Saturday, April 20, 2019

Arendt, Truth and Politics
Political thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy, as though I tried to be or to feel like somebody else, nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion.
(It is this capacity for an "enlarged mentality" that enables men to judge; as such, it was discovered by Kant in the first part of his Critique of Judgment, though he did not recognize the political and moral implications of his discovery.) The very process of opinion formation is determined by those in whose places somebody thinks and uses his own mind, and the only condition for this exertion of the imagination is disinterestedness, the liberation from one's own private interests. Hence, even if I shun all company or am completely isolated while forming an opinion, I am not sim- ply together only with myself in the solitude of philosophical thought; I remain in this world of universal interdependence, where I can make myself the representative o f everybody else. Of course, I can refuse to do this and form an opinion that takes only my own interests, or the interests of the group to which I belong, into account; nothing, indeed, is more common, even among highly sophisticated people, than the blind obstinacy that becomes manifest in lack of imagination and failure to judge. But the very quality ofan opinion, as ofajudgment, depends upon the degree of its impartiality.
Baehr, editor's introduction,  The Portable Hannah Arendt
To make matters worse, compassion tends to generate an attitude of suspicion whose paranoia is exceeded only by the zeal that accompanies it. Whereas deeds and words have an "objective" reality (they can be seen and heard), emotions such as compassion reside in the invisible recesses of our inner life. If they are to shine in public as a beacon of policy, they must be professed, but the more a person feels bound to profess his sin- cerity the more it appears that his action is prompted by ulterior motives: "me thinks he doth protest too much." So begins the search to find the hypocrites, a quest that can have no intrinsic terminus because the feelings of the heart are ultimately immeasurable and constantly in flux. Further- more, the bloodhounds of suspicion follow a scent that all too often turns out to be their own. Because compassion is a matter of changing mood and sensation rather than something stable like a physical artifact or visible like ahuman deed, even its exponents can never feel certain ofwhether they are paragons of empathY, or just phonies in disguise. The result is an even greater desire to demonstrate their feelings as unfeigned and to continue a cycle of behavior that is at once bloody and self-destructive. For Arendt, the opposite of compassion is not cynical indifference to the plight of those who suffer, but rather solidarity and respect, principles that may be occasioned by an emotion, but which in their generalized concern for human dignity (of the fortunate and of the unfortunate alike), their rejection of condescension and self-righteousness, their realism and sense of perspective offer superior resources for dealing with oppression and exploitation than the passions and sentiments of the heart.
Arendt On Violence
Progress, to be sure, is a more serious and a more complex item offered at the superstition fair of our time. The irrational nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress has found universal acceptance chiefly because of the astounding development of the natural sciences, which, since the rise of the modern age, actually have been "universal" sciences and therefore could look forward to an unending task in exploring the immensity of the universe. That science, even though no longer limited by the finitude of the earth and its nature, should be subject to never-ending progress is by no means certain; that strictly scientific research in the humanities, the so-called Geisteswissenschaften that deal with the products of the human spirit, must come to an end by definition is obvious. The ceaseless, senseless demand for original scholarship in a number of fields, where only erudition is now possible, has led either to sheer irrelevancy, the famous knowing of more and more about less and less, or to the development of a pseudo-scholarship which actually destroys its object.* It is noteworthy that the rebellion of the young, to the extent that it is not exclusively morally or politically motivated, has been chiefly directed against the academic glorification of scholarship and science, both of which, though for different reasons, are gravely compromised in their eyes. And it is true that it is by no means impossible that we have reached in both cases a turning point, the point of destructive returns. Not only has the progress of science ceased to coincide with the progress of mankind (whatever that may mean), but it could even spell mankind's end, just as the further progress of scholarship may well end with the destruction of everything that made scholarship worth our while. Progress, in other words, can no longer serve as the standard by which to evaluate the disastrously rapid change-processes we have let loose.
*for a splendid exemplification of these not merely superfluous but pernicious enterprises, see Edmund Wilson, The Fruits of the MLA, NY 1968
[I've removed other footnotes]

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