Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#331 / Unit Of Analysis

Each weekend, I get a bulletin from the Hannah Arendt Center For Politics And Humanities At Bard College. Last weekend's bulletin included a reflection on what Arendt said about loneliness: 

In her most pregnant attempt at a definition of totalitarianism, published in 1950, Arendt writes: "Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated, individuals." Totalitarianism depends upon "the masses [who] grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class."

In her book On Revolution, Arendt points out that the fundamental changes that occur, almost by surprise, in the various revolutions that she analyzes are invariably linked to the spontaneous organization of previously isolated and lonely individuals into various collective entities: the "committees of correspondence" in the colonies that were to become the United States, the "communes" in France, and the "soviets" in Russia.  

Who are we? If we are simply a collection of individuals, and nothing more, then totalitarianism is our end point. But if we are "together in this," if we define ourselves by our membership in the small-scale organizations to which we have a group allegiance, then we will have, always, a "revolutionary" option and opportunity. We have the ability to change our world, but we can only change it together.

As it turns out, when we think about who we "are," the "unit of analysis" we employ to reach an understanding and an answer is of critical importance. 

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