Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hannah Arendt's Reflections on Violence

In the July 11, 2013 issue of the NYROB is an excerpt from Hannah Arendt's "Reflections on Violence," published in its entirety in in the February 27, 1969 issue of the NYROB and can be found here:

I'm sure I'm not alone in mistrusting bureaucracies.  My most recent hatred was directed against the medical profession during Susan's decline and death of a year ago.  Hannah Arendt in the July 11, 2013 excerpt does found her dislike on theory.  I imagine you can find the following in the 1969 article if you search it.  These are the passages I found most interesting:

"Finally, the greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence.  In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted.  Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant."


"For progress, as we have come to understand it, means growth, the relentless process of more and more, of bigger and bigger.  The bigger a country becomes in population, in objects, and in possessions, the greater will be the need for administration and with it, the anonymous power of the administrators."


"For the disintegration processes, which have become so manifest in recent years -- the decay of many public services, or schools and police, or mail delivery and transportation, the death rate on the highways and the traffic problems in the cities -- concern everything designed to serve mass society.  Bigness is afflicted with vulnerability, and while no one can say with assurance where and when the breaking point has been reached, we can observe, almost to the point of measuring it, how strength and resiliency are insidiously destroyed, leaking, as it were, drop by drop from out institutions.  And the same, I think, is true for the various party systems -- the one-party dictatorships in the East as well as the two-party systems in England and the United States, or the multiple party systems in Europe -- all  of which were supposed to serve the political needs of modern mass societies, to make representative government possible where direct democracy would not do because 'the room will not hold all' (John Selden)."

and finally,

"Again, we do not know where these developments will lead us, but we can see how cracks in the power structure of all but the small countries are opening and widening.  And we know, or should know, that every decrease of power is an open invitation to violence -- if only because those who hold power and feel it slipping from their hands have always found it difficult to resist the temptation of substituting violence for it."

Comment:  I have mistrusted the EU but without having a very good reason, perhaps nothing more than having lived long enough to see what seems to be the accomplishment of one of Germany's long-standing (military) goals by peaceful means.  But the cracks Arendt referred to have been appearing.  Administrative decisions have not all been well received by the individual nations.  I thought Britain moving in a wise direction with Brexit.  I have been inclined to credit the EU's immigration policies for the violence in Europe, but I can see Arendt's explanation for it as well; although I don't see the Islamist's' goal as being more political representation.  Her explanation is more suited to the resistance of individual EU nations to the EU's administrative policies on various matters.

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