Recent Commentaries on Arendt
In the months since the election of Donald Trump, references to Hannah Arendt’s work have sky-rocketed, as have sales of The Origins of Totalitarianism. As a result, I’ve been approached by various news outlets to write commentary on the relevance of Arendt in our times.
Although I’ve stressed that Origins should not be treated as a blueprint for the rise of totalitarianism—in fact, Arendt considered the book a work of politics not of history—there are important insights to be gleaned from its pages that can be applied to thinking about our own “dark times.” And “thinking about what we are doing” is how Arendt described critical thinking, an activity she thought might enable us to avoid future political mistakes and even horrors.
As the group who will join me for NEH Arendt Seminar 2017 prepares for their journey to UC-Davis to study Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Origins of Totalitarianism under my direction, beginning on June 25 with an informal meeting at my home, I’m posting a series of essays and commentaries I’ve written or delivered, mostly in recent weeks. (The views expressed, of course, are my own.)
During the first week of the seminar, we’ll welcome Israeli Director, Ada Ushpiz, whose 2015 film, “Vita Activa,” I reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books, accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker. Seminar members will be invited to view the film privately in advance of Ms. Ushpiz’s presentation.
Two years ago, I conducted a survey of former Arendt NEHers, and interviewed some of them in detail. The result was a paper I presented at the national AERA conference. Some of the insights shared in those interviews helped form the basis for a short piece I wrote for Teaching Tolerance, related to Arendt in our times.
The Conversation is an online journal that provides scholarly insight in a journalistic style. I wrote a piece about the relevance of Arendt’s insights into totalitarianism for thinking about threats to democracy today.
That piece piqued the interest of journalist Dahr Jamail, who invited me to contribute to his article on authoritarianism and Trump for Truthout. And in the same week, I participated in a podcast with Baynard Woods of “Democracy in Crisis,” and Washington City Paper, which ran a related article.
In addition to my viewpoints, Lyndsey Stonebridge, a British literary historian, was recently interviewed about Hannah Arendt for “On Being,” a podcast series produced by Krista Tippett. (Thanks to Suzie Matthews, former Arendt NEHer, for bringing this to my attention.)
Thanks also to former Arendt NEHer Mary Finn, for putting me in touch with Baynard Woods of “Democracy in Crisis” podcasts, and to Mark Valentine, another former Arendt NEHer, for connecting me with Dahr Jamail of Truthout.
And a general thanks to all former NEH summer scholars who have contributed in so many ways to thinking with and about Arendt!