Thursday, August 24, 2017


The humanist against vulgar universalism
Arendt to Scholem, in Arendt, The Jewish Writings. 
To come to the point: let me begin, going on from what I have just stated, with what you call "love of the Jewish people" or Ahahath Israel. (Incidentally, I would be very grateful if you could tell me since when this concept has played a role in Judaism, when it was first used in Hebrew language and literature, etc.) You are quite right–I am not moved by any "love" of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life "loved" any people or collective–neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love "only" my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this "love of the Jews" would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect. I cannot love myself or anything which I know is part and parcel of my own person. To clarify this, let me tell you of a conversation I had in Israel with a prominent political personality*  who was defending the–in my opinion disastrous–nonseparation of religion and state in Israel. What he said–I am not sure of the exact words anymore–ran something like this: "You will understand that, as a Socialist, I, of course, do not believe in God; I believe in the Jewish people." I found this a shocking statement and, being too shocked, I did not reply at the time. But I could have answered: The greatness of this people was once that it believed in God, and believed in Him in such a way that its trust and love toward Him was greater than its fear. And now this people believes only in itself? What good can come out of that?–Well, in this sense I do not "love" the Jews, nor do I "believe" in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

We could discuss the same issue in political terms; and we should then be driven to a consideration of patriotism. That there can be no patriotism without permanent opposition and criticism is no doubt common ground between us. But I can admit to you something beyond that, namely, that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples. This grief, however, in my opinion is not for display, even if it should be the innermost motive for certain actions or attitudes. Generally speaking, the role of the "heart" in politics seems to me altogether questionable. You know as well as I how often those who merely report certain unpleasant facts are accused of lack of soul, lack of heart, or lack of what you call Herzenstakt. We both know, in other words, how often these emotions are used in order to conceal factual truth. I cannot discuss here what happens when emotions are displayed in public and become a factor in political affairs; but it is an important subject, and I have attempted to describe the disastrous results in my book On Revolution in discussing the role of compassion in the formation of the revolutionary character.
*This "personality" was Golda Meir, then foreign minister and later prime minister of Israel. At Scholem's urging, Arendt deleted her name and changed the feminine pronoun when the letters were first published. -Ed.
"I have never in my life 'loved' any people or collective."
Universalism is for law; law is impersonal. Love is intimate. Mixing the two is barbarism, of one sort or another.

Why not: a tag for Brighouse, a well-meaning pedant.
Mark Thoma in 2013, going on as usual after his wife's death, and then tweeting (approx) "It's too much. I can't go on" before going on, not mentioning it again. He deleted the tweet.

Note the uptick since 2000. Should I telegraph that it's not in pedantry but in awareness?
Change is slow.

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