Crises of the Republic – Hannah Arendt (1972)


“‘The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people,’ Adrienne Rich wrote in her beautiful 1975 speech on lying and what truth really means, ‘are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.’ Nowhere is this liar’s loss of perspective more damaging to public life, human possibility, and our collective progress than in politics, where complex social, cultural, economic, and psychological forces conspire to make the assault on truth traumatic on a towering scale. Those forces are what Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975), one of the most incisive thinkers of the past century, explores in a superb 1971 essay titled ‘Lying in Politics,’ written shortly after the release of the Pentagon Papers and later included in Crises of the Republic (public library) — a collection of Arendt’s timelessly insightful and increasingly timely essays on politics, violence, civil disobedience, and the pillars of a sane and stable society. Out of the particular treachery the Pentagon Papers revealed, Arendt wrests a poignant meditation on the betrayal we feel at every revelation that our political leaders — those we have elected to be our civil servants — have deceived and disappointed us. With the release of the Pentagon Papers, Arendt argues, ‘the famous credibility gap … suddenly opened up into an abyss’ — an abyss rife with the harrowing hollowness of every political disappointment that ever was and ever will be. In a quest to illuminate the various ‘aspects of deception, self-deception, image-making, ideologizing, and defactualization,’ she writes. … A defender of the contradictory complexity of the human experience and its necessary nuance, Arendt reminds us that the human tendency toward deception isn’t so easily filed into a moral binary. Two millennia after Cicero argued that the human capacities for envy and compassion have a common root, Arendt argues that our moral flaws and our imaginative flair spring from the same source. … Crises of the Republic is a spectacular and spectacularly timely read in its totality. Complement it with Arendt on the crucial difference between truth and meaning, the power of outsiderdom, our impulse for self-display, what free will really means, and her beautiful love letters, then revisit Walt Whitman on how literature bolsters democracy and Carl Sagan on why science is a tool of political harmony. …”
Lying in Politics: Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization
NY Times: All the panaceas have been subjected to the subversion of her thought (May 1972)
[PDF] Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution
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