Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reading Hannah Arendt's "Between Past and Future"

"In this version of deriving politics from history, or rather, political conscience from historical consciousness--by no means restricted to marx in particular, or even to pragmatism in general--we can easily detect the age-old attempt to escape from the frustrations and fragility of human action by construing it in the image of making. What distinguishes Marx's own theory from all others in which the notion of 'making history' has found a place is only that he alone realized that if one takes history to be the object of a process of fabrication or making, there must come a moment when this 'object' is completed, and that if one imagines that one can 'make history,' one cannot escape the consequence that there will be an end to history. Whenever we hear of grandiose aims in politics, such as establishing a new society in which justice will be guaranteed forever, or fighting a war to end all wars or to make the whole world safe for democracy, we are moving in the realm of this kind of thinking."

"It is obvious that these reflections and descriptions are based on the conviction of the importance of making distinctions. To stress such a conviction seems to be a gratuitous truism in view of the fact that, at least as far as I know, nobody has yet openly stated that distinctions are nonsense. There exists, however, a silent agreement in most discussions among political and social scientists that we can ignore distinctions and proceed on the assumption that everything can eventually be called anything else, and that distinctions are meaningful only to the extent that each of us has the right 'to define his terms.' Yet does not this curious right, which we have come to grant as soon as we deal with matters of importance--as though it were actually the same as the right to one's own opinion--already indicate that such terms as 'tyranny,' 'authority,' 'totalitarianism' have simply lost their common meaning, or that we have ceased to live in a common world where the words we have in common possess an unquestionable meaningfulness, so that, short of being condemned to live verbally in an altogether meaningless world, we grant each other the right to retreat into our own worlds of meaning, and demand only that each of us remain consistent within his own private terminology? If, in these circumstances, we assure ourselves that we still understand each other, we do not mean that together we understand a world common to us all, but that we understand the consistency of arguing and reasoning, of the process of argumentation in its sheer formality."

Published in 1961, but still feels like it's hot off the press.


Post a Comment

<< Home