless people. Since the refugee has no state to secure their civil rights, the only rights they have to fall back on are human rights. In this way Arendt uses the refugee as a test case for examining human rights in isolation from civil rights. Arendt's analysis draws on the refugee upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century along with her own experience as a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany.
She argued that as state governments began to emphasize national identity as a prerequisite for full legal status, the number of minority resident aliens increased along with the number of stateless persons whom no state was willing to recognize legally. Arendt argued that repatriation failed to solve the refugee crisis because no government was willing to take them in and claim them as their own. When refugees were forcibly deported to neighboring countries, such immigration was deemed illegal by the receiving country, and so failed to change the fundamental status of the migrants as stateless.
Attempts at naturalizing and assimilating refugees also had little success. This failure was primarily the result of resistance from both state governments and the majority of citizens, since both tended to see the refugees as undesirables who threatened their national identity. Resistance to naturalization also came from the refugees themselves who resisted assimilation and attempted to maintain their own ethnic and national identities.
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Instead of accepting some refugees with legal status, the state often responded by denaturalizing minorities who shared national or ethnic ties with stateless refugees. Arendt argues that the consistent mistreatment of refugees, most of whom were placed in internment camps, is evidence against the existence of human rights.
If the notion of human rights as universal and inalienable is to be taken seriously, the rights must be realizable given the features of the modern liberal state.
One of the primary ways in which a nation exercises sovereignty is through control over national borders. State governments consistently grant their citizens free movement to traverse national borders. In contrast, the movement of refugees is often restricted in the name of national interests.
Hannah Arendt - Monoskop
In one of her most quoted passages,  she puts forward the concept that human rights are little more than an abstraction:. The conception of human rights based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships - except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.
Several authors have written biographies that focus on the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. In addition to the relationships, the novel is a serious exploration of philosophical ideas, that centers on Arendt's last meeting with Heidegger in Freiburg in The scene is based on Elisabeth Young-Bruehl 's description in Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World ,  but reaches back to their childhoods, and Heidegger's role in encouraging the relationship between the two women. Arendt's life remains part of current culture and thought.
The film, with Barbara Sukowa in the title role, depicted the controversy over Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial and subsequent book,  in which she was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt is widely considered one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century.
The study of the life and work of Hannah Arendt, and of her political and philosophical theory is described as Arendtian. In Oldenburg , the Hannah Arendt Center at Carl von Ossietzky University was established in ,  and holds a large collection of her work Hannah Arendt Archiv ,  and administers the internet portal HannahArendt.
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In a journal, Arendt Studies , was launched to publish articles related to the study of the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt. The rise of nativism , such as the election of Donald Trump in America,    and concerns regarding a perceo increasing authoritarian style of governance has led to a surge of interest in Arendt and her writings, including  radio broadcasts  and writers, including Jeremy Adelman  and Zoe Williams,  to revisit Arendt's ideas to seek the extent to which they inform our understanding of such movements,   which are being described as "Dark Times".
She begins her book with an extensive quote from The Origins of Totalitarianism : . The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction i.
Kakutani and others believed that Arendt's words speak not just events of a previous century but apply equally to the contemporary cultural landscape  populated with fake news and lies. She also draws on Arendt's essay "Lying in Politics" from Crises in the Republic  pointing to the lines:. The historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life; it is always in danger of being perforated by single lies or torn to shreds by the organized lying of groups, nations, or classes, or denied and distorted, often carefully covered up by reams of falsehoods or simply allowed to fall into oblivion.
Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs . Arendt drew attention to the critical role that propaganda plays in gaslighting populations, Kakutani observes, citing the passage:  . In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.
The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness .
Hannah Arendt: Designed to unsettle
But it is also relevant that Arendt took a broader perspective on history than merely totalitarianism in the early twentieth century, stating "the deliberate falsehood and the outright lie have been used as legitimate means to achieve political ends since the beginning of recorded history". Arendt's teachings on obedience have also been linked to the controversial psychology experiments by Stanley Milgram , that implied that ordinary people can easily be induced to commit atrocities. Arendt's theories on the political consequences of how nations deal with refugees has remained relevant and compelling.
Arendt had observed first hand the displacement of large stateless and rightsless populations, treated not so much as people in need than problems to solve, and in many cases, resist. An example of this being gun violence in America and the resulting political inaction.
In Search of the Last Agora , an illustrated documentary film by Lebanese director Rayyan Dabbous about Hannah Arendt's work The Human Condition , was released in to mark the book's 50th anniversary. Screened at Bard College, the experimental film is described as finding "new meaning in the political theorist's conceptions of politics, technology and society in the s", particularly in her prediction of abuses of phenomena unknown in Arendt's time, including social media, intense globalization, and obsessive celebrity culture.